MORE blood has been spilled on the campaign trail as terror rears its ugly head once again. Still reeling from the suicide bombing in Peshawar that claimed the life of ANP’s Haroon Bilour and 21 others on Tuesday, this country was dealt two more blows yesterday.

In Bannu district, JUI-F leader Akram Khan Durrani narrowly escaped an IED attack on his convoy. Then came the news of a grisly suicide bombing at a political gathering in Balochistan’s Mastung district. Among the long list of casualties is BAP candidate Siraj Raisani, brother of former Balochistan chief minister Aslam Raisani. These attacks, among several others in recent days, have one thing in common: none are routine electoral violence.

This sudden upsurge in terrorist incidents calls for several urgent responses. First, state protection must be extended to all candidates who ask for it — without delay. All three candidates who came under attack this week had survived previous attempts on their lives.

Confirming his brother’s death, Lashkari Raisani claimed that he and his brothers had been receiving threats. That successive governments have failed to rationalise an objective system for allotment of police details, thereby encouraging its abuse, is a concern that must be dealt with at a later juncture, but not at the expense of having inadequate security measures in place right now.

Electioneering is a public activity requiring a guarantee of public safety. It is a poor indication of the health of this election if on-ground campaigning is suppressed or forcibly suspended.

Second, the fact that these mass-casualty attacks were carried out without apparent warning indicates lapses in intelligence gathering. There was, and remains, a clear need to intensify such operations in sensitive areas, and around parties and candidates who have remained on hit lists.

The chief election commissioner has called for a security briefing from Nacta today; any intelligence on attempts to attack and sabotage the election process must be swiftly relayed to the relevant agencies and acted upon.

In order to ensure peaceful elections, the authorities should not only beef up security but also mobilise the entire intelligence apparatus to do the job they are actually meant to, ie preventing attacks.

Lastly, with only 10 days between now and polling day on July 25, every effort must be made to ensure that the election is not derailed by elements hostile to the democratic process, for that is what the perpetrators of these attacks are. In many ways, the real battle in 2018 is between pro-democracy and anti-democracy forces.

Even now, it is not too late, if the political class were to stand in solidarity to defeat these elements. Over 100 Pakistanis lost their lives this week exercising their democratic right to participate in defining this country’s future. It is time to realise what is at stake.

Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2018

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