Pakistan - Elections in NWFP
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Barely days after the announcement of the 81,000 strong military and paramilitary troops deployment to safeguard citizens in the February 18 2008 elections, Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, made an earnest appeal to all segments of society to help maintain law and order. The appeal seems to have fallen on deaf ears, at least in Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas, where a suicide car-bombing in Parachinar brought an abrupt end to the lives of 38, with the death toll still rising from amongst the 50 others reported to have been seriously injured. The killed and injured were from amongst those who had collected outside the office of a PPP-supported independent candidate, just when the US State Department’s Sean McCormack had expressed the hope during a Washington press briefing that the moderate forces in Pakistan would band together.
In the circumstances, and if not previously at least now, Senator Joseph Bidden, head of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, might look to revise his stance on the issue of linking military aid to the passage of smooth elections, for the military simply cannot afford to dip into those funds that are required to fulfill its primary function, which is to guard the country’s borders. That it would need to do if the Senate were to become rigid on the matter of military aid and Pakistan had to draw on its essential external security allocations to overcome the extremists push into the settled areas of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, which has surfaced as a direct consequence of the US’s war on terror in Afghanistan. And were that was not enough, Senator Bidden might recall that Pakistan’s establishment is also confronted by a sporadic, but rising insurgency in its Balochistan province fueled by hostile extraneous forces, with blasts rocking its capital Quetta even as elections are underway.
The light at the end of the tunnel is that the youth in the NWFP are seriously inclined towards the democratic dispensation with a poll conducted recently by a national English language newspaper, the Daily Times, indicating that 400 of the 500 young men between the ages of 18 and 25 questioned, had expressed an interest in voting. More pertinently still, 42 out of 50 girls interviewed by the paper wanted to be able to cast their votes. At the same time, however, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), of the approximately 1.5 million registered women voters around 500,000 felt they would be prevented from casting their votes, albeit several tribal Jirgas (Council of Notables) had ruled that those found guilty of disrupting the elections would be heavily fined with only one of the six tribes holding out against the woman’s vote.
Perhaps the BBC’s Barbara Plett best depicts the NWFP’s trying political scenario. In a column titled “Pakistan shows signs of mullah fatigue” published in the local English language daily, The Post on February 15, she draws the picture of the Islamists who had been in power over the past five years having lost ground for their not having come up to expectations on both the development count as well as the continuing violence engulfs the province. She says “this time the Islamists will be routed”. She expects the Pushtun nationalist Awami Nationalist Party (ANP) “to pick up the protest vote”, along with the secular Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). But she reminds that the ANP rallies have been repeatedly targeted by bombers as had been the PPP with the Parachinar bombing recently.
In closing, she quotes ANP candidate Mohammed Khan Hoti saying “We must sit with (the Taliban), we must talk to them, we are from the same origin…and we’ve got the same language”. But Rahimullah Yusufzai, an acknowledged Taliban expert, disagrees. “The policy has been tried” he says and Ms Plett apparently agrees. Arguing that the “trend of alternating negotiations and force is part of a vicious cycle: Pakistan’s militants support the Afghan Taliban’s fight against NATO, who in turn tell Pakistan’s army to stop them, and the militants hit back spreading their influence”, Ms Plett assesses. And, in concluding that as a consequence of this the voter turnout will be low she is probably as correct as when she says “the next government won’t be any more effective at tackling the militants than the last one”. But bringing the Taliban around the table to engage them in the electoral process is the best option the next government has -- that and the visible presence of Pakistan’s military in the area, pending the sensitive agencies negotiating an understanding.
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