Blood soaked polls

Unfortunately, in a country like Pakistan where state institutions do not share power according to what the constitution says, it is not the vote that counts but who counts it

Apart from before partition, when the Muslims of India voted for the creation of this country, Pakistani elections have always been a long catalogue of manipulations, intrigues and interference by the powers that be. Much of the ‘pakka’ sahibs used to call this ‘bandobast’ and in today’s Praetorian parlance it is known as engineering.

Regardless — as martyred PPP leader Benazir Bhutto used to say — elections serve as a catalyst. They provide an opportunity to the people to express their will in secret. Unfortunately, in a country like Pakistan where state institutions do not share power according to what the constitution says, it is not the vote that counts but who counts it. Interestingly, the common factor in all the previous polls as well as now — is the army serving as a watch dog to ensure nobody disrupts the electoral process.

In the current vicious atmosphere, where terrorists seem to be striking at will, the Chief Election Commissioner wisely sought deployment of over 370,000 troops to ensure that polls are held peacefully. One would not like to cast any aspersion on this arrangement as apprehended by some of the participants who see a clear tilt by the powers that be and the caretakers towards one party that has somehow been branded as the emerging King’s Party.

As mentioned in one of my previous columns, doubts about the veracity in elections results have always been raised in the past but not so early in the day as now. Poll results were always rejected by one party or the other, casting doubts on the fairness of elections. Since the days of dharnas and the umpire’s finger that never was, a section of the media have been predicting the future. They have predicted a hung parliament, a disqualified and jailed Nawaz Sharif and a couple of new wives for Imran Khan.

If elections somehow do take place at this point, there will only be room for a hung parliament and a handpicked prime minister like we had in the days of General Pervez Musharraf

Unfortunately, apart from one political party the rest have been alleging that pre-poll rigging is taking place. In view of that we also supported the demand for level playing field and expected that to have a transparent election the military should ensure that the polls are not tainted or tilted in favour of any one candidate or party. Regretfully, just a week before the elections, Pakistan’s two major political parties have come on record to accuse the military establishment of forcing their party candidates to switch loyalties.

Indeed, allegations of pressure from the establishment don’t seem to be false. We have seen how MQM was fractured, dislocated, fragmented and then re-engineered. That being that, the powers that be need to be warned of dire consequences when the will of the people is denied its legitimate expression. The example of East Pakistan is before us. We have seen how the Indians lost their game in Indian Occupied Kashmir when election results were manipulated in the 1989 polls in favour of Indian National Congress. It gave birth to the Kashmiri Intifada that continues to this day. One can only hope history is not repeated.

The bloody events that have taken place over the last few days are intensifying the deepening unease running among Pakistanis abroad who care for the country. If we here are having sleepless nights, we can imagine the condition of our fellow compatriots back home, especially when terrorists have torn to shreds all the claims about terrorism being eradicated from Pakistani soil.

The Mastung massacre has been rightly called a conspiracy to subvert democracy. Americans see it that way, so do foreign observers and others at home who believe that there are certain forces within who are opposed to elections. And if elections somehow do take place, soaked in blood, there will only be room for a hung parliament and a handpicked prime minister like we had in the days of General Pervez Musharraf.

In view of the ongoing tug-of-war between former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the establishment—one thing is certain — Punjab will not remain unscathed. The sinister method behind the madness of allowing over 200 banned outfits’ members to contest polls — many of them mentioned in the Fourth Schedule — is much more like creation of yet another MMA as had been done by General Pervez Musharraf to counter PPP. One would share the profound concern of the Senators Raza Rabbani and others over the likely mainstreaming of many of those who have been responsible for killing of APS children, mayhem at Mastung and nearly 70,000 other deaths. Their mainstreaming would be as colossal a folly as was the philosophy behind creation of strategic assets.

The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist

Published in Daily Times, July 18th 2018.