For those whose hearts beat with Pakistan, the preparations for elections under a caretaker set-up has given rise to hopes of a new spring for the 65 year old – which, in sympathetic terms, still ranks as an adolescent in the life of nations.
Granted it takes a good deal of optimism to see change coming any time soon. Presently, UN reports put Pakistan’s poverty levels at 49 percent and a human development index only slightly higher than the least developed African nations. With rampant corruption, that includes political appointees and funds paid off to win support, institutions have gone in decline. To top it all, a fierce Taliban resurgence threatens to bomb, kill and maim potential voters in upcoming polls.
It is a situation that worries the armed forces — whose India centric policies of “strategic depth” have now forced it to attempt to keep the ‘Good Taliban’ (Afghan fighters) separate from the `Bad’ Pakistani Taliban. Despite that, with ideologically charged militants blowing hot on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border, the Tehrik-i-Taliban has kept up suicide attacks against law enforcement targets, sectarian groups and individuals that conflict with their interests.
In Karachi, the TTP have added to the toxic mix of political parties – PPP, MQM and ANP – which even while in coalition furthered their party interests through militant wings and patronage of criminals – including the land mafias.
Just when it seemed that the situation could not get worse, the PPP government completed its five years – and it is now almost time to vote again.
The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel has come with the nomination of Justice Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim to head the Election Commission of Pakistan. As Chief Election Commissioner, he has made the right moves, including appointing a caretaker prime minister from Balochistan – Mir Hazar Khan Khoso and using his powers of persuasion to get Baloch nationalists to participate in upcoming elections.
Balochistan is ripe for representative government. Given that the nationalists boycotted 2008 elections, Islamabad had resumed governing the province through remote control. What better example than the fact that Balochistan’s dissolved parliament comprised of ministers, without any opposition. It led to a situation where even some members of the Balochistan parliament were implicated in crime, including `kidnappings for ransom.’
With the backslide set in motion during Musharraf, the last five years saw state agencies and nationalists locked in battle. The problem of “missing persons,” that peaked under the former general, remains Balochistan’s dark reality.
Taking advantage of jungle law, the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi ensconced itself in Mastung. Here they drew on the conflict between state militias and Baloch nationalists to kill hundreds of Shia Hazaras in horrific terrorist attacks.
Given the deterioration of law and order across Pakistan, good news became rarer than rainfall in the Tharparkar desert. That is starting to change, thanks to decisions taken by the Election Commission — and at times judgments by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Taking the bull by the horns, the caretakers governments have foremost assessed that Pakistan needs to step up security. Little surprise that without any Western pressure, Pakistan has begun to crack down on ideological militants that have for over a decade terrorized the nation and attempted to push it back into the medieval ages.
Earlier this year, the army made a paradigm shift in its `Green Book,’ when it deemphasized the “Indian threat,” to declare that the real threat lay “within” – from sub-conventional warfare waged by the Tehrik-i-Taliban and Afghan militants crossing its porous borders.
Indeed, with platoons of young soldiers wiped out by suicide attacks along the Pak-Afghan border, the army has come to realize that it has little choice than to defend the state from attack.
In Karachi, the deployment of Rangers and Frontier Corp against Taliban influx is beginning to yield results. Although Rangers are in the first line of fire – as seen in the toll on their lives – the army has had success in raids conducted across TTP strongholds of Mangophir, Sohrabgoth, Baldia and Orangi town.
In Balochistan, the Inspector General of the Frontier Corp has taken credit for the reduction in terrorist violence and horrific levels of crime seen in Quetta. Even while nationalists are not convinced about laying down their arms, some have shown an inclination to participate in upcoming polls.
Meanwhile as the Election Commission scrutinizes 17,000 plus nomination papers, cleared candidates are already in the field rallying for votes for the elections next month.
Today, elections have become Pakistan’s biggest hope for change. In this backdrop, the deployment of adequate security at sensitive polling stations is incumbent to yield a good turnout — and grant legitimacy to the elections.
With almost 50,000 people killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan since September 11, 2001, the nation seeks relief from interminable wounds. For that, it foremost needs to stop the hemorrhage . Only then, can it begin to address long standing issues of governance — which when combined with jumpstarting the economy can take Pakistan down the road of a more representative democracy.