Will the new government that is formed in Pakistan following this week's elections approve the parliament's proposal or reject it? No, this is not about a decision to drop an atomic bomb on India or to bomb the tribal areas, crawling with Taliban, on the border with Afghanistan.
The decision in question could enable a historic reconciliation between the Indian film industry and Pakistani nationalism - in 1965, Pakistan's government prohibited the screening of Indian films as part of the "retaliation" in the wake of the war that broke out between the two countries that year.
About two years ago, in a major gesture of reconciliation, President Pervez Musharraf allowed the screening of three Indian films in Pakistan. Last month, the parliament's culture committee voted to lift the general ban on Indian films. If its decision is approved, it will blaze the way for a reconciliation between the revealing sari and Pakistan's strict religious ordinances, and between the colorful music and costumes of Bollywood and the sounds of prayers coming from the mosques of Baluchistan-Waziristan.
Thus, anyone who would like to predict the nature of Pakistan's next government and new parliament and what the policy of this nuclearized country will be - which The Economist has recently called "the most dangerous country in the world" - will have to wait until the fate of the screening of Indian films is decided.
This is not just a matter that touches upon the relatively calm, but always inflammable relations between India and Pakistan. Such a decision could also indicate the willingness of the new government to reconcile with the extreme Muslim elements in the country - whether it is made up of opposition representatives only or also includes Musharraf's party. The Pakistani people has already voted in favor of the Indian movies, which are distributed or duplicated illegally at tens of thousands of video and DVD stores in the country.
The porous border
As these lines are being written, the final makeup of the parliament is not yet known, but the first results indicate a large victory for the opposition parties. If inside Pakistan the important question is what the nature of the democracy in this country of more than 160 million inhabitants will be, in the West they are asking what the nature of the regime will be.
The Pakistanis are interested in knowing how the government will deal with inflation; an illiteracy rate of nearly 70 percent; Sharia laws and the rights of women who have been raped; in Washington they are asking whether there will be anyone who will continue the war against the Taliban fighters - Pakistanis as well Afghanis who have found refuge in the country.
Against the backdrop of the emergency regime that Musharraf imposed, the suspension of the constitution and the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, a strange alliance emerged in these elections: between liberals and secular voters who loathe the president who stripped off his uniform but not his iron glove, and between the extremist elements who see Musharraf as an American puppet who has not succeeded in preventing terror inside the country.
The man who portrayed himself to the Americans as the ultimate fighter against terror is accused by the Pakistani public of having brought terror into the country's streets and marketplaces. This image has been reinforced by disgraceful treaties of surrender signed by Musharraf with tribes in the border areas with Afghanistan, where the Taliban flourish.
One of these recalcitrant zones, in the North Wazirstan province, is led by Baitullah Mehsud, a 34-year-old Pashtun. Although he has only an elementary education and no religious training, Mehsud has succeeded in gathering around himself a number of Taliban cells that together have created the Taliban Movement of Pakistan. In 2005 he signed a cease-fire agreement with the government, under which Musharraf agreed to withdraw the army from North Waziristan while Mehsud undertook to stop attacks on civilian targets and aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan. There is evidence that Mehsud also received $20 million after he made it clear that he had to repay a debt to al-Qaida.
But the truce did not last. Mehsud's private "army" carried out terror attacks in a number of towns, and in response the Pakistani army attacked his bases in North Waziristan. Mehsud and his people are the main suspects in Bhutto's assassination in December, and are continuing to grant asylum to Taliban fighters, from the same tribe, who cross the border from Afghanistan.
A week ago, Mehsud announced his intention to send a delegation to express condolences to Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari. This gesture came after Zardari, who replaced Bhutto as the head of the Pakistani People's Party, declared that he had nothing against Mehsud's group. This dialogue between a person who is likely to hold a senior position in the next government and the person who has beein considered Pakistan's number one enemy, is Washington's greatest dread. In the opinion of the United States, this is liable to signify that its cooperation with Pakistan in the war on terror has gone down the tubes.
At the same time, can Washington agree to the continuation of Musharraf's dictatorship? This, especially in light of its assessment that most of the aid it sent to Pakistan in recent years, totaling about $5 billion, was not transferred to the war on terror but rather to equipping Pakistan against the Indian threat.
Another important question is who will control the army from now on - Musharraf, or the next prime minister, who almost certainly will not be from the president's party. The chief of staff, Ashfaq Kayani, portrays himself as wanting to separate the army from politics and has even budgeted about $160 million for the welfare of soldiers and young officers, so that they will not be tempted to accept gifts from politicians. But it is worth remembering that Kayani was Musharraf's deputy when the latter was chief of staff and that he is a product of the Pakistani military system that holds that the army and religion are not necessary separated and that there is nothing wrong with profiting from being in the military.
The result is one and the same: If the parliament and the government oppose Musharraf or if there is a government in which the president's party is a partner, the dilemma of dangerous Pakistan will not go away
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