Mandate of the caretakers

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The challenge of the elections

Notwithstanding the prophecies and misconceived notions of the cynics that nothing will ever change in this land of the pure, the saner elements within the society and the bulk of the intelligentsia is of the considered view that the process of change for the better has already been prodded by the ever vigilant media despite its sporadic indiscretions and propensity to go into an overdrive in violation of the professional codes of conduct and internationally recognised media ethics.

One also feels that the freedom of expression and independent media is the best thing that has ever happened in this country. The culture of accountability and public scrutiny introduced by the media has certainly shaken and dismantled the foundations of the archaic and moth-eaten edifice of politics of graft and entitlement. It is no more possible for the practitioners of traditional politics and the old guard to keep things under wraps and continue indulging in their traditional pursuits with impunity.

In fact the independent media and proactive judiciary represent a formidable combination in the fight against corruption, changing the traditional approaches to politics and setting in motion a culture of day to day accountability. The media unraveling and spotlighting the illegality of the actions of the executive and the reckless corruption in the government organizations and SC making sure that no reported case of corruption and unconstitutional and illegal indiscretions goes unnoticed. Is it not a marked departure from the past and a change that the hapless masses have yearned ever since the inception of Pakistan? It certainly is. It arguably is a sequel to the awareness created by the media that hitherto silent majority has been shaken out of its slumber and is poised to challenge those who have taken this country for a ride over sixty five years of its existence.

It is no more possible for any government or government functionary to escape from the vigilant glare of the media and society for any indiscretion committed by them. The latest example of the role that media is playing in checking this phenomenon is the hype created over the statement of the care-taker interior minister in favour of Nawaz Sharif which led to ECP taking notice of it and writing to the prime minister about the matter. The prime minister took immediate notice of the matter, called the interior minister to explain his conduct and aptly reminded him that the role of the caretaker setup was to create a congenial atmosphere for the ECP to hold free and credible elections and not to indulge in any activity which could create an impression of partiality.

In the wake of the protests by the political parties and defined role of the caretaker setup that action was desirable. One does not know what prompted the interior minister in saying what he did, but I do know for certain that the man did not do it on purpose. Probably he lacks the skills and dexterity of choosing the right words and expressions to put across his views. He has the reputation of an honest and upright police officer and has served in Balochistan for long. He is the right choice as interior minister as he knows the intricacies relating to law and order and security. It is hoped that he will be more discreet in future and concentrate more on the role that he has been entrusted with.

The ensuing elections will not only test the ability and commitment of the ECP to hold free and fair elections but will also be a great challenge for the law enforcing agencies and security outfits in providing a secure environment to the voters to cast their vote and also protecting the political leaders who have security threats from the Taliban and other detractors of democracy, particularly the leaders of MQM, PPP and ANP against whom the former have vowed to act. The incidents of terrorism and target killing of politicians has already started happening and the Taliban have accepted responsibility of carrying out those killings. As the elections draw near, the intensity and frequency of these incidents is likely to increase. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are the most vulnerable provinces due to the prevailing circumstances where more and strict vigilance will be required.

The credibility of elections will depend on the ability of the caretaker setup in assisting the ECP to hold elections in a fear-free environment that tempts the voters to go to the polling stations to exercise their right of franchise.

The coming elections are significant from more than one aspect, and are billed as a turning point in the history of the country which will determine the future shape of the political landscape and integrity of the country. In the context of process of reconciliation in Balochistan they are perhaps the last opportunity to create conditions for resolving the issues that forced the people to take to the mountains to mount an insurgency. Sardar Akhtar Mengal, the chief of BNP has already returned and announced the participation of his party in the elections. He has also advised the Baloch insurgents to come down from the mountains saying that guns would not resolve any issue.

This change of heart by Mengal is a very positive development. However, he has also expressed some reservations about the sincerity and ability of the authorities to hold free and fair elections and demanded cessation of kidnappings and killings of the Baloch youth to make the election process credible. That indeed is a colossal challenge for the caretaker government, especially the interior minister who is well conversant with the situation in Balochistan.

The writer is an academic.