Left without patrons, religious parties expected to perform poorly
Would the plethora of religious parties that claim a stake in Pakistan be able to regain the space ceded for various reasons in the 2008 general elections? is the question that is on peoples lips. The leaders of various religious parties have been seen in negotiations with political party leaders, including the Sunni Ittehad with the Pakistan People’s Party, the Jamaat-i-Islami with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and more recently with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Huffing and puffing with bloated egos, religious parties have found themselves on the wee end of the negotiating table, with none of the mainstream parties giving much wind to the electoral alliance offers. Religious parties are perhaps the demon of last choice for mainstream political parties: changing positions and alliances at will – or where the best offer is. Religious parties have for a long time been accused of piggy riding on the back of military dictators – and claiming mainstream credentials once the helping hand of the establishment is missing.
This is most visible in the JI’s failed attempt to take the upper hand in negotiations with mainstream parties, including the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). After the PTI refused a purported 50:50 seat sharing formula offered by the JI, the PML-N has also rejected the JI position that it wanted support on 18 NA constituencies, including those where its stalwarts Liaqat Baloch and Fareed Paracha were contesting. The demand was reduced to 8 NA seats and 25 PA seats, but with such a weakened position, the PML-N thought it more prudent to let the so-called advantage to be gained with an ‘understanding’ with the JI be forgiven and forgotten – at least for now. The religious vote itself has been divided this term, with each religious party playing to different galleries. With the so-called unity of the establishment-backed Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) nowhere to be seen, the SI, the Jamaat-e-Ulema-i-Islam-Sami ul Haq (JUI-S) and Ahle Sunnat Waljammat (ASWJ) are pursuing their own strategies. To its credit, the JUI-Fazli has changed some of the perimeters of the role of religious parties, choosing not to join the DPC, and managing to hold two large rallies in Lahore and Karachi. However, it is not expected to reap fruit in any province other than Khyber Pakthunkhwa (KP).
Remember the year 2002. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a conglomeration of religious parties, formed government in the two provinces of Balochistan and the then North Western Frontier Province (NWFP). To those watching the politics of Pakistan, it was the rebirth of the so-named Military-Mullah Alliance (MMA). This was the military establishment’s way of gaining legitimacy, but in return the credibility of the religious right fell, resulting in the poor results of the 2008 general elections. Having failed in wooing genuine electables to support it, the JI chief Munawar Hasan has begun to claim that “previously elected electables need to be defeated.” The statement is to be taken as more of an admission that religious parties shall have lesser sway, than they have verve in the next general elections.
Stand up to the militants with courage
The TTP has made no secret of its antipathy for democracy which it considers un-Islamic. Soon after the announcement of the elections, the militant network vowed to target three secular political parties and warned the people against attending their rallies. The biggest sufferer so far has been the ANP, which has lost two candidates in terrorist attacks besides two others who survived bomb blasts. Several election rallies of the party have so far been targeted. The ANP has in fact borne the major brunt of TTP attacks during its five-year tenure in KP. Former information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain lost his son and the ANP’s veteran leader Bashir Bilour died in a blast while dozens of provincial and district level leaders were killed as they continued to defy the terrorists. Militant outfits have also targeted independent candidates in KP, especially in DIK. An MQM candidate was also killed in Hyderabad while four persons died in an attack near the party’s election camp in Karachi. There are other terrorist groups also attacking election rallies and candidates. On Wednesday a suicide bomber dispatched by Lashkare Jhangvi to target the Hazara community killed six in Quetta. The president of Hazara Democratic Movement returning from an election rally survived due to sheer good luck. Baloch separatists have launched several attacks on the Baloch leaders during the last few days. The firing on PML-N Balochistan chief Sanaullah Zehri killed his brother and son. A grenade was thrown on the house of former minister and NP chief Abdul Malik Baloch and an office of the BNP-M was bombed.
There is a need to stand up to the challenge posed by the terrorists. One expects the caretaker government to perform better than it has done so far to counter the threat. A totally new set up with a life span of a month and a half can however be expected to deliver only if the law enforcement agencies were already working ideally. In Karachi where law and order continued to deteriorate during the five-year long tenure of the PPP, the MQM and the ANP alliance, it would be too much to expect miracles from the caretakers.
The MQM should not have closed its offices and called off the election campaign even for a single day. To announce a strike all over Sindh was thoroughly unjustified. The tactic to close down Karachi could work only when used to pressurize a minority government depending on the MQM support to retain power at the center. In the present case it was a kneejerk reaction to an altogether different situation. One fails to understand the rationale behind the strike. It doesn’t matter to the TTP if Karachi is closed down for a week while a single day closure hurts the country’s economy badly. The MQM should face the situation bravely as done by the ANP, Baloch nationalists and Hazara Democratic Party.
IMF offer not a permanent solution to crisis
The national finance situation is getting worse and questions are being raised over the country’s ability to fulfill the next national budget. In these dire straits, as they are being painted, the IMF has come in with an offer: a $5 billion loan, but as with all IMF loans, is it a way out or is it a way into a deeper crisis? Thankfully, the caretaker prime minister’s Advisor on Finance Shahid Amjad does not have the mandate to strike a deal with the IMF, and it should be appreciated that he has abided by it, unlike earlier caretakers, but there are still hawks amongst the establishment that wish that he would have accepted. He has merely ‘sounded out’ the IMF for a possible deal once the political government is in place.
The task of making decisions – right or wrong – on the national economy is of the elected representatives of the people and the particular facility on offer, $5 billion at higher interest rate, short disbursement and longer repayment period, is one that will load the economy with a sizeable debt burden. However, with the offer standing, political parties must already initiate debate over how they intend to solve the finance crisis facing the Pakistani state. Statements such as the talks “went extremely well” and the fund’s attitude was “extremely positive” are merely the line that has to be towed to secure such a facility. The IMF is now on cue to send a delegation to Pakistan in June to discuss the facility, with disbursements possible within the coming summer. The loan shall be disbursed over 3-4 years and need repayment over the next decade, with repayments standing at about $1 billion per annum. As with earlier loans, the fear is that the economy will not be ready to easily make repayments at the end of the current loan, and another such facility will be required. One must recall that Pakistan’s relationship with the IMF now spans two decades.
The country already needs to pay the IMF around $850 million in May and substantial amounts in July and September. In that sense, one could argue that the IMF facility is to help repay dues to itself, and would add a constraint on Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves. But as some say, beggars cannot be choosers, and Pakistan’s political parties need to take a careful stock of the offer. While the attention of political parties is cast on the elections, it would be good if their financial experts begin to exchange notes on how to face the financial crunch facing them when they take over. Taking or leaving the IMF loan facility shall be the one of the first decisions the next government will have to take – and probably one that shall set the stage for what their term shall be remembered by.
The best way: No undue haste
The trial of Gen (Retd) Mushrraf is a unique event in Pakistan. Never before has any of the military rulers been taken to task for his misdeeds. What is required on the part of all those associated with the trial is to pursue it strictly in accordance with law so that justice is not only done but seen to have been done. In the eyes of law, Musharraf is still an accused person. The cases filed against him have yet to be decided. The former dictator’s lawyers would be keenly looking for any shred of evidence to cry blue murder and accuse the judges of being vindictive. The best way is to conduct the cases without undue haste. Instead of pressing the caretaker government to become a party in the treason case the court would do well to wait till the newly elected government assumes office next month.
There is a need on the part of the lawyers to act more soberly than some have done during Musharraf’s attendance at the courts both in Karachi and in Islamabad. One can understand that some of them have been maltreated under Musharraf. But this does not justify any unruly behavior on their part. The lawyers’ community is a part and parcel of the judicial system. They have therefore to show patience rather than lose self control. Their job is to argue the case, demolish the arguments given by the accused person’s counsel and wait for the decision which may take time.
The ongoing display of anger and threats of use of force outside the courts have to end. Musharraf is currently not fighting an election but defending himself against serious charges. Show of force outside the court can be interpreted as an attempt to influence the court. Allegations are already being made that some of the lawyers are acing at somebody’s bidding. Any ugly scene outside the court can lead to unpredictable results. It can even make Musharraf look like an aggrieved person rather than one charged with serious crimes. Saner voices from among the legal fraternity have also advised those wearing black coats to keep themselves under control.
It goes to Gen Kayani’s credit that he kept the army out of politics. What is needed now is a peaceful transfer of power to the next elected government after May 11 polls. What is going on in the courts is the trial of a man who is no more in uniform. Those who are trying to create a perception that this amounts to the humiliation of a general are misleading the people. They must not be provided any excuse that strengthens the allegation.
Coordination issues should be resolved immediately
“Coordinate” is the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) war cry to law enforcement agencies (LEAs) as we enter the last two weeks of electioneering. Candidates in three out of four provinces are under threat, with reknowned politicians having been killed or narrowly escaped attacks in Khyber Pakthunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan. The ECP and the interior ministry are increasingly on the backfoot as they note that “federal and provincial law enforcement agencies” must ensure fool-proof security to polling staff and voters. Directions have been given to ensure security is provided to candidates, but with multiple enemies on the prowl, it appears that the matter will not be resolved with the same ease as statements are given out. Another meeting is scheduled with the representatives of the federal and provincial caretakers on April 25 to discuss the security plan for the general elections.
However, the fact that ECP has also proposed the implementation of recommendations of the Parliament Committee’s report of 2009, suggests that the elected governments failed miserably to try to implement the same report. Caretaker Interior Minister Malik Habib has especially pointed to Karachi as a main point of fissure and claimed some leads have been received about the security threats. However, his assurances that “the government would spare no effort to address the security threats in Karachi and elsewhere” has not provided relief to political parties, with MQM candidate Nabil Gabol having formally requested the ECP to deploy troops in Lyari on the polling day. Whether the demand is met or not, on the ground, the Awami National Party (ANP) and MQM appear to be the two parties most under threat, and the security threat cannot be mitigated. The ECP has disturbingly reported that it has been reported a total of 728 threats, of which around 490 have been received from the Punjab, 159 from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 55 from Sindh and 24 from Balochistan. Similarly, the Balochistan government has decided to provide security to all candidates, with around four to six official security guards being provided to each candidate as well as election commission staff.
With FAFEN reporting 13 different incidents of electoral violence around the country, claiming 23 lives in the last week, down from 170 dead in the week before, it appears that perhaps some of the security measures are bearing fruit. But FATA, KP and Sindh all remain extremely volatile. It is important that the ECP’s complaint of the lack of coordination between LEAs should be addressed immediately. Intelligence received on possible threats should be followed by immediate action. If not, it is known that militants are trying their best to create an incident that could jeopardize the upcoming polls – something Pakistan can least afford at this stage.
For the benefit of the region, and the world
For nearly three years Obama administration lost opportunities to work for a negotiated peace in Afghanistan. It relied more on war than on diplomacy while Obama concentrated on accommodating partisan political concerns. Rejecting the idea that talks could go along with fighting, the US president preferred to negotiate from a superior position after thoroughly demolishing the Taliban. In December 2011, Washington first seemed to respond positively to the Taliban leadership’s offer for talks in return for the release of its prisoners from Guantanamo but then it retreated. This made the Taliban suspicious of Washington’s motives. While a Taliban office was set up in Qatar, there were no negotiations. Washington has now lost hope of winning what was once Obama’s war of choice. The Boston bombings were a grim reminder to the West that as long as there are unresolved conflicts in the world ignited by it directly or indirectly, no firewall can provide it security. The use of drone attacks as a weapon of choice is bound to add to the US headaches as it would increase the number of extremists and suicide bombers. In case the US decides to simply wash its hands off the Afghan conflict and depart from the region, as it did in 1986, the extremists would follow it like nemesis.
There is a need to fully concentrate on intra-Afghan talks now. The Taliban have to be persuaded to cut off ties with Al-Qaeda and disown groups associated with it. This should not be difficult because the liaison with the terrorists having a global agenda led to the unraveling of the Taliban rule while it inflicted suffering on the entire country. The Taliban’s willingness to hold talks indicates that they realise it was a blunder to continue to host the Al-Qaeda. As things stand the Taliban are unwilling to talk to Karzai who is considered to be an unpopular and corrupt US puppet. It is however not possible to bypass Karzai who remains the head of the government and state. The extremist agenda pursued by the Taliban, when they were in power, was, and is, out of sync with the times. The suppression of minorities led to the creation of the Northern Alliance. There is a need on the part of the religious militia to revise its policies.
Pakistan needs to help in the reconciliation process. The talks have, however, to be led by the Afghans themselves. The belated arrival of a high powered US delegation to discuss the Afghan peace process indicates that Washington agrees with settling the matters through talks. A peaceful Afghanistan means a stable and prosperous Pakistan and a secure and economically integrated region. There is a need, therefore, for the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan to jointly encourage the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.
Musharraf on backfoot again but military exonerated of responsibility
The political administration has been held accountable, the military top brass has been let off, is what the summary of the Lal Masjid Commission report reveals. The report is another blow to the former president Gen (Retd) Pervez Musharraf, whose ill-fated return to the country continues to turn for the worse. The controversial 2007 operation in the federal capital still leaves a scar for both liberals, who question how such a high number of arms were accumulated, and conservatives, who question how such a high number of people were killed by the government without any accountability. The commission has also attempted to settle the question of how many people died by putting the number at 103. However, doubts about the figure still remain.
The commission has recommended that murder cases be registered against those identified and recommended that the former rulers be forced to pay compensations to aggrieved families. While the 304-page report submitted to the Supreme Court by the commission on March 22 has recommended that the lack of accountability could not be condoned for this “human tragedy.” The report has said that “history could not easily digest the notion that the then president, the prime minister, the cabinet particularly interior minister and other concerned ministers of Parliament and political parties, were not aware of the operation.” It has continued to say that “the political leadership at the helm of affairs cannot be absolved of the responsibility for the incident, particularly when it carries criminal liability.” The report has also expressed wonder at if the decisions were being taken by the president alone without being questioned. Surely, the commission is right in saying that accountability should be across the board. But its recommendation to absolve the military of responsibility shall remain controversial. The fact that the legal requirement of invoking Article 245 to call in the military in aid of civil power was met does not belie the fact that the Chief of Army Staff was the imposter president at the time.
The Lal Masjid’s Commission’s report remains a controversial one, but at least opens up the space for some accountability. It has called for compensating aggrieved families in the short term while, controversially again, recommended that the Jamia Hafsa plot be returned to the seminary. In the long term it has recommended that seminary syllabus be “broadened to include modern sciences…to integrate them into the national system” and that town planning should make sufficient provision for amenity plots for mosques and modern madrassah schools. The fact that the difficulties of implementation were the ones that led to the Lal Masjid operation has not been factored in. That said, the Lal Masjid Commission report, at least, is one step forward towards creating a more accountable state, and another step backwards for the retired general who once claimed the throne of president.
KP and Balochistan reeling under violence
The security situation in the country wasn’t something to write home about already but now that there is only a caretaker setup in place, the militants appear to have upped the ante with increased attacks, both on the general public and on political gatherings, thus threatening elections due in about three weeks. If the situation continues this way any longer, the consequences could be disastrous. And with militants bent upon proving their point through the barrel of a gun, the ballot may not even get a chance to prove who gets wider public support.
Only the other day, there were attacks in both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, the two provinces that have bore the brunt of terror attacks for far too long. A female suicide bomber, not the first instance but one that makes it easier to work around security measures, killed four and injured four more in Bajaur Agency. Another blast in Mir Ali area of North Waziristan killed four and injured an identical number. In another incident, a hand grenade exploded near a rally organised by the Awami National Party in Turbat where the party chief Dr Malik Baloch was about to address his supporters. In yet another incident, the Bomb Disposal Squad personnel (BDS) on Sunday defused a bomb in Bazeedkhel near Badaber area in the outskirts of Peshawar. While these incidents show the sway the militants hold and the freedom with which they attack, the call for security is a cry in the wilderness.
But whatever little good news emanates from these parts must be appreciated. The KP government has rounded up 100 ‘former militants’ in Swat out of a list of 200 in order to ensure peaceful elections. A good and timely action by the KP government but wouldn’t it be better to have similar action elsewhere in the KP, and in Balochistan? The Awami National Party (ANP) is a particular target of terrorists because of its clear stand against the terrorists. In the recent weeks, ANP leader Mukarram Shah lost his life after his car was blown up in Manglawar, Swat. Only two days later, at least 18 people were killed and 49 injured in a suicide blast in Peshawar near an ANP meeting. Security measures are only as good as the will to implement them. If the security forces and the law enforcement agencies are unable to implement what they have been tasked with, peace might not return to these restive areas, and consequently the prospects of holding elections there in relative calm would be near impossible. The caretaker governments in both provinces need to lift their efforts on providing security to the public and politicians alike.
Keeping violence and terrorism under check the biggest
The election campaign started in full earnest on Saturday. The next twenty days will pose a formidable challenge to the political parties on one hand and the ECP, the caretaker government and the security agencies on the other. The campaign begins under an independent election commission and a consensus caretaker set up. The present polls are thus going to be different from the earlier exercises of the type when money and muscle power played a significant role during the polls. A set of election rules limits the use of money by putting a ceiling on election expenses, regularizing the size of posters and banners, prohibiting wall chalking and restricting candidates and their supporters from providing transport to voters. To reduce the role of muscle force display or use of weapons has been banned.
The regulations put a heavy burden of responsibility on political parties and their candidates. While some of these regulations have always been part of the code of conduct, this time an independent and empowered ECP is expected to implement them strictly. The support extended to the ECP by the judiciary further adds to its clout. A larger number of polling stations this time will reduce the distances between the voters’ residence to the polling stations doing away with the need for transport except in the case of the ailing and the aged voters. In quite a few constituencies in Balochistan and in some of the remote constituencies in other provinces however voters might find it hard to travel for miles without transport. Thus a ban on the candidates and their supporters to provide transport to voters may deprive many of the right to vote unless the ECP is willing to provide it. As things stand there seems to be no provision of the sort in place.
The next challenge concerns security. Several pre-poll incidents of attacks on candidates and political gatherings indicate that in the days to come the threats might become more frequent and deadlier. So far the major source of threat has been the TTP which had vowed to target the PPP, the ANP and the MQM candidates. During the pre-poll violence over the last few weeks one MQM candidate and two ANP candidates were killed while in a suicide attack targeting another ANP contestant 16 persons lost lives. The attack on the first day of the campaign on one of Jamaat e Islami’s election offices in Karachi indicates that there are other sources of violence as well. Unless the caretaker government and the law enforcement agencies are able to ensure a secure environment in days to come, the voter turnout in Pakistan – already the lowest in the region – may decline further.
Islamophobia not the answer to US fears
As some have pointed out, there is barely anything to be said about the Boston Marathon blasts, as no evidence as to who did them has been provided. Two Chechen brothers were identified as the suspects but neither has the motive for the attack nor a group behind the attack been identified. With one of the brothers dead after a gun battle on Friday and the other arrested – albeit covered with blood – on Saturday, perhaps no further details shall come out of the matter. The themes of media and public analysis remain the same: recurring Islamophobia, sympathy for the victims, and the US being under a perpetual terror threat from within and without. The expected response would also be the same: another spate of hate crimes against ethnic browns in the US, another spate of wars abroad in newer territories and more pressure on foreign governments to reign in terrorists.
According to the details that have emerged the two suspects were US citizens, who had been living in the US for over a decade. If proven they were involved, it would require a detailed investigation as to what the apparent target of the Marathon attack was. Perhaps, more than the attack, the lockdown of the Boston area for the manhunt, which left a police officer stationed at the MIT campus dead has left a bitter aftertaste. That thousands of police officers were scavenging across Boston, with the entire public transport system shut, businesses asked not to open, also reflects an overreaction to the incident. Their father, based in Makhachakala in Russia, described the two boys as “angels,” with one of them a second-year medical student. That the police chase began after the two suspects “robbed a convenience store” should also open up some questions.
That said, President Barack Obama’s promise to “find out what turned two young US residents accused of the Boston bombings to violence” is merely rhetorical. It is impossible that he does not know the answer, only that his rhetoric before his 2008 election was not followed up in concrete policy. While, on the one side, the attack is a reminder of the threat the West faces, on the other side, it is a reminder of the futility of the current aggressive foreign policy. The use of force produces more resistance. Increasingly airport vigilance or increasing the scrutiny of those visiting the US shall not help. The point rather is for the US to concentrate on identifying the grievances of the East – and in particular the Muslim world. Spreading Islamophobia, as is being done by hawks inside the US establishment, shall produce more – not less – conflict within the US and in the world.
Former general’s gauntlet has been picked up
It took Musharraf, a man with a bloated ego, just 24 hours to reconcile with the present day ground realities in Pakistan. Defying the arrest orders issued by the Islamabad High Court, he had fled from the court premises and entrenched himself in his farm house from where he issued a veiled threat of clash between the pillars of state if anybody dared to take action against him. Within hours the gauntlet was picked up by the Senate where speaker after speaker compared the treatment meted out to popular politicians by the courts and the administration to the way Musharraf was being handled. The IHC had already summoned IG Police to explain why action should not be taken against him for allowing Musharraf to escape. A major section of the media was airing similar views. The stand taken by the court, the Senate and the media forced those who matter to persuade Musharraf to surrender to the administration.
The interior ministry and police were under immense pressure to move in accordance with law. The caretaker Interior Minister was summoned by the Senate and asked why Musharraf was being kept at his farm house instead of the normal lock up. The Islamabad High Court meanwhile ordered the Secretary Interior to take action against the IG who was held responsible for letting Musharraf escape. Within hours higher police officials shifted the fugitive to Islamabad Police Headquarters which they thought would be more secure for him than the farmhouse. The former president cum army chief will be presented before an anti-terrorist court on Saturday where he will be required to prove that he had not ordered the arrest of the SC judges in 2007. It is for the ATC to bail him out or send him to lock up.
This is the first time that a former army chief has been arrested under a political dispensation (Gen. Tikka Khan’s brief incarceration as a PPP leader in protest was under Gen. Zia’s Martial Law). A lesson has thus been conveyed that all citizens irrespective of their social status are equal before law and there are no holy cows. Allowing Musharraf to stay at his luxurious farm house implied that some are more equal than others. The decision to arrest Musharraf or to keep him at the police headquarters does not bring down the image of the army. It is a decision against a former serviceman whose activities had bought bad name to the institution. By distancing itself from Musharraf’s actions and supporting the rule of law the army has improved its image. The action is in accordance with Gen Kayani’s much hailed assurance to keep army out of politics. There is a need henceforth on the part of every institution and agency of the state to work strictly within the scope and limits defined for it by the constitution. Transgressions weaken the system while adherence to the basic law strengthens it. Musharraf should henceforth cooperate with the courts instead of defying them.
Taliban resurgence threatens political incorporation of tribesmen
the excitement of these being the first polls in which political parties are contesting elections in Pakistan’s tribal regions has waned by some of the growing violence. The areas of Bajaur, Wana and Orakzai – all swept by the Taliban and retrieved after extensive military operations spanning the last decade – are seeing a time of a flurry of election activity. While on the one side, the impending general elections represent a time of celebrating a return to normalcy, the other side of the election spectrum calls on the people of the tribal regions to reflect on the drastic affects of the decade-long militancy on their livelihoods and loved ones. One must remember that these are the areas that have been under siege, at times by the Taliban and its splinter groups, on others by the military, and still remain subject to the Frontier Crimes Regulations and the Actions in Aid of Civil Power 2011 Act that place it outside the law of the land.
Perhaps changing these should have been the political agenda of the candidates contesting elections, but it appears not as most just appear glad for the restoration of a semblance of peace. But a semblance of peace it merely is as the rocket attack on a political gathering in the NA-41 constituency on South Waziristan’s Wana area on Thursday that left two people injured showed once again. While military officials continue to tout the emptied caves of Damadola, which the Taliban used as a base camp, the legacy of the decade-long war is an ongoing one: with fizzing drones and rocket attacks not an unexpected occurrence. The former war zone is still the site of many a battle as the ongoing operation in the Tirah Valley shows. It is encouraging to see the female candidate, Badam Zari, in the Bajuar Agency receiving media limelight coming out and stating, “The welcome accorded to me in Bajaur Agency indicates that people will make me successful.”
The fact that people have come out against the Taliban for being “anti-Pakistan” has shown that the Taliban have lost the political capital it accumulated in the regions during the early days of the militancy. The tribal regions are all set for elections. The Kurram Agency is known to be amongst the few regions where around 62 per cent people turned up at polling stations in the 2008 elections. With the Taliban politically isolated, the army is the one calling the shots in the region. But these elections mean that political parties shall get their first foray into managing the politics of the tribal regions. With the PML-N, PPP, PTI and JUI-F all fielding strong candidates, it is only the force of the Taliban that appears to be the only threat to stop the tribal people from being incorporated into the political system of Pakistan.
Musharraf’s leash has finally been pulled
When the ex-dictator Pervez Musharraf returned to Pakistan as the caretaker government took charge, many speculated that it smacked of a deal and that all major players, political parties, the army and – most importantly – the aggrieved judiciary, were going to let him contest the elections. The man, who for nearly a decade wore the two crowns of president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Chief of Army Staff, could not claim that he had not been forewarned. The judiciary appeared to have extended his leash in the cat-and-mouse game being played on the labyrinth that the former general had constructed for himself. When Musharraf was granted protective bail in four of the cases against him in the Sindh High Court, a tactical move by his lawyers who knew the three other high courts were dead set against him, it appeared that his long announced return would at least allow him the dignity honour of contesting elections – and perhaps winning a seat to the National Assembly from the Chitral area.
But the ex-general’s luck was bound to run out. There were too many cases against him – and as he found out when his nomination papers were rejected in three of the four constituencies he planned to contest from – the judiciary was not willing to abide by whatever ‘deal’ had been struck in the holy lands to allow him to return. With a lot of hype spun on his expected return in Karachi, the city in which he allowed a free reign to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and his local bodies system had apparently delivered, there was barely a crowd worth speaking of for those who remember the martyred Benazir Bhutto’s return to the country in October 2007. Where there was hope when Benazir returned, there was indifference, and simmering anger on the return of Musharraf: a man threw a shoe at him after a hearing at the SHC and his supporters were beaten up by lawyers in Rawalpindi.
Finally, when his papers were rejected from all four constituencies on April 16 and his arrest was ordered by the Islamabad High Court in the judges detentions case on Thursday, did the general’s true colours showed. The ex-dictator who was famous for saying, “Mein kisi se nahi darta, mein commando hon” (“I do not fear anyone. I am a commando.”), fled from the court premises in disregard of due process and apparently took shelter in his farmhouse in suburban Islamabad. The questions over why he was not arrested there and then are also being asked, with some speculating that the security establishment would consider it too embarrassing for its former head – and usurper president – to be put behind bars. But it is also worth noting that the military has not intervened to prevent Musharraf’s political fall. The former general is trapped in labyrinths he constructed himself and he should have known better than to step in there himself.
A united stand against terrorists is the only solution
The news of a terror strike here, a suicide bombing there has become a routine matter for most of the citizens; however, recent strikes on the political cadre clearly show where things are headed. The three-way response – the civilian government succeeding in managing the menace in a few troubled areas of late; the army pushing the terrorists into a corner; and most importantly a disapproval of their violent ideology by the public – to the militants violent methods has assured that they won’t be able to achieve their agenda. However, they can still disrupt country’s business, just as they did with attacks on politicians in the past few days.
As political parties have ramped up their campaigns for the elections on 11 May, it makes them vulnerable to such attacks. With centre-left parties like the ANP on a pronounced hit list of these militants, the situation gets even more serious. These attacks do have the potential to derail the democratic system in the country, a concern voiced rightfully by Imran Khan the other day. The democracy in the country is not as strong yet to withstand such attacks on its foundations but giving in to the ideology of violence would only ensure that the country is headed towards doom. Standing up against this dark path is the responsibility of the state, which being in the hands of caretakers these days, might be a little difficult but not impossible yet. While they are not mandated to make any strategic decisions, they still have to maintain law and order. Matters have worsened so much that the CEC had to write a letter to the ANP leaders explaining that the CEC had not ordered any security to be withdrawn tasked with the party’s members. However, the ineffectiveness of the security measures calls for more stringent and fool proof security. The situation in Balochistan is even worse, where shutter down strike was observed in many cities the other day after an attack on Sanaullah Zehri’s convoy.
Surprisingly, most of the politicians appear to have a united stand on the issue. Holding the government and the security forces responsible for the politicians’ safety and security, PTI has demanded that all political parties and leaders must be provided with adequate security, a demand that appears to be justified considering the number of such attacks that have taken place all over the country, a number that is so alarming that the HRCP was forced to say that these “terrorist attacks on politicians may sabotage election process”. However, the caretaker Cabinet’s decision to seek army’s assistance in this regard could offer the much needed reprieve from these attacks and help restore law and order to a peaceful state so that the election process goes ahead without any mishap.