The terrorist violence that has plagued Pakistan unchecked all these years has now turned to disrupt the elections. The Tehreek-e-Taliban has made it clear that any politician from the ‘secular’ Awami National Party, Pakistan People’s Party, and Muttahida Quami Movement, is fair game. The three, which made up the last government, are also seen by the Taliban as ‘pro-West.” The TTP’s spreading reach was evident in a series of targeted killings in Karachi. Now, it has claimed responsibility for shooting an MQM candidate in Hyderabad, Sindh. In the same province, the PPP had to call off a scheduled rally on the anniversary of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s hanging in its stronghold in Larkana for security reasons. Clearly, the memory of Benazir’s assassination in the 2008 election campaign remains fresh for the PPP. It is not certain that Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, Benazir’s son and the party’s hope, will address any rallies; his father, Asif Ali Zardari, must sit out this election as the President.
But it is in the north-western Khyber Pakhtunkwa province where the TTP is carrying out its deadly threat on a daily basis: a bomb attack on an election rally one day; a car bomb explosion the next; bombing houses of candidates. Across the province, ANP politicians have come under repeated attack. Not surprisingly, the PPP has kept its head down. Only Imran Khan’s Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League — the Taliban views both as friendly parties — have been able to hold meetings and rallies in the province. But the PML(N) too has not escaped unscathed. In Balochistan, where Islamist militants and Baloch separatist insurgencies are both active despite the huge military presence, the provincial PML(N) leader Sanaullah Zehri was attacked. The politician escaped but not his son and two other family members. These incidents are part of the continuing war by militants of various kinds against the Pakistani state, and they must be unhesitatingly described as such. Unfortunately, years of military backing for militancy have made Pakistan’s political leaders afraid to call a spade a spade. Save the MQM, no other political party has condemned the relentless attacks on ANP. The PPP has been silent, while those not on the hitlist have been eager to use this omission to their advantage. Against this backdrop, Pakistan’s Election Commission and caretaker government face a difficult challenge in holding a free and fair election. Any thought of postponing the elections at this stage can only play into undemocratic hands. Of course, the next government faces the even harder task of deciding whether it, or the terrorists, should run the country.