UNHAPPILY, and tragically even, the 2013 elections are rapidly becoming a tale of two countries. There is Punjab, where election campaigns are in full swing and the vibrancy and the intensity of electoral competition can be felt across the province. And then there is Balochistan, Fata, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, where many a campaign has either come to a shuddering halt or is limping along. In the PPP’s case outside Punjab, the party has yet to even launch a serious campaign, knowing full well the ferocity of the attacks that will come its way when — if — it does launch its campaign. By now, the very worst fears about militant violence marring this election have already come true.
The choice between death and campaigning that many politicians and several parties are confronting is so fundamentally anti-democratic and fearsome that it amounts to savagely distorting the electoral process even before a single vote is cast. The asymmetry is as obvious as it is expected: liberal and left-of-centre parties are in the militants’ cross-hairs while the religious right and centre-right parties are able to campaign and mobilise support largely unmolested. Now, with each passing day, there is a greater and greater need for the mainstream parties not targeted so far to speak out and denounce the violence — particularly the PML-N and the PTI. Watching Imran Khan and the Sharifs campaigning furiously in Punjab, the parties outside Punjab increasingly consigned to the fringes of the campaign season must be wondering what it will take for those two parties, and the religious right, to denounce in unequivocal terms each act of violence and rise to the defence of the under-siege democratic process.
Cynically, the leadership of the PML-N and PTI may be calculating that in a tough electoral climate where the two parties are fighting hard for largely the same slice of the electorate, it is best to not add to the complexity of the electoral challenge by drawing the attention of militants presently occupied elsewhere. If that makes sense, it does so only in the narrowest of contexts and shortest of terms. Silence and acquiescence are the militants’ allies in achieving their goal of an anti-democratic, narrowly defined Islamist Pakistan. Imran Khan’s words of condemnation last evening are a necessary and important statement, indicating an awareness of what is at stake and why political parties, whether rivals or not, need to present a unified front against militancy. Winning an election at the cost of losing the country is not a model of sustainable democracy, as Khan has rightly suggested.