Election campaign in Pakistan amidst Taliban intimidation

On May 11, general elections will be held in Pakistan to elect the country’s 14th parliament.   The coming election marks Pakistan’s first successful democratic transition between two elected governments. And for the first time, many women are participating in the elections.

The election campaign has so far been stained with violence and blood shedding. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, TTP, has  warned of and carried out several attacks on the country’s secular parties, effectively intimidating the secular parties from holding big gatherings for electioneering as the security threats are too big.  Several   election candidates  have been killed, and terror attacks have killed and  injured both political activists and other civillians.  Moreover, serious concerns have been expressed for the security of polling staff and voters, in particular the female voters.

At least one independent woman candidate stepped down from the election after the Taliban threatened her to withdraw from election or face violent death. Other women candidates are enthusiastically running their campaigns despite grave  security threats.

Despite the violence, an unprecedented high number of women, 50, are participating in the election in the federally administered tribal areas bordering to Afghanistan (FATA) and in Khyber-Pakhtunkwa, KP,where election will be contested on  47 national assembly and 99 provincial assembly seats.  Two of Pakistan’s secular parties, the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)  have reposed confidence on women candidates and awarded them  party tickets to contest elections to contest election from various districts of Pakistan. In at least one conservative tribal KP district, called Lakki Marwat, the ANP election election campaign is almost exclusively run by local women activists of the party.  This is also unprecedented in ANP and Pakistan’s political history.

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ANP has been one of the Taliban’s main targets in the election campain. Photo: Farhat Taj

The country’s third secular party, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) does not have much support in FATA and KP and thus does have many candidates in the area contesting the election.  In the post 9/11 Pakistan the Pashtun nationalist ANP is the key terror target. Over 850 political activist of the party, including its legislatures, have been killed in terror attacks by the Taliban in the last decade.  Yet, the ANP is standing firm to the Taliban violence and has adopted the slogan Watan ya Kafa (the homeland or coffin) in its election campaign.

On the other hand religious and right wing political parties are smoothly running their campaigns and are not attacked by the Taliban. Apparently there seems to be a tacit understanding between them that these parties abstain from criticizing militants and in return they have been allowed to peacefully run their election campaigns. Recently in a joint conference ANP, PPP and MQM representatives said that the religious and right wing political parties are ‘political wings’ of the militant Taliban.

Observes are already casting doubts over the impartiality of the upcoming election. The election 2013 is already ‘rigged by the Taliban intimidation’ says a BBC report.  ‘This election will lead to a ‘democracy of the Taliban, for the Taliban and by the Taliban’, writes a Pashtun blogger and journalist with Radio Free Europe.