Blogging on Issues of International and European Security

Elections in Pakistan: still far from a ‘Pakistani Spring’



by Elena Marda

The recent Pakistani elections have received sustained attention by the world media and the appointment of Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister spurred optimism regarding the relations of Pakistan with India. On May 15th, the EU-Asia Center organised a policy briefing on the outcome of the Pakistani elections and its consequent implications for regional security. Fraser Cameron, Director of EU-Asia Centre, in a pleasant anchorman-style way moderated the discussion which revolved around four thematic clusters: the content of the electoral campaign and the elections outcome, the priorities to be set, the effects on regional security, and the future of EU-Pakistan relations.

The elections

The Pakistani electoral campaign was concentrated on pragmatic issues, such as economy, development and energy, while nationalistic elements were mostly absent from the agenda.  The majority of the panellists agreed that the overall assessment of the electoral procedure, especially compared to past efforts, was of a positive outcome. Social media and civil society came out stronger after the elections and Huma Yusuf, Columnist at ‘Dawn’, conveyed the excitement of the people and stressed the fact that voter turnout of the middle class and youth increased significantly. Nevertheless, Dr. Martin Axmann, Resident Representative of Hanns-Seidel Foundation, remained reserved regarding the success of the elections and reminded that attacks on progressive parties  raise serious doubts about the labelling the elections as ‘free and fair’. He informed the audience that almost no voting was organised in Balochistan and he rejected the idea that there had been any kind of shift in Pakistan’s politics.


With an economy that is lacking a functioning tax collection system and a probable IMF bailout on the way, all participants agreed that the number one priority for Pakistan is the development of opportunities through the boost of economy and the amelioration of education.  In addition, the promotion of human rights and the protection of minorities were also deemed as necessary in order to guarantee the stability of the region. Underlining that Pakistan’s political history demonstrates that political bodies and institutions are allowed to function only to the extent that they do not become an obstacle to the military establishment’s activities, Dr. Axmann advocated the restraining of the military as an essential component of Pakistan’s democratisation.

Regional security

Stefanie Babst, Head, Strategic Analysis Capability to the Secretary General and Chairman of the Military Committee at NATO, drew the audience’s attention to the repositioning of certain actors (China, India, Iran) regarding Pakistan, and reiterated the support of NATO for regional reconciliation processes. Although the partnership has been cooled after 2010, an interest to rewarm this relationship has been articulated by Islamabad. Dr. Axman, adopting a less positive stance, noted that, in his view, there is no indication for real change since foreign policy remains under the exclusive responsibility of the military. Responding to a question about the implication of the Kashmir, Shada Islam, Head of Policy at Friends of Europe, underlined that the process of regional integration does not necessarily require solving core issues, but efforts should rather be concentrated on developing a solid trade relationship between India and Pakistan that would be beneficial for both.

EU-Pakistan relations

The 5-year Engagement Plan is at the core of EU-Pakistan relations for Ugo Astuco, Director for South and South East Asia at EEAS. Until recently, particular attention was given to the organisation of elections, but now that this goal has been achieved, education and cooperation with local NGOs are becoming top priorities for the EU in Pakistan. Mrs. Yusuf, expressing a Pakistani perspective, pointed to the importance of trade between the EU and Pakistan, and to the opening up to Pakistani exports that would foster economic development. Mrs. Islam welcomed the fact that Pakistan is now part of the EU’s Asia policy; however, she warned that, although the EU is being particularly proactive in supporting human rights activists and in engaging with civilian political forces, Pakistan still does not attract the attention of European foreign policy makers. She suggested that the EU should take advantage of the positive image that is being projected in the country and bring together journalists, academia and think-tankers from Pakistan, India and Afghanistan to exchange views about the needs of the region.


4 comments on “Elections in Pakistan: still far from a ‘Pakistani Spring’

  1. JC

    Why does Pakistan need a ‘spring’?

    Apart from the fact that most pakistanis are muslims like arabs, we have nothing much in common.

    Pakistan was already a democracy before this election, we handed power from one civilian government to another.

    The arab countries were and are still fighting against dictators, whereas Pakistan got rid of Musharraf in 2008, and he only ruled for about 9 years, not as long as the arab dictators.

    Arab countries need to emulate Pakistan’s path of democracy.
    I’m glad Pakistan didn’t have a so called ‘spring’ which was actually an ‘islamist’ or pseudo-islamist winter, the arab countries elected islamist parties whereas Pakistan had elected a center-left wing party in 2008 and replaced it with a center-right wing party in this election.

    We don’t need to copy the arabs, they should take cues from us, afterall we elected a woman as prime minister twice before, and are far liberal than many arab countries on many fronts.

  2. ISIS Europe

    Thank you for your comment. Yes, perhaps the comparison is not totally accurate. But it was more something that came out of the conference, on the basis that Pakistan’s democratisation process is still far from being considered as completed.

  3. JC

    ‘far from being considered as complete’?Maybe you are right, but I believe that we are actually closer to completing the democratic process than ever before.

    We have an independent judiciary, free press that critiques the Government,Military, Intelligentsia all the time.

    For the first time in history the chief of army staff voted in the election, on live television, no Muslim country’s CoAS has ever done that.

    There were many instances of rigging and voter fraud, but being a poor country with 86 million registered voters(more registered voters than the population of many European countries), I think we did a good job.

    Most importantly, the best part about Pakistani democracy is that the Islamist parties have never won an election, which reflects the real values of most Pakistani people.

  4. ISIS Europe

    This blog is part of our ‘Conferences’ section, thus, the views presented are those of the participants in the conference and do not necessarily represent our opinions.

    Personally I agree, Pakistan is now closer to democratisation and the recent turnout further demonstrates this trend. Yet, challenges still remain to be tackled and the role of the military establishment in politics is hindering the democratic transition. In addition, media freedom is an insufficient level (for example, the expulsion of the Islamabad bureau chief for The New York Times and the fact that Pakistan is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists are extremely worrying facts).

    Overall, I think that the recent elections do show positive steps towards democratisation and it is only on the hands of the people of Pakistan to enhance this dynamic.

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This entry was posted on 15/05/2013 by in Conferences, Elena Marda and tagged , , , , .


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