Pakistan

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By Richard McGregor in Washington

After sensitive details of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden began leaking, an infuriated Robert Gates, then secretary of defence, stormed into the office of Tom Donilon, the national security adviser.

“Why doesn’t everybody just shut the f*** up?” said the incensed Pentagon chief.

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A turning point for Pakistan?
As Pakistan prepares to go to the polls in the first transfer of power between one democratically elected government and another since the foundation of the state, optimists say the elections will mark an important turning point for the country. But pessimists point to the background of violence against which the elections are taking place and the continuing parlous state of the economy. To assess this, Gideon Rachman is joined by Victor Mallet, South Asia bureau chief, and Stefan Wagstyl, emerging markets editor

Election campaign posters are pictured along a busy road ahead of Pakistan's general election on April 15, 2013 (FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)

(FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistan is preparing for its first constitutional democratic handover since partition as it heads to the parliamentary polls on May 11.

The campaign period has been marred by outbursts of violence, especially attacks by the attacks by the Taliban on candidates, rallies and offices of the country’s smaller, secular and liberal parties.

What’s at stake?

There are 342 seats available. Voters elect 272 members on a first-past-the-post basis. The 70 remaining (60 reserved for women and ten for non-Muslim minorities) are allocated to parties on the basis of their showing in the contests for the directly elected seats.

The outcome of this election may also determine which way the wind will blow for President Asif Ali Zardari when his five-year term ends in September. Zardari is widely considered an ineffectual president who has nevertheless proved oddly effective at clinging to power. And although he was forced to step down as co-chair of the Pakistan People’s party, he is definitely considered to be its standard bearer.

Who are the runners and riders for the role of prime minister?

It really boils down to three key players.

The Favourite Nawaz Sharif, leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League, is a front runner.

Former Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif attends a meeting of traders during his election campaign in Islamabad on May 1, 2013 (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

(Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty)

A force in Pakistani politics for some time, he was ousted during his second stint as PM by former General Pervez Musharraf in a military coup in 1999. A victory in the forthcoming election would herald a third return to power. But is this a Shinzo Abe-style comeback – or more of a Silvio Berlusconi?

The Economist charts a favourable track record that may hint at the former:

“In Lahore alone, a bus system set up last year was opened in January; officials nearly eradicated dengue in 2012; and Mr Sharif built a motorway to Islamabad, the capital, in the 1990s. Such tangible schemes are popular.”

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Esther Bintliff

“Today you can see that I’m alive. I can speak, I can see you, I can see everyone, and today I can speak. And I’m getting better day by day.”

A lot has been written about Malala Yousafzai since she was shot in the head by the Taliban in October. On Monday, we heard the 15-year-old speak, in her first video statement since the attack.

“This is a second life, this is a new life. And I want to serve, I want to serve the people. And I want every girl, every child to be educated.”

The quiet determination in her voice helps explain why the Taliban see her as such a threat. As Adam B. Ellick, the New York Times journalist who made a short documentary about Malala in 2009 put it: “Don’t be fooled by her gentle demeanor and soft voice. Malala is also fantastically stubborn and feisty.”

The Channel 4 reporter Fatima Manji notes that Malala also released statements in Urdu and Pashto on Monday. “One line in Urdu particularly stands out for me,” writes Manji. “Malala says she believes so strongly in education that she would be willing to ‘sacrifi Read more >>

Gideon Rachman

Perhaps predictably, Imran Khan’s protest march against US drone strikes was stopped before the marchers could make it into the tribal areas of Pakistan. Khan is a politician and so not averse to a bit of free publicity. He has also been accused of being soft on the Pakistani Taliban. Nonetheless, the issues that he and others are raising about the drone strikes are very important.

The allegations involve the death of hundreds of innocent civilians. If these charges are true, they strike me as much more serious than – for example – the detention without trial of terrorist suspects in Guantanamo, which became such a cause célèbre, during the Bush presidency. Read more >>

Gideon Rachman

Photo by Getty

When crowds in the Muslim world attack US embassies in protest at an obscure video on the internet, it is easy to dismiss anti-American sentiment there as baseless fanaticism. I’ve done it myself. Pakistan is one of those countries where rage against the US is particulary rampant – and particularly baffling to the Americans, who recall the billions in aid that the US has sent to the country, and the damage that the Taliban has done to Pakistan itself.

Yet Americans who ask that old question – “Why do they hate us?” – might be well-advised to read a new report, produced by the law schools at Stanford and NYU. Entitled, “Living Under Drones”, it documents the damage and terror that drone-strikes have inflicted on the tribal areas of Pakistan. Read more >>

Here’s what got us chatting this morning:

These were the pieces that got our tongues wagging today:

 

By Gideon Rachman

It is funny what people choose to worry about. The west is obsessed with stopping Iran getting nuclear weapons. By contrast, Pakistan’s nuclear programme is not much discussed. And yet, by any sensible measure, Pakistani nukes are much more worrying.