Militants threaten peaceful, orderly hustings
Balochistan has 14 general seats in the National Assembly and 51 general seats in the Provincial Assembly. There are additional seats reserved for women and non-Muslims. They can contest for general seats as well. Much interest is being shown in the elections in Balochistan. The caretaker prime minister, who hails from Balochistan, visited Quetta to assure the political parties of peaceful and fair general election with additional security during the election period. The Army Chief also visited Quetta to underline the Army’s interest in peaceful and orderly election.
The politics in Balochistan is fragmented because of diversified competing interests. These include province-based political parties and their factions, nationwide political parties, religious parties and sectarian groups, and powerful tribal chiefs and other influential people. The active role of the federal government and especially the security and intelligence apparatus also influence the political process in Balochistan.
Three province-based political parties had boycotted the February 2008 general elections. These were Balochistan National Party-Mengal Group (BNP-M) led by Sardar Akhtar Mengal, the National Party (NP) led by Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch (it took part in the March 2009 Senate elections), and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party led by Mahmood Khan Achakzai.
These political parties are taking part in the May 2013 elections. Other province-based political parties taking part in the elections are BNP (Awami), Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam Fazlur Rahman (JUI-F), and JUI-Ideological. Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) faced internal rift after the death of its leader Akbar Khan Bugti in August 2006. It is has gone in three directions: JWP-Talal Bugti group (quite active), JWP-Aali Bugti (nominally active) and JWP-Baramadagh Bugti. The last of the three JWP groups functions as a separatist party from abroad under the title of Baloch Republican Party.
The nationwide parties active in Balochistan include the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Sharif (PML-N), the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-i-Azam (PML-Q) , the Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). All of them are putting up candidates and some of them are seeking seat adjustments with the political parties of their choice. This strategy does not appear to be working in Balochistan in any significant manner. These parties will be contesting elections against each other. Some independent candidates are also contesting.
The biggest challenge to elections in Balochistan is disorder and violence that has become endemic. The separatist groups based outside of Pakistan resort to violence from time to time and they have threatened to disrupt the elections. Their activists are expected to resort to armed attacks on the candidates and leaders of the parties contesting the election. Religious-sectarian and ethnic violence also exists in Balochistan. The political parties, especially the BNP-M and the NP are raising the issue of the missing persons. A good number of them have been traced and returned but still the issue is not fully resolved. There is a difference on the number of missing persons as given by the political groups and the official circles. The political circles place the main blame on the state intelligence agencies, especially the ISI, for disappearance of people. The BNP-M also raises the issue of discovery of dead bodies in various parts of Balochistan and holds the ISI or what it describes as the gangs of tough people that enjoyed the blessings of the intelligence establishment.
The official circles deny any involvement in kidnapping of people but this does not change the views of the political circles in Balochistan who continue to take a strong exception to the conduct of security and intelligence agencies in Balochistan. The echo of these sentiments can be heard repeatedly in the election campaign. The political parties and leaders are also talking about socio-economic development issues in their constituencies, jobs, how to ensure good governance and the relationship between the federal government and the province in administrative and financial domains. Some parties are also touching on the benefits of major development projects to the people of the province.
Violence or threat thereof is adversely affecting election campaign in Kbyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi which are experiencing target killings and terrorist attacks almost on daily basis. The security agencies are now taking action against criminals and others engaged in violence in Karachi but they have to keep such a pressure on them so as to ensure relatively peaceful elections.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban-i-Pakistan (TTP) has declared the elections to be un-Islamic and threatened to use violence against the PPP, the ANP and the MQM. The defiant posture of the TTP has an impact on electioneering in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and some districts adjoining these areas. Even in the province of Kbyber Pakhtunkhwa, the ANP and the PPP are curtailed in their political activities due to the Taliban threat. The ANP has lost more activists in terrorist attacks than any other political party over the last two years.
The Qaumi Watan Party of Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherapo (limited to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) also faces the threat of the TTP. He survived two attacks in the past. Asfandyar Wali Khan, the chief of the ANP, also survived a suicide attack in the past. Extra-ordinary caution is being used for Bilawal Bhutto, the leader of the PPP. His is not expected to make frequent public appearances.
In the Tribal areas, the candidates are contesting independently or are linked with Islamic parties. The Taliban policy towards the elections is helping the JUI-F and the Jamaat-i-Islami. Many political activists belonging to the ANP and the PPP in some districts adjoining North and South Waziristan have joined the JUI-F for security reasons. No candidate in the tribal areas can afford to alienate the local militants and the TTP.
In Karachi, the ANP is finding itself under pressure from the TTP. The MQM candidates face the TTP threat in urban Sindh. The first death of a candidate took place in Hyderabad on April 11 when an MQM contestant was killed by the TTP. The exclusively election related violence included bombing of a candidate’s election office in Miramshah, North Waziristan, a bomb defused outside a JUIF candidate office in Swabi (KP), two bomb attacks on the ANP candidates on April 14, injuring one in Charsadda (KP) and killing one in Swat.
The armed groups and criminals want to disrupt the election process, at least in some areas. If some major terrorist incident takes place or some top leader is assassinated close to the voting date, it will be difficult to hold elections on May 11.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.