Pakistan: Musharraf allies' election prospects fade
Many cite economic woes as campaigning for the Feb. 18 election picks up Friday.
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But many analysts refute the party's optimism and say its strategy is a convenient one. Rural Punjab would be the easiest place to rig elections, where the writ of the current government is strongest, says Shafqay Mahmood, a columnist for The News, a national newspaper.Skip to next paragraph
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Flour, fuel are harder to get
On the streets of Lahore, many Pakistanis blame the government for the mounting problems. Shortages of staples like flour have led to nearly 9 percent inflation in the past year, and – in some cases – hour-long lines at government-subsidized Utility Stores like the one Ms. Begum has just left, empty-handed. In some rural areas, power outages last for 18 hours a day.
Security has deteriorated dramatically. The number of bombings has risen in recent months, and many Pakistanis believe Musharraf's government was at worst complicit and at best negligent in the Dec. 27 assassination of Ms. Bhutto. Two suspects were arrested Thursday, bringing the total number of suspects to four, and a British commission that helped investigate the killing is expected to release a report on its findings Friday.
Together, these concerns have turned many Pakistanis against Musharraf. A Gallup Pakistan poll released last month found that 68 percent of respondents wanted the president to resign.
"Commodities are out of range of the common person," says Mohammed Saeed as he loads a scooter with bags of rice outside the Utility Store, a government subsidized outlet. "I accuse the government of these price hikes."
His is a common complaint here. While free-market reforms have brought enormous investment in the stock market, building a new middle class, the poor have been pinched. Pakistan's domestic industries, such as textiles and agriculture, have not been able to compete in an open global marketplace. This had played a part in double-digit food-price inflation over the past three years. The cost of food and drink rose 12.2 percent in December compared with the previous year. Fuel for auto rickshaws and taxis is going at twice the government-approved rate of about 50 cents a pound.
"The problem is with the government," says Mohammed Ahmed, waiting for a government store to open. "From short supply the people have to suffer." A September survey conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org found that 70 percent of Pakistanis polled felt the economy was "on the wrong track."
To be sure, some Pakistanis have prospered under Musharraf's economic liberalization and its 7-plus percent annual economic growth. "Elite businessmen who have benefited from his regime are undoubtedly supportive of him," says Mr. Masood, the analyst.
But across the country, near the unsettled tribal areas, some suggest that inflation could even be fueling the insurgency. Imraz Khan sits on an earthen wall in Peshawar, drawing a link between the growing sense of economic despair and willingness to join forces against the government. "Things will get better if Musharraf steps down and there is a new government," he says. "As inflation has gotten worse, law and order has gotten worse. They are connected."
• Ghulam Dastageer contributed to this report from Peshawar.