Secular parties under attack by Deobandi militants ahead of Pakistan polls – by Saroop Ijaz and Javed Aziz Khan


The Cost of the Show – by Saroop Ijaz

The Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) has issued a Fatwa that it is a religious obligation on everyone to vote. Should one be happy at the fact that the Ulema Council is inclined towards democracy? Or perhaps, be unnerved that it has got to this. The PUC has to be lauded and it is heartening to see some top clerics being pro-democracy. Yet, it also points to the fact that there is only one language that we speak and understand now. That language is religion. When the Returning Officers were quizzing candidates about religious scriptures inside the courtrooms, it was mostly the candidates who belonged to parties being targeted by the Taliban (Takfiri Deobandi militatns of the Sipah Sahaba ASWJ-LeJ and Taliban) on the outside. Have we no sense of timing?

In Iran, all candidates for office are scrutinised; there is a pre-selection of candidates by the Guardian Council. The Council ensures that only those candidates that fulfil the requirements of being sufficiently religious and believing in the foundations of the Iranian Republic are allowed to contest. In short, it is exactly what Articles 62 and 63 were intended to do. And yet, there is politics, political parties, elections and disagreements. It is only that all politics is then conducted within that defined parameter. Political parties are radical and status quo, left and right, within these confines.

There was yet another attack on the ANP in Karachi on April 26. Yet again people die, and yet again most of the rest remain silent. The PPP, the ANP and the MQM continue to be under fire. The candidates are being murdered, corner meetings attacked and pamphlets distributed. This is happening while the PML-N and the PTI hold large political rallies and are campaigning in full swing. When the PML-N and the PTI say that the next election is all about Punjab, they are truer than they know. And that is scary.

Peaceful transition, free and fair elections, people’s right to choose, etc are lies. This election is rigged. Almost all elections in Pakistan have been rigged, this is just rigged a bit more. Also, the body count has never been this high. The elections have always been rigged by the stateand have always been rigged in one direction. The IJIs and the MMAs had one mandate, to defeat the liberal parties. Now, the TTP has taken over from where they left off. There has been a lethal, horrifying convergence of interest, even if inadvertent, between the state and the non-state actors. The violence of the TTP, the suspicion of the liberal and nationalist by the traditional establishment, the misplaced and somewhat idiotic sense of integrity, even-handedness by the ECP and media means you can say goodbye to a free and fair election already. Choices are being restricted, the political spectrum becoming one-sided, almost like a theocracy but only worse. At this rate, the choices in the Pakistan will soon be the religious right, ultra-right and whack job crazy, murderous religious fanatical right. Some people think that threat of fanaticism is being overstated and nuance is required, etc. They are wrong. The Barbarians are not only inside the gates, they are now driving everyone else out.

At a very basic level, this is one of the most ideologically divided elections in our history. The ideological question of singular importance is whether one is for or against murder in the name of religion, tyranny and female education, etc. Easy question, one would have thought. To emphasise how easy the question should be, let me quote David Sedaris on a US election. “To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of s**t with bits of broken glass in it?” To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.” And it seems it is an easy question in Pakistan, only the answer is dead wrong. We are not having the chicken.

In another way, this is the most non-ideological election in our history. One side of the divide is being made irrelevant and dead. The other side is all the same. It wants a religious welfare state and has no quarrel with the estranged and extremely angry brothers of ours doing all the killing. Courage is now not being particularly afraid when you are under no threat, while having your loved ones and party workers killed does not deserve sympathy since you will play the ‘victim card’. Never mind that you are victims. The Commando is back in town these days, and his remark on Mukhtaran Mai and women getting raped to get visas still has resonance.

The ECP has sought to inject some (dark) humour in the prevailing doom and gloom. The ECP, in its infinite wisdom, has said that seeking of votes on the basis of religion and sect is now an offence. Why start now Sirs. Perhaps, only if attention was paid at the time of registration, even simply to the names of the parties. In any event, the stance of the ASWJ on stem cell research and land reforms shall make for riveting campaign material. Reportedly, dozens of individuals charged with terrorism have received permission to contest and understandably so since the Returning Officers were busy with the opinions of other candidates on the all-important issue of honeymoons and consumption of the good stuff.

The performance of these parties in the ruling coalition of the previous government was less than stellar. And they might have been losing anyway. Yet, we will never know conclusively. If they lose now, they are losing in a fight which is not even close to being fair. Elections should be on time. Elections are all we have got and are unquestionably better than any other alternatives. Freddie Mercury’s “The Show must go on” is all one can think of. And so it must, yet at an agonisingly high cost. “On with the Show” then, however this is messed up, this will be bloody and this will come to haunt us again and again, even the beneficiaries of today, perhaps especially the beneficiaries of today.

Source: Express Tribune

Racked by violence – by Javed Aziz Khan

With most political parties on the campaign trail, the three secular parties – the PPP, the ANP and the MQM – are conspicuous in their absence. Across the country, but particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, these parties are abstaining from show-of-strength rallies and big public meetings due to threats of suicide attacks, bomb and rocket attacks.

Over the last few months, the nationalist ANP has remained on top of the hit list of militants, followed by the PPP and then the MQM. Although several attacks were carried out in Balochistan and Sindh as well, the prime target of militants remained mostly ANP candidates in KP and Fata. Following a formal letter to the ECP by the ANP, extraordinary security arrangements have been made for the party’s leaders and candidates in KP.

Significantly, however, the attacks have not cowed down the ANP as yet, which has changed its election slogan to “Watan ya kafan” (the country or a coffin), a message designed to convey that ANP leaders and candidates intend to either win this war or die trying.

Meanwhile, political analysts are upset by the fractured response of political parties to such attacks. “The silence of other parties over these attacks is condemnable because the loss of a political party is damage to a democratic culture,” says Dr Hussain Shaheed Sohrawardi, professor of International Relations at the University of Peshawar.

After the attack that killed Bashir Bilour in December last year, the biggest of the attacks on ANP leaders took place on April 16 when a suicide bomber targeted the senior most leader of the ANP, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour and Bashir’s son, Haroon Bilour. The two had arrived in Mundaberi Yakatoot area of urban Peshawar, where they intended to address a rally. Nineteen people were killed in the attack and over 60 were wounded while both the Bilours narrowly escaped the suicide bombing. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan later claimed the attack, saying their target was Haroon Bilour.

Following the attack and subsequent to the distribution of pamphlets in suburbs of Peshawar directing people not to hoist ANP flags, the Peshawar division commissioner banned the holding of political rallies at public places due to security reasons. Instead, parties were told to hold meetings only at specified places with adequate security. The KP government also provided five Frontier Constabulary men for each candidate with the Peshawar commissioner promising to provide more to those receiving threats.

Attacks on the contestants in KP began with the March 31 bombing of a convoy of Adnan Wazir, an independent candidate from Bannu who supported ANP during its five-year rule in the province. Adnan and five others were wounded while two persons were killed in the attack. Not only did the TTP claim responsibility, it made it clear that Adnan had been targeted for supporting ANP policies for five years. Prior to this attack, the TTP had already distributed pamphlets in tribal areas and parts of KP, warning people not to hoist flags of ANP, PPP and MQM and to stay away from rallies.

But Adnan Wazir was just the first. On April 11, seasoned nationalist leader and ANP candidate from the troubled NA-4 Peshawar-IV Arbab Ayub Jan escaped a bomb attack on his car near his house. “We are standing firm for the cause of restoration of peace in the country,” says Ayub, whose constituency covers the troubled towns of Matani, Adezai, Badaber, Bazidkhel, Sheikhan and Sarband in the south of Peshawar. “However, the Election Commission of Pakistan and the government must ensure security to all the candidates, especially those from the ANP.”

The attacks in KP and Fata continued through the month. Two people were killed when rockets were fired at the rally of a candidate in Wana while the election office of former MNA and North Waziristan candidate Kamran Khan was bombed in North Waziristan. The house of the ANP candidate from Khyber Agency Munaf Afridi was hit by hand grenades in Khyber while the residence of his rival candidate Nasir Afridi was attacked with explosives in Hayatabad in Peshawar. Also in Peshawar, the house of a candidate of PPP from NA-1 Zulfiqar Afghani came under a low-intensity bomb attack on April 16 that slightly damaged the roof of his house. A couple of days before the attack, another low-intensity bomb had gone off near a PPP suboffice on Grand Trunk Road.

On April 14, a special assistant to former chief minister Ameer Haider Hoti and active ANP leader Syed Masoom Shah’s car was targeted by a roadside bomb in Shabqadar while he was campaigning in PK-21. Shah, two friends and his driver were injured in the attack. A few hours before the attack on Masoom Shah, a nationalist leader and head of peace committee in Swat, Mukarram Shah, was killed in a bomb attack in Mingora town. The attackers had planted explosives in Mukarram’s car who, according to his son, belonged to the QWP but was supporting the ANP candidate in the general elections. ANP, however, claimed Shah as its worker. An ANP leader from Charsadda Farooq Khan escaped another bombing near his house in Sardheri on April 17. The deadliest of the attacks was that on April 16 in Mundabheri Peshawar. Several smaller attacks were carried out on ANP workers in Swabi, Quetta and other parts of the country.

The ANP leadership is furious over what has been happening for the last few weeks and terms it a conspiracy to affect the holding of free and fair general elections in the country. ANP claims it has lost over 710 workers and leaders in militant attacks during the last almost six years. Bashir Ahmad Bilour is the senior most leader of ANP, and the second top political leader after Benazir Bhutto, to have fallen victim to a suicide attack. Before Bashir Bilour, the party had lost two of its lawmakers, Alamzeb Khan of Peshawar and Dr Shamsher of Swat, in bomb attacks.

But the police insist they’re doing their best to ensure a peaceable environment in the run up to the elections. “We have beefed up security for the leadership and candidates while raids are being conducted along with other security forces on intelligence reports to counter future attacks,” said deputy inspector general (DIG) Special Branch, Nisar Khan Tanoli, who was heading the Bannu range police till last week. “Further, the bomb disposal unit’s experts sweep the venue before any rally is held.”

But electoral violence is not new in this part of the world. Former Prime Minister and chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party Benazir Bhutto fell victim to one of these attacks in Rawalpindi a few weeks before the previous general elections as did Asfandyar Amirzeb, a candidate from Swat and former provincial minister for education. That said, the attacks during the current weeks are unprecedented as candidates and leaders have been coming under attack almost everyday for the last couple of weeks.

Source: The News