April 22, 2013

‘The Biggest Threat to Pakistan’s Fledgling Democracy’

Since campaigning began in March for Pakistan’s upcoming elections, 28 people have been reportedly killed in a total of 14 separate attacks.
The run up to Pakistan’s elections have taken a bloody turn, with a spate of attacks targeting candidates and campaign rallies.

The violence threatens to tilt the political landscape in favor of more conservative parties ahead of historic elections in May. The upcoming election will mark the first democratic transition of power from one civilian government to another.

Since campaigning began in March, 28 people have been reportedly killed in a total of 14 separate attacks. The attacks have mostly targeted the secular Awami National Party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The coalition government that ruled in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the last five years was dominated by the ANP and the PPP. In recent years, they battled the Pakistani Taliban for control of parts of the province.

The Taliban has directly claimed responsibility for five of the attacks, and it is likely that affiliated groups were behind many of the other attacks. The attacks come as the Taliban have been operating with increasing impunity across the country.

Militants have carried out four bombings and one grenade attack against the Awami National Party in the past 10 days.
“These are planned and premeditated attacks. The idea is to scupper the political process and rig it in favor of a narrative and a political system that does not reject extremism,” said Raza Rumi, director of policy and programs at the Jinnah Institute, an Islamabad-based think tank. “For sure this is the larger [Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan] network at play,” he added.

The other major parties have not escaped unscathed. The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, have also been targeted. The PML-N is widely expected to form the next government.

Afrasiab Khattak, the president of the ANP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, believes the wave of attacks on his party – the largest in the province – is a way to preventing it from coming to power. He called on the Election Commission of Pakistan and the caretaker government to do more to prevent the attacks.

Mr. Khattak’s calls have been echoed across the political spectrum, with the attacks being widely described as pre-poll rigging.

“There needs to be a unanimous position from across political lines otherwise the elections will be a fake,” said retired General Talat Masood. “We need preventive measures to deal with this threat,” he added.

But there are questions about the caretaker government’s ability to respond. “If the current style of governing and administrating [by the caretaker government] continues this pattern will also continue,” says Mr. Rumi, “This is the biggest threat to Pakistan’s fledgling democracy.”

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