The eyes of the world have been on Iran in recent weeks as the hardline Ahmedinijad regime, with the backing of the Ayatollah’s, appears on the brink of stealing a national election to keep hardline fundamentalists in power. While the world reacts in horror to the utter contempt for democratic practice, the rule of law, and basic human rights, one might wonder what, if anything, this event tells us about Pakistan. As it turns out, quite a bit.
The Promise of Progress
The Iranian election should serve as a stern warning for peacful citizens who ask nothing more than to elect their own governments and be free from the tyranny of fundamentalist oppression. While it remains a far cry from the restricted society that exists under the iron fist of the Ayatollahs in Iran, Pakistan is currently undergoing an internal struggle that will decide if continues on its path of development and joins the modern, free world; or if it is shackled to the repressive tendencies of dictators hiding under the robes of clerics.
Iran’s current opposition leader, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, has opened up the first opportunity for democratic reform that Iran has seen in years. Similarly, in Pakistan, President Zardari has reversed the self-destructive course that Pakistan had been on for years under Musharraf. Neither of these men are perfect, by any means, but they both represent new beginnings and fresh opportunities for stronger democracy, increased development, and a greater connectivity with the modern world.
The Nawaz Sharif Threat
Despite the impressive gains in Pakistan recently, the bright future of the country is under serious threat. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been trying to put himself in the spotlight again, and trying to rebuild his personal political empire.
Nawaz Sharif is considered an “old hand” in Afhganistan’s religious extremism. As reported by ANI in 2008,
During his two stints as prime minister, Nawaz Sharif had developed good working relations with almost all the Afghan Mujahideen leaders…
In fact, Nawaz Sharif built his political career on religious extremism, calling his opponents part of an “Indo-Zionist lobby.” Nawaz Sharif has already tried to impose Sharia law on Pakistan twice so far, in 1991 and 1998.
A former official from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – the nation’s premier spy agency – has alleged that Nawaz Sharif met with and received funding from Osama bin Laden in 1990.
Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal president Qazi Hussain Ahmed had said in a recent interview that Sharif had repeatedly met bin Laden, who had offered him money to topple the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government in 1990.
Khawaja, who developed a friendship with bin Laden while fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, told AKI that the Al Qaeda head wanted the “secular” PPP government overthrown to ensure that Pakistan continued supporting the Afghan jehad.
Khawaja claimed that bin Laden gave him funds, which he personally delivered to Sharif, AKI reported.
“Sharif insisted that I arrange a direct meeting with the ‘sheikh’, which I did in Saudi Arabia. Nawaz met Osama thrice in Saudi Arabia,” Khawaja said. However, he did not indicate when precisely the meeting took place.
If we have learned any lesson from the recent elections in Iran, it is that religious fundamentalists are not honest political partners. Judging by his own political career, and his own words and actions today, Nawaz Sharif presents a real threat to the recent democratic gains in Pakistan. The world has turned its attention to the fundamentalist threat in Iran. Will it ignore the same threat in Pakistan?