Pakistan: Election fever 2013

Asif Haroon Rajapakistan resolution

May 11, 2013 has been announced as polling day. Scrutiny of nominations papers has been completed and submission of appeals to election tribunals and their decisions ended on 16th. Final list will be issued on 18th. Election campaign will reach feverish pitch from 19 April. Notwithstanding the eagerness of the candidates and voters, security environment are not conducive for holding smooth, fair and free elections. Punjab is the only province where the security situation is not as bad because governance of Punjab government was far better than in other provinces.

Besides security concerns and fears that elections will be bloody, there is growing skepticism over the impartiality of caretakers and Election Commission (EC). Questions asked by the Returning Officers to ascertain whether the candidates fulfill the requirements of Articles 62 and 63 have generated a heated debate. The main objection is that focus should have been on financial impropriety rather than on testing candidate’s knowledge of Islam. Seculars are in ugly mood and are demanding scrapping of Gen Zia invented Articles in the constitution, not realizing that these were duly approved by the outgoing parliament while introducing 18th Amendment.

Every political party, whether status quo loving or change seeking, is claiming that it will bring about a revolutionary change if voted to power. None has the magic wand or credible roadmap to overcome complex problems and yet it claims that it would be able to clear the huge mess left behind by the last government in quick time and make Pakistan an Asian tiger or a welfare state. Among the contesting political parties, three liberal parties PPP, MQM and ANP are feeling more insecure because of threats hurled by Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP).

Excessive force was employed against the militants after PPP-MQM-ANP coalition had taken over power in March 2008. Large-scale Army operations were launched in Swat, Buner, Dir, Shangla, Dara Adam Khel and all tribal agencies to control menace of terrorism. It led to displacement of millions of people from war ravaged regions. The last government was also suspected of permitting CIA to employ drones in FATA freely. Acceleration of drone war gave rise to militancy and heightened antagonism against USA and the government.

The TTP which doesn’t believe in Pakistan’s constitution, democracy and elections and advocates its brand of Sharia, is now trying to settle scores with liberal parties, which it considers as anti-Islamists and hand-in-glove with USA. It has actualized its plan to disrupt election campaign by targeting contestants of the three secular parties. Terrorist acts have been stepped up particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).

The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), an affiliate of al-Qaeda and TTP, with its main base in Jhang is targeting Shias outside Punjab, which has given a handle to other political parties to lament that PML-N has a secret alliance with LeJ and Ahle-Sunnat Wal Jamaat. Although of late PML-N has distanced itself from banned religious groups, it cannot be denied that police and crime investigative system in Punjab being more stringent and effective than other provinces constricted the space for terrorists.

The MQM has all along maintained a hostile posture against the Taliban and other extremist religious groups. Altaf Hussain has been raising alarm bells about arrival of Taliban in Karachi. After the target killing of two candidates of MQM in Hyderabad and Karachi, the MQM has decided to curtail holding of public meetings and to instead carryout door-to-door canvassing.

The ANP is however the chief target of TTP, which had authorized repeated Army operations in KPK and PATA and had all along remained in combative mood to crush militancy. Maximum numbers of ANP activists and leaders including Bashir Ahmad Bilour have been gunned down by TTP.  Even after ANP leadership decided to tone down its aggressiveness and to hold peace talks with TTP, the latter has not relented. Since March 31, 2013, five ANP contestants have been targeted. Latest suicide attack on ANP public meeting in Peshawar took place on April 16 in which eight activists got killed and 50 including Ghulam Ahmad Bilour received injuries. Hamstrung ANP deprived of security cover was left with no choice but to prefer door-to-door canvassing over public meetings and to advise its party chief Asfand Wali to stay indoors. ANP leadership has blamed caretakers and EC for failing to provide security. Governed by similar fear psychos, the PPP is also constrained to keep its trump card Bilawal Bhutto restrained.

Gen Musharraf who has recently barged into the political arena is also a prime target of TTP as well as the Baloch militants. Demand for his trial and prosecution under Article 6 for subverting constitution is growing louder. He is also blamed for Lal Masjid carnage, getting Nawab Akbar Bugti murdered and having a hand in murder of Benazir Bhutto. Although his defence counsel is buoyant, his high spirits have soured and he gives looks of a depressed man.

Akhtar Mengal has returned once again and has announced that his BNP will contest elections provided security situation in Balochistan is favorable. PML-N has offered seat adjustments to BNP. So far Mengal is unhappy with the existing situation and holds the military responsible for it. In case he takes part in elections, he along with Hasil Bizenjo can help in emasculating the power of separatists or inducing them to come down from the mountains.

Besides the ongoing development works, the Army has opened a Cadet College and Public School in Sui, Quetta Institute of Medical Sciences, Gawadar Institute of Technology, Chamalang Beneficiary Education Program, Balochistan Institute of Technical Education and Army Institute of Mineralogy to promote education in Balochistan and to enlighten the youth of the province. These institutes together with induction of 10,082 Baloch youth in Army as officers and soldiers in last three years have already made a healthy impact on the Baloch people. 10,000 vacancies in Army had been allotted by Gen Kayani for Baloch youth for the years 2009-11 and additional 5000 vacancies have been announced for 2012-13.

Leaders of all separatist groups other than BLF are absconders. Funded by foreign powers, they are leading a luxurious life abroad. Their continued absence is causing heartburns to Baloch fighters stuck in the mountains. It has also led to intensification of inter-tribal Baloch rivalry and cropping up of several armed groups in western Balochistan where hold of Sardars is minimal. These groups at their own are confronting the anti-state groups supported by foreign agencies. It is being alleged that our security forces and agencies are backing up armed groups and are also involved in missing person’s racket. Supreme Court is relentlessly pursuing missing person’s cases and is pushing the FC to recover them. Akhtar Mengal is among the complainants and talks of death squads and mutilated bodies left along the roadside. In case he finds the atmosphere uncongenial and pulls out of elections due to security concerns, it will be sad.

BLF led by Dr Allah Nazar which is most dangerous and more active in western Balochistan including Khuzdar, has got miffed over Akhtar Mengal’s decision to participate in elections. Nazar sees it as a setback to Baloch separatist agenda and has vowed to target BNP members. BLA, BRA and RAW agents are trying to disrupt elections in Balochistan. But for dismal performance of Raisani government failing to control target killers, abductors and terrorist groups, and gluttonously eating up billions of rupees allotted for development projects, secessionist movement would have withered.

Among the contesting parties that are feeling less threatened from militant groups are PML-N, PTI, JI and JUI-F, all favoring dialogue with TTP and opposing use of force and drones. Till October 30, 2012 mammoth rally held by PTI at Lahore, PML-N was taking Imran Khan for granted, but now it sees him as a formidable opponent in Punjab where the main battle will be fought. Although Imran has successfully galvanized the urban youth and will capture seats from all provinces, PML-N with its allies is in a good position to form coalition governments in the Centre, Punjab and Balochistan, and also gain sizable number of seats in KPK and Sindh. While PPP and PML-Q will become irrelevant, there will be reduction in vote bank of MQM.

The writer is a freelance columnist and defence analyst.

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