Taliban in a northwestern Pakistani region. — File photo
PESHAWAR, April 21: The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is dead bent to hold sway over the current electoral process in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The recent escalation in terror attacks against candidates of some political parties is the clear manifestation of its intentions.
The TTP is dictating its political narrative in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It wants to force out Awami National Party from the electoral process, making a mockery of the whole exercise currently in full swing in the run-up to the elections day.
The attacks on the ANP’s election campaign events in Peshawar, Bannu and Charsadda not only reflect the TTP’s lethal capability to hit with criminal ease; these assaults leave no doubts about this rag-tag force’s capacity to disturb the electoral process. Such attacks have the potential to influence voters’ final decision. It has already exposed the process’s vulnerabilities, requiring a quick fix from those responsible for holding free and fair elections in a peaceful atmosphere.
The Election Commission of Pakistan, in a belated move to assert itself after being taken to task by the ANP leadership, has issued directives for enhanced security measures to protect candidates. In response, the caretaker government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has decided to provide security details to candidates, limit electoral events to indoor venues, and let every candidate accompany five personal security guards with licenced weapons.
The significance of these measures cannot be ignored, denying the TTP a free run.
However, the damage already caused is irreversible. About two dozen precious human lives were lost in these attacks, leaving the victims’ families to live in misery forever.
ANP and other political parties under attack from Taliban, including Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians and Qaumi Watan Party of Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, have been left with shattered confidence as they cannot hold their election campaign freely.
This has placed them at a disadvantageous position in comparison with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl), and Jamaat-i-Islami – right wing forces with a clear policy to negotiate with TTP instead of using force against it to end militancy.
Undoubtedly, the men and women conducting electioneering for candidates of ANP, PPPP, and QWP and all those who are taking part in their electoral events are courageous and exceptional people as they risk their lives to listen to their leaders, ignoring the threat.
Nonetheless, on the larger scale, voters have apparently started losing the initiative that the May 11 election is all about. The attacks and the losses suffered have added to the prevalent environment of fear. The terror streak has given reasons to all those voters who express reluctance to visit their polling stations to cast votes on the polling day because of risks attached to the exercise because of Taliban.
The attacks have the potential to influence some other voters’ decision at another level. The brutal use of force against ANP has won recognition for the Pakhtun national force as the lone political entity (at least in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) challenging TTP. The recent attacks have aroused sympathetic feelings among many.
This is a time when voters should be deciding about casting their votes for, or against, ANP by analysing its performance in its recent five-year term in the provincial government. This is a time when common interest should take precedence over an individual’s desire to see a particular political party ride to success on the elections day. This is a time when senior ANP leader Ghulam Ahmed Bilour should be judged by his constituency’s voters on the basis of his performance as the federal minister for railways in the last government and not how firmly he stood at the scene of a suicide bombing attack on his election event at Peshawar in which 18 people were killed and over 40 wounded.
However, it seems compassion has started taking roots in an air of gloom and depression.
Sympathetic considerations have taken hold of some of the disgruntled ANP supporters who had, previously, decided to cast their vote against the party’s candidates because of its unimpressive governance style and due to many a stories that have been making rounds about the not-so-honest deeds of ANP’s decision-makers when they were running the provincial government.
Ever since the ANP leadership left the government at the end of its constitutional term, official circles in the provincial secretariat have started echoing with accounts of an important ANP man issuing instructions for awarding official work contracts to a few selected contractors.
He has had a narrow escape in a recent TTP attack on his electoral event, improving his chances in the coming elections.