VIOLENCE has become an unfortunate component of Pakistani politics. And when political meetings and rallies become easy targets for trigger-happy assailants, the need to reform the country’s political culture assumes even more importance. A number of people were killed as gunmen opened fire on a village public meeting on Sunday in Sindh’s Khairpur district. The majority of victims were PPP supporters. There are mixed views about what prompted the attack with some officials citing the cause as enmity between two groups of the local Janwari community. However, PPP MNA Nafisa Shah, who was to speak at the meeting, indicated ‘political motives’. Given intra-communal tensions and a charged political atmosphere, neither aspect can be ruled out. Political tensions have been prevailing since the passage of the Sindh People’s Local Government Bill 2012 by the provincial assembly last week, with Sindhi nationalists and some erstwhile PPP allies in the assembly agitating against the new law. If the meeting was attacked due to political motives, it would set a dangerous precedent. One can only hope that the police are right when they say they know the perpetrators; in that case we expect the assailants to be apprehended soon. To clear the air, all political forces in Sindh need to condemn the attack unequivocally, whatever their view of the government. Criticism of government policies must remain within the bounds of democratic practice — either in the assembly chamber or through peaceful protests.
With general elections on the horizon electioneering activities will begin to gather steam in the days ahead. In this context it is not very reassuring that a meeting of the ruling party has been attacked in its home base. Considering the possibility of similar incidents, political parties need to sit down and discuss a code of conduct whereby it is agreed that electioneering will be a peaceful exercise. If the trend of attacking political rallies and meetings catches on, an excuse can be made to curtail political activities altogether. This would be unacceptable. Hence both political parties and the state need to play their respective roles to ensure a peaceful run-up to the elections.