It is not the intention to paint a pessimistic picture of the prospects of fair and free elections taking place in relative peace but only to make the point that the hazards in the way (and there are many) are not being recognised as such and therefore no effort is visible to ensure that they do not in fact impede the election process.
The persistence with which several politicians (on both sides of the divide) are hollering that plots are being cooked to have the elections postponed leads credence to the conspiracy theory. Not that portents of trouble are otherwise lacking either! The road to “free” and “fair” elections presents the contours of an obstacle race track with both visible and half-hidden pitfalls and hazards. Consider burning Balochistan for one.
The province with the biggest area in Pakistan and one sitting on natural resources (nature’s untapped bounty) which could one day usher the entire country into prosperity, was governed (how the word lampoons all!) by an assembly all whose 45 members save one were ministers. The financial resources of the (presently) poor province were fritted away in multiples of 45 for five long years towards housing, drivers, servants, guards, personal staff, luxury cars for self and family of the privileged of the Province. And at the end of five years of its dismal rule, all those responsible are now free in retirement to count their spoils in peace and no one to ask any difficult questions leave alone punish them: Five years of unchecked daily murders of unsuspecting, innocent people including members of Hazara community and government functionaries from other Provinces and victims of robberies and ransom for kidnappings. Now that the Elections will stoke political fires as well how does one expect that electioneering – canvassing, political rallies, movement to election booths – will proceed smoothly as if by the wave of a magic wand?
And what about Karachi, now famous world over for its daily targeted killings which are a permanent part of daily statistics. The Metropolis continues to suffer at the hands of “unknown” killers whose guns spew death and misery with indescribable consequences for the families rendered vulnerable and scarred for life with memories of near and dear ones killed in broad daylight, an unspoken question on their dying lips: “Why me?” “What did I do?” “Who will take care of my wife and children?” Last week the Supreme Court asked bluntly: “Will government act when Karachi turns to ashes”. Even more ominously it had asked just one day earlier: “How elections could be conducted transparently when people live in a state of fear”. The Federal Government appears to have washed its hands of the matter by asserting that law and order is a provincial subject. How convenient! But is not conduct of fair elections a Federal responsibility? What exactly does Rehman Malik do whole day long one might ask?
Flawed election process?
That is by no means the only problem confronting peaceful conduct of elections in Karachi. On the vital questions of Voters’ Lists Verification and Delimitation of Constituencies the Supreme Court, the Election Commission and the political parties in the province are on entirely different wavelengths. The SC had given clear orders on both counts but the CEC Fakhru Bhai had soon thereafter begun to have doubts especially about the Delimitation part. At one point he was even reported to have kept his resignation letter handy! On Voters’ Lists verification conflicting reports are filling the air. Whereas according to the Election Commission the bulk of the work is completed there are widespread complaints to the contrary and on the non-involvement of armymen in the process. The situation finds MQM on one side and other political parties in Karachi on the other and PPP in two minds. The possibility looms that parties unhappy with Election Commission’s work in Karachi may decide to boycott the election process.
If anything the terrorist situation in KPK is worse than that anywhere else. After brave talk over several years of fighting terrorism as long as it takes ANP, the ruling party was reduced to seeking a dialogue with TTP and convened an all-party conference to pave the way towards it. But the Conference was dismissed out of hand by TTP as lacking specifics and direction.
Dealing with Terrorism – the Ostrich syndrome
Despite everything, the fact that certain Taliban groups, notably the TTP could have a disrupting impact on the election process is not generally realised or even seriously discussed by government functionaries. Terrorism this year has suddenly scaled new heights. Side by side with this, talking to Taliban has suddenly become respectable. Gone are the days, when such talks were disdainfully ruled out with the remark: never with TTP men (who attack civilians and armed forces alike) unless they lay down arms and eschew terrorism. Talks with other Taliban groups were initiated rather half-heartedly but were systematically sabotaged by American intelligence (remember Nek Mohammad?). In another famous case a whole group of Taliban was annihilated by a missile attack as it waited for Pakistani representatives for an arranged reconciliation meeting.
Full circle turn
Things have turned full circle and it is America which now appears most anxious to talk to the very same Taliban it has fought without success for over a decade. No wonder we are following suit. To return to attacks by TTP, which have become very common and increasingly audacious with the armed forces and auxiliary armed groups attacked (with relative ease and increasingly deadlier results) much oftener than civilian “soft” targets. It is another sign of the times that the initiative for talks comes from TTP (from “high ground” as someone called it) who as a precondition want some of their imprisoned leaders set free. How have we come to this pass?
Civilian role: “watch only”
It will not be wrong to say that through its entire 5-year rule the government did not lift a finger to defuse the terrorist phenomenon and the military was left to fend for itself. The Army could do what armies are always trained to do: fight their way through the deadly maze. But much more was needed to be done which only the civilian side could do, another name for which is: winning hearts and minds.
Corrective steps ignored
The government, for example, could do two things straightaway which could have an immediate positive effect on the situation: it could reset its relations with America to withdraw tacit support for drone attacks (remember the Sajjada of Multan allegedly declaring to his dying shame: you keep attacking we will keep protesting! or President Zardari likewise allegedly telling Americans: you Americans worry about collateral damage; It does not bother me at all). The other thing among many others along the same lines the civilian side could do was to put a stop to the flood of nudity and promiscuous behaviour in our TV Channel Programs and ads which is repugnant in the extreme anyway to our claims to be an Islamic Republic. Steps like these would have had the effect of convincing would-be suicide bombers not to lay down lives for dubious causes.
Let us see if the elections do take place and if they hopefully result in formation of a government with serious intent to solve the myriad problems facing the country, terrorism being just one of them! Yet another monstrous problem about to hit the nation like a ton of bricks is the looming financial crisis resulting from five years of corrupt mismanagement of economy with no credible government in sight to prevent disaster.
MQM “quits” coalition in Sindh
As we write these lines MQM has quit the coalition government in Sindh. We reproduce below a part of the Spotlight Column of 18 December 12: PPP/MQM game plan! An interesting theory was propounded by Pir Pagara, PML-N chief (in his speech at a big rally at Hyderabad on 14 December 12) about future shape of things in Sindh. According to him, PPP would maneuver politics in such a way (with implied support of MQM) that MQM moves out of the coalition to the role of an opposition party and then it (MQM) gets to be part of the interim government and in that capacity helps PPP to power again!!! At least this is how the “game plan” of PPP and MQM was described by the PML-F chief. However he did not elaborate on how he got wind of this strange “game plan” or the modalities involved, for example, who will do what and when. (But these are now clear as day) (firstname.lastname@example.org)Wajid Naeemuddin, "Spotlight: Tackling terrorism? The civilian side hibernated throughout its 5-year rule! Elections: many a slip…!," Business recorder. 2013 02-19.
Keywords: Social issues , Social crisis , Social needs , Social system , Election process , Politicians , Election commission , Khyber Pakhtunkhwa , Terrorism , Taliban , President Zardari , MQM , PPP , Game plan.