The relentless attacks by the Taliban on ANP, MQM and PPP candidates and public meetings, aimed at hurting their campaigns and threatening potential voters and supporters, constitute a threat to free and fair elections and to the subsequent democratic transition.
Electioneering activities in the small provinces – Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, have virtually been paralyzed, rendering election campaigns impossible for certain political parties. That is synonymous with denying a level playing field to some political players, and that puts a big question mark on the credibility of the election process and on its results. The behavior of returning officers maligning politicians during the submission of nomination papers for elections and their scrutiny has already tested the limits of independence of the election commission. In its recent statement, the Election Commission admitted that the caretaker government had failed to provide adequate security to the targeted political parties.
The situation rouses fundamental questions in people’s minds. Are these political parties being targeted for being secular and for uniting in the struggle to change the prevailing political paradigm with the introduction of the 18th constitutional amendment to empower civilian institutions, especially the parliament?
These attacks, in stark contrast with Taliban’s behavior during the 2008 elections, are being justified on the grounds that the ANP took part in America’s war by supporting the military operation against the Taliban in Swat. This argument needs a logical deconstruction.
The actual military operation against the Taliban started in Waziristan in 2003 when they had been dislodged from Kabul and subsequently sneaked into the tribal areas and started their activities from there. Similarly, the military operation in Swat was kicked off during the time of the caretaker government in November 2007, and proved a great fiasco, leading to the erosion of the state’s writ. In 2008, Swat was completely under the control of the Taliban. Subsequently, the Taliban threatened the ANP government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa asking them to resign or in other words to hand over Peshawar to them. Consequently, ANP was left with no options but to restore the writ of the state in the troubled areas by supporting a full scale military operation.
It is further transpired by the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s unequivocal declaration while addressing a Martyrs Day gathering on April 30 that the war against terrorism is our own war, imposed by non-state actors on our country. However, surprisingly, the political forces traditionally known to be the establishment’s allies – currently holding sway over the election field – consider the ongoing war to be America’s war that it has imposed on Pakistan.
In fact, the most daunting act of the coalition government of PPP, ANP and MQM was their struggle inside the parliament to balance the political power by bringing a shift in the existing political paradigm through constitutional measures. Perhaps, beneath the surface, this was the real elephant in the room. Besides, the previous parliament also gathered the courage to take political ownership of the war against terrorism.
Supposedly, the Taliban changed their targets in order to create political rifts in the country to penetrate in the political power centers. And this strategy does not seem to be the product of a simple minded combat entity but clearly a brain child of sophisticated political minds.
Although one cannot ignore their governance shortcomings during their incumbency, one can also not deny the fact that physical mobility of the leadership of the ANP, MQM and PPP was constrained by acts of terrorism and sabotage by the Taliban, and therefore the incumbency factor had been further aggravated by narrowing their governing space. Politically, they were hurdled in many ways, including the reactions to the ‘Kerry Lugar Bill’, the campaign against fake degrees of parliamentarians, the insistence on writing a letter against the president to Swiss courts, and what was called the Memogate scandal, to prevent them from asserting civilian supremacy and from implementing the 18th amendment in both letter and spirit. However, for the first time in Pakistan’s political history, the political forces, particularly the above mentioned coalition, showed resilience to withstand the turbulence and at least succeeded in completing their tenure and ensuring general elections to continue the democratic transition.
The current pre-election mayhem predicts the importance of the coming election and of their result for the future national, regional and global political scenario, particularly in the framework of the post July 2014 American withdrawal. The political parties who show no concern for the paradigm shift or indifference towards the post-cold war security paradigm enjoy physical as well as political space, and are being encouraged to dominate the coming political set up. This seems to be a quid pro quo that they will confine themselves to a superficial rhetoric of change and restricting their political action to the improvement of social services to create a temporary aura among the masses. The exclusion of the left and liberal forces from the election process through brutal terrorist acts might result in a polarized post-election society. The emerging non-election political alliance among the ANP, MQM and PPP at the moment seems a response to their precarious situation, but can take shape of a resistance movement in future.
This article was originally published at: The Friday Times
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.