Interestingly, issues related to India and Kashmir are completely absent from political parties campaigning for the 2013 election. This could be perceived in both, a positive and negative manner. Positive because we appear, finally, to be out of that antagonists mindset, where India has to be rivalled at every cost and in every situation. And negative because we seem to be missing out on important developments in our neighbouring country and these developments are going to affect us in the long run.
Ironically, we do witness some glimpses of the nuclear energy issue in the campaigns, but even in this respect, the assertions of our political leaders do not appear aligned with latest developments. The developments have bypassed our political class and therefore have reinforced the perception that our political elite are ignorant and do not contribute to the strategic debate. In fact, watching these political leaders prattle uselessly on nuclear issue compels one to be believe that we don’t have informed debate on the nuclear energy issue in our society and in the process they have left the leave the field open for an obscure and limited group of military officials to make the decisions regarding nuclear energy — and this has fateful consequences for us as a nation.
The glimpses of nuclear issues presented by Rehman Malik, the former interior minister, who, while, addressing a press conference in Lahore (reported by Urdu newspapers) said that it was the military which conducted the nuclear tests in May 1998 and when Nawaz Sharif, the then Prime Minister, was informed he felt very scared. Apparently, Malik’s statement was meant to blunt the affects of Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz’s (PMLN) elections campaign, which prominently features Sharif as the statesman’ who conducted the nuclear tests and ensured Pakistan’s entry into nuclear club.
The fact that Malik made this statement after presiding over a meeting of party-ticket holders in Lahore, clearly indicate that Pakistan Peoples Party doesn’t want to let Sharif take credit for five nuclear explosions which were carried out by Pakistan on May 28, 1998. Sharif, on the other hand, has made it a point to include the visuals of nuclear explosions at Chagai in each of his campaign advertisements that are being show on television.
All this clearly reflects one thing: that Pakistan’s political class is still bogged down by the mindset that nuclear explosions are a capability of great jingoistic value. Malik’s statement assumes that carrying out nuclear explosions is a great act of valour which only Pakistan’s military is capable of. At the same time PMLN’s campaign advertisements want to pin this badge of bravery on the shoulder of their leader. It’s true that this is what the Pakistani public – especially the people in the urban areas of Central Punjab – would like to hear from their leaders before they decide who to vote for on May 11. But the character and style of politicians should be different from people from the performing arts (no offense), whose primary purpose is to attract an audience.
A general overview of nuclear developments in the region and in the country will show how out of touch with reality all this prattling is. When Pakistan carried out the nuclear explosions the mantra coming out of corridors of Pakistani security establishment was about how the nation has now attained a weapon which has made its defence “impregnable”. This has now changed. Now many a times will you hear the refrain that Pakistani nation and armed forces are ready to sacrifice their lives for defending their country’s “strategic weapons”. General (retd) Pervez Musharraf was the first Pakistani leader who started to “treat the nuclear arsenal as the vital interest to protect rather than the means to protect the Pakistani people.” This was the natural consequence of a situation where Pakistani nuclear weapons were facing twin threats from extremists from within the country and from ‘friendly’ US military forces stationed in Afghanistan, which (as reported by the American media) have carried out mock exercises to snatch weapons from Pakistani strategic forces. If the situation is so grim can the Pakistani political class afford to remain bogged down in the jingoistic mindset of 1990s?
The second and more depressing prospect with regard to our nuclear capability is related to our relations with India. Brigadier (retd) Feroz Hassan Khan, a former eminent member of country’s nuclear establishment, writes in Eating Grass, his latest book, that after coming under military pressure from India in the last 10 years, Pakistani armed forces have started integrating nuclear weapons into conventional war plans. “By the time the second peak of the crisis occurs in May 2002, the Pakistan military had finalised plans for integrating its conventional and nuclear forces … the crisis accelerated the pace of force planning and integration,” writes Khan in his book.
Now both the regional and international security experts are saying that Pakistani and Indian militaries are flirting with very dangerous military concepts and doctrines. Repeated flight testing of short-range tactical missiles, which can be used in the battlefield, by Pakistan clearly indicate its intentions to respond to India’s conventional attack with tactical nuclear weapons. Indian military planners, on the other hand, are flirting with a more dangerous Cold Start doctrine, under which they harbour the belief that they can punish Pakistan with their conventional military superiority and yet stop short of invoking Pakistan’s nuclear response. Indian military, in fact, tried to implement part of this concept in their military exercises close to Pakistan’s border in 2011. On the other hand, it was precisely at this time that our military conducted flight tests of its short range tactical missiles.
Now the question is that if the situation is potentially so unstable then can we afford to remain bogged down in our jingoistic mindset? Can we afford to feed Pakistani public on the same jingoistic jargon that could be so destabilising? Can we afford to leave this issue in the hands of obscure military officials, who rarely share their thoughts with the public? The answers to all these questions are in the negative. Instead, we should be engaging in an informed debate — a debate which can open avenues for making Pakistan more secure and less jingoistic.
And it is because of this reason that I argue that the complete absence of India from our election campaign is not a positive development. In fact I remember the 1997 election campaign when both PMLN and PPP used ‘bettering relations with India’ as the central issue of their election campaign. And it was because of this that the then prime minister gained enough confidence to initiate the normalisation process with India, which brought Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Indian prime minister, to Lahore and Islamabad. Ironically, in the wake of the Lahore Summit, Pakistani and Indian experts were expected to meet regularly to exchange nuclear doctrines and concepts to avoid nuclear brinkmanship.
Unfortunately this process was disrupted as a result of military takeover in Pakistan.
Javed Manj is raving and ranting against “corrupt and inefficient” politicians in front of a crowd of approximately 400 industrial workers and roadside vendors at Rohanwala village at the outskirts of Faisalabad city. His tirade against the traditional political elite appears tired to an outside observer but to the villagers listening to him his words sound exciting. After he finishes his speech, members of the audience come one by one to him to pledge that they will vote for change. “I have addressed more than 500 such corner meetings during the last two years,” Manj later tells the Herald.
People like Manj, who is a local leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), have developed a narrative immersed in the region’s political history and social realities. First and foremost, this narrative dwells on the insecurities of Faisalabad’s settler or migrant communities who came here in the first half of the twentieth century along with British-built irrigation canals. Manj says settlers/migrants, who form a majority of the population in the district, have an enduring sense of insecurity as most of them either have small agricultural landholdings or they do not own any land at all which makes them dependent on local industry, commerce and even bigger landowners to earn their livelihood. “These people are more easily attracted to the idea of change and revolution. In 1970s, [Zulfikar Ali] Bhutto won all the seats from this district because people were attracted to his slogan of change,” says Manj.
And then he puts Bhutto and PTI in a single sentence — something that many other political parties have tried in the past with varying degrees of success or failure. Manj recalls how Bhutto came to Faisalabad in early 1970s and how writer and activist Tariq Ali organised a rally, raising slogans in support of a revolution. “Bhutto said in response to the slogans that revolutions don’t happen every day; there was a revolution in 1947 and there was another one in 1970 and the third one will come after 40 years,” he says and adds that Imran Khan in 2013 represents the change that Bhutto had predicted four decades ago.
Manj believes the signs of change have already started to become visible in Faisalabad. “The July 24, 2011 rally by Imran Khan was the biggest in the history of this district,” he says. “Khan’s Dijkot rally on October 7, 2011 was even bigger than the one by Bhutto [in the same town],” he tells the Herald.
Even after discounting the element of exaggeration in Manj’s observations, the fact remains that PTI is emerging as a political force to reckon with in central Punjab, primarily because its cadres are making a serious effort to make its presence felt in the urban areas of the region. They are undoubtedly buoyed by the big public rallies that Khan has addressed in different towns and cities over the last two years or so. After PTI’s March 23 rally at Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore, the party’s workers and activists are feeling a renewed level of confidence, leading them to stake their claim as being the biggest political force in the province. In another reflection of PTI’s renewed self belief is the party’s decision to field Khan as a candidate from one constituency each in Lahore and Rawalpindi — two cities in Punjab where electoral politics has long been dominated by Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PMLN). With PTI making gains, it is unsurprising that people in most urban areas across central Punjab talk about PMLN versus PTI when they talk about tough electoral battles, rather than PMLN versus Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) as the case used to be in the past. “There should be no doubt about this after the March 23 rally; it is now between us and the PMLN in Punjab,” says Manj.
In another indication of PPP’s waning fortunes in central Punjab, it is finding almost no allies from among the smaller parties in the region. Even the leaders and the workers of the Pakistan Muslim League–Quaid-e-Azam (PMLQ) – with which PPP is seeking to strike some seat adjustment deal in places such as Gujrat – see it as a foe rather than a friend. “We don’t interact with PPP workers even at the social level,” says Mian Imran Masood, a former provincial legislator and a PMLQ leader in Gujrat. Most small parties in the region either want to jump onto the PMLN bandwagon or see it as their only electoral rival. Masood, for instance, believes that the main battles in his district will be fought between his party and the PMLN.
The shift away from PPP has become highly visible over the last three years with the rise of many, mainly right wing, political parties and groups such as PTI and Dr Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT). This has happened mostly at PPP’s expense. That the party has lost its status of being one of the two top contenders for power in Punjab is evident to almost all its political opponents. Azeem Randhawa, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) chief in Faisalabad, says there was a time when people used to say PPP would win if right-wing parties had two candidates in the same constituency. “This is no more the case,” he says, suggesting that the right-wing vote has increased so much that even when split within it will not result in an automatic advantage for PPP.
Some of the central Punjab parties and groups claim to be bigger than even the PMLN in their respective strongholds. This is exactly what PMLQ’s self-image is in the Gujrat district. Here, the family of Chaudhry Shujaat Husain and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi has succeeded in maintaining its status as a dominant political player, using its access to power as an effective tool to create and sustain an elaborate network of political patronage. Some PMLQ leaders feel no hesitation in admitting that their role as a coalition partner in the outgoing federal government has helped them to remain relevant in the electoral politics of Gujrat. “We have ministries, senate seats, development funds, jobs and other benefits,” says Masood, a close associate of the Chaudhry family. “People vote for us because they perceive us as [being able to] come to their help in times of trouble,” he says. During the two-and-a-half hours that Herald interviewed him in his public office in Gujrat, he was simultaneously addressing three different complaints by three different groups of people — one related to illegal occupation of land, another related to gas supply to a locality and the third about the admission of young boys and girls in a local college.
Some traditional right-wing parties, such as JI, also see the coming election as a chance to ensure their survival in the political field and, therefore, are making serious efforts to leave some mark on polling day. The party, according to Asha’ar Rehman, resident editor of daily Dawn in Lahore, “has lost its vote bank by allowing itself to be an appendage of the PMLN for far too long” but it is intent on keeping its fingers in the electoral pie by any means possible. Consequently, it is open to joining hands with any party except for PPP. While there are reports that JI is negotiating a seat adjustment formula with PTI, one of its central leader tells the Herald that his party will be making seat adjustments at the district level on a case-to-case basis. “It will not mean that if we have a seat adjustment in one constituency with one party, we will be bound to have the same arrangement with that party in any other constituency,” says Amirul Azeem, the JI spokesperson. “This means that we can have seat adjustments with more than one party.” Practically, this allows JI to have seat adjustment arrangements both with PMLN and PTI and that too in the same district.
Qadri’s PAT, after having proved its mettle in Lahore and Islamabad a few weeks ago, is now finding it difficult to repeat its performance in the electoral arena and its leaders say the party is not yet ready to take part in the polls. “Right now we are carrying out a membership campaign,” says Basharat Jaspal, who heads PAT in Punjab. He also points out that his party is not satisfied with the existing electoral system which is not conducive to bringing about change. “If we cannot bring change, I think, contesting elections will be meaningless,” he says. The other reason for the party’s indifference towards election is its electoral performance. So far it has only one election victory to its credit — Qadri winning a National Assembly seat from Lahore in 2002. In the absence of a strong presence in the poll calculus, PAT, however, has the capacity to swing a few thousand votes in many urban and semi-urban constituencies in central Punjab, usually in favour of some right-wing party. For instance, in Gujrat, says Masood of PMLQ, “PAT has supported us during the last two general elections.”
While it is difficult to predict which final combination will come about to determine the internal relationships between all these right-wing groups and parties in central Punjab and how they will cooperate or compete with PMLN or PTI, the situation throws up a definite conclusion: PPP loses its electoral sheen in the most thickly populated, most urbanised part of Pakistan — at least for the time being.
Scores of women, wrapped in big chadors and holding photos of young men, shout at the top of their voices in the main bazaar of Balochistan’s Turbat city on a hot March afternoon. They want Baloch nationalist parties to boycott the upcoming general election, and instead support the separatists waging a bloody war against security forces. The women include mothers, sisters and wives of the young Baloch men who have either been found dead or have gone missing over the last few years.
Besides public agitation, separatist militants sometimes also use violent means to stop the nationalist parties from taking part in the polls. Similarly, security forces and intelligence agencies want to restrict the activities of the nationalist parties. When it comes to dealing with Baloch nationalist parties, both the intelligence and security apparatuses and the separatists appear to be on the same wavelength, although for different reasons, a political analyst tells the Herald in Turbat. Both want the nationalists to stay away from the election, he says without wanting to be named due to security reasons.
The separatists, according to him, interpret the participation of the nationalist parties in the election as a means to strengthen Islamabad’s writ over Balochistan. This, he says, also weakens the case the separatists are trying to make before the international community; that the Baloch people want Balochistan’s secession from Pakistan. The separatists know well that once the popular Baloch nationalist parties reach the parliament and manage to either form or became a part of the provincial government, armed struggle for Balochistan’s independence will lose sympathies and dissipate with the passage of time, he explains.
On the other hand, the analyst says, the election of popular Baloch nationalist parties into power will weaken the security forces’ grip over the affairs of the province. He claims that security and intelligence agencies prefer working with non-nationalist Baloch politicians who, like ministers in the outgoing provincial cabinet, connive with security forces in perpetuating the status quo — in return, benefitting from the illegal trade of petroleum and other goods from and to Afghanistan and Iran. These ministers, he says, have never raised their voices against the killing and kidnapping of young Baloch men or of political activists. The security and intelligence agencies want to maintain this situation as it exists now even after the election and this could be possible only if parties such as the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNPM) and the National Party (NP) either boycott the polls or are not allowed to carry out proper electioneering, the analyst adds.
These two parties indeed have paid a high price for sticking to electoral, democratic politics in the face of twin threats: The scores of party workers and leaders killed in the last few years and the steadily shrinking political space for the middle class from Makran, Kalat and Quetta divisions in the largely tribal and feudal society of Balochistan.
In the province, the situation on the ground is hardly helpful for these parties. Major cities in the Makran division are chock-a-bloc with graffiti appealing the masses not to cast their vote and threatening candidates that they could be killed for taking part in the poll process. A huge swathe of south-western Balochistan, comprising 14 predominantly Baloch districts of the province, don’t even get television coverage of the polling exercise going on elsewhere in the country. A cable operator in Gwadar city, who does not want to make his identity public due to security concerns, tells the Herald how, in early March, separatists sent written messages to all cable operators in the area instructing them to stop relaying Pakistani news channels. Some who ignored the directive saw their houses attacked, he says.
A week after the operators had blocked Pakistani news channels, the members of a hitherto unknown group, Gwadar Youth Force, approached them and demanded that they also block all Indian entertainment channels and stop airing Indian films on cable networks. Again, those who did not heed the demands of the group faced attacks on their houses, the cable operator says. Everyone knows that the security and intelligence agencies are behind organisations such as Gwadar Youth Force, he adds. In some areas, journalists associated with television channels, and even those working for local and national newspapers, have been told both by security agencies and separatists not to report negatively about their activities. Many news correspondents in Makran, who until recently would happily discuss the political and security situation in Balochistan with visiting reporters from Karachi or Islamabad, now avoid even seeing reporters.
Yet, the Baloch nationalist parties are determined to contest the upcoming election, unlike in 2008, when they decided to sit out the election process in protest of the military operation being carried out in parts of Balochistan. On March 26, two days after returning from self-exile in Dubai, Akhtar Mengal, the BNPM president, headed a long meeting of his party’s main leadership in Karachi. Mengal told the media, after the meeting, that his party had decided to contest the coming polls. He said BNPM will use the election as a means to highlight “apprehensions about the rights of the Baloch people”.
Ghafoor Baloch, a senior nationalist leader, says that nationalist parties have held lenghty sessions to weigh the pros and cons of both participating in the election and boycotting it. During these discussions, he says, the parties analysed threats from militants who call themselves the “Sarmachars” – a Balochi word for freedom fighters – and who have particularly targeted Makran division and its nearby districts of Khuzdar and Awaran. The participants of these meetings have also discussed why violence against political activities and security forces is low in districts where the sardari or tribal system is very strong. According to him, both separatist militants and the security forces are targeting political workers of left-leaning, liberal political forces. Other political parties have also announced that they are contesting in the election and running their election campaigns but their workers are neither being targeted by militants nor by security and intelligence apparatuses, Baloch claims. In such a situation, he says, poll boycott is a relatively easy and safe option for the nationalist parties. But he raises a question: “Will poll participation make the situation worse for liberal Baloch nationalist parties than what they have faced during the last five years?” If the answer is no, he says, then why not contest the election and at least make an effort to change the situation without bothering much about the results and the future?”
A senior BNPM leader confirms this when he tells the Herald that his party has decided to participate in the election despite having reservations about the establishment’s meddling in the political affairs of the province, as well as opposition from Baloch militant groups. The leaders of both BNPM and NP also say that they are holding talks with each other as well as with other political parties for possible election alliances and seat adjustment. But they also point out that fear of violence is holding them back from launching their mass contact activities in the run-up to the election to convince the electorate that parliamentary democracy is the best way to promote the Baloch cause.
Muhammad Yousuf, a senior journalist and the president of Gwadar Press Club, believes that threats of violence will force electioneering in the province to remain a low key affair, keeping public participation and voter turnout poor. In urban areas, he says, candidates may bring the voters out but it will be extremely difficult in rural areas where distance between the villages and polling stations is normally 20 to 30 kilometres. In the presence of the clear and imminent danger of militant attacks, there is little chance that voters will be willing to risk their lives to reach polling stations, covering such long distances. This, Yousuf says, may leave a serious question mark over the legitimacy of the next election which will then be seen as unreflective of the will of the people.
Away from Baloch nationalist hub in Makran division, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), is all set to launch its election campaign, in contrast to its decision in 2008 to boycott the polls. Based in the north of Balochistan and popular among the mainly Pashtun residents of the province, the party is wasting no time in debating the costs and benefits of its decision against participation in the previous election and is, instead, focusing its energies on the coming election, says its provincial president, Usman Kakar. Expecting that the Baloch nationalist parties will also participate fully in the May election, he says: “We are looking forward to making seat adjustments with liberal and progressive forces in both provincial and national elections.” Without naming any parties or groups that PkMAP would like to ally itself with before or after the election, Kakar says that during the formation of the next government his party will prefer joining hands with progressive and liberal forces “instead of those who support the armed forces’ role in politics in one way or the other”.
Dear Diary, today is the 91st day of my prime ministership. Time magazine has declared me Person of the Year, Foreign Policy calls me “Pakistan’s Nostradamus”, and Newsweek wishes I could run for the presidency of the US.
All in due time, I told Newsweek. But I am happy that, at the prime of my political career, the world has finally recognised the awesomeness that is me.
As I had predicted, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) did sweep the elections — the patwaris were simply washed away in the tsunami. My Tsunami. Today, the national and provincial assemblies only have PTI, and no other political party. Not surprising, if you ask me. If the results had been any different, the elections would certainly have been rigged.
The so-called liberal “analysts” were bowled out — what they thought would be an analytical half-volley turned out to be a toe-crushing yorker. These drone-loving fake liberals could never tolerate my genuinely liberal greatness, because I am so much better than them in both soorat as well as seerat.
“How would you now finish corruption and terrorism in 90 days?” they asked. “Are you going to do a military operation in Waziristan?” A resounding NO was my reply, dear Diary, because only fake liberals support military operations and I am the only real liberal in this country; Mashallah, that is.
But let me tell you, dear Diary, the Tiger of Mianwali was actually a little worried. Even though I knew that I can never be wrong. I mean, if Imran Khan has said that the Taliban would be taken care of in 90 days, then they will be taken care of in 90 days. After all, who can forget that it was I who had predicted Pakistan’s win in the 1992 World Cup?
One day, as I was contemplating my options, an owl came out of nowhere and landed on my shoulder. Yes, dear Diary, an owl! But this was no ordinary owl. This one had flown all the way from Hogwarts and was carrying a message.
Harry Potter wanted to meet me.
The following day Harry arrived in Bani Gala, riding a broomstick (not kidding)! He told me that during the Triwizard Tournament, when he was listening to the golden egg underwater, he had actually heard the song “Dil nek ho, Niyat saaf, To ho insaf, Kahe Imraaaan Khan!!”. He didn’t disclose this earlier because he was afraid of the Jewish lobby. But now after Voldemort’s death — Yes, dear diary! I am not afraid to say his name — Voldemort, Voldemort, VOLDEMORT!! But anyway, as I was saying, with the death of Voldemort, the Jewish lobby has weakened, and thus Harry decided to make things public.
The next week we called a huge press conference. Well, ‘huge’ would be an understatement, dear Diary, as it was not a press conference, but a press tsunami. Well not even a tsunami; I would rather call it a TSUNAMA! From Roznama Surkhab to The New York Times to the Daily Prophet, everyone was there.
The seating arrangement for the Tsunama conference raised a lot of suspense — we had placed the journalists in the middle, while a huge fenced enclosure was erected to their left, and a dozen empty shipping containers were parked to their right.
I initiated the proceedings and officially asked Harry to rid Pakistan of terrorism. In response, Harry took out his wand and shouted, “Accio Taliban! Bad ones only!” Suddenly the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakitan (TTP) started dropping from the sky and into the fenced enclosure. The army jawans surrounding the fence shouted ‘Hands up!’, and thus the formidable TTP was taken into custody without even a single bullet being fired…! Take that, Najam Sethi!
I then asked Harry to help return the billions looted by corrupt politicians. Again Harry waved his wand and shouted, “Accio Swiss Accounts! Politicians only!” And suddenly the parked containers became full with dollars. They say Zardari was watching it live and had a heart attack when he saw that. I pray for his recovery.
With this done, Harry broke his wand into two and embraced Islam at the hands of Junaid Jamshed. He has been renamed Haris Puttar and is now a member of the Tableeghi Jamaat as well as the PTI.
And this is how I fulfilled my promise to eliminate corruption and terrorism from Pakistan within 90 days.
But that’s not the end, dear Diary, as there are drones to deal with as well. Luckily Superman has also joined our cause. Apparently when he was flying by the moon he heard the chant “Kaun bachaae ga, Pakistan? Imraaan Khan!! Imraaan Khan!!” He said he wants to help us take down the drones. Let’s see how that one goes.
All major political parties have publicised their manifestos for the election 2013. These manifestos express and articulate their respective ideologies, programmes and policies and they differ from one another both in focus and detail.
The Herald invited three experts to discuss the need and impact of party manifestos. The panel included Amit Baruah who has reported for the respected Indian daily The Hindu from Islamabad and headed BBC Hindi Service. The second panelist was Ayaz Amir, a leading Pakistani journalist and columnist and a member of the outgoing National Assembly. The third member of the panel was columnist, analyst and poet Harris Khalique who has also contributed to the latest manifesto of a major political party.
Herald: Is there a difference between campaign slogans and party manifestos?
Amit Baruah: Yes, there is a difference. Parties tend to be more formal in their manifestos and catchier in their slogans.
Harris Khalique: Slogans are [created] to catch people’s attention. A manifesto is a road map; it is more of a policy document. Sloganeering takes place [both] in highly literate societies as well as in countries with poor literacy rate where slogans become even more important: “Roti, kapra aur makaan; maang raha hai har insaan (Everyone is asking for a square meal, clothes and a house)” — this has remained the same for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Benazir Bhutto [but other slogans have changed]. When General Ziaul Haq deleted the PPP’s election symbol – the sword – from the election symbol list, the arrow became the election symbol for Benazir Bhutto and the PPP. In Sindh, a new slogan was coined — “Nah meer ke nah peer ke; vote Benazir ke; vote saare teer ke (neither for the mirs nor for the pirs; our votes are for Benazir; our votes are all for the teer (arrow).”
Baruah. Indira Gandhi’s slogan when she returned to power in 1980 was “Nah jaat par, nah paat par; Indira ki baat par; muhr lagegi haath par (neither on the basis of caste nor for breed; our votes are for Indira’s word; we shall put the stamp on [vote for] the hand [the Congress’ election symbol]”. It was quite effective! I wonder whether in the internet age, slogans will have to be different.
Khalique. Language and rhyming continue to catch the imagination, even in the internet age. The internet is just another medium in that respect.
Herald. Do you think slogans won’t change at all for social media campaigns?
Khalique. Well, they may but they haven’t yet. Look, for instance, at the Insha Allah Naya Pakistan song sung by Salman Ahmad and Junaid Jamshed for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Baruah. I think that the link between social media and the real world – on-the-ground – campaigning still needs to be established. In societies where literacy and internet penetration is low, real slogans of the kind mentioned above will still be important. We can see in India, for instance, that some politicians are using social media, but given the literacy levels, getting people out for a political rally can’t be done through Twitter and Facebook. I also wonder if there will be extensive use of social media for the May 11 election in Pakistan.
Khalique. Yes, there will be, because both our countries have huge populations. Even the middle class sections of society using social media include millions. Those in the diaspora also get equally involved in Pakistani politics, and many of them use social media.
Baruah. I totally agree. As we can see in Bangladesh currently, social media in urban spaces will be actively used and politicians and parties will have to become social media savvy.
Herald. Political parties have the tendency to overcommit themselves in their manifestos and campaign slogans. Isn’t it counterproductive for politicians and political parties to overcommit when it widens the gap between what they promise and their eventual performance, thereby endangering their future electoral prospects?
Baruah. Well, this is an issue endemic to the whole of South Asia: there are actually yawning gaps between what parties promise and what they deliver. The real issues facing people most often take a back seat. In South Asia, there is a definite tendency to promise the moon to the electorate — this is the nature of our political parties.
Khalique. Slogans are always exaggerated. The problem is when a serious commitment made in a manifesto is not realised. We, however, must consider that parties make their manifestos as singular outfits. But when they come to power in large, complicated countries, they work in coalitions. For a third-world country, things change quickly. Parties, therefore, argue that they could only fully implement their manifestos if they sweep the polls.
Herald. Do manifestos even matter when politics is completely dominated by personalities in South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular?
Baruah. Well, even personalities have to come out with a manifesto — a minimum programme of sorts, if you like. And the party in power should have something to show to have a chance of re-election. One thing that we must also consider in the South Asian context is the role of families – or dynasties – in our elections where the family is the manifesto.
Khalique. Manifestos matter. Personalities symbolise a certain thinking, sensitivity, slant and world view. People see them as icons. One will choose a personality to follow if one has a similar if not the same understanding of how things should be and how political, economic and social decisions are made. Have you ever heard of a political party contesting polls without a manifesto? A leader becomes popular because of a shared world view — be it clear or confused. Besides, you could hold a party responsible against its manifesto if it has been in power.
Herald. What makes certain political dynasties click with voters better than others? Is it what they stand for? Or do they receive votes because of who they are?
Baruah. We have many political dynasties in South Asia — the Bandaranaikes in Sri Lanka, the Nehru-Gandhis in India, the Bhuttos in Pakistan. Dynasties also have to be clever. They must be able to measure the pulse of the people and know what the electorate wants.
Khalique. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is more of a strip tied around the wild bouquet of the Congress party now. In Pakistan, no Bhutto [family member] is actually ruling at the moment, if you follow the patriarchal definition of the family. But they or those closely related to them will still have influence in Pakistan. However, just think about it — if Bilawal Bhutto Zardari begins to raise conservative, right-wing slogans, will those who follow the Bhuttos continue to follow him?
Herald. Who reads manifestos? Do voters read them? Voters are always in millions and no party can print millions of copies of their manifesto…
Khalique. Of course, not everybody reads manifestos. But slogans derived out of the manifestos are heard by all. Many would read the gist in newspapers or listen to the key points through the electronic media. The summaries of both the PPP and PMLN manifestos appeared on the front pages of all Urdu, English and Sindhi newspapers.
Baruah. Even in India, no one reads the fine print of manifestos; only journalists and other politicians do.
Herald. Mr Amir, from your experience of canvassing for an election, do you think voters are attracted to manifestos? Or are they attracted to something else, such as the personality of the leader or candidate?
Ayaz Amir. In all the elections I have contested, no one has ever asked me ‘what is your manifesto’? Manifestos are read only if dramatically written; otherwise, they go into the trash can. Voters are definitely not attracted to manifestos; other things matter now. The last time anyone was interested in a manifesto was in 1967-1968 — the PPP manifesto which still resonates [in the political sphere].
Herald. So you think that manifestos are simply a legacy of the past?
Amir. No, they can still matter and turn people’s head if written like, say, The Communist Manifesto. Now that was some writing.
Khalique. What will you hold the party accountable for if there is no manifesto? Nobody in Mr Ayaz’s constituency may have asked about his personal manifesto but he did run for a party and the party had one.
Amir. There is a perception about parties and that matters. Parties in Pakistan stopped being literate a long time ago.
Baruah. Manifestos are also important to differentiate one party from another. n
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Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti was on his way to address a public meeting in Mardan on February 15 when a suicide bomber attacked his motorcade as it passed by the bustling College Chowk. The chief minister and his entourage escaped unhurt. Three days later, four security personnel and two civilians were killed and 14 others were injured in Peshawar when two militants wearing suicide vests opened indiscriminate fire while walking into the offices of Khyber Agency’s political agent; the attackers then proceeded to detonate themselves. Representatives of various political parties were holding a meeting there to determine a code of ethics for the upcoming general election in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). A few weeks earlier, on January 1, an explosive device attached to a motorbike detonated just outside a Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) public meeting organised to welcome Dr Tahirul Qadri at the party’s headquarters in Karachi.
These incidents, clearly targeting politicians and political activities, evoke little surprise when seen in the light of a recent statement by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which made it clear that the militants have plans to sabotage elections. “We are in the process of forming a policy and will make it public as soon as a final announcement for elections is made,” the ominous statement quoted TTP spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan as saying.
These attacks are also reminiscent of the previous election season which witnessed attacks on many political activities, parties and leaders, most notably the October 18, 2007 assault on the motorcade of Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister and the then head of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), in Karachi, which resulted in 139 deaths, and her assassination on December 27, 2007. Indeed, both in terms of sources and perception of security threats Pakistan is facing in the run up to the 2013 election there are broad similarities with the situation before the 2008 election. “Every intelligence agency had identified two threats to the election process [in 2008]: the Taliban and other banned militant organisations,” says Lieutenant General (retd) Hamid Nawaz, who served as interior minister in the 2008 caretaker cabinet. It appears that even now threats to security emanate from the same sources. Also, as in 2008, Peshawar in particular and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in general, remain vulnerable to terrorist attacks, owing to their geographical proximity to the epicentre of militancy.
There are, however, some significant departures from five years ago. Firstly, it appears that the overall number of casualties is exponentially higher this time around even though a fewer number of high-profile politicians have been targeted. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, a website that tracks incidents of terrorism in Pakistan, 792 civilians and security personnel have perished as a result of terrorist violence in the first 48 days of 2013. In contrast, in the four months leading up to and during the 2008 general elections (November and December 2007, and January and February 2008), 660 civilians and law enforcers died in acts of violence. It is worth noting, however, that November and December 2007 were deadlier months than those that immediately preceded the previous polls.
Moreover, the explosion outside the MQM meeting in Karachi is an indication that the geographical locus of terrorist violence has expanded considerably. A senior security official tells the Herald that security threats to the election process are coming primarily from the same old groups but the focus of these threats has shifted from Punjab to Karachi and Quetta. Empirical evidence verifies this. According to a newspaper report, 16 suicide attacks took place in the first 71 days of 2008 — falling immediately before and after the last general election. Out of these, the highest number of attacks happened in February, the month of the election, and Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar were primarily targeted. This year, however, Karachi and Quetta appear to have become prime targets.
Security experts and officials say that continued acts of terrorism imply that the government will have to deploy law enforcement agencies – even the army in some cases – in large numbers in many places across Pakistan. In some areas, violence and terrorist activities could lead to a scaling down of electioneering and campaigning. “I don’t know what shape the election campaign will take in this security environment,” says Afrasiyab Khattak, a central leader of the Awami National Party (ANP). “But we will certainly not be holding large rallies,” he tells the Herald. In Karachi, too, according to MQM’s Faisal Sabzwari, “holding big rallies will be problematic for every party.”
The other difference in the pattern of the current violence as compared to 2008 is that terrorist incidents this year are far more sectarian in nature, the most significant examples being the two targeted attacks on the Shia Hazara community in Quetta. Similarly, the high profile assassination of an MQM provincial legislator, Manzar Imam, on January 17, 2013, was also deemed to have sectarian motivations — although it later emerged that he did not belong to the Shia community.
According to a senior official speaking on the condition of anonymity, the ruling PPP is privy to the security assessments carried out by intelligence agencies but, he says, the party wants to avoid being perceived as spreading panic and causing a postponement of election. After a caretaker government is instated, the PPP may become more vocal in conveying its concern to the public, to campaigning politicians and to government officials.
But Brigadier (retd) Asad Munir, who served as the provincial director of the Inter-Services Intelligence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa around 2008 polls, says the current security situation is better in some areas than it was back in 2008. “The situation then was much worse: the Taliban were virtually ruling 17 districts in the north-west of the country,” he says. “Right now even the tribal areas, except North Waziristan and Khyber tribal agencies, are within the control of the army.”
The immediate impact of the Taliban having lost control is visible in Punjab which has not suffered any major incident of terrorist violence this year. That explains why key political parties, including the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PMLN), have already worked out campaign strategies that hinge on holding large rallies in major urban centres of the province. Apparently, the provincial law enforcement authorities have no objection to this type of campaigning. Khan Beg, Punjab’s inspector-general police, says the provincial police, with the help of elite intelligence agencies, have carried out threat assessments with a specific focus on elections and election processes. “I believe we can manage security at big rallies,” he says. His department’s strategy, he says, is to provide ample security to leading political figures who, according to official assessment, could be on the terrorists’ hit list.
In contrast, the ruling ANP’s strategy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa appears to be two-pronged — a mix of preventative and curative measures. On the one hand, the party leadership is rethinking traditional methods of interacting with the masses. “Security of the people [during public interactions] will definitely be our foremost concern,” says Khattak. On the other hand, the ANP is trying to convince mainstream political parties across the country to initiate talks with the Taliban; many security planners are of the opinion that the terrorist threat could be mitigated if the prospect of negotiations is kept alive until elections are held in the country. Indeed, this is the strategy that the caretaker government adopted in the months immediately preceding the previous elections: according to Lieutenant General (retd) Hamid Nawaz, the government in 2008 brought together tribal leaders and asked them to formulate a strategy for holding talks with the Taliban.
In strife-torn Balochistan, however, this luxury – of floating proposals for talks with militants – is not available because the government has no formal or informal contact with Baloch separatist groups. In parts of the province, local political leaders simply see holding of polling impossible in the face of threats from the Baloch militants. “The Balochistan Liberation Army has threatened to kill anyone taking part in elections in Makran, Kalat, Khuzdar and Mastung,” says PPP’s Balochistan President Sadiq Umrani.
The result is a frightened political class. “We are all afraid of this situation,” says Lieutenant General (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, a PMLN parliamentarian hailing from Balochistan. The possibility of holding elections for the whole of the province in a single day, therefore, seems highly unlikely to him. Election on a single day will “spread law enforcing agencies thin,” he argues. “The government should try to concentrate law enforcers in one area and hold elections there, then wait for two days and repeat the process in other areas.”
Baloch, who has supervised security arrangements in Balochistan as a senior military officer, also believes that more attacks against the Shia Hazara community in Quetta could potentially paralyse the entire country, as was amply demonstrated when, within 12 hours of the February 16 incident, protests spread to more than 20 cities nationwide, including Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. “Terrorist attacks [against the Hazaras] can locally affect two constituencies within Quetta as far as elections are concerned,” he says, “but if the protests that start after such attacks spread and lead to a counter mobilisation in the cities, how then will elections be possible?”
Are party manifestos addressed to voters?
On March 7 the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz launched its manifesto in which the focus lay on putting the economy back on track. A week later the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) launched their 75-page document which was based on the Bhutto legacy and the PPP’s image as the sole national party. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is set to unveil its manifesto on March 23. But who are these manifestos addressed to?
On March 21, 2013, at 7 pm, the Herald has invited three experts to discuss whether party manifestos are aimed at attracting voters or if they are just designed for consumption by the civil society and the media?
Amit Baruah is the author of Dateline Islamabad. He has previously served as the head of BBC Hindi and has been the Pakistan correspondent The Hindu, an Indian newspaper.
Ayaz Amir is a leading Pakistani journalist, columnist and politician. He was a member of National Assembly of Pakistan from 2008-2013.
Harris Khalique is an independent columnist and intellectual who has a keen interest in social democratic politics. He is based in Islamabad.