Arthur I. Cyr: Election controversy in Pakistan overshadows domestic progress

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Former cricket sports star Imran Khan is now the recognized Pakistan election victor to be Prime Minister. Khan himself never doubted success — he made a flamboyant victory speech before the announcement of official results.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his chief election rival, has some marked disadvantages, including being in prison. Losers in the election charge the military and court system railroaded Sharif and helped elect Khan’s party.

Khan himself presents an unclear, evolving image. He was an international sports star and jet setter. He is today a successful politician who has expressed sympathy with both China, a communist state struggling to modernize, and the Taliban, a fundamentalist terrorist group that rejects modernity in total.

Perhaps that simply indicates pragmatism, which Khan surely needs now. His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Party fell short of a majority in parliament. Khan and associates must broker a governing majority with other legislative factions. PTI supports a centrist approach, which may help both in forming a government and in effective administration.

Another famous Pakistan leader is Malala Yousafzai, shot by the Taliban at age 16 in revenge for her advocacy of education for females. The vicious attack created an influential international leader against violence.

Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit organization to empower girls and women, has established the Malala Fund. Yousafzai has become a vital global symbol of courage.

Global media emphasis on violence in Pakistan reflects the country’s strategic importance, but also overshadows progress in democratic politics and orderly alternation of governments. In September 2013, beleaguered President Asif Ali Zardari, who did not seek reelection, was succeeded by Mamnoon Hussain, who is still in office.

Also in 2013, Pakistan’s National Assembly elections provided a victory to Nawaz Sharif and his opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N. President Hussain is a Sharif ally.

Despite violence, turnout in these elections was approximately 60 percent. The orderly office handover to the opposition represented a distinctive departure from the nation’s history of military coups. This was the first peaceful democratic transition in the 66 years of national independence.

In recent years, Pakistan-U.S. relations have been vexed. Pakistan since 9/11 has been a front line in the struggle against terrorism.

Osama bin Laden’s ability to hide in Abbottabad raised suspicion that Pakistan officials may have been complicit in concealing him. The U.S. government did not inform Pakistan of the SEAL Team 6 raid that killed him. Islamic radicalism is influential, but scope of actual public support is unclear.

Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons. This vastly raises the stakes of a possible radical takeover of power. Pakistan and U.S. militaries cooperate closely on securing these weapons, in a long-established durable partnership.

Historically, the nation has been a U.S. ally, a point often overlooked in media commentary. The British-trained military is extremely capable. During the Cold War, Pakistan was generally a conservative counter-weight to neutralist India and communist China.

In the 1950s, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles ensured that this important ally joined both the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), designed to replicate NATO in the Middle East and South Asia, respectively. The nation was unique in having membership in both alliances. Both are long gone, but the geostrategic importance of Pakistan continues.

Mass media emphasize Islamabad-Washington strains, threats of Islamic radicalism, and incidents of brutal violence. The reality is more complex, and more promising.

Yousafazi’s influence is especially inspiring.

— Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact