Facing fear in Pakistan

President Pervez Musharraf's popularity sank to a new low as terrorist violence raged a week ahead of Pakistan's parliamentary elections. "The auguries for a fair vote could hardly be worse," said The Boston Globe. If Pakistan's new army chief c

What happened

A suicide bomber killed 16 people at a campaign rally in Pakistan over the weekend, raising security concerns ahead of Feb. 18 parliamentary elections seen as crucial to restoring stability. (Reuters in the National Post) Polls released Monday showed the popularity of President Pervez Musharraf falling to a new low, and opposition politicians could win in a landslide that would loosen his grip on power. (The Washington Post, free registration)

What the commentators said

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“The auguries for a fair vote could hardly be worse,” said The Boston Globe in an editorial (free registration). And the violence, which could scare away voters, isn’t the only problem. Musharraf has imposed a strict code of conduct for private TV channels that has “stifled criticism of his government” and blocked coverage of opposition rallies. Everyone expects the president’s allies to rig results, at least in remote areas. The U.S. and other allies should press for fairness, since the stability of a nuclear-armed nation that is a “sanctuary for al Qaida and the Taliban” affects the world.

The U.S. war in Afghanistan could hinge on this vote, said the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in an editorial. Pakistan has been both an ally in the fight against the Taliban, and a “hotbed for violent radicals.” And now one election could determine whether the country improves, or slides into chaos. Fear is high, and voter turnout is understanbly expected to be low. “If Pakistan collapses, Afghanistan, already on the verge of being a failed state, might be doomed.”

It is the job of one man to keep Pakistan from spiraling out of control, said John Barry, Zahid Hussain, and Ron Moreau in Newsweek. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani three months ago took over from Musharraf as head of a Pakistani army left “widely distrusted and deeply demoralized” by Musharraf’s dictatorship, as “armed allies of Al Qaeda rampage in the countryside and suicide bombers terrorize the cities.” He is racing to “undo the damage” and get the military out of politics. Unless he succeeds, the official outcome of the voting “could be beside the point.”

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