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Hopes and fears of a crisis-racked country

Article published on the 2008-05-09 Latest update 2008-05-14 14:37 TU

Mohamed Yunus in front of the brickworks in his village near Jehlum (Photo: Tony Cross)

Mohamed Yunus in front of the brickworks in his village near Jehlum
(Photo: Tony Cross)

‘‘I feel very good,’’ declared former seafarer Mohamed Yunus at the prospect of President Pervez Musharraf’s allies, the PML-Q, losing power. 

Five days after the 18 February 2008 poll the votes from Pakistan’s general election were still being counted, and a complex electoral system meant that the exact make-up of the new National Assembly was not clear.

But even in this village near Jhelum, as close to the Indian border as it is to Islamabad, it was clear that the new government would be made up of Musharraf's enemies. 

Yunus, who’d travelled the world before returning home, believed that sharing power would oblige the politicians to serve the people who had elected them.

Would they bring down the price of the wheat flour, which the poor use to make roti, the bread that fills hungry bellies?

‘‘Of course! Because now they’re members of many parties," he said "Before one party, now many parties, so maybe down.’’  

Women vote in Lahore, 18 September 2008(photo: Tony Cross)

Women vote in Lahore, 18 September 2008
(photo: Tony Cross)

Yunus’s optimism was shared by the millions of Pakistanis who’d voted for the People’s Party (PPP), the Muslim League-N (PML-N) or any of the other parties which had fought Musharraf since he seized power in 1999.

In fact, it took nearly a month for the parties could agree to form a government, and the country was plunged into crisis after little more than a month.

The cause of the break-up was a failure to agree on the reinstatement of judges Musharraf had sacked when he declared a state of emergency in November 2007 - a key question since the mass protests against the move had helped bring the parties to power.

The new government was swifter to act on the political violence which has at times reached the level of insurgency in the north-west and the autonomous tribal areas, while contaminating the entire social and political life of the country.

It declared that Musharraf’s policy of repression, which was enthusiastically backed--if not inspired--by Washington, had failed, and it offered talks to any armed groups ready to renounce the use of weapons.

Meanwhile, as in the rest of the world, the price of food, petrol and other essentials continued to rise.