THE joint statement on Monday from the PPP, MQM and ANP in Karachi saying that the parties would contest the elections despite the terrorist violence they have been confronted with is a bold move. It reflects political maturity as these very parties have in the past fought it out between themselves on the streets of Karachi. In fact, the statement in Karachi should be echoed by the parties’ top leaders at a national level. Obviously there has been a realisation that there is a bigger common enemy (religious extremists, mainly the TTP) to contend with and there is more at stake (the democratic transition) here than petty political gains. After all, these three parties have been most affected by the violence: the ANP has relentlessly been targeted in KP and the MQM’s election offices in Karachi have been bombed while one of its candidates was killed in Hyderabad. The PPP has not even begun its campaign due to the security situation. It is also important that the parties have called for the elections to be held on time. A delay will only serve as a victory for the militants. That is why it is essential that the state vastly improves its security measures.
All parties must send out a strong message of having polls on time and not bowing to the extremists’ tactics on the national stage. In particular, those parties need to speak up who have escaped the militants’ wrath so far. After much debate Imran Khan has spoken out against the targeting of political parties, even if this has come in the form of making an appeal to the militants to cease their campaign of destruction. At least he has spoken up. On the other hand, major political forces such as Nawaz Sharif and the religious parties have either remained silent or been ambiguous in their condemnation of pre-poll violence. JI chief Munawar Hassan has called for an “all-party conference” to discuss the national situation. But with such a small window left between now and election day this may not be a feasible option, considering that many leading candidates are out on the campaign trail.
Instead, the JI and all other political stakeholders need to condemn the violence in unequivocal terms and express solidarity with the parties that have been targeted and are under threat. If silence is maintained, it will only add to the feeling that certain parties are indirectly gain-ing from the militants’ campaign against liberal and left-of-centre political forces.