It's not a typo neither a joke. In fact, I am forced by friends to predict the outcome of elections but I hate to play jotish. However, the confidence posed by them, has encouraged me to take this leap of faith and make out a window into what might happen not in elections 2013 but in the run up to 2018. I am attempting to fast forward to General Elections 2018, touch wood and fly back to our own time. This might bring to fore what is at stake in the coming elections and give some of the anxieties and hysteria a more realistic perspective. So here is how my election kundli reads.
At about the time the new elected government in Pakistan will be going through the inaugural chores; there will be presidential elections in Iran. To be exact on June 14, 2013. President Ahmedinajad is barred from contesting as he has already completed the maximum of two constitutional terms. There is a strong possibility that these elections in Iran may turn out to be more than a change of face. Last elections, in June 2009, were followed by street protests by opposition leaders who alleged massive rigging by the conservative Iranian establishment headed by its Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, in favor of Ahmedinajad. The protests were filliped by a YouTube video of a protesting young lady who died as the police tried to break the crowd.
The campaign went out of steam after a few weeks. President Najad later fell out with the Supreme Leader who is considered the most powerful person in Iran – himself making almost every important decision. Iran's internal fissures will again stand exposed at the time of coming presidential elections. The anxious establishment has made some advance preparations, like enacting laws that will disqualify certain opposition leaders from contesting. The Iranian opposition too may be readying itself for a collision.
The Arab Spring is presently stuck at its last stopover, Syria, and may enter neighboring Iran at this opportune time. It does not take much now to work out the pattern that 'the revolutions' in the Middle East are following. It starts with a benign looking street protest that sustains and then turns violent. It spreads across cities and gives way to armed resistance by semi-organised groups. The West recognises them as legitimate and arms them, adding fuel to fire till it burns down everything to ashes. If the local militias falter half way, they are provided direct air support by the Western forces. Violence in Iran will not augur well for us. I will avoid speculating further.
Following the possibly exciting rendezvous of the Arab Spring with the Persian summer, the autumn of Pakistan will not be mundane either. President Asif Ali Zardari's term will expire in September 2013, barely three months after the takeover by the new elected government. Pakistan Peoples Party's majority in Senate will still be intact. It will be interesting to see how 'the master mover' mixes it with whatever results the elections to the National and the four provincial assemblies will throw up. It has been quite a while for the President and the Prime Minister to pick a quarrel; will this tranquility continue to prevail between the new pair after September?
Ten weeks later Chief of the Army, General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kiyani, will pay the farewell call to the newly elected President. The General will complete his extended term late in November 2013. By then he would have spent six long years at the top. His term was extended in 2010 as continuity vis-à-vis our engagement in war on terror was considered strategically important. The war will not have been concluded by then but the international forces in Afghanistan will be about to enter the non-combatant phase. The phase will require from Pakistan a new approach in relations with Afghanistan whose key generally is held by the army chief.
Appointment of a new army chief in Pakistan always causes anxiety in political circles. It is considered one of those rare windows that let an elected civilian government meddle with the otherwise strictly 'internal affairs' of our army. What will the appointment symbolise this time? There is one more aspect with which the new army chief will be judged. General Kiyani is on record to have said that he is India-centric, whatever that might mean. What would be the new chief's centricity?
While the new army chief will still be busy with briefings, it will be time for Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry to attend the full court reference called in his honor. On 12 December 2013, the Chief Justice will turn 65 that is the age of retirement for Supreme Court judges. So 11 December will be the end of undoubtedly the most spectacular period in the history of judicial activism. The current CJ draws strength from not only his position as the top judge but also from 'the popular mandate' that he had acquired through the street campaign following his dismissal and reinstatement in 2007-08. Whoever will replace him won't have the same elated, almost haloed, position. This will change the present course of relations between the elected government and the higher judiciary. The turn the trajectory will take will have impact on the then political environ.
When the new year celebrations will start (I am an optimist), the country will have a new Prime Minister, President, cabinet, provincial governments, army chief and Chief Justice - the system will be zero-meter.
The US and Nato forces will start packing up from Afghanistan. They have already decided that 10 to 20 thousand of their troops will stay back but they will not actively engage in combat and limit themselves to training and other activities that will largely be in support of the Afghan army. But before we see pictures of emotional family reunions at US airports, there will be presidential elections in Afghanistan, on 5 April 2014 to be precise.
President Hamid Karzai cannot contest because of the constitutional bar on seeking a third term. The previous presidential elections, held in 2009, were far from being free or fair. In the low turnout affair, just a third of the country's voters exercised their right, while one million out of the total of 5.5 million cast votes were rejected for being invalid. Opposition and independent observers accused authorities of wide spread fraud and malpractices. President Karzai had finished just short of simple majority which necessitated a run-off but the runner-up, Abdullah Abdullah stepped back, days before the scheduled second phase of elections.
The health of the 2014 elections will have a direct impact on the legitimacy, strength and stability of the new government in Afghanistan. The new president will bid farewell to the international troops. He will have to lead his own forces against any insurgency afterwards. Will the Taliban strike back? Will they be able to repeat the victories of 1990s? Or will they prefer to negotiate a rather peaceful settlement with the government in Kabul? Answers to these questions will have a make or break impact on the fate of terrorism within Pakistan. They could mean long awaited peace or spell even more disaster. Pakistan will remain under the shadow of happenings in Afghanistan all through 2014 and much beyond that.
And yes, the term of the Indian parliament, 15th Lok Sabha, will expire on 31 May 2014. So there will be elections in India at that time too, if not called earlier. The largest population of fortune tellers might be living in India but that's no help when it comes to predicting the election's outcome in that country. One can, however, seek comfort in the fact that whatever the results, there will be no sea change in Indian positions. This at times becomes a disappointment though. The change in India will be limited to who the world leaders will be posing with: an exciting young Gandhi or another cold and calm old hand.
Within a year of the coming elections (May 2013 to May 2014), the whole region will undergo a metamorphosis. Let's hope our new selves have wings. The year of excitements will be followed by time to contemplate – take new positions, civil-military, government-judiciary, Afghanistan, India-Pakistan et al and it shall take another year to let these stances set well. The government will still have time to perform. So, what will be the election issues in 2018?
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.
Tahir Mehdi works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group that has a primary interest in understanding governance and democracy.
He tweets @TahirMehdiZ
The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.