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Terrorising Pakistan’s secular parties

April 27, 2013

Mourners react following funeral prayers for supporters of Pakistani secular party Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) killed in an overnight bomb explosion in Karachi on April 26, 2013. — AFP Photo

The Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) announced in December, officially, that they would specifically target Pakistan’s secular parties: Awami National Party (ANP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Since then, many have died, many have been injured, much infrastructure lost, and election campaigns damaged if not wrapped up altogether.

In the last four days in Karachi alone, there have been three attacks – two on ANP (the blast and an attempt on the life of ANP candidate Abdul Rehman Khan) and one on the MQM.  In Peshawar last week, an attack tried unsuccessfully to claim the life of the slain Bashir Bilour’s son, Haroon Bilour. Ghulam Bilour, Bashir’s brother and former railways minister, narrowly escaped with his life. Several other attacks have taken place on small rallies, corner meetings, and prominent and local party leaders, as well as party offices.

In the meanwhile, while these parties shout themselves hoarse condemning the attacks and calling for security in the wake of a devastating onslaught on their electoral aspirations, other parties remain ominously silent. Punjab has managed to avoid the kind of violence Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have faced over the last month or two – and so, it appears, the province’s mainstream parties have decided to stay quiet and not raise a hue and cry over what can only be called systematic and strategic terrorism.

There are a number of consequences to be considered as a result of this violence. The idea of ‘free and fair’ elections is slowly being eroded – if certain parties are not being allowed to campaign as they please out of fear for their lives, they are not playing on a level playing field. Moreover, Pakistan’s voting population is now being forced to think along the lines of ‘secular vs non-secular’ although this was not necessarily an important voting consideration for a large section of the population. Whether this is becoming an increasingly important criterion is yet to be seen.

What do you think can be done to ensure the security of candidates and voters in the run-up to elections? Is there any short-term solution? Is the silence of other parties justified as a survival tactic or does their silence make them indirectly complicit? Will the wave of terror unleashed seriously erode the votes of these parties or will sympathy votes be able to somewhat compensate in terms of numbers lost and won?