SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Democratic processes, it has been noted, "however flawed they may be, nevertheless have a tendency to set the unexpected into motion, and can never be entirely orchestrated." While Pakistan celebrates the outcome of a surprisingly free election, the new coalition Government that will bring together two hitherto bitter rivals will have its task cut out. And among the most pressing of tasks awaiting the new regime is a disastrous and worsening internal security situation and the challenge of halting Pakistan’s slide towards state failure. Significantly, while 3,599 people died in terrorism-related violence in 2007, January 2008 alone saw 654 such fatalities in a continuation of the increasing violence across large swathes of the country.
Notwithstanding the fact that President Pervez Musharraf's control over the Army – and indeed over the state’s counter-terrorism campaign – still continues, the new dispensation in Islamabad and in the militancy affected provinces may force him and the Army to dilute operations against the Islamist terrorists and others. Furthermore, Musharraf will find it increasingly difficult to hold on to power with a hostile Parliament and could be progressively marginalized, even if he is able to ward off the threat of impeachment from some political constituencies, particularly the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N).
Crucially, irrespective of the regime that will be installed in Islamabad, it is the Army that will have to continue the fight against the extremists across Pakistan. The February 18 mandate has secured nothing dramatic in terms of the transformation of the structure of power in the country. The Army remains the dominant power in the state structure. However, there is bound to be divergence in the overall strategies to be adopted against the militants since the Elections have led to a 'polarisation', with each of the four provinces 'going in different directions'. The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) has gone to the Awami National Party (ANP); Punjab will be controlled by the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), supported either by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or the independents; the PPP will be in power in Sindh; and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) is expected to be in the saddle in Balochistan.
With the defeat of the extremist Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in the NWFP and Balochistan, the jihadis have lost significant over-ground space. Consequently, they could now be driven deeper into the underground. In fact, the rout of the MMA at the hustings is likely to have a far-reaching impact on the socio-political landscape of at least three regions – NWFP, North Balochistan and FATA, where the pro-Taliban/al Qaeda militancy has been entrenched over the last six years. The vote share of the MMA has decreased from approximately 11 percent in the rigged elections of 2002 to around three percent in 2008. The MMA, which had 59 seats in the outgoing National Assembly, and was the ruling party in the NWFP after the 2002 elections has been trounced, winning only three seats in Parliament and nine in the NWFP Provincial Assembly. However, the MMA were a divided lot in the NWFP during the current elections, with the Jamaat-e-Islami boycotting the polls and leaving the Maulana Fazlur Rehman faction of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JuI) stranded. While Fazlur Rehman, the former Leader of the Opposition and a leading backer of the Taliban, lost in his home town of Dera Ismail Khan to PPP candidate Faisal Karim Kundi, he did win a seat from another constituency in the Bannu District. Three of Rehman’s brothers, Maulana Ataur Rehman, Maulana Lutfur Rehman and Maulana Obaidur Rehman, who were contesting for National and Provincial Assembly seats, lost their elections.
Another reason for the loss of the ‘Mullah’s Party’ is that the Rehman faction of JuI could not overcome the impact of the Jamaat-e-Islami’s boycott. The MMA’s defeat is also being attributed to the alliance’s inability to stop military operations against the jihadis in NWFP and Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s vacillation against adopting a tough line vis-à-vis President Musharraf. At the same time, the ANP is reported to have "regained its lost territory in its former strongholds of Peshawar, Nowshera, Charsadda, Mardan and Swabi. It has surprisingly won all the seats in the troubled Swat region as well as the adjoining Buner District." The PPP won most of its seats from "Peshawar, Mardan, Nowshera, Upper Dir, Lower Dir and Malakand in the former strongholds of the Jamaat-e-Islami." The Jamaat boycott and a MMA ‘split’ meant that the ANP and PPP were direct rivals in most of the NWFP.
Formed in 2002, the MMA had won in the Frontier largely as a result of rigging in its favour, and on the basis of a furious anti-American sentiment after US-led troops overthrew the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001. And their electoral success had led to considerable international apprehension about a rising power of hard-line Islam in Pakistani politics. The Elections of 2008 have, however, exposed the fact that it was the Military-Mullah nexus that was principally responsible for the rise of radical forces like the MMA. Nevertheless, with their control over seminaries and mosques, the jihadi armies and their street power untouched, the Islamist parties, consequent to their electoral defeat, could seek refuge in aggressive mobilization, as well as political and extremist action, which could lead to widespread violence. In the proximate future, there could also be a consolidation of the over-ground Islamist formations and this would add to the complexities arising out of the ongoing mobilisation of extremist cadres across Pakistan.
It is important to note that no militant formation has been effectively demobilized since Musharraf’s seizure of power in 1999. While the Taliban have de facto control over most of Waziristan, they and a mélange of local jihadi groups also have full freedom of movement and activities across the FATA, NWFP, North Balochistan and certain other pockets. The current spate of subversion and violence can be expected to continue, indicating a deepening retreat of the state. More importantly, however, the strategy against the widening arc of extremism could run into critical difficulties. The ANP, which is expected to form the Government in the NWFP, has already voiced its disapproval of Islamabad’s strategy in the Province. ANP spokesman Zahid Khan, while indicating that his party was against military operations, stated, "We want to end the problem through dialogue, not by military action." In fact, both the PPP and PML-N have indicated that they would adopt a ‘new approach’ towards militancy by pursuing more of dialogue than force. PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari said that Musharraf had played a ‘double game’ leading to an increase in militancy. "We feel they in the Government are running with the hare and hunting with the hounds," he said. Indicating that his party would hold talks with the militants in the FATA and the insurgents in Balochistan, Zardari said, "We will have a dialogue with those who are up in the mountains and those who are not in Parliament."
Past experience has, however, shown that alternating military operations with peace accords with the militants is fraught with immense danger. In fact, the new regimes in Islamabad and in the provinces are confronted with crucial choices in prosecuting the campaign against Islamist extremism and the accompanying terrorist violence. Musharraf’s own counter-terrorism strategy and his over-hyped ‘enlightened moderation’ failed, on the one hand, to neutralize the militants and, on the other, were unsuccessful in securing support at the local level through a succession of peace accords. Simply put, both force and dialogue, or a combination of the two, have already failed to bring order to Pakistan. These options and their associated risks will play out in the proximate future along with added pressure from the election-bound US, which will increasingly press Islamabad to ‘do more’.
President Musharraf, who continues to battle survival issues, has, in addition to the new Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, now to contend with a hostile Parliament as well. There is also a clear lack of national consensus on how to deal with Islamist militancy. Analyst Kamran Bokhari rightly notes that, "on a tactical level, while the Pakistani Army has a history of supporting insurgencies, it is ill-equipped to fight them." According to Bokhari, the prospects for an effective national policy on dealing with the Islamist militancy are slim and "circumstances will require that the new Government be a coalition — thus it will be inherently weak. This, along with the deteriorating ground reality, will leave the Army with no choice but to adopt a tough approach — one it has been avoiding for the most part."
The new regime in Islamabad will, moreover, have little impact on the situation in Indian Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), since the Kashmiri jihad still constitutes the principal raison d’etre for the Pakistan defence establishment. The declining trend of terrorist violence in J&K since the peak of 2001 is expected to continue in the foreseeable future. Viewed purely in terms of fatalities, the conflict in J&K has now crossed the threshold from a high-intensity to a low-intensity level. For the first time since 1990 (when they were 1,177), fatalities in this terrorism-wracked State – at 777 in 2007 – fell below the 'high intensity conflict' mark of a thousand deaths. This decrease in levels of violence is, however, not due to any change in Pakistani intent, but is largely the consequence of "changes in capacities and compulsions in Pakistan." On the peace process with India, the new Government, with its own priorities, may not be interested in proceeding with the Musharraf sketch and consequently, there could be a further slowing down of the India-Pakistan dialogue.
Almost all state institutions in Pakistan are now intimately and intricately linked to the trajectory of terrorist and political violence. Pakistan, which, as Salman Rushdie expressed it, was perhaps "insufficiently imagined", currently faces several daunting challenges with a direct bearing on its own survival as a nation-state. Amidst the euphoria of ‘democracy’ it is, nevertheless, impossible to overlook the fact that virtually the entire terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan, including the leadership of all the purportedly 'banned' terrorist groups, operates freely in the country. Given the tremendous and irrational hope generated by a new political order, the uncertainty accompanying the transition and the overall chaos in the country, the new Government would find it extremely difficult to find its feet or reverse the trends towards anarchy.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, on February 21, 2008, in an attempt to stave off the onslaught by the Opposition parties, drew comfort from the questionable claim that, "The Naxal (left-wing extremist) violence profile in the State (Orissa) remains much less compared to the neighbouring Naxal affected States like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar". The Chief Minister’s contention is supported by some official data (though the inclusion of Andhra Pradesh in this list is certainly inexplicable), but this did seem a rather strange statement to make just six days after a ‘they came, saw, they conquered’ type raid by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) in the Nayagarh District, where the Police administration was simply caught napping.
On February 15, at least four CPI-Maoist groups carried out near-simultaneous raids in the eastern District of Nayagarh, barely 80 kilometres away from the state capital Bhubaneswar. While one group of Maoists struck at the Police Training School (PTS) and the District Armoury at the District Headquarters town of Nayagarh at about 10.45 PM, other groups struck at the Mahipur Police Outpost, 11 kilometres away, Nuagaon Police Station, 20 kilometres away, and Daspalla Police Station, 40 kilometres away from the town. In the raids, which lasted over five hours, 14 Police personnel and two civilians were killed. Police claimed that three Maoists were also killed in the resistance put up by the inmates of the PTS and District Armoury, though no bodies were recovered. At least 1,100 arms, including rifles, light machine guns, single loaded rifles AK-47s and pistols, were looted. While around 650 arms and 100,000 rounds of ammunition were taken away from the PTS Arms Depot, 400 arms and 100,000 bullets were looted from the District Armoury and four guns each from the three Police Stations. All the looted weapons and ammunition were loaded into buses and trucks hijacked earlier by the Maoists, and taken away.
The attack brought back memories of the February 6, 2004, raid in the southern Orissa District of Koraput, in which over 1,000 armed People's War Group (PWG) cadres had looted 500 weapons and 30,000 rounds of ammunition from the District Armoury and other key Police installations. As in the earlier case, during the raid on Nayagarh, the Maoists blocked entry to the town and the road leading to the District Police Chief’s residence. They, however, did not bother to disrupt the telecommunication network, a usual practice during such raids. Before launching the attack, the Maoists, speaking in Hindi and Telugu, announced that they would not harm the public as their target was the Police. At the end of the raid, a section of the Maoists even found time to have tea at local roadside stalls and shook hands with the astonished onlookers, before leaving in the hijacked vehicles.
Fire fighting measures started the next day, when large sections of the retreating Maoists, divided into small groups had travelled south and then westwards and reached the Gosma Forest area along the border between Ganjam and Kandhamal Districts, about 100 kilometres away from Nayagarh town. Security Force (SF) operations, first led by the Orissa Police and Special Operations Group (SOG) personnel and then joined in by the four companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and three units of Greyhounds personnel from Andhra Pradesh, led to the recovery of eight half-burnt vehicles in which the Maoists had fled. The SF personnel also recovered half a truck-load of arms and ammunition, which the Chief Minister was to describe as 40 percent of the arms and 50 percent of the ammunition looted. The SF personnel also claimed to have killed 20 Maoists while loosing three men of their own during the raids. Not a single dead body of the Maoists was recovered as, according to the SFs, these were carried away by their colleagues. On February 22, a further recovery of 150 .303 rifles, six INSAS rifles, one light machine gun and some quantities of ammunition were made in the Gosma Forest. The Chief Minister later declared, "Together, the seizure on both occasions accounts for more than 60 per cent of the weapons and more than 70 per cent of the ammunition looted." Sources, however, indicate that the bulk of recoveries have been of antiquated .303 rifles and other outmoded weapons deliberately abandoned by the Maosits, while the bulk of more sophisticated arms remain in their possession. Operations involving 1,500 SF personnel are still continuing in the Nayagarh, Ganjam, Gajapati, Rayagada and Kandhamal Districts. Five additional companies of CRPF personnel have been airlifted to Orissa from Jammu & Kashmir and West Bengal. Reports quoting villagers, in the meantime, have indicated that the Maoists have already left Gasma and have simply melted into adjoining forest areas and tribal hamlets.
The Police suspect the raid to be the handy work of 39 year old Sabyasachi Panda, head of the Basdhara Division of the Andhra-Orissa Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) of the CPI-Maoist. There is no final word as yet on the actual composition of the Naxal leaders and cadres who participated in the raids. Witnesses, however, have spoken of cadres speaking in Hindi, Telegu and Oriya, suggesting that the 500-plus cadres were a medley of Maoists from Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. In fact, SFs subsequently arrested two Maoists, identified as Reena alias Manjulata Muduli and Pratap Kambata, both natives of Orissa, during the combing operations in forest areas along the borders of the Kandhmal and Ganjam Districts. A 9 mm pistol, looted from the Nayagarh District armoury, was recovered from their possession. Reena who had joined the extremist movement six years ago, is an active member of the Sambalpur-Deogarh committee of the CPI-Maoist.
Regional media reports have indicated that Policemen in Districts including Nayagarh, Ganjam and Kandhamal have stopped wearing their uniforms and Police vehicles have stopped using red beacons for fear of Maoist attacks. Some of the Police stations/outposts in remote locations have been locked up, as Police personnel have simply fled.
The Chief Minister’s statements, nevertheless, appear to reflect a sense of satisfaction with regard to the SFs’ achievements. By some strange logic, he described the raid on Nayagarh as a result of the "successes of the Police in the last few months" against the Maoists. The ‘successes’, however, totalled the killing of two cadres, the arrest of another 25 and the recovery of no more than seven firearms, four IEDs, 12 detonators, 75 gelatine sticks and a quantity of Naxalite literature and pamphlets. Describing Nayagarh as a District not affected by CPI-Maoist activities, Patnaik claimed that the attack was not preceded by "any intelligence input by the Central Government agencies." [Nayagarh did, however, figure as a ‘marginally affected’ District, in the Institute for Conflict Management’s September 2007 listing of 194 Districts affected by LWE activities].
The Chief Minister further claimed that the combing operations following the Nayagarh raid "succeeded in hauling the largest quantity of arms and ammunition in the country" forgetting to add that it was only the looted weapons which were being recovered and half of the recovered .303 rifles were found in destroyed and unusable condition. The Chief Minister on February 21 also claimed, "Orissa's Special Operation Group (SOG) had launched the counter-attack on its own, even before the CRPF and Greyhounds force could reach us." He, however, failed to mention that the operation, which mostly involved SOG personnel taking positions in open paddy fields and firing at Maoists converging on the hilltops, resulted in the death of three SF personnel, including that of an Assistant Commandant. It was only after the SOG personnel were reinforced by CRPF companies and Greyhounds units that some results started trickling in. Similarly, the use of two Air Force helicopters to track down the retreating Maoists is said to have brought about a clear difference in the current operations. However, the plan to use the choppers in pursuit of the Maoists in the State was mooted by the State Government and approved by New Delhi way back in January 2007, but had never been put to use for reasons unknown.
The Nayagarh attack has typically made the political class across the country sit up momentarily, to announce a series of measures to augment the capacities of the Police Force. Barely three days after the Nayagarh raid the Chief Minister, who is also in charge of the Home Department, announced that all Police vacancies would be filled expeditiously within the shortest possible time and all the Police Stations and armouries would be fortified. As per these plans, an additional 1,300 posts of constables and sepoys would be created in the Orissa State Armed Police (Special Security) Battalions for guarding the newly fortified Police Stations. Further, the strength of the SOG of the State Police is to be increased by sanctioning 1,000 additional posts. Five India Reserve Battalions (IRBs) are also to be created after obtaining sanction from the Centre, in addition to three already sanctioned (of which just one has been raised).
The Chief Minister’s assessment of the Maoist threat is based essentially on the relatively small numbers of Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-related fatalities in the State. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), in 2007 (till November 30), Orissa recorded 64 LWE related incidents, involving 22 deaths, a mere 4.62 percent of the total LWE incidents and 2.89 percent of the total resultant fatalities reported in the country during the same period. In comparison, Chhattisgarh recorded 413 fatalities in 531 incidents, Andhra Pradesh 73 fatalities in 117 incidents, Jharkhand 149 fatalities in 413 incidents and Bihar, 56 fatalities in 118 incidents. Moreover, since the Koraput raid in 2004, Orissa witnessed only another three ‘swarming attacks’ involving the Maoist ‘people’s militia’ till the Nayagarh attack, out of 50 such attacks recorded in various states. However, data on fatalities and the absence or low occurrence of large-scale attacks alone cannot not exhaust the challenge created by the Maoists in 22 affected Districts in the State [out of a total 30].
Maoist activities have dominated the northern Districts bordering Jharkhand and the southern Districts bordering Andhra Pradesh. A simple call for a general strike by the CPI-Maoist has periodically paralysed life in all these Districts. The Maoist extortion network is known to have collected INR 600 millions between December 2007 and January 2008 in these affected Districts. The implementation of State and Central development schemes has virtually stalled due to Maoist threats. Recent reports have indicated large-scale Maoist mobilisation in the Districts of Mayurbhanj, Sambalpur and Deogarh.
It has previously been argued by SAIR that the Orissa Police lacks critical infrastructure and manpower to check the mounting Maoist influence and capacities. While the State Police Headquarters feels that Orissa currently requires around 1,000 Police Stations, it currently has just 482, and most of these lack proper infrastructure and manpower. Not just basic policing, but also specialised Armed Police contingents continue to suffer due to chronic neglect. For example, the 4th Battalion of the Orissa Armed Police (OAP) located at Rourkela, close to the Orissa-Jharkhand border, stationed on a 143 acre plot of land, does not even have a boundary wall. The suggestion to erect a wall to protect the facility was made way back in November 2006 with an estimated expenditure of INR 20 million. The battalion authorities are still awaiting approval of the Police Headquarters, after four subsequent reminders.
The Orissa Police currently has over 12,000 vacancies against present sanctioned strength of 30,265. While about 10,000 vacancies are among Constables and Other Ranks, there are also a large proportion of vacancies in the middle-rung leadership at the Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI), Sub-Inspector (SI) and Inspector levels. According to sources, as many as 360 ASI posts, 905 SI posts and 43 posts of inspectors have been vacant for the past several years constituting a 22 percent vacancy against the sanctioned strength. At least 57 posts of Indian Police Service officers in the State quota are also vacant, as against a sanctioned strength of 159 officers for the State. Whereas there are 126 Policemen per 100,000 population on an average across the country, Orissa has only 99. Orissa’s Police density (Policemen per 100 square kilometres) stands at a meagre 24.9, compared to the national average of 44.4. Indeed, Orissa’s casual attitude towards filling vacancies was noted by the MHA in May 2007, when the Centre directed the State to spruce up its intelligence mechanisms by increasing manpower, inducting competent officers and procuring better surveillance equipment.
Forest areas in the State’s Maoist affected Districts are aplenty. For example, the Kandhamal District, the theatre of the ongoing combing operations, has 68 per cent of its geographical area under forests. Similarly, Gajapati District has 57 per cent and Rayagada District has 43 per cent of its area under forests. Illegal activities, such as smuggling of forest produce and timber felling, continue with little opposition from the Police in most of these forest areas, which are almost free from any form of Police surveillance. In fact, a major reason for the lack of progress in the current combing operations is the absence of basic maps of the Gosma Forest with the Police, who had to borrow the needed maps from the Forest Department two days after the operations began. Since most Police personnel engaged in the operations failed to decipher what the maps indicated, Forest Department personnel had to be roped in to aid the operations.
Orissa’s political masters have continued to display an obdurate lack of understanding of the Maoist strategy of political and military consolidation. Many States in the country, reeling under Maoist violence, are currently paying for the error of mistaking the absence of incidents as a victory of the SFs. However, the reality remains that as long as such ‘absence’ is not enforced by a continuous augmentation of the SF capacities, and a visible erosion of Maoist capabilities, the latter will remain in control of the initiative. In such a scenario, incidents like the Nayagarh raid remain no more than a simple process of the assembling of a few hundred cadres and letting them loose on the debilitated Police Forces. As with such major attacks in the past, amidst the fire fighting and assumed ‘successes’, the need to address the basic flaws of the system appears to have been lost sight of.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
February 18-24, 200
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Elections held peacefully in Tripura: Elections to the 60-member Tripura State Legislative Assembly concluded peacefully with a 91 percent turnout on February 23, 2008. Voting was held amid a deployment of 60,000 Security Force personnel across the four districts. G.S.G. Ayyangar, the Chief Electoral Officer of Tripura, said, "There hasn’t been a single untoward incident". Indian Express, February 24, 2008.
Lashkar-e-Toiba plans to target nuclear facilities in southern India: The Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) has tasked two groups of terrorists to attack the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh, and the Kaiga Nuclear Power Plant at Karwar in Karnataka. According to intelligence inputs and information gathered by the security agencies following the arrest of six LeT terrorists in Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh on February 11, 2008, the LeT operatives, with arms sourced from the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), have reportedly entered the country through Nepal. They stopped over at Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh where a person, codenamed Zaman Bhai, bought them three train tickets to Bangalore and two to Hyderabad. Senior police officials have said that two terrorists, Riyaz and Sultan, have reached Karnataka. Asian Age, February 23, 2008.
Blockade in Terai disrupts normal life and leads to fuel crisis in Kathmandu: The indefinite blockade and shutdown by regional ethnic parties in Nepal brought normal life to a halt across the Terai Districts on February 24, 2008, and also deepened the petroleum crisis in the country. The strikes and shutdown, which entered the 12th day on February 24, are aimed at forcing the interim Government to agree to greater economic and political rights, including more autonomy, for the Terai region. The United Democratic Madheshi Forum (UDMF), an alliance of regional political parties fighting for greater rights for the Madheshi community living in the southern plains, has been spearheading the agitation since February 13, with curfews in place in at least two Districts. Hundreds of vehicles reportedly lined up outside a handful of service stations selling rationed fuel in the national capital, Kathmandu. According to officials, the state-run Nepal Oil Corporation escorted 53 oil tankers to Kathmandu on February 23 in an effort to ease the fuel crisis. The Hindu, February 24, 2008
Taliban call for peace talks with new Government: The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said on February 24, 2008, that they were ready for peace talks with the new Government, but only if it rejected President Pervez Musharraf’s "war on terror" in the country’s tribal belt. A TTP spokesman quoted Baitullah Mehsud as calling for negotiations with parties that beat the president’s allies in elections. "The Taliban movement welcomes the victory of anti-Musharraf political parties... and announces its willingness to enter into negotiations with them for bringing peace," Taliban spokesman Maulana Omar said, quoting a statement by Mehsud. "Whoever makes the Government, we want to make it clear to them we don’t want fighting. We want peace, but if they impose war on us, we will not spare them," Omar told journalists in Peshawar by telephone. He urged the new administration to "avoid repeating the mistakes of the Musharraf Government." Daily Times, February 25, 2008.
14 people killed in bomb blast in NWFP: A remote-controlled bomb exploded at a wedding party procession on February 22, 2008, killing 14 people and injuring 13 others, mostly children, in the Matta Administrative Division of Swat District in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The bomb, which was detonated in the Ronial Takh Maira area of the region, exploded around 4pm (PST) when the wedding party was travelling from Kandogai village to Pir Dar Baba village. "There was a remote-controlled bomb explosion which targeted a wedding party. Two cars were destroyed including the car in which the bride was travelling, [and] she died," local police officer Haroon Khan told AFP. Daily Times , February 23, 2008.
Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz agree to form coalition Government: The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) agreed on February 21, 2008, to form coalition governments, including with the Awami National Party (ANP). "We have agreed on a common agenda. We will work together to form the Government in the Centre and in the Provinces… We will ensure that you complete a full five years’ term," Nawaz Sharif told a Press Conference in Islamabad after talks with PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari. Zardari said there were "a lot of grounds to cover" between the two parties, but added: "Inshallah (God willing) we will be meeting off and on. In principle, we have agreed to stay together." Also on February 21, the PPP and the ANP agreed to work together for the supremacy of Parliament, judicial reforms, provincial autonomy and war on terror, Zardari and ANP President Asfandyar Wali told reporters after their meeting. Daily Times, February 22, 2008.
Pakistan People’s Party emerges as single largest party in election results: The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) emerged as the single largest party in the National Assembly followed closely by the Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) in the elections held on February 18, 2008. The PPP led with 87 seats out of 272, followed by 66 for the PML-N, and 38 for the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q). Among the smaller parties, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement won 19 seats and the Pakhtun nationalist Awami National Party got 10 seats. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a religious coalition which won 59 seats in 2002, was able to win only three this time. Other political parties – the PPP-Sherpao, the Balochistan National Party, the National People’s Party and the PML-F – got one, one, two, and four seats, respectively. Independent candidates won 27 seats.
In the Punjab province, the PML-N won 101 seats out of 280, while the PPP and independent candidates got 78 and 35 seats, respectively. The PML-Q got 66 seats. In Sindh, the PPP won 65 seats out of 125, while the MQM and the PML-Q got 38 and nine seats, respectively. The PML-N failed to win a single seat while one independent candidate was successful. In Balochistan, the PML-Q won 17 seats out of 44, while the PPP won seven seats. Independent candidates won ten seats. In the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), the ANP won 31 seats out of 85, while the PML-Q and the PML-N won six and five seats, respectively. The PPP won 17 seats in the NWFP. In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), results for six constituencies out of a total of 12 have been officially announced. Elections in two of the constituencies were postponed. As all the candidates in the region contested the elections as independent candidates, no political parties gained any inroads into the region. The Hindu; Daily Times, February 20, 2008.
19 people killed in country-wide elections: 19 people were killed and 157 others were injured in countrywide election-related violence on February 18, 2008, caretaker Interior Minister Lt-Gen (Retd.) Hamid Nawaz stated. The Minister said that nine persons died in Punjab, seven in Sindh and three in the North West Frontier Province. He did not give any casualty figures for Balochistan, where four people were reported to have been killed. According to independent reports, the overall death toll in the country was 26. "Despite 19 deaths, the Government considers the election quite peaceful, with no incident of terrorism in any part of the country… We are happy that neither any incident of terrorism nor any obstacle in the election process was reported in the country," the caretaker minister said. Private TV channels reported that clashes between supporters of different political parties occurred in Khairpur, Gujranwala, Chakwal, Kamoki, Mirpur, Jacobabad, Muzzafargarh, Mandi Bahauddin, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sargodha, Charsadda, Sukkur, Gujar Khan, Shikarpur, Hangu, Gakharmandi, Sialkot, Samandri, Sanghar and Peshawar.
Polling is reported to have begun at a slow pace as voters appeared to be wary of violence. However, as the day progressed, the voter turnout improved and, according to unconfirmed reports, was estimated to be 35 per cent at the end of polling. The Ambassadors of UK, USA, Japan, China, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the South Asian Association of Regional Corporation (SAARC) and European Union Countries, visited different polling stations in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad and expressed their satisfaction over the polling process, security arrangements and performance of election staff. The Government had deployed 81,000 troops and nearly 400,000 police personnel to provide security to the more than 64,000 polling stations, a third of which had been declared sensitive. Dawn, February 19, 2008.
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