Elections held hostage

Spearhead Analysis – 19.04.2013

By Nida Afaque
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Elections held hostageAs elections draw near, the political climate within Pakistan has turned sober. Contesting parties are working industriously to widen their voter base, the Election Commission is overworked with verifying candidates’ credibility and the interim government is struggling to contain the country’s affairs until the next government is ready to take charge. But there is another kind of force, one that is becoming more elusive than ever,  which is busy opposing efforts to a peaceful democratic transition.

These anti-state forces have been involved in harmful activities for quite long. Pakistan has had to pay the price of these terrorist elements through money, blood and an overall loss of security. Since the beginning of this year, the weekly death toll averages 175, with most violence concentrated in Karachi, Baluchistan, KPK and FATA. Various religious extremists like Jundullah, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and most commonly, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have been found responsible for the attacks on senior politicians and government and security buildings across the country. Other civil separatist movements like the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) have targeted government officials and security personnel.

These terrorist groups may have differing agendas but they concur over the illegitimacy of the current state of Pakistan, which has been polluted by western influences. TTP in particular has warned of violence should elections proceed in Pakistan.  They want to instill a Shariah system in accordance to Islamic laws.

TTP has further threatened the leaders and political rallies of “secular” parties ( ANP, PPP and MQM ) contesting the May 2013 elections.  ANP knew the extermination of the TTP from Swat in 2009 was going to have long term consequences.  This month too, one of their candidates, Mukaram Shah was killed in Swat while Ghulam Bilor, Arbab Ayub Jan, Syed Masoom Shah and Farooq Khan escaped narrowly. MQM too suffered the loss of  candidate Fakhr ul Islam in Hyderabad. PML-N’s Provincial president Nawab Sanaullah Zehri survived a bomb attack in Baluchistan but lost his son, nephew and brother in the attack. PPP’s contestant in Peshawar was also targeted by a low-intensity bomb. Many police officers and civilians have lost their lives in these terror incidents too.

The Pakistani Taliban derive much of their legitimacy from the war being fought across the Durand Line and a new hardline civil government would spell trouble for their existence. Disrupting the electoral process would ensure that the TTP continues to exert some form of control in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

The real point of concern that is often sidelined by the trauma of these attacks is the unshakable presence of militants in our society.  Ironically, the political elite who have become the target of such militants have at one point or the other endorsed these militants. Back in General Zia’s regime, Pakistan was at the forefront in training Mujahidin soldiers to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Individual parties have even been known to have brokered alliances with local terrorist groups for political gains.

This covert support (monetary and non-monetary) which has continued in the present times remains the lifeline of militant groups and the reason why, in spite of efforts to contain terrorists, our security forces have failed to subdue them. The possibility of using these militant for political superiority and eventual electoral victory should not be disregarded.  Certain parties like PML-N, JUI-F and JI have actually been taciturn in condemning the attacks- either in fear of becoming new targets or in hope to make use of this opportunity to strengthen their vote bank. Violence and uncertainty can be powerful molders of voter turnout and election results.

Rising violence has prompted ANP and PPP into exercising extra- caution in holding rallies and opting for a door-to-door campaigning method. They have even pointed fingers at the ECP which has begun the withdrawal of unnecessary security personnel for politicians. Such forms of terrorism are however, beyond the responsibility of ECP. It has been Pakistani politician’s infatuation with power which has compromised national policies including a counter-terrorism strategy.

If the trend of political compliance and violence continues, it is not just the fairness of the upcoming elections which are at stake, but that of the state itself. Yielding to anti-state elements creates a political vacuum that makes the country vulnerable to internal as well as external attacks.   Until the next government is sworn in, the ECP, the interim government and all government apparatuses must commit themselves wholeheartedly to the election plan.