ONE hopes that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor’s recent remarks regarding the ‘less-than-ideal’ security conditions in some parts of KP and Balochistan were just a professional observation. With renewed speculation over the timing of the elections, every stray word is raising eyebrows. Governor Ghulam Ali, while responding to a question regarding the uptick in terrorist activity during a recent TV interview, said that organising political activities in certain areas of KP and Balochistan had become difficult “due to the security situation”. However, he also said that polls could still be held in these areas and accepted it was the government’s duty to take voters to the ballot boxes safely. He further said, “The provincial government and institutions are responsible for sitting together and preparing a strategy for the way forward.” While it is encouraging that the governor has a clear understanding of his responsibilities, it must be pointed out that the state should perhaps be more proactive in its approach. The nationwide ‘security situation’ is, after all, solely the state’s responsibility to manage; if, for any reason, it is not ‘ideal’, it is only the state that can fix it.
Last year, when the ‘security situation’ was first used as an excuse to unconstitutionally delay the long overdue elections for the Punjab and KP assemblies, it had been pointed out that the electoral process had not been suspended in the past even when Pakistan faced considerably worse terrorism-related violence. Given that the country’s institutions have previously demonstrated their capacity to meet a broad spectrum of security challenges head-on while the democratic process continued unhindered, there is no good reason to believe that they have suddenly lost their capacity to do so. Therefore, while the worrying rise in violent incidents in recent weeks should not be ignored, the issue should also not be conflated with the need to hold already delayed elections by the committed date of Feb 8, 2024. The country’s security institutions — which have formidable experience in counterterrorism operations — must focus their energies towards eliminating all elements working to harm the Pakistani people. They should let politics and politicians take care of themselves. If the state does its job well, there is no reason why the citizenry cannot go about exercising its political rights without the fear of violence lingering over it.
Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2023