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Poll credibility at stake

Published May 07, 2013 08:15am

IN October 1999 an injustice was done, when the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif was booted out of government by the army chief for doing what he was authorised to do.

Thirteen years on, another injustice is being done but this time Mr Sharif is not on the receiving end; rather, he is likely to benefit from whatever has been transpiring. On the receiving end instead are the PPP, Awami National Party (ANP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), whose members and supporters have been dying in bomb and gun attacks claimed by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

About the events of October 1999, the former prime minister has repeatedly said that he was wrongly ousted from government because the Constitution did vest in him the powers to change the army chief whenever he wanted to. But Mr Sharif, who had to spend a number of years in exile because of the injustice done to him, has not said much about the excesses being committed against the three parties in the crosshairs of the terrorists. That’s short-sightedness, nay sheer opportunism.

The sordid episode began in February, when the TTP conditionally offered to hold dialogue with the state. It said that Mr Sharif, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Jamaat-i-Islami chief Munawar Hasan should act as guarantors of the talks.

Soon afterwards, the TTP took its dialogue offer off the table and urged the people not to vote for the PPP, MQM and ANP. It also declared that the three parties would be attacked because they were ‘secular’ and had adopted anti-Taliban and pro-US policies when in power.

The TTP then proceeded to unleash the kind of terror in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that seems mind-boggling even for Pakistanis who have sadly been hardened by the years-long, low-intensity conflict in the country.

This is not to say that Mr Sharif has kept absolutely quiet about the violence. To be fair, he did assail the attacks but only when asked pointedly by journalists to explain his stance on the violence directed at the parties termed ‘secular’ by the TTP. However, his answers have been evasive.

Answering a question in Karachi on Thursday he said it was wrong to suggest that terrorists had only been targeting the ANP, MQM and PPP. Even his PML-N had not been spared and the Balochistan chief of his party had lost a son, a brother and a nephew in an attack.

What Mr Sharif did not say was that the attack in Balochistan was not carried out by the TTP but by a Baloch nationalist group. So, while his answer was true it neatly avoided any reference to the Taliban.

Similar has been the attitude of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan. Like Mr Sharif, Mr Khan has been focusing more on electioneering than on pre-election violence. He has been campaigning furiously, addressing several rallies each day, and seems to be too busy to spare a thought for the dozens of people killed in the last couple of weeks. Both Mr Sharif and Mr Khan have been saying in their speeches on the campaign trail that they will bring about a change in the country, if voted to power. What they seem to have forgotten is that they have to discharge certain duties as political leaders at all times, regardless of whether they are in power or not.

They should understand that any assault on any democratic party is an attack on democracy itself. They should defend the parties being targeted. Instead, they seem to be relishing the thought of an easy sailing at the hustings as the three ‘secular’ parties have been reluctant to hold public meetings because of the violence.

Mr Sharif and Mr Khan should realise that elections are all about legitimacy and mandate. They should understand that they stand to lose the moral high ground if they don’t speak out against violence now. They should know that elections tainted by the blood of innocent people will do them little good.

They already know that for the first time in Pakistan’s history an elected government has handed over powers to an interim set-up so that fair elections may be held and the caretakers in turn hand over the reins of government to the parties elected. They should realise also that it’s folly to stand on the wrong side of the divide at this historic juncture. In the future, they should be in a position to assert that they had nothing to do with the marring of the historic general elections of 2013.

Civil society should also make its presence felt at this critical juncture. It remained active throughout the last five years but one fails to understand why it has lately been keeping a low profile and making do with issuing statements only.

Now is the time for groups and organisations representing civil society to take to the streets, to hold seminars and conferences, and to speak up against the injustice being done in the name of Islam. Now is the time for them to distribute pamphlets urging the voters to come out in big numbers on polling day in order to thwart the designs of the TTP.

With less than a week to go before polling day, time is running out. All those who want to see democracy flourish in the country should act fast; otherwise this year’s elections will go down in history as among the most bloody and unfair.

The writer is a member of staff.