Pakistan’s political leaders excel in undercutting each other. They are now refusing to fully acknowledge each other’s electoral success. If this trend persists they will become vulnerable to manipulation to state institutions and their capacity to withstand the pressures of powerful countries will be greatly compromised.
The May 11 general elections are generally fair keeping in view Pakistan’s electoral track record and the desire of each individual and group to make others completely honest and strictly law abiding without bothering to impose such conditions on personal disposition. Most of the losing candidates, who are more in number than the winning candidates, are complaining about manipulation of the elections by the winning candidates or their political parties by all kinds of methods. It is interesting that the political parties are complaining about rigging only where they have lost. Since it has become a free-for-all trading of charges and counter-charges almost all elections have been questioned by one person or party or another. If we examine the details of their grievances, they are making similar complaints against each other. If we go by the complaints, over 98 percent elections will have to be redone.
The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) appears to be more vocal than any other party on this issue, holding its sit-ins in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. It has a lot of first timers in politics, young and vocal activists who invariably lack sufficient knowledge of Pakistan’s electoral history. They pursue a single track approach of rejecting the election complaints of other parties but insisting on the genuineness of their complaints. This makes the PTI meetings very noisy and media attractive. However, the senior party leadership does not realize that they are pursuing a self-defeating agenda. This also applies to other parties that are expected to be part of the government at the federal or provincial level but are shouting foul-play in the constituencies they have lost.
On the one hand, the PML-N, the PTI, the PPP, the MQM, the Jamaat-i-Islami and others are questioning the legitimacy of the electoral process. On the other hand these parties plan to set up new government either at the federal or provincial level on the basis of the results of the same elections. If the elections are manipulated, why assume power on the basis of the seats won in these “corrupt” elections?
Some of the leaders are suggesting that the Chief Justice of Pakistan should take notice of corrupt election practices. Others want the elections to be held strictly under the management and supervision of the military. It may be pointed out that the military facilitated the holding of the May 11 elections. Around 70,000 troops were on election related duties. This amounted to greater involvement of the military than was the case in the February 2008 elections, when lesser number of army personnel were moved out for election related duties.
The political leaders and parties want to assert the supremacy of the elected political leaders on non-elected state institutions in general and the military in particular. If the political leaders cannot manage their affairs and they approach the non-elected state institutions to clean up their ‘mess’ and ensure ‘fair politics’ how can they wish to implement the primacy of the elected institutions and leaders on non-elected state institutions. It is too unrealistic to expect the military to undertake ‘non-professional’ civilian tasks that enables the latter to see how divided are the political leaders without developing any political ideas and ambition.
The political parties, especially those that will soon be in power, should step back from the manipulation-in-election campaign and the individual candidates should pursue their complaints through the established remedial electoral and judicial procedures.
These elections had clearly shown that voter is becoming confident that the vote can be used to institute accountability of the rulers. The PPP and the ANP lost the elections and the MQM faced credible challenges for the first time because of the poor performance of the governments at the provincial and federal levels.
The voters have given their confidence to new political parties because the ruling parties in 2008-2013 could not deliver on good governance, internal security, the economy and especially electricity and gas shortages and civic services to the people. Politics in Pakistan has become more public need and service oriented rather than oriented to some abstract ideology.
Islamic parties have performed poorly because these were not viewed as being capable of delivering governance and civic services. While keeping Islamic parties at bay, the vote favoured the catch-all political parties with political right and Islamist orientations that maintain varying degrees of sympathy for Islamic militancy and the Pakistani Taliban.
This does not mean that the vote is in favour of Islamic militancy but it definitely favours some kind of negotiations and talks with the objective of bringing the militants and Pakistani Taliban in national mainstream. It is a middle of the road approach: neither endorsing militancy nor shutting the militants out. This reflects a fatigue with countering terrorism and draws attention towards the continuing agony of the people displaced from different tribal areas over the last four years.
The Swat model could not be replicated in the tribal areas. In Swat, the security operation was completed in three-four months and the displaced persons were systematically returned to their homes in less than six months. The tribal area security operations have been going on since 2009-2010 with no end in sight. This has forced a large number of tribesmen to live in state-run refugee camps or stay with their relatives in KP and Karachi. As their return is not in sight, these internally displaced persons and those who are aware of their agony have developed reservations about the army-led security operation in the tribal areas. Are these security operations not fully succeeding because of the army’s capacity problem or their inconclusiveness is a policy?
The option of negotiations with the Taliban is uncertain and hazardous keeping in view the proliferation of militant groups, the refusal of the Taliban to accept Pakistan’s constitution as the framework of political settlement and the bitter experience of the talks with the Swat militants in 2009 before the security operation was launched there. What if the talks do not succeed? The new political leadership has not thought of it. They appear overconfident about the success of the talks. However, the Pakistani Taliban also are overconfident of their capacity to resist Pakistani security forces. Therefore the chances of workable agreement appear limited.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.