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A blood-soaked discourse

May 10, 2013

AT the core of the electioneering process is the inalienable right of the people to govern themselves according to their own aspirations and on the basis of a rational understanding of collective historical experiences.

The discourse on a worldview, the parameters of governance and implementation of the rule of law are closely linked with the process of electioneering in a constitutional democracy.

This process is also meant to discern the level of inclusion or exclusion in state decision-making based on demographic, ethnic, gender, political and class diversity. All this is essential for participatory democracy and self-governance.

The other essential aspect of electioneering is the representation of diverse sections of society through their political organisations. Both participation and representation are prerequisites for a democratic polity.

The political history of Pakistan is replete with examples to prove that there are sections in the establishment and outside the establishment which think that the state and society of Pakistan must not be given into the hands of ‘uneducated’, ‘dishonest’, ‘disorganised’ and ‘corrupt’ political parties.

They think that only certain people or institutions can manage and run the state and hence all powers and resources must be concentrated in the hands of those who shall ‘teach’ the 180 million people how should they live, work and think.

On the other hand, most of the political parties, especially those seen as liberal and progressive ones, have been struggling to promote a discourse that all people can be part of collective decision-making and can govern themselves. Hence, we find a democratic, pro-people and decentralised mindset up against a centrist, dictatorial and elitist mindset.

The participation of people in the 2013 election process in Pakistan was first marred by certain elements in religio-political parties and the media as they raised a hue and cry with respect to the interpretation of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. Then a campaign against politics and politician was started by various sections of the media and religious groups.

The two-pronged strategy of anti-democratic forces was meant to derail the system by forcing the postponement of elections and installing a ‘technocratic’ caretaker set-up. Civil society, including political parties, responded to the tactics with wisdom. The first strategy to derail the system was foiled.

Civil society in Pakistan refused to surrender its rights or abdicate its responsibility vis-à-vis electioneering, thus securing its right of participation in the elections. Powerful state institutions like the military and the judiciary had to support its right of participation in the democratic process in unequivocal terms.

After the date for elections was announced, the anti-democratic, dictatorial mindset made itself visible in the shape of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to try and snatch the right of representation from certain political parties thought to have their roots among the people.

The TTP announced that it would attack liberal political parties including the Awami National Party (ANP), the PPP and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) during election campaigns.

The TTP also warned the people to stay away from public meetings and rallies of these political parties.

The ANP seemed to be singled out by the TTP in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, being attacked almost on a daily basis. The workers, rallies and candidates of ANP have been attacked 25 times since March 2013.

Most of these attacks took place in places where the ANP is believed to get a majority or considerable votes, including Bannu, Kohat, Peshawar, Charsadda, Mardan, Swabi and Swat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pishin in Balochistan and Karachi in Sindh.

Judging from the patterns of attacks the TTP wanted to put heavy psychological pressure on the ANP leadership to force it to boycott the elections. Had that happened, the TTP along with other dictatorially minded elements would have succeeded in snatching away the right of representation from a well-established political party in Pakistan.

Several questions need answers in this context, particularly where KP is concerned.

First, how did the TTP become so networked and tactically precise to carry out attacks from Karachi to Khyber? Second, were the various intelligence agencies unable or unwilling to gather intelligence about the attacks so that they could have been pre-empted? Third, can it be considered credible and free elections if the ANP, PPP and MQM are kept out of power through terror tactics?

To make sure that the right of representation is not snatched away from liberal progressive parties of Pakistan, the onus of responsibility fell on the shoulders of the leadership of those political parties that were spared by the TTP, the military, the Election Commission of Pakistan, the judiciary, the media and the caretaker set-up.

The security plan prepared by the caretaker set-up with the help of the Election Commission of Pakistan may be duly implemented by the military and the security agencies on polling day, especially in light of the threats issued by the Pakistani Taliban yesterday to carry out attacks across the country on election day. It is feared that the areas near the tribal belt in the north will be at enhanced risk.

The leadership of the political parties should at least raise their voice, even at this late stage, against the terror network for the larger interest of pluralist democracy in Pakistan — and also because the credibility of the election results are at stake.

The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.