May 18, 2021
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Damaging Democracy

In maintaining silence in the face of the Taliban’s violence, the PML (N) and the PTI have been short-sighted in calculating their electoral gains of questionable value

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Damaging Democracy

The reported accident at an election meeting in Lahore on May 7, 2013, at which Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), was injured requiring hospitalisation, has added to the unpredictability of the Pakistani elections being held on May 11.

The election campaign has already lost much of its value due to the systematic violent campaign of intimidation and retribution unleashed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) against the three perceived liberal parties--namely, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party (ANP), which has resulted in about 100 deaths since the campaign began a month ago.

The calculated reluctance of the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif ( PML-N) and the PTI of Imran to condemn the violence partly out of intimidation and partly out of selfish electoral motives of gains has made the elections, which should have marked an important landmark in the coming of age of Pakistani democracy after five years of uninterrupted civilian rule, anything but a genuine exercise in democracy.

Public disillusionment with the democratic process is bound to increase. The beneficiaries will be the Army and the religious groups enjoying the patronage of the Army and political forces allied with the Army. The elections might take the country further away from whatever little liberal influence the country has and make the fundamentalist and jihadi forces the continued arbiters of Pakistan’s future.

In maintaining silence in the face of the Taliban’s violence, the PML (N) and the PTI have been short-sighted in calculating their electoral gains of questionable value and closing their eyes to the damage being inflicted to the cause of democracy.

The PTI may still do well despite the injuries to Imran Khan in the vital closing stages of the campaign. The PPP, the MQM and the ANP may retain their following in their traditional areas of support in Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtoonkwa (KP) and the Seraiki areas of Southern Punjab, but the injuries sustained by the democratic process in Pakistan will take a long time to heal. The religious fundamentalist and jihadi forces will continue to hold the country to ransom for many more years to come.

Instead of presenting a united front to the fundamentalist and jihadi forces determined to keep the country bleeding till the fundamentalist forces succeed in capturing power, the partisan electoral calculations of the non-fundamentalist forces and their inability to unite against these dark forces will ensure that Pakistan remains on the road to darkness despite five years of seeming civilian democracy. 

B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Twitter: @SORBONNE75

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