Fear envelops Pakistan elections
By Syed Fazl-e-Haider
KARACHI - The Pakistani Taliban's terror campaign has created a climate of fear ahead of the May 11 general election. That is exactly what the militants wanted to induce, as the mounting death toll from terror attacks in the run up to the poll on Saturday makes people afraid to step out of their homes to cast their votes.
Consecutive attacks this week on campaign rallies held by Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI-F), a leading Islamist party led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, denote a shift in terrorists' target from the left to the right. Attacks on parties across the political
spectrum have resulted in more than 100 deaths since the beginning of April.
Leftist political parties including the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party (ANP) have so far been on the hit-list of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which warned people to stay away from the pre-poll meetings and political rallies of these parties.
The militants continue to target election candidates, offices and rallies of those secular parties. The Pakistan Army will deploy 70,000 troops and 50 helicopters to help the government maintain law and order on Saturday, according to the security plan for the election. Currently, Pakistan is a scene of lawlessness where terror reigns supreme at the expense of the state's writ.
In the latest incidents, at least six people, including women and children, were injured in an explosion early on Thursday near the election office of MQM in the Mehmoodabad area of Karachi. A blast near the election office of an ANP candidate in Bajaur tribal region in the country's northwest on Wednesday killed two people and injured another. The same day, a blast in the central market of Hangu district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killed two people and injured 11 others.
The TTP claimed responsibility for a May 6 blast at an election meeting of the JUI-F in which 23 persons were killed and 48 others injured in Upper Kurram tribal region in the country's northwest near the border with Afghanistan. This was the first attack of its kind targeting the pro-Taliban party. In another attack on Tuesday (May 7), at least 11 people were killed and 35 others injured when a bomb exploded at a JUI-F campaign rally in Hangu.
The TTP said the May 6 attack was aimed at Munir Khan Orakzai, the election candidate of JUI-F and a former lawmaker. He escaped the blast with minor injuries.
"We attacked him because of the crimes he committed against Islam and Mujahideen," TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said in a statement. "He [Orakzai] handed over dozens of Arab Mujahideen to America, who are now suffering in Guantanamo Bay. He worked with full zeal with the ANP, MQM and PPP for the last five years in shedding the blood of innocent tribesmen."
Following the attack, a curfew was imposed in the district.
Dawn in its editorial said,
While the TTP's animus towards more "secular" parties is understandable, the targeting of like-minded elements is a tad more confusing. After all, parties such as the JUI-F share the militants' ideology - Islamist rule, imposition of Sharia etc - though they believe in pursuing these goals through the democratic route. What is more, a number of today's militants were at one time associated with the JUI-F. So for those with a soft spot for the TTP, perhaps the attacks on even ideologically similar groups offer a preview of the rigidity of the militant mind.
This should serve as a wake-up call not only to religious parties such as the JUI-F and JI [Jamaat-i-Islami], but also to politicians such as Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, who advocate dialogue with the militants. The extremists believe only they are qualified to set the political agenda and interpret religion, through murder and mayhem.
Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, is himself recovering in hospital after falling from a makeshift election rally platform on Wednesday, fracturing a rib and three vertebrae.
The terrorists have stepped up attacks on rallies, meetings and candidates as the May 11 contest, which will mark the country's first democratic transition of power, has approached.
A blast at a rally of the PPP in Lower Dir area of Khyber Pakhtunkwa province on May 7 killed six people and injured several others. An attack the same day killed a son of Jamaat-e-Islami candidate and injured three others in Upper Dir area of Khyber Pakhtunkwa province. About eight people were injured as the offices of Pakistan Muslim League, led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and the National Party, a Baloch nationalist party, were attacked on May 5 in southwestern Balochistan province.
Suicide attacks on political rallies and string of bombings at the election offices of the MQM and ANP have also wreaked human disaster in the southern port city of Karachi and many cities of the Khyber Pakhtunkwa province. Two ANP candidates of have so far been killed in such attacks, while one MQM candidate has been gunned down. Several candidates for the two parties have received injuries in targeted attacks.
For a candidate, the campaign of terror has made fighting an election become a matter of life and death. The leaders of the PPP, MQM and ANP have declared the upcoming elections as a battle between pro-Taliban and anti-Taliban forces.
A growing number of Pakistanis see the domestic Taliban as a threat, according to the results of a survey conducted by Pew Research Center, an independent think tank and released on Tuesday. The Taliban were described by 49% of respondents as a "very serious threat" to Pakistan. The vast majority of those polled, however, opposed US drone attacks against militants, saying they killed too many civilians. Two-thirds welcomed US plans to pull troops out of Afghanistan next year.
The rising violence raises fears and uncertainties about the vote on Saturday. Pakistan's election chief, Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, last week admitted that holding free and fair elections would not be possible due to the worsening law and order situation.
The TTP this week distributed leaflets in suburban areas of northwestern Peshawar city warning school teachers against performing election duties on polling day. The militants regard democracy as "un-Islamic", and so therefore in their eyes is the election. Taliban has declared democrats as infidel.
TTP spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan was cited by Dawn newspaper as saying that democracy was un-Islamic, as was the agenda of secular forces in Pakistan. The militant organization would continue its fight against secular forces and governments which were backed by external secular countries, he added.
The Express Tribune commented,
The thinking and complex politics of militant forces can be hard to understand. But what we can see is that the Taliban have emerged as major players in the electoral battle. They also seem determined to carry on with their games of death right into the polling day itself. The explosions occur virtually each day, and go to demonstrate just how helpless we are as a state before these forces.
This is a terrifying reality. We are now confronting it head on and seeing a situation in which the militants have come to dictate more and more aspects of life, including how our democracy operates. This is not a good omen. We can only hope that all parties will move closer to recognizing this and accept that the challenge of stopping the militants will be crucial to our future. They have already demonstrated just how capable they are of wrecking it and leaving behind only mayhem.
Syed Fazl-e-Haider (http://www.syedfazlehaider.com) is a development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of many books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan (2004). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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