The Azad Kashmir polls proved that the people of the Free State take their politics seriously. The firing in Kotli district which claimed two lives was part of a pattern of clashes in the Valley, continuing a tradition of violence at election time. While the clash at a polling station of LA-12 in Kotli saw two PTI workers killed when there was a clash with PPP workers, there was a clash in LA-27 and also in LA-45, though luckily there was no loss of life. There was a PML(N)-PPP clash, and a clash between PTI workers and an independent candidate, the last leading to arrests on both sides.
It is true that election violence usually has roots in local rivalries, which would tend to explain why there was a clash between the PPP and PML(N) but at the same time it cannot be concealed that the PTI has been involved in several incidents, and was the only party to have its workers killed. This might be explained by the language used by Kashmir Affairs Minister Ali Amin Gandapur, who topped calling PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto a traitor, which may have led to his being pelted by stones during the campaign, by bad-mouthing PML(N) Vice-President Maryam Nawaz. It might be a record performance, for instead of trying to ensure the election was peaceful, as Kashmir Affairs Ministers do, he almost seemed to incite violence. Perhaps more irresponsibly, he seemed to be more concerned about ensuring his party leader was kept amused by such provocative talk.
It was the duty of the party leader to make sure there was no trouble, but unfortunately Prime Imran Khan did not strike a conciliatory note at his election rally, and the ability of the PTI to govern was thrown in doubt. Surely someone better aware of AJK’s electoral past than Mr Gandapur could have been found for the Kashmir Affairs portfolio? While the legal proceedings will go ahead related to the deaths, the role of those who helped create the \atmosphere of violence should also be examined. The PTI has lost the most, and instead of trying to play the victim, it should make sure that there is no repetition of the sad episode. It should also look to the Pakistani general elections, and ensure that local frictions are not worsened by combative rhetoric.