Glory be to secularism in an unpredictable land

Booker Prize nominated writer Mohsin Hamid has a nicely written piece in the Guardian that sums up his feelings about the election results in Pakistan. What is truly wonderful about the result, as he points out, is that it does seem to offer credence to the idea that Pakistan has a secular heart:

Instead, Pakistan managed a relatively free and fair election that delivered a crushing defeat to the ruling party of Pakistan’s unpopular President Musharraf. More than that, the country’s religious parties were assigned to the electoral dustbin, with voters even in the supposedly conservative Northwest Frontier province that borders Afghanistan flocking to secular candidates. The winners were moderate, centrist politicians – suggesting perhaps that Pakistanis, notwithstanding acres of newsprint to the contrary, are at heart a moderate centrist bunch.

There’s more detail on that point over at OpenDemocracy:

The MMA, the major alliance of Islamist parties, won only three seats in the National Assembly. In 2002, the MMA won 63 seats in the country’s parliament. Tellingly, the godfather of the MMA and the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Islam, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, lost in his constituency.

Assuming that President Musharraf goes soon and goes quietly, one wonders if there is a lesson to be learnt for the West from these election results. If Musharraf had not been so amenable to the West during his time as dictator, his administration would surely have been targeted by the Bush Administration for a spot of regime change during the heady period immediately following 9/11. It is hard to imagine secular elements within Pakistan achieving the same levels of support today if a more hawkish approach to Pakistan was taken back then; disliking America and the West would have been all too easy a trend to create for extreme fundamentalist groups around the country.

Instead, democracy has been allowed to run its course in Pakistan, and although it is perhaps too early to be sure, the results are promising.