Pakistanis vote in record numbers as Sharif heads toward victory

The (Virtual) Shelf: "Bird of Chaman, Flower of Khyber" by Matthieu Aikins, a new ebook from Foreign Policy (FP).  Pakistan rocks the vote Though votes are still being counted, two-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif appears poised to claim the post for an unprecedented third time (BBC, Post). Projections indicate that Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz will ...

ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

The (Virtual) Shelf: "Bird of Chaman, Flower of Khyber" by Matthieu Aikins, a new ebook from Foreign Policy (FP). 

Pakistan rocks the vote

The (Virtual) Shelf: "Bird of Chaman, Flower of Khyber" by Matthieu Aikins, a new ebook from Foreign Policy (FP). 

Pakistan rocks the vote

Though votes are still being counted, two-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif appears poised to claim the post for an unprecedented third time (BBC, Post). Projections indicate that Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz will claim at least 130 seats in the National Assembly, bringing it close to a simple majority in the 272-seat assembly, and it is believed alliances with smaller parties and independent candidates will put it over the top. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf and outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party won about 30 seats each.

Allegations of vote rigging, however, particularly in Karachi, will severely delay the final vote-count. Officials in Karachi said armed supporters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Pakistan People’s Party had forcibly taken over some polling stations in the southern port city (NYT).

After a campaign season that saw over a hundred people killed or injured in election-related violence, at least 38 people died on Saturday-Election Day-in attacks in Karachi and Quetta, as well as several in Balochistan (NYT). Two bombs targeting Awami National Party (ANP) candidate Amanullah Mehsud exploded in Karachi, though Mehsud was unhurt (UPI).  And in separate incidents in Balochistan, gunmen opened fire near a polling station in Soorab, killing two soldiers from the Frontier Corps and wounding four, while in Chaman, four people were killed and 10 wounded in a shootout between supporters of rival local candidates (ET). 

Violence continued in Quetta on Sunday where eight people died when a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden car into the convoy of Inspector General Police Mushtaq Sukhera, who escaped the attack (Dawn, AFP). 

Despite threats of violence, Pakistanis turned out in droves on Saturday to vote in the national election.  According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, 60% of the country 86 million voters chose the "ballot as an alternative to the bullet," the highest turnout since 1970 (DawnPost). Female voters were also eager to vote and activist group "Aware Girls" fielded the first citizen election observer team consisting of women aged 12 to 27.  Based in Peshawar, the "girls" monitored female-only polling stations to track campaign law violations and efforts to intimidate voters or tamper with ballots (USA TodayPost).

Ten killed, four freed

As the "fighting season" in Afghanistan picks up, 10 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed and a dozen wounded when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb in the Arghistan district of Kandahar on Monday (APPajhwok). A popular tactic for insurgents, there has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the bomb.

Afghan officials are seeking the arrest of Zakaria Kandahari, a man they say is an American Special Forces soldier who tortured and killed civilians in Wardak Province (NYT). American officials say U.S. forces are being blamed for the actions of a rogue Afghan unit, while Afghan authorities say they have evidence of significant American involvement.

Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul in Kabul on Saturday to try to negotiate the details of the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership agreement signed by Presidents Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai last May (NYT). The agreement is a framework for American commitments to Afghanistan over the next ten years, and details that remain unknown include the amount of money the United States will give to the Afghan security forces each year, as well as the specific demands made on the Afghan government to fight corruption and protect human rights.

Four Turkish engineers captured last month in Logar province by the Afghan Taliban were released on Sunday in a "gesture of goodwill towards fellow Muslims" (RFE/RLReuters). A total of eight Turks were captured, along with an Afghan translator and two pilots, when their helicopter had to make a hard landing in bad weather and the Afghan Taliban says it will soon release the remaining four hostages as well. However, no mention was made of the translator or the pilots, who are from Russia and Kyrgyzstan.  

Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhelwal appeared before Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, on Monday to reveal the names of legislators he previously accused of making illegal demands on the government (Pajhwok). Zakhelwal identified at least five members of parliament who he said had been involved in the smuggling of alcohol, fuel, and flour, and sought the illegal acquisition of land and license plates. 

All the news that’s fit to print?

While much of the world heralded Saturday’s landmark election in Pakistan, there were signs the country’s security and intelligence establishment remains strong.  Claiming Declan Walsh, the New York Times bureau chief in Pakistan, conducte
d "undesirable activities," the government revoked his visa and expelled him (NYTWSJ).  While further explanation has not been forthcoming, it is a sobering reminder that the country still has a way to go in becoming a full democracy, supportive of a critical press.

— Jennifer Rowland and Bailey Cahall 

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