Pakistan sets date for terror polls
By Syed Fazl-e-Haider
KARACHI - Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday announced the next general election will be held on May 11, as the Pakistani Taliban raised tension ahead of the long-anticipated polls by warning people to stay away from political gatherings and public meetings of key mainstream parties during their campaigns.
The country's top military brass resolved on Tuesday to continue the fight against terrorism and said that the armed forces would give backing to the Election Commission that will oversee the
vote. That expression of support came a day after the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said it was withdrawing from peace talks.
''It was reiterated in unequivocal terms that comprehensive strategy will be followed by armed forces to combat terrorist threat being faced by the country,'' Dawn reported a military spokesman as saying after a quarterly meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.
The principal military advisory body announced its backing for the general elections in a meeting chaired by Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Khalid Shameem Wynne, and also attended by Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Muhammad Asif Sandila.
The TTP's spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan announced on Monday that it was postponing the peace talks with the authorities and claimed that the security forces and government are not serious about the dialogue.
President Zardari announced the election date as soon as he received the summary from Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Wednesday. The National Assembly stood dissolved on completion of its constitutional term of five years on March 16, the first elected government to reach full-term in the country's history. A parliamentary committee has to select a candidate to the caretaker prime minister by Friday after the major ruling the Pakistan People's Party and the main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), failed to reach an agreement on a name by Tuesday.
As the country gears up for polls, there appears a surge in terror attacks by the extremists. In the latest attack this week four people were killed and 30 injured when two suicide bombers blew themselves up within the premises of the judicial complex in Peshawar, the capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The extremists are poised to sabotage the election campaign of the political parties by terrorizing the people, who already feel unsafe everywhere in the country.
Dawn in its editorial said:
Ehsanullah Ehsan's warning to the public to stay away from electoral activities is particularly ominous because the TTP has already made it clear that it regards elections as un-Islamic and that it will target ''secular'' politicians during the campaign. The mere threat of violence by the TTP is enough to potentially skew elections in parts of the country because both the voter and a certain kind of candidate in areas such as Fata and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Punjab and Karachi may opt to stay at home, opening the door further to pro-Taliban political forces that will be able to campaign and vote more freely. If the TTP is to be stopped from indirectly shaping the composition of the elected assemblies, a comprehensive security plan must be drawn up - one that will require close cooperation between the Election Commission of Pakistan, the caretaker governments and security apparatus.
It further said:
Securing the election from militant threats is neither beyond the realm of possibility nor something we can afford to overlook. True, elections by their very nature present a plethora of potential targets to those bent on violence and there is a trade-off between security and openness. But the stakes are too high to let a business-as-usual attitude prevail. The ECP, already burdened with a number of duties and crises, needs to put security near the top of the list of its priorities - and win the cooperation of the necessary institutions as quickly as possible.
Though completion of the term of Pakistan People's Party-led coalition government is regarded as continuation of the democratic process, its performance disappointed the people who are still at the receiving end of an unprecedented surge in violence, militancy and corruption.
In his farewell address to the nation at the weekend, Prime Minister Ashraf declared the completion of government's full term as a victory for democracy and remarked that the government has strengthened democracy so much that no one will be able to derail it in the future.
''Despite all odds, completion of the term is an extraordinary and historic achievement,'' Ashraf said in a televised address to the nation. ''We have lessened the inherited problems and strengthened democracy so much that no one will be able to derail it in future.''
Deutsche Welle analyst Grahame Lucas said Pakistan is at a crossroads. In a recent analysis, Lucas said:
As Pakistan gears up for elections, DW's Grahame Lucas analyzes a country at a crossroads. From the West's point of view, Pakistan's situation ahead of the impending elections seems just as critical now as when the dictator General Pervez Musharraf resigned in 2008. The current government might have managed to survive a five-year term without there being a coup - a first for an elected government in Pakistan - but the results are meager and the great hopes have been dashed. Five years after the democratically-elected government came to power, Pakistan is still considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world.
Frequent terrorist attacks on government posts, army personnel or members of Pakistan's Shiite minority have cost hundreds of lives in the northwestern tribal areas and the province of Baluchistan on the border with Afghanistan and Iran. The security forces have not been able to get the Pakistani Taliban and other Islamist groups under control and bring an end to their jihad. Christians are also frequently threatened with the country's blasphemy legislation being used against them.
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 email@example.com.
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