“If you shoot in the legs of three participants of a race, and then ask them to compete with the other contestants, would you call this a fair competition?“, asked Muhammad Hanif in a recent talk show. Definitely not. Three mainstream political parties of Pakistan are facing an organised and well planned terror campaign, running for their life when they should be out on the streets campaigning for the elections. The Tehrik Taliban Pakistan released a video statement in April 2013 clearly stating that they will target ANP, MQM and PPP. With this video, the Taliban launched their “election campaign”. TTP is not mere spectators watching Pakistan’s elections closely, they have become a major player. They did not have to file nomination papers or go through ridiculous scrutiny under 62/63 but are default Saadiq and Ameen. Like other political parties, they are speaking the language of election candidates or prospective rulers but using selective violence to rush opponents and further their agenda.
In a period of less than a month, more than 60 have been killed by Taliban in election-specific violence targeting the three said secular parties. It is also important to note that all of this violence was carried out outside of Punjab. TTP issued another message later clarifying they will NOT target PMLN, PTI, JI and JUIF making it as clear as Sun on the sky that they want to wipe out the secular liberal and progressive forces from the electoral process. In all the noise and chatter on approaching elections, I refuse to call them Elections.
This is a selection. A selection on two levels. One, who goes to vote and two, who competes. An environment has been created where people of the smaller provinces in fear after a series of unending violence may not come out to vote thus leaving Punjab as the major deciding factor. Similarly, with three mainstream secular, liberal and progressive parties under attack, what options have Taliban left at the table? Its a choice between Taliban-friendly, Punjab-centric religio-political or center-right parties. There is no other choice.
What has been missing from the mainstream media is attacks on independent Shia candidates and threatening women candidates to withdraw. The notable incidents regarding Shia candidates include attacks on Noor Akbar Khan in Kohat which killed him and (first of its nature suicidal) attack on Dr. Ibrahim Jatoi in internal Sindh which he narrowly escaped. Similarly, JUIF’s Maulana Shirani, although not a Shia or member of secular parties but was attacked for Shia connection just a day after he made his important speech on the issue of Shia persecution and held Saudi Arabia and their paid religious fanatics in Pakistan responsible for it. The TTP also reportedly visited the residence of Gullana Bibi in KPK and threatened her to withdraw from the next elections which she did after two threats received.
Pakistan’s centre-right parties continued their usual Cant-Name-Taliban anti-Americanism and didn’t do much other than hollow condemnations which always followed with a sugar coated justification of the violence as a response to poor governance and pro-Americanism of this coalition. One Jamaat-e-Islami leader on a recent talk show said the “grievances” of Taliban are genuine while Imran Khan blamed ANP for siding with the US and suggested they should face the music now. To sum it up, these parties seemed to suggest that Taliban would not have attacked secular parties if the governance was good and there was no military action against militants. Difficult to say if the next message released by Taliban was a response to this position taken by these parties or not but I see a relation. TTP released an important series of vidoes and pamphlets declaring democracy and electoral process as anti-Islam, warned against casting votes and vowed to fight secular politics. One statement read, “Kaafirs want to divide Muslims using democracy.” while another one is “We are not in favor of democracy, democracy is for Jews and Christians“. By this definition; JI, PTI and PMLN are all full of kuffar.
The Taliban are playing a dangerous game and some urban politicians have unfortunately popularized their ideology. They are not jaahil, gunwaar random criminals as some would want us to believe. They have a political ideology and a vision for Pakistan – that is to take over the state and implement their version of Shariah in which not just progressive ideas, secularism or liberalism but even democracy or voting has no space. By saying they have genuine grievances or are only reactionary has only softened their image and made them slightly acceptable and democracy more vulnerable. Their target is secular parties today but will be centre right and even religio political parties tomorrow.
Pakistan’s only chance of survival lies in accepting the reality of extremism and an unflinching national will and courage to defeat terrorism. How many more Benazirs, Taseers, Bilours and Bhattis do we need to sacrifice to identify the enemy within us? Do we want a Naya Pakistan where Taliban roam free enforcing their morality and stone-age laws on us? Can the young urban revolutionaries imagine a Pakistan under Taliban where a Cricketer-turned-born-again-Muslim politician can “clean sweep” (unIslamic) elections?
Despite the performance of the last coalition government, each and every Pakistan need to appreciate and acknowledge the courage, steadfastness and bravery of ANP, MQM, PPP, Shia and women candidates who have refused to bow down to Taliban. They are standing for democracy. The are risking it for us, for Pakistan. So, keep calm and vote anti Taliban!