Democracy under attack

Published May 2, 2013
A photo of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) election office in Karachi’s Nusrat Bhutto Colony which was attacked on the night of Thursday, April 25, 2013.—APP Photo
A photo of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) election office in Karachi’s Nusrat Bhutto Colony which was attacked on the night of Thursday, April 25, 2013.—APP Photo

QUITE a few observers have declared that the 2013 elections have already been subverted. Worse, the ostriches in command have buried their little heads in the sand.

The terrorist attacks on candidates, election meetings and political workers have certainly made holding a free and fair election nearly impossible. Except for Punjab, all parts of the country are disturbed, with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Fata in an acute state of disorder. Thus, peaceful elections in 124 National Assembly constituencies, 45.5 per cent of the seats up for direct election, are quite unlikely.

The terrorists are enjoying the freedom of the land. During the week ending on Monday last more than a score of cases of election-related violence were reported, in which nearly 25 people were killed. The political parties under attack are giving brave statements about foiling the terrorists’ plans to disrupt the polls but the latter’s success is quite evident.

On Sunday, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan again announced their resolve to continue murderous attacks on three political parties — the PPP, ANP and MQM — on ideological grounds and added that they did not expect any good from the other parties either. They have been emboldened by two factors. First, the Twiddledums and Twiddledees supposed to be running the government are merely parroting their intention to extend maximum security cover to all parties and are only busy increasing security for themselves and their outfitters.

Secondly, the parties that have been spared are displaying criminal indifference to the systematic extermination of their rivals. The PML-N is not bothered because the terrorists consider it a like-minded organisation and also because it is free to carry out electioneering in its home province. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief has made a feeble plea that the terrorists may kindly stop killing people because he does not want any distractions.

The Jamaat-i-Islami chief, otherwise known for sobriety, wants the terrorists to be identified despite the fact that they have repeatedly introduced themselves. The implication is that some hidden hands or the victim parties themselves are involved. Perhaps religious parties alone can get away with such doublespeak.

The attitude of the parties for the time being approved by the extremists clearly betrays their naiveté as there is no guarantee that their turn will not come. It also highlights the most fatal flaw in Pakistan’s politics, namely, a strong tendency among politicians to treat fellow politicians as their worst enemies and thus contribute to the victory of their common oppressors. There should be little doubt that all political parties and the population they claim to lead will again pay a heavy penalty for failing to read the signs.

The violence perpetrated on selected political parties and candidates apart, the new wave of terrorism has created such a climate of fear that at some places the polling staff are refusing to accept assignments. Even threats of dismissal from their regular jobs and imprisonment are said to be having no effect on them. If the polling staff cannot be convinced of the authorities’ ability to protect them the ordinary voter will have even less faith in his security.

What the government and the political parties perhaps do not realise is the difference between the earlier acts of terrorism and the present, election-related series of killings. Earlier on, the extremists were either resisting encroachment on their traditional domain or putting pressure on Islamabad to concede their demands, while the present wave of terror is directed at destroying democracy, the very foundation of the Pakistan state, as a tribal warlord has again proclaimed.

What we see on the chopping block is not merely the head of this party or that, at stake is the basic premise of the state, its integrity and the people’s future.

Unfortunately, the blood of all those killed in election-related violence is not on the hands of militant extremists alone. The hands of all those who have the power to confront the extremists are not clean either. Besides, a ceaseless campaign to demonise politicians, started by Ayub Khan and carried out to this day by holy knights of various brands and in different robes, has alienated the people from democracy to an extent that they do not see in the killing of a political worker an attack on their own rights.

That organised disruption of electoral activities should spread despair in society is understandable. One should not be surprised if calls begin to be raised for postponing the elections or for the intervention of the oft-tested messiahs. Both courses will cause irreversible harm to the polity. The concept of representative government might disappear altogether and the militants might be handed over a victory they do not deserve.

All such options, which are no sane options in fact, must be categorically and demonstrably rejected. The people of Pakistan must accept their predicament as the bitter fruit of their follies, their own failure to bury the mischief that had raised its head many, many years ago. They must also realise that refusal to settle the bill now will mean inviting a heavier claim the next time around.

The worst possible prospect is that some more lives may be lost, the militants’ cover may give wings to religious parties’ ambitions, and many among those that may be elected on May 11 could be extremists’ nominees and not representatives of the people. But the people will survive them as they have survived a long list of all conquering hordes. The extremists can only delay the Pakistani people’s tryst with destiny as a free and self-governing community. They do not have the power to turn the clock back.

However, the extremists can still be defeated, not by the clueless security forces but by unarmed citizens. If they turn out in huge numbers on the polling day they can still win the day for democracy and for themselves.

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