For a timeline of election related violence and terrorism, click here.
KARACHI: With scores of party workers killed and injured in the past one month, there is no doubt that the upcoming elections are one of the bloodiest in Pakistan’s history.
So far, Awami National Party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Peoples Party are on the hit list of militant group Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The increasing attacks within the past few days have raised a lot of questions about the credibility of the upcoming elections – the violence has also helped create a rift among various political groups.
MQM’s Farooq Sattar says that the act of not condemning the attacks is not only selfish but also indifferent. “They (political parties) need to understand that they can be in a similar situation too,” Sattar said, adding that, he fails to understand what the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the interim government is up to, in the wake of attacks on three major political parties. “My question is, are these militants even bigger than the law enforcing agencies and the ECP, to openly declare war on three political parties, while leaving out the rest?”
Since April, the Pakistani Taliban have killed more than 70 people in attacks targeting three major political parties - the Awami National Party (ANP), the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), preventing many of their most prominent candidates from openly campaigning.
With a recent attack on ANP that killed one of its candidates on a general seat, Sadiq Zaman Khattak, along with his four-year-old son in Karachi’s Korangi area, the party is seriously reconsidering its election campaign. Bashir Jan says that they have decided not to take out rallies or hold huge gatherings; rather, their workers will go door-to-door and ask for votes. “But we’ll contest elections, irrespective,” he added firmly.
Amid reports of a threat on Bilawal Bhutto’s life, the PPP has chosen to keep its election campaign “constituency specific” senator Taj Haider explained. He said the party is focusing on distributing door-to-door pamphlets and believes that irrespective of the circumstances, the election result will be good. “There’s a handicap for sure. But it all depends on the day of result. I think a low profile campaigning won’t affect the results.”
But MQM’s Sattar, who said they were also making a door-to-door request for votes, pointed out the recent attacks on election offices, affected their campaign.
An ECP spokesperson, who was not authorised to speak to the media, said that the provincial government is responsible for ensuring law and order and security of the polling staff as well as political groups. The spokesperson said that in a meeting with the National Crisis Management Cell on April 25 last month, it was outlined that ECP’s job is to make sure the elections are held in time. It was also decided in the same meeting that a response team of 70,000 law enforcement officials will be spread across the country for the Election Day. There’ll be 50 teams per polling stations, apart from local police and levies etc and 500 officials per district. The spokesperson added that the ECP is also holding talks with the military as well. When countered whether the upcoming elections are going to be free and fair, the spokesperson responded: “The atmosphere can’t be ideal, as it is not ideal anywhere in the world.”
In a ninth terror strike in Karachi, the interim government and ECP have come under severe criticism from political parties being attacked. Special advisor to Interim Chief Minster, Sindh, Khursheed Memon said that the anger is understandable. He said that political parties are rightly protesting and criticising. According to Memon, “We have a police force of 67,000 and 15,000 polling stations across Sindh. We do have handicaps but have a procedure to take care of it too.” Speaking about the fairness of the upcoming elections being questioned by political parties, Memon said that the ECP as well as the interim government was appointed by the political parties themselves, “so there’s no point questioning the fairness of the election now.”
President of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat), Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, believes that the elections are “not as free and fair” as they were expecting it to be. There is a new threat, he says, which was not there before. He said that separatists in Balochistan are targeting election offices without any distinction of religion, ethnicity or party affiliation. At the same time, there is TTP which is more distinctive and vowed to target three parties in particular. “But what I feel is that they’ll eventually target independent candidates too. The attacks won’t be limited to the ANP, MQM or PPP, which will have its own consequences.” He added that eventually the elections will be held even if it is “flawed.”
As ANP and MQM are looking for new ways of reaching out to the masses, despite attacks, columnist Ayaz Amir sees a silver lining. “Political parties would have boycotted the elections in ‘old Pakistan’ if there was even half of the kind of threat that exists today. It could have been a sufficient alibi to boycott elections. But parties are pressing on and it is something very positive, I believe.”