Aspersions on elections: Fair or engineered?

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Pakistan nowadays is in grip of election fever. Election Commission has announced that all necessary arrangements have been made and the Commission is ready to hold the exercise at the given date. Tentatively elections 2018 could possibly be held in July or a little later subject to Monsoon, sowing and cutting season – or any other Act of God or devil whatever. 25th or 26th July are the dates in circulation for the election but according to a latest report, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday denied media reports claiming that the ECP had suggested holding the general elections at the end of July. The ECP issued a statement declaring that it had neither fixed a date for the general elections, nor was it considering any date for finalisation. Thus, the ECP termed all such speculation as unsubstantiated.
The statement quoted sources from a local news channel that reported on Tuesday that ECP officials had been considering July 25 or 26 as the tentative dates for the polls. According to these sources, the Commission has started working on a comprehensive plan for an election date to be forwarded to the President for approval. After the president’s approval, the ECP would then issue a schedule for the polls. The government’s tenure ends on May 31 after which an interim government will come at the helm until a new government is elected.
I had spelled out my doubts in one of my columns here headlined ‘There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip’. Knowing the enigmatic nature of our politics one cannot rule out any eventuality any moment. We lost half of the country and majority of Pakistanis in the aftermath of 1971 elections. Our experience in subsequent elections too is not good.
The elections in 2013 were marred by violence against candidates belonging to PPP, ANP and any other party or person who had secular or liberal credentials. Extremist rightists in cahoots with TTP made it impossible for them to fearlessly carry on their electoral campaigning and essence of free and fair elections was lost much before actual elections were held. And of course the prelude was bloodiest most. Military dictator hell bent not to let Benazir Bhutto return home in safety used his strategic assets to knock her off. However, her sacrifice ushered in elections in 2008 and his ignominious exit.

Love to Bhutto: An elderly woman lying on muddy grass under the shade of a placard of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto during the public gathering of Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) at Hockey Ground on Friday. Party’s Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and other leaders addressed the attendees.

Much promised level playing field was littered with blood and boulders of resistance. Exception to this were four major parties – the PMLN, PTI, JI and JUI-F. These had no fear from Taliban or their Pakistani kith and kin especially in Punjab where real battle for power was fought. Rather, these TTP fully backed them. Rout of PPP in Punjab and ANP in KP need no explanation notwithstanding the charges of rigging by ROs in favour of PMLN. Now Imran Khan has directly involved a Military Intelligence Brigadier who according to him engineered the poll results in favour of Mian Nawaz Sharif. According to him serving MI (military Intelligence) brigadier Muzaffar Ali Ranjha masterminded ‘engineering’ in Punjab. This allegation has been denied.
With elections apparently not too far, more fuel in the elections fire is being put by all those in the electoral arena. Atmosphere is slipping into volatility as seen in the assassination attempt on the Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal in his home town on the issue of Khatim-e-Nabuwat. Thank God he is safe and recovering fast. In Karachi too there was a clash between the workers of PPP and PTI over location of public meeting in which PPP had proper lawful authorisation. The firebrand leader of Labaik Party has crossed all barriers of decency and is found to be inciting people to sectarian violence. Others of his kind too are increasingly using foul language and viciously undermining the very idea of participatory democracy. What is most alarming is the emergence of bigoted religious groups polluting the environment. By elections in NA120 signalled a red herring to the future of democracy with a major threat posed by hydra-headed groups such as Labaik Pakistan Party, Hafiz Saeed’s Milli Muslim League and rebirth of General Pervez Musharraf created MMA. Allama Naqvi seems to have a carte blanche from Punjab government despite warrants of arrest no police officer has the dare to touch him.
We have also seen major political engineering in Sindh. After MQM’s break up, new groups have emerged not only in urban Sindh but also efforts are being made to down size power of rural Sindh by trying to gather birds of different feathers to challenge PPP’s hegemony since it continues to pose a threat to the establishment.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has cast a serious aspersion on the nature of elections as he claimed that they will be held by Aliens. His boss has gone one step ahead of him when he says that he is not facing opposition from anyone but Khalai Makhlooq meaning, of course, invisible hands.
Who would know better about engineered elections and invisible hands putting favourable results together than Mian Sahib whose entire political career was engineered by the establishment and intelligence agencies. Mian Sahib currently on a confrontationist course with the apex judiciary seems to have lost his marbles and ability to think. May be he fears that Supreme Court at long last would as it appears take some action against him and 35 other politicians who received share in Rs 6 crore to defeat Benazir Bhutto in 1990 elections. ISI helped them form IJI and even then when they could not perform well in polls despite all support by the Administration, General Rafaqat and party in the Presidency had to bail them out to prove Marshal Joseph Stalin’s famous quote- that ‘in election it does not matter who votes, what matters who counts the vote’.
In 1988 polls when Benazir Bhutto swept National Assembly polls, it ran panic in her opponents in the Establishment. ISI DG General Hameed Gul and his boss did not want PPP to capture Punjab as well. So another engineering exercise took place and since provincial assembly elections were to be held days later, it was decided that instead of either party getting majority, let there be enough Independents to tilt the balance. Nearly votes of 40 Independents were transferred to PMLN to enable Mian Nawaz Sharif to form the provincial government.
Benazir Bhutto’s second government in 1996 too was victim of a larger conspiracy in which Mian Sahib with support from intelligence agencies not only got her dismissed but subsequently outsmarted President Farooq Leghari to send him home. One can get glimpses of the conspiracy in Syeda Abida Hussain’s book ‘Power Failure’ since she was also among the characters that stabbed Bibi in the back.
No doubt Chief Election Commissioner has rubbished Mian Sahib’s apprehensions and Imran Khan by exposing the role of MI Brigadier in 2013 has warned that public should not allow history to repeat, Army Chief’s assurance of a free and fair elections backed by Chief Justice of Pakistan should quash all suspicions and lets hope for a level playing field for all political parties. Assassination attempt on Ahsan Iqbal should be taken as a warning. Most important step that needs to be taken is to stop abuse and exploitation of religion in elections. Let Election Commission come up with a code of conduct to ensure religion is kept out of electoral foray and any one found abusing religion should be nabbed and punished forthwith. Let arrest of Naqvi be an example.
(The writer is former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)