The political campaign has borne the full brunt of the playing out of the process of dangerous extremists wearing party colours.
Wednesday’s elections for Pakistan’s Parliament and state legislatures will be unique — and potentially damaging and destabilising — for the country, no matter what the outcome that the military hopes to guide to the fullest possible extent.
If the fears are borne out, India and the country’s other neighbour Afghanistan will need to prepare for greater doses of violence and uncertainty perpetrated on their soil through the military-aided and inspired militant and terrorist outfits.
The new factor in Pakistan is this — through the Army’s manipulation a massive effort has begun to “mainstream” the terrorist outfits. Candidates of these outfits have been permitted political legacy. They can contest elections on the nominations of newly-created political parties. Many of the candidates are on the list of wanted terrorists catalogued by the Pakistan government under international, or specifically American pressure.
The political campaign has borne the full brunt of the playing out of the process of dangerous extremists wearing party colours. Bomb blasts and suicide attacks at rallies of secular parties in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan have killed hundreds of people. The aim was obviously to spread panic and persuade voters of non-religious parties not to come out in strength to back their respective parties. The signal was also to rival candidates to not bother about campaigning too hard.
The popular former PM Nawaz Sharif was judicially stripped of his post in controversial circumstances last year in a corruption case, and is now in prison. It’s a matter of speculation how his party, PML(N) will do on its home turf of Punjab in his absence and during the reign of fear that has been unleashed. The PPP of Bilawal Bhutto and his father Asif Ali Zardari is thought to be in poor shape nationally.
Former cricketer Imran Khan, whose party runs the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government, is seen as the military’s preferred political instrument and is widely tipped to be the next PM at the head of a coalition of military-created smaller parties. Mr Khan has sung the Taliban tune, and in a bid to discredit Mr Sharif has adopted the military’s line to hit at India.
This is a moment of disquiet for Pakistan. This country with nuclear weapons directed at India is in economically dire straits, harbours social chaos and is riven with political turmoil. No matter what government is formed at the federal level, the armed forces will still call the shots.
When socially, economically and politically the country faces an extremely negative situation, the bulk of its youth — 43 per cent of Pakistan is below 35 — may drift in the direction of further militarism, and religious, nationalistic chauvinism aimed against India. What results the provincial assemblies throw up will be worth watching, in case local sentiments aren’t exactly the same orientation as the national push imparted by the Army. For us in India, it is a key election to watch.