FOR months, the Pakistani Taliban had threatened to disrupt the elections; now, they are delivering on their promise. The attack on an MQM campaign office in Karachi on Tuesday has bloodily underlined the severity of the challenge: from Peshawar to Quetta and now Karachi, violence against political parties, or rather just a subset of political parties, is radically reshaping the electoral battle ahead. Given that elections are essentially participatory and open in nature, it is impossible to secure every single potential target and prevent every single attack. But that does not mean that all those who have a role to play are doing everything they can to discourage the violence and secure the elections. For one, the caretaker administration has been far too quiet and passive. The essential responsibility of the caretakers is to ensure elections take place in a relatively free and fair environment. In the present circumstances, that means mobilising the security and intelligence apparatus on a war footing to go after the militant cells and communication networks. While zero violence unhappily appears out of reach, the state still has a formidable capacity to take on violent elements — when the state is focused, committed and crystal clear about what needs to be done and why.
There is also a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of politicians and political parties who have avoided the Taliban’s wrath. Keeping quiet is the safe option — but only in the short term. Today, the Taliban have marked the ANP, PPP, MQM and sundry ‘un-Islamic’ politicians as their targets. But the Taliban have also been clear that they regard the very system of democracy to be unacceptable. So for parties like the PML-N, PTI and the religious bloc, silence may seem like a good idea while the price of speaking out is painfully high; in fact, this attitude only strengthens the anti-democratic forces in the country — something which is to the detriment of all political parties, including the ones not in the Taliban’s crosshairs at the moment.
Finally, there is a responsibility that falls to the political parties and politicians who are under attack: they must soldier on and give the voters a genuine choice on May 11. It is a horrible choice to make — having to stand in an election while knowing they could lose their lives — but withdrawal or a boycott would give the Taliban precisely what they want. State, society and politics must stand by and encourage politicians making the hardest of choices in a grim electoral climate.