- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Reflections on the Process

| Summer 2008

In the run-up to the February 18 elections, I was focused on events in Pakistan that highlighted an undemocratic and corrupt system. Observing the February elections, however, gave me new insights into Pakistan's democracy. It is a lesson taught to me not by the politicians or the elites, but by the people of Pakistan. Those I met —men and women, young and old, wealthy and poor —care deeply about their country and their freedom to vote. I saw at least as many young people voting, presiding as election monitors, or present as political agents, as I did the older generation.

Given the cost of the National Identity Card required before one can vote in most places, it is wise to question whether the poor had an opportunity to be heard. The turnout in the underprivileged and rural areas was generally higher than in the wealthier urban communities. In many poverty stricken areas, voters were bused in by the political parties. Perhaps they were paid to vote “appropriately,” but they did have the opportunity to vote. And while women have clearly been disenfranchised and problems continue, there were a number of separate polling places set up for women. Those with whom I spoke did not feel disenfranchised.

While the Pakistani election process is far from perfect—with old and inaccurate electoral rolls, stolen ballots, ghost polling stations, and political pressure on voters—I came away with a profound respect for the men and women on the street who are engaged despite these problems and who want to see change.

The United States has long supported democracy in Pakistan, but at the same time has supported President Musharraf. Throughout the past year, the Pakistani people have made clear their desire to have him move aside, a message that rang out on election day. The time has come for the U.S. to align its actions with the democratic values it espouses.

The U.S. should assist with building education and health systems and should put pressure on the government to reengage with its people and bring back into the fold those now disenfranchised, most notably women and residents of the Tribal Areas and Baluchistan. This does not mean stopping support of the military, which will continue to play a central role in Pakistan for a while to come. It does mean recognizing that what for the U.S. may be an effort to root out extremists is for Pakistanis domestic upheaval that does not tend to win hearts and minds.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Dormandy, Xenia. Reflections on the Process.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Summer 2008).