The democratic transition has finally met its gravest challenge. As Pakistan moves to the general elections in 10 days, it is not clear how fair and free would these elections be. In the 1990s, the establishment manipulated the results and electoral outcomes. The decision of the Asghar Khan case is on record now that shows how the establishment engineered the results in favour of a right-wing coalition of their choice. Such direct interference in political affairs culminated in the coup d etat of 1999.
The return of democratic rule had kindled the hope that Pakistan’s civilian institutions would be stronger and perhaps, a more rational civil-military engagement will ensue. The political parties achieved much in the shape of constitutional restructuring and ensuring that they did not compromise on an extraconstitutional solution for alleged misgovernance. A few months ago, it was hoped that neutral caretakers and a vigilant Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) would steer the country through the elections process.
However, the Pakistani state and its wilful outsourcing of jihad to militant organsiations are now haunting the democratic and electoral process. The so-called Pakistani faction of the Taliban has drawn the line between the acceptable and unacceptable electoral solution. Ironically, they are mirroring the approach of their erstwhile masters by indulging in pre-poll manipulation. The instruments are violence, coercion of public opinion backed with somewhat aggressive media campaigns. The ANP, the MQM and the PPP are facing the music for being liberal and secular and for backing military operations against the Taliban.
Not that the performance of these three parties was exemplary, especially with respect to law enforcement, but the truth is that they did not control the security policy of the country. The security policy intertwined with our foreign policy — a friendly Afghanistan and containment of India at all costs — drives our foreign policy agenda. The provincial governments could have done much more in terms of policing and strengthening the legal framework, which remains in shambles since the defacto abolition of the Police Order of 2002. It should be remembered that the civilian law-enforcement agencies suffered heavy casualties in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Fata and continue to remain under attack.
In the last month, scores of political workers from the moderate political parties are dead and dozens of attacks have been carried out. The frequency, speed and planning of these attacks demonstrate that the intelligence apparatus is lagging and little coordination exists. The most worrying aspect is how Karachi or at least parts of it have turned into little havens for militants where they are holding courts.
The caretaker interior minister, immediately after his appointment, became controversial, as he could not resist praising one particular leader and making predictions on who might win the election. The interim administration obviously did not do anything to assure the public that it might have been a case of misplaced enthusiasm. Who is in charge of security? Paramilitary forces are stationed in Fata, Balochistan and parts of K-P. They are under the control of civilian institutions but headed by the military. Similarly, the chief of the ISI is a senior military official. What is unclear is if someone is making these agencies talk to one another and coordinate to prevent the attacks on political workers.
How come the state does not know where the leaders and operatives of the TTP are located? Their spokesperson is quoted in Urdu columns and appears on TV as well. This kind of retreat by the state and media is mind-boggling. The paradox is that the TTP find democracy and elections un-Islamic and yet want to influence their course. More worrying is the silence and sometimes cajoling by the parties on the right of the centre. Some have even thanked the TTP for not attacking them and others have appealed them not to attack. The entire campaign has turned into a farce. In Punjab, the major contestants are promising the moon to the public without even mentioning the issue of terrorism. Is it naiveté or just short-termism that they are not focusing on these critical issues?
The net result could be that the voter turnout will be lower in the smaller provinces and higher in Punjab. This is neither good for the federation nor for our fragile democracy. By capitulating to the Taliban, are some political parties not ceding space to militias that impose their ideology through terror?
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2013.