FEAR rules in Fata, with the militants deciding who can and cannot contest the general elections. Candidates out of favour with the extremists face threats and are not allowed to campaign. This has resulted in some hopefuls camouflaging their party affiliations and contesting as independents. What is more, ANP and PPP candidates have been told not to hoist their respective party flags in Wana for fear of militant attacks. But other parties, including the JUI-F, JI and PTI, face no such restrictions in the South Waziristan town. Last month, an ANP public meeting in Bannu was bombed, while yesterday the TTP claimed responsibility for the killing of an MQM candidate in Hyderabad. Such intimidation amounts to queering the pitch and making a complete mockery of the democratic process.
It was accepted that holding elections in the tribal areas was going to be an uphill task. While areas like Mohmand and Bajaur fare relatively better, the state’s writ is practically non-existent in places like North Waziristan, where only those candidates approved by militants stand a chance of winning. The TTP — which does not believe in democracy — cannot be allowed to screen candidates and deprive the public of their right to elect representatives of their choice. It is the responsibility of the security forces to provide protection to all candidates so that they can campaign freely. Equally important, those parties that have been allowed by the militants to campaign must protest against the exclusion and intimidation of other contenders. Otherwise, one-sided races and victories going to militant-backed candidates will render the results of many seats open to question. Such a situation will detract from the fairness of the electoral exercise, which is already threatened.
Moves have been made in the recent past to reform the electoral process to ensure more credible polls. These include the selection of the chief election commissioner and caretaker set-up with the consensus of both the treasury and opposition. However, unless the people of Fata, as well as of other ‘no-go’ areas, including those in Karachi, are allowed to exercise their right of franchise without let or hindrance, a question mark will continue to hang over the electoral process in Pakistan. Re-establishing the state’s writ in the tribal areas, where security forces are already present in large numbers, should be the first step; ensuring relatively free and fair polls should become a much easier process thereafter.