Pakistan, elections and the Afghan factor

Pakistan needed more assurances than usual diatribe of pinning TTP attacks on Pakistan soil as internal matter.

There is never a quiet moment in Pakistan’s politics. While elections are scheduled for February 8, 2024 and political parties have almost finished their first round of election preparation by allocating tickets to their nominees and submitting their nomination papers, the uncertainty of whether the election will take place in time has kept the political atmosphere toxic.

A resolution was hurriedly passed in the Senate by 12 senators, mainly from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, seeking a delay in the election on the plea that neither the season in their area nor the law and order situation is conducive to guarantee a substantial voter turnout. Such truncated elections, the senators argued, would be of no use and a waste of government resources. We cannot entirely dismiss this argument; however, it is worth considering that winter for the indigenous people of those areas is not something new. They do not stop working in winter. Now that many of those areas are linked to the urban cities, the footprints of technology have tremendously changed their lifestyle.

Take, for example, the district of Chitral. It was an isolated area before the construction of the Lowari Tunnel, and for six months, almost the city would remain cut off from the rest of the country. That is no longer the case today. Not that winters are less harsh, but technology, the influx of modern lifestyle and better amenities have changed the style of living of Chitral. One can assume that if elections are held in Chitral, barring a few discomforts, things will roll out smoothly.

However, a question should be raised on the performance of the parliamentarians who have been enjoying the perks of one of the country’s highest offices: what have they done for their areas all these years that they could not arrange elections, which is usually a two-day event? In any case, in these remote areas, electoral campaigning does not have to be on the level of those held in big cities. There could be several ways to arrange electoral meetings with the voters. These areas are not heavily populated, and given cultural constraints, women’s participation is restricted. At the same time, tribal conventions can ensure that more and more participants show their presence without causing trouble. The question of law and order does merit attention, though.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman of JUI-F visited Afghanistan to seek the Afghan Taliban’s help in curtailing the TTP aggression, at least for the time being, until elections are held. Was he successful? The attack on the police officers escorting polio vaccinators in Bajaur, killing six police personnel, defies the presumption. Also, the Afghan government, as they had said earlier, tagged the TTP as an internal affair of Pakistan.

The fact that a top diplomat in Islamabad accompanied Maulana Fazlur Rehman conveys the message that his visit was more than personal. Also, Pakistan needed more assurances than the usual diatribe of pinning the TTP attacks on Pakistan soil as an internal matter.

Sadly, for the Islamic Emirate’s Prime Minister Mullah Hassan Akhund, the repatriation of Afghan nationals from Pakistan is a more daunting issue than the killing of Pakistani soldiers in attacks claimed by the TTP. He consistently broached up this topic during his conversation with Maulana Fazlur Rehman and dubbed it as ‘cruel’ treatment meted out to his compatriots by this country. Pakistan has increasingly made it clear that only those Afghans are being repatriated who had failed to register themselves in Pakistan. The question is that if TTP’s attack originating from Afghanistan is Pakistan’s internal affair, why is Afghans living in Pakistan illegally not an issue internal to Afghanistan? Is it not the responsibility of the Afghan government to accommodate their citizens now that the country has come out of war and there is no imminent threat either from internal foes or international rogue elements?

Afghanistan should use its Indian connection to get the US on its side for the release of billions of Afghanistan dollars held up in American banks.

Better, if Afghanistan — instead of applying derogative and regressive treatment to its womenfolk, denying its people education and employment opportunities, shutting down schools and universities, and forcing Sharia on the Afghans — give them space and time to heal from decades of foreign rule, internal political betrayals and war-induced psychological and economic mayhem. It would open up the country to international diplomacy and financial assistance.

The county will be well served using the international connection built up during the previous regimes instead of starting from scratch.

Islam is a progressive religion; neither does it support the suppression of women nor allow for unnecessary warring behaviour leading to a bloodbath of innocent people, let alone Muslims, as is being perpetrated by the TTP in Pakistan. If Sharia is close to the Afghans’ hearts, it becomes their responsibility to ensure that their neighbours, in this case Pakistan, are not harmed by elements within Afghanistan.

As for Pakistan to have a quiet moment, its institutions need to revisit their constitutional obligations so that the internal skirmishes for the power game stop, which is one of the biggest hurdles to making peace within and with regional countries.

Read more