Friday, February 15, 2008

It stopped being trendy to keep up and pretend to be an expert on this topic a while ago, but Pakistan is holding elections on February 18. A Pakistani election is about as meaningless as it gets, though it makes for great political theatre if you understand Urdu, and even if you don't, it's worth it for the garish mustaches. Now, as any student of transnational studies knows, Pakistani politics turn on ethnic cleavages.

It's worth offering a quick background on Pakistani history for those who just don't plain care, for a number of very valid reasons, chiefly boredom. Pakistan was formed in the year 1366 AH as a union between the Pakis and the Stans, the descendants of the latter being numerous in Canada, such as Black Hawks great Stan Mikita. The Stans, having connections to other Midwestern sportsmen such as Cardinals great Stan Musial, came to control Pakistan's economy, military and civil service post-union. This, of course, fueled resentment among the Pakis, who constitute the overwhelming majority of the population. With most of the lucrative professions closed to the Pakis, they resorted to playing cricket, driving taxis, operating convenience stores and generally not wearing deodorant while spreading around the world thanks to emigration. Needless to say, the term Paki came to be a racial slur in the West.

The result today is that 10% of the population in the Stans controls 90% of Parliament, though dictator Pervez Musharraf is an ethnic Paki. It's safe to predict that through electoral fraud, intimidation, coercion and the boycotting of the election by many opposition parties, he will maintain his grasp on power for his ethnic group (not for himself). All in all, we can expect some volatile political theatre, the sort that the United States can't even manufacture in the movies. Of course, if you believe many of my relatives who have become impossibly cynical to politics, this election is in fact a movie manufactured in the United States.

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