It may be counterintuitive to say it now, but the chances are that once the desired rightwing polity has been eased in, the violent spree may actually subside
Electioneering in Punjab is in full swing while elsewhere in Pakistan the campaign remains soaked in blood. The three secular political parties, the Awami National Party (ANP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have sustained countless attacks by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Scores of leaders and cadres — principally of the ANP — have fallen to the terror attacks that keep increasing in viciousness by the day. The ANP’s National Assembly candidate from Karachi, Sadiq Zaman Khattak was shot dead this past Friday. Along with Khattak the TTP killed his son too: pumping six bullets into the four-year-old Aimal as they were leaving a mosque.
Earlier this week two blasts targeted election rallies of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-e-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F), killing and maiming scores in the Kurram Agency and Hangu. In Kurram, the target apparently was the outgoing MNA Munir Orakzai. The TTP has claimed responsibility for the attack. Mr Orakzai’s cousin Fazl-e-Saeed Haqqani had himself claimed responsibility for ordering a suicide attack against the Shia in Upper Kurram in February 2012, even after defecting from the TTP. The defection and local power play may have been one of the reasons for the present attack. Whatever the underlying dynamics, the bombings must be categorically condemned and perpetrators named. It also goes to show that appeasing and hobnobbing with the TTP would not deter it from exacting retribution for whatever they perceive wrong. Yet the Punjab-based mainstream political parties continue pandering to the religious rightwing. If the bombs and bullets are being used to skew the elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi, it is the fighting words, blatant hatemongering by sectarian terrorists and outright bigotry that suggest Pakistan’s hard right turn come May 12.
For all his talk about M A Jinnah’s Pakistan, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan came out with a video message not just stating his own religious position but also denigrating the Ahmadiyah community. He repeatedly referred to the Ahmadiyah as ‘Qadiyani’, something the beleaguered community, which faces a Nazi and apartheid-style state-sanctioned discrimination, considers a slur. Khan found it politically expedient to ignore that Mr Jinnah had the 1940 Pakistan Resolution reviewed by a leading Ahmadi, Chaudhry Sir Zafrullah Khan, and later on appointed him as Pakistan’s first foreign minister. The PTI’s cleric wing sought and received written blessings for Khan’s said message from the Dar-al-Uloom Haqqaniah seminary, the alma mater of the who’s who of the Taliban and Haqqani terrorist network. Unfortunately, by smearing the Ahmadiyah, Khan has already reneged on whatever little — less than 100 words in a 53-page document — his manifesto pledges to the minorities including banning hate speech and literature.
While the PTI has afforded the Taliban ideological space by consistently rationalising their terrorism as a ‘just’ and/or inevitable response to the US War on Terror, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) has given the Takfiris of the banned terrorist outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) political space via electoral seat adjustments, and in some instances, party tickets, for example to Chaudhry Abid Raza Gujjar and Sardar Ebad Dogar, as well. According to a newspaper report, Abid Raza is “A Lashkar-e-Jhangvi-linked alleged terror suspect who has already spent five years in jail on murder charges and had known links with a slain al Qaeda linchpin Amjad Hussain Farooqui,” while Ebad Dogar, in addition to ties with the SSP, is notorious for having offered a Rs 20 million bounty on the late governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer’s head in the Asia Bibi blasphemy case.
The chief of the Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ), effectively a rechristening of the SSP to circumvent the ban, Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi who is contesting elections from Jhang told AFP: “At the moment I can raise a voice for my anti-Shiite mission only at a local level and from my local mosque. But when I get the microphone in the assembly, the whole nation and the whole world will listen.” An earlier newspaper report stated: “the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has simply failed to prevent 55 candidates from the Punjab, belonging to 10 different sectarian groups, from contesting the general elections despite the fact that intelligence agencies had warned the ECP that they were on terrorist lists and had provided all the names.” The report has named these candidates by constituency. Interestingly, these reports appeared in the English newspaper owned by the media group with which the caretaker Chief Minister Punjab, Mr Najam Sethi, ostensibly a liberal journalist himself, has remained associated. The Punjab caretaker government and the ECP both are sleeping at the wheel as the hatemongers and suspected terrorists make their way to the assemblies.
Several polls predict the chief patron of the sectarian bigots, the PML-N, perhaps taking the helm at the Centre and possibly in a coalition in Balochistan. Whether the same party — with the same strength — gets to rule both Punjab and the Centre would define the new civil-military balance. But even with the PTI staging an upset against the PML-N, it would ideologically mean six of one and half a dozen of the other. These pro-Taliban parties are unlikely to push for any course correction in Afghanistan and at home vis-à-vis the Pakistani security establishment consorting with jihadists. The PPP in all probability would be confined to Sindh, with the MQM retaining its urban base there. While Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remains up for grabs, it is likely to see a rightwing coalition. Its proverbial ducks will be in order for the Pakistani establishment to play its final hand in post-2014 Afghanistan.
It may be counterintuitive to say it now, but the chances are that once the desired rightwing polity has been eased in, the violent spree may actually subside. There is always logic to the violence in civil wars and a method to the madness. The current storm precedes an eerie lull, it is not random. The project that started with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and went from the hoopla over the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act to the Raymond Davis affair to Memogate to debarring parliamentarians and prime ministers is coming to fruition. With the secular parties now literally battered to pulp, the only good news about the elections this coming Saturday is that the baton will be passed on from one democratic government to the next, a first in this country’s history. The principal bad news is that it might not be possible to recover from this hard right turn.
PS: Thank goodness that Imran Khan survived a dangerous fall. I wish him a speedy and full recovery.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com and he tweets @mazdaki