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Tragic silence: Electoral violence

April 18, 2013

A DAY after he narrowly escaped a suicide attack in Peshawar in which at least 18 lives were lost, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour was the picture of determination at a news conference on Wednesday. He said the ANP would not be cowed by attacks on its members and that it remained committed to fighting the elections. In keeping with the party’s spirit of defiance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the veteran politician was justifiably angry at the responses of some politicians as well as of state institutions to the unending series of violent attacks on his party. One more attack, he warned, and the ANP would lodge a criminal complaint against not only the politicians who were maintaining a deafening silence on these violent assaults but reportedly also against the men sitting in important state positions: the president, the chief election commissioner, the army chief and the chief justice of Pakistan.

It cannot get more impassioned than this — from a man who has lost a brother and many party colleagues to acts of terrorism, and who knows that his own life is on the line, even if the TTP said he was not the intended target on Tuesday. Amid official promises for improved security measures, fear hangs thick in the air and has elicited varied responses from the politicians, including those wanting to satisfy their conscience by seeing the ANP’s predicament as of the party’s own making. In the short term, the failure to condemn the militants may well improve their electoral chances at the expense of the ANP and other parties directly threatened by the militants. But this point can be powerfully countered by the argument that the militants are not ready to see reason and what we have before us is danger that is not specific to a certain brand of politicians. It is, in fact, a fire that can engulf everyone — including those who take the side of the militants today. They say they want to talk to the militants, but then dialogue is what every political party wants.

The ANP itself tried to create the right atmosphere for the polls by committing itself to talks as the ultimate remedy.Politicians who think their speech will find the militants more receptive must take note that their mild requests for a smooth election are not registering, as electoral violence is on the rise. It is the democratic process that is being threatened and everyone stands to lose. To protect the system, all politicians must first play an active role in protecting the elections.