New Delhi: Except before Partition, elections in Pakistan have always been a long catalogue of manipulations, interference by the powers, gerrymandering, and in today’s parlance what is known as 'engineering'.
However, as martyred PPP leader Benazir Bhutto used to say, elections serve as a catalyst. They provide an opportunity for people to express their will in secret, and the masses do express whatever they want without fear of anyone.
Unfortunately, in a country like Pakistan where there is imbalance in power-sharing among its vital institutions, it is not the vote that counts, but who counts the vote. Interestingly, the common factor in all the previous polls, as well as now, is the army serving as a watchdog to ensure nobody disrupts the electoral process.
In the current vicious atmosphere wherein terrorists strike at will, the Chief Election Commissioner perhaps wisely or otherwise, sought deployment of over 3,70,000 troops to ensure that polls are held peacefully. One would not like to cast any aspersions on this arrangement as apprehended by some of the participants who see a clear tilt among the caretakers towards one party that has somehow got branded as the emerging King’s Party.
As mentioned in one of my previous columns, doubts about the veracity in elections results have always been raised in the past but not so early in the day as now. Poll results were always rejected by one party or the other casting doubts on the fairness of elections. Since the days of dharnas and the umpire’s finger that never was, a section of the media with better astronomical access and understanding movement of celestial objects, have been predicting the future outcome. Many among them saw a hung parliament, a Nawaz Sharif in the past and more forecast and correctly too, couple of new wives for Imran Khan, including his prime ministerial oath.
However, only this time except for one political party, rest have been objecting to pre-poll rigging months before elections. In view of that, we also supported the demand for level playing field and expected that to have a transparent election the powers that be considered as the overall ‘Lord of the Ring’ would ensure that polls are not tainted or tilted in favour of any one candidate or party.
Just a week before the elections, Pakistan's two major political parties namely PPP and PML(N) have come on record to accuse the powers that be and they have named some of their personnel too, who they say have been found coercing their party candidates to switch loyalties.
When PPP‘s chairperson Bilawal Bhutto comes out with allegations that political parties are being engineered for desired results by respective powers, the matter needs to be taken seriously.
If the two major parties realise that they shall not get a fair deal in July 25 elections, they would be justified in taking any other drastic course for their survival. One would not agree with the view that this is a conscious effort by Imran Khan’s opponents and his politics of neo-opportunism being propelled by whole army of PPP, PML (N) electable turncoats who had been led into Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) fold—to render Elections 2018 into mire of controversy.
Indeed, allegations of pressure being used by authorities to force candidates to switch sides are irrefutable, and surely there is something more sinister than what meets the eye. We have seen how Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) was fractured, dislocated, fragmented and then re-engineered.
Having said that, the powers in question need to be warned of dire consequences when the will of the people is denied its legitimate expression. The example of political crisis in East Pakistan resulting in the creation of Bangladesh is before us. Similarly, with context to India, the manipulation of 1989 election results in favour of Indian National Congress eventually gave birth to unrest in Kashmir.
With barely seven days to go for elections, bloody events of the last few days are intensifying the deepening unease running among the Pakistani diaspora, especially at a time when terrorists have torn to shred all the claims of total cleansing of the miscreants in Pakistan by our security forces.
The Mastung massacre in which nearly 200 people were killed including Sardar Siraj Raisani, a patriot of the highest order, along with various other attacks on candidates and their election campaign have been rightly called as a conspiracy to subvert democracy.
Americans see it that way, so do foreign observers and others at home who believe that there are certain forces within, who are opposed to elections. Even if elections somehow take place, soaked in blood, powers that be would lay such a chess-board that will only have room for a hung parliament and a handpicked prime minister, like we had in days of General Pervez Musharraf.
Nonetheless, people look forward to seminal changes of far-reaching consequences. In view of the ongoing tug-of-war between former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the establishment, Punjab, the so far unchallenged bastion of power of the establishment, would sure to not remain unscathed.
The sinister method behind the madness of allowing over 200 members of banned outfits to contest polls is much more like creation of yet another MMA as had been done by General Pervez Musharraf to counter PPP. One would share the profound concern of the Senators Raza Rabbani and others over the likely mainstreaming of many of those who have been responsible for the 2014 Peshawar school massacre, mayhem at Mastung and nearly 70,000 other deaths. Their mainstreaming would be as colossal a folly as was the philosophy behind creation of strategic assets.
(Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist. Views are personal)