Democracy is said to be the antidote to terrorism but in Pakistan, the entire democratic process is terminally ill. The May 11th general election is touted as historic because it records the first time in 66 years that an elected government shall hand over power to another elected government. But it is hardly a free and fair election when three major political parties can’t conduct their election campaigns. In such circumstances, the election results will not be indicative of the will of the people.
The Zardari-Bhutto led Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the pejoratively termed mohajir party — the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) have been issued threats by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The vulnerable caretaker government and the all powerful Army had promised safe, free and fair elections. Instead, this is what the people of Pakistan have got in the past few days: April 16 — bomb blast at ANP rally, 8 dead; April 17 — bomb blast at ANP’s Farooq Khan’s vehicle; April 23 — Bomb hurled at MQM camp, 2 dead, 15 injured; April 23 and 24 — 5 bombings in Quetta, 6 dead; April 25 — grenade thrown at PPP’s Balochistan office; April 25 — motorcycle bomb in front of MQM office, 6 dead, 8 injured; April 25 — Hand grenade at PPP office in Balochistan; April 27 — blast at ANP offices in Karachi, 12 dead, several wounded. Because of the threats, the ANP has closed more than 50 of its election offices, mainly in Karachi and Peshawar. The PPP leaders are not holding any public rallies.
Even as the ANP and MQM bear the major brunt of the attacks by the Taliban, other political parties keep a terrified silence. They have supped with the devil. They do not attend the funerals of their compatriots or condemn the terror attacks. In previous elections, candidates would drive around in long cavalcades with banners and festoons, the jalsas would go late into the night and there would be much mirth around political slogans of the parties. This time around there is a funereal air around the elections. Discussions centre on the members of secular parties on Taliban’s hit-list and how many from that list will still be alive on May 11.
This is not mindless violence by the TTP. It is a sophisticated form of pre-poll rigging. Hard-line Islamic parties, PTI and PML-N are the only ones who are being ‘allowed’ to campaign during the elections. They are the only ones openly holding their jalsas because they are the only mainline political parties which have openly backed talks with the TTP.
The PPP is adrift, with the young Bilawal Bhutto in and out of the country, sulking at times and at times trying to revive the sagging spirit of his party. The party is still selling itself as a party of martyrs, which is cutting little ice with the young voters who comprise one-third of the electorate. Imran Khan’s kite is soaring. He paints the existing political system, not terrorism, as the villain. “We are endeavouring for a new Pakistan which will be free of such a tyrannising system,” the messiah promises. His Naya Pakistan has plenty of room for the Taliban. Nawaz Sharif who till a few weeks back was the front runner is now nervous. He thinks that Zardari has cut a deal of some sorts with Imran. “Have you not seen that both the player and the juggler never say a word against the other? Their guns are always trained on me,” he says hinting at some pre-poll understanding.
Pakistan’s political class, as also its army, has time and again chosen to side with terror. From the time of Pakistan’s birth, instead of embracing real democracy, its political and military elite have fuelled extremism, encouraged mass murder and promoted political Islam. Despite the recent superficial changes in its polity, Pakistan is unlikely to break out of that vicious cycle even now. Globally, more democracy is seen as the way to marginalise and defeat terror. In Pakistan however, a new democratic experiment is taking shape. Terror groups are not forcing the overthrowing of democracy to install a radical extremist Islamic state; they are using the garb of democracy to lodge ‘elected’ leaders who will do their bidding.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash