It took only three days for terrorism to reappear in Pakistan with about as much subtlety as a sledgehammer to the face. With a mocking grin, extremist groups have reminded everyone that the war against them is far from over. While carnage reigned supreme in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the nation was fixated upon the Lahore Airport. As Siraj Raisani lay lost at the hands of terrorism, we debated — with much vitriol — whether the PML-N’s rally to the airport was effective. Such is the tragic truth about Pakistan’s conscience: even if 200 lives are lost in Balochistan, they’ll have to wait for our attention to move on from Punjab.
The narrative that these elections are free and fair is a farce if political parties cannot campaign without the fear of losing lives. This statement is so obvious that it shouldn’t need to be said, but with the sheer ignorance shown towards the resurgence of terrorism by the government and populace alike, perhaps the obvious has been lost at the hands of heckling each other over our political party preferences.
The attack on the BAP is the deadliest terror attack in Pakistan since the 2014 APS massacre. Yet, if you were skimming the news or debates on social media on the day it happened, you wouldn’t know it. It happened in Balochistan after all. And while the parties in Punjab decry how the elections are rigged against them, they forget that there is only one party that can genuinely claim that without argument: the ANP. We should have learned that they were barely able to campaign in 2013 because of the sheer number of terrorist attacks that took place against them — but we did not. So, come 2018 the Bilour family suffered once again because of our inability to see the obvious. With his father Haroon Bilour’s body not yet laid to rest, Danyal Bilour spoke of his certainty that the Taliban would come for him next but urged his supporters to remain peaceful and continue their struggle for democracy and secularism. That we have forced a citizen of this country to resign himself to such a fate is condemnable. That we can offer him nothing more than a pat on the back for his bravery is nothing short of disgusting. Such restraint and strength coming from the member of a party that in 2013 faced 37 terrorist attacks in five months deserves not our ignorance or apathy, but every amount of help and support that our country can give.
But we disappoint, as we so often do. Consider what the reactions to these tragedies were by our political candidates: Imran Khan tweeted about a grand conspiracy by the PML-N, wondering why these attacks coincided with Nawaz Sharif’s return; the PML-N focused all its energy on getting its leader back, while Khawaja Asif pointed fingers at India; the caretaker government seemed to have better things to do.
Democracy requires that political parties have free access to their voters. It requires free speech and freedom of assembly before the polls. That much is stated in the Constitution. However, minimal guarantees for a free election remain an elusive dream for political parties that oppose extremist groups like the Taliban, especially in Balochistan and K-P. The ANP and BAP’s poll campaigns lay shattered, while Khadim Rizvi remains free to contest the polls. No prizes for guessing why.
It is, therefore, important for the caretaker setup to provide protection to all candidates who are currently under threat. They are after all not simply there to push and shove their way to July 25th and then wash their hands of the whole affair. A caretaker government is supposed to ensure free and fair elections, and the current situation does not represent that. Give the ANP and the parties in Balochistan protection, let them campaign, stop ignoring everything that happens in this country outside Punjab. Also, we need to stop forgetting that terrorism is still alive and well beyond Punjab’s borders. The predator lurks, and it only takes one attack by it to wash away the hard work of the past few years to exterminate it. The state machinery is too fixated upon blockading the PPP from campaigning or rounding up PML-N workers. It must now focus on protecting those who are contesting the polls especially from Pakistan’s most ignored provinces. We must make sure that Danyal Bilour’s resigned acceptance of his fate must not come to pass. We cannot leave the Bilour family to see only further tragedy waiting on the horizon.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2018.