The present crisis of the right-wing extremist politics of Pakistan is the direct result of manipulations in the last general elections. Those shouting themselves hoarse over rigging in the previous elections were themselves the biggest beneficiaries of such rigging. They choose to ignore the fact that the three political parties, which were against extremism, were not allowed to run an election campaign. The son of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was kidnapped at gunpoint for holding a small election-corner meeting in Multan (he has not been recovered to date) while the PML-N and the PTI were campaigning across the length and breadth of the country unhindered and unharmed.
The difference made by militancy in the results of the elections can be gauged from the results of NA-1 in Peshawar where PTI chief Imran Khan won by a lead of 70,000 votes and had vacated the seat later. In the by-elections held just two months later, when the militants allowed the ANP to campaign, not only did the PTI lead of 70,000 votes vanish, but the PTI lost the seat itself.
The agitators also chose to ignore the findings of the election tribunal on the rigging committed by the PTI on PS-93, Karachi West. The tribunal, in its judgment of August 7, found that the sitting MPA, who is the PTI’s Sindh general secretary, had changed the results of seven polling stations, had increased votes in his favour by more than 5,000 and reduced the votes of the JI candidate who was declared the ultimate winner by the tribunal. The same official took hundreds of PTI workers to Islamabad dharnas and stood next to his chief demanding “resignations and fair elections”.
These weren’t elections. This was an arrangement worked out by the agencies (whom PPP President Makhdoom Amin Fahim rightly congratulated on the PML-N’s election victory) and supported on the ground by militants. This was an artificial arrangement, whose time was long past. This arrangement had to crumble down. The time for worn out ideas and their imposition at gunpoint is long gone.
The Pakistan Peoples Party had opted for the continuation of the spirit of the Charter of Democracy. The spirit is that of reconciliation. It excludes dictation of the establishment. We had made the PML-N a part of the federal government. We, ourselves, were part of the Punjab government. Unfortunately, Nawaz Sharif thought it better to part ways and started using state institutions to destabilise our elected government. While we were acting boldly to oust militants from Swat and other areas, these elements were provided safe havens in southern Punjab.
In the interests of democracy, the PPP decided not to protest on the streets. The highly abusive language used against us and our leadership by the PML-N hurt us. But at the present crucial juncture, the language being used against the PML-N leadership is hurting us more. The continuation of the democratic system remains, as always, our top priority. Democracy presupposes a civilised political culture, which is being ruined by these elements who have no stakes in the democratic system.
Can the commission appointed by the Honourable Supreme Court investigate all of more than 1,300 seats of the provincial assemblies and the National Assembly? The record has been so badly messed up as a result of arrangements made before the polls that it has become impossible to correctly identify the bogus votes. The fact that the three parties, which were against extremist militants, were not allowed to campaign while the PTI and the PML-N enjoyed their full support, is reason enough to call the election unfair. The PPP has been saying that from day one.
The most important question is: where do we go from here? The PPP, the biggest sufferer of rigging, believes in politics of reconciliation. Major successes for democracy — the Charter of Democracy, the NFC Award, the Eighteenth Amendment, the completion of the term of previous assemblies and the governments were all results of the politics of reconciliation. ‘Politics of confrontation’, which makes the headlines, has always resulted in setbacks, the loss of democratic gains and ultimately, dictatorship. We have seen enough of it in 1999. We do not understand why the PTI and the PML-N, which were the biggest beneficiaries of poll rigging, are pushing the country to the same abyss through confrontation. Everyone stands to lose. There are no winners in this confrontation or in any confrontation for that matter.
Emotionalism has to make way for rationalism. Violence and democracy can never coexist. We shall have to jointly find way to exclude militancy and the role of agencies from the electoral system. The time for such a system has arrived. Attempts to postpone it will always result in one crisis after the other.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2014.