General Elections to elect the 14th Parliament of Pakistan have been announced. For a nation riddled by military takeovers and coups, this will be the first time in its history when a democratically elected central government will complete its full-term and handover governance to another democratically elected government. Voting will begin on 11th May 2013 in all parliamentary constituencies of Pakistan, to elect members to the National Assembly and its lower house of Parliament and also to the four Provincial Assemblies viz., Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In the fray are Pakistan People’s Party, led by the incumbent President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the iconic former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) the second largest political party in Pakistan, led by the former twice-elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, a political party to reckon with, led by former cricket captain turned politician, Imran Khan, Pakistan’s most prominent Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, led by Syed Munawar Hassan, Muttahida Quami Movement, the third largest and a liberal political party in Pakistan, comprising mainly of migrant Muslims who came from India during the days of partition, led by Altaf Hussain. Also in the fray are alliance partners in the current Zardari government – Pakistan Muslim League (Qaumi) led by former prime minister, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Awami National Party led by Asfandyar Wali Khan.
Meanwhile, former Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf has returned to Pakistan, ending his self-imposed exile of four years, defying death threats from Taliban and arrest warnings from the Zardari government. His path for return to Pakistan was paved after the Sindh High Court granted him anticipatory bail and Interpol rejected a request from the Pakistani Government of issuing a Red-Corner notice against him.
The Zardari government has refused to provide Musharraf with even a VIP-grade security. Immediately upon his preannounced arrival in Pakistan on 24th March 2013, his planned press meet at the Karachi airport was cancelled by the Pakistani security forces, citing security reasons. Political leaders and journalists opposed to Musharraf, claim that his return is part of a larger international strategy aimed against Pakistan, while a few of them have also claimed Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) to be a part of this strategy. At the same time, the Pakistani media has observed that Musharraf may have lost the popular support which he enjoyed while in power. They have predicted a grim political future for Musharraf, owing to the dwindling support from amongst the masses.
Musharraf plans to lead his party, All Pakistan Muslim League in the May 2013 general elections. He has claimed that, if voted to power, the priorities of his government would be to improve the law and order situation, establish political stability and fight terrorism. Immediately on his return, Musharraf has blamed India of fomenting subversive activities in Pakistan. While advocating his stand on the Kargil War, Musharraf asked India to introspect and be ready for sacrifice on the Kashmir issue. These comments are seen to be made out of customary political compulsions, required for establishing his relevance in Pakistani politics, more than anything else.
With the day of general elections nearing, the internal mud-sliding within the political parties is also at its peak. Blaming Musharraf and his former dictatorial government for the downfall of Pakistan on most fronts, almost all the political parties have strongly criticized him. This charge is especially led by Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).
In the meanwhile, Brahamdagh Bugti, the main protagonist of the Baloch freedom movement and Founder and Chief of Baloch Republican Party, has announced that his party would boycott the general elections. Bugti said that the boycott is meant to raise the issue of Balochistan’s demand of independence on the international stage. Bugti equated the atrocities committed by the Pakistani government on the Baloch people, with that of Hitler during the Second World War. It was believed by the Baloch people that atleast during the pre-poll and polling days, the atrocities by Pakistani authorities would reduce; but, on the contrary, it has only increased. Bugti also claimed that the other nationalist parties of Balochistan are also rooting for freedom. He expressed regret that the media was not bringing to light the atrocities by the Pakistani government.
Against this backdrop, in another shocking revelation, the US tabloid, The Wall Street Journal has pointed towards growing influence of Taliban over Karachi, the financial capital and largest city of Pakistan. This influence is mainly observed in the Pashtun pockets of the city which is host to some fifty lakh Pashtuns. Meanwhile, the influence that the Awami National Party had once wielded in these Pashtun pockets has now started to dwindle. In the last few months, 35 of its cadres have been murdered, while it has been made to reluctantly close 30 of its offices in the city. Shahi Sayed, a Senator and the President of Awami National Party’s Sindh chapter, while admitting to the dominance of Taliban said, “Taliban have been running virtually all the machineries of the city. In the coming future, citizens may even be required to pay taxes to the Taliban. We can’t even organize rallies. Then how can you call this a free and fair election?” Haidar Abbas Rizvi, deputy parliamentary leader of Muttahida Qaumi Movement, warned that, “If the influence of Taliban over the city continues to grow, then the US and NATO forces will have to face and fight Taliban while withdrawing their troops from Afghanistan. These are the most difficult times for Karachi. Taliban can gain control over any part of the city at any point of time and at its will”. The spokesperson of Pakistan Taliban, Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed Karachi to be their ‘power centre’. He also further claimed that their aim was not just to gain control over Karachi, but over the whole of Pakistan. Pakistan Taliban has threatened to sabotage the electoral process by keeping its 200 suicide terrorists ready. It has actually started carrying out its threat by killing some of the contesting candidates. As a result, the entire electoral process is being conducted in an atmosphere of extreme fear. Finally, due to selective threats issued by the terrorists against certain political parties, it is very hard for anyone to believe that these elections are being conducted in free and fair atmosphere.
Looking at this alarming and appalling situation, caused by the ever-growing terrorism and the failure of the democratically elected government, not only the fundamentalists and conservatives, but even the common masses have started to consider the Islamic system of governance to be better suited for Pakistan, rather than the Western style of democracy. This claim was confirmed by a recent survey conducted, which stated that 80% of the youth in Pakistan believe in the Islamic system of governance rather than Western type of democracy.
Not only a democratically elected stable government is ideal for Pakistan but India too has a huge interest in such stable government. The US is slated to pull-out its forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. In such a situation, a takeover by the extremist Talibanis again looks to be in the offing, which has become a cause for worry for many countries including India, Russia, China and the western nations. It also remains to be seen whether the Pakistani government would support its extremist cousin in case such a situation actually arises. Considering the intertwined geo-political equations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the nearing of the date of the US pull-out, the question of leadership in Pakistan assumes utmost importance. The military leadership and diplomats in India have forewarned of a threat to Indian security if the extremist Taliban happens to take over Afghanistan. But, if Pakistan gets a stable and a mature government, then this threat to India would significantly diminish. Thus, the elections in Pakistan are extremely important for Indian subcontinent.
Published at Mumbai, Maharashtra – India