Pakistan is being torn apart by sectarian and communal violence, in which hundreds of Shias have perished and the Christian and Hindu minorities are being terrorised by extremist Sunni Groups, ranging from the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to the Pakistani Taliban (TTP).

The port city of Karachi, always a hotbed of violence, saw new dimensions to sectarian and ethnic violence, as the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) took control of Pashtun-dominated areas in the city, from the moderate Awami National Party (ANP). The arrival of the Taliban in Karachi has produced continued bloodletting between Taliban-oriented Pashtuns and Muhajirs, pledging loyalty to Altaf Hussain’s MQM.

In Punjab, the extremist Sunni Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which enjoys the patronage of Rana Sanaullah, a senior leader of Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N) Party, has mercilessly targeted Shias, Ahmedis and Bareilvis.

In Baluchistan, the Army continues its brutal operations against the Baluchi tribal resistance, with reports emerging of bodies of Baluchi militants being mutilated by the army.

ISLAMISATION OF COUNTRY

Pakistanis now appear to have become inured to such violence. Candidates are busy electioneering. The election process has been complicated by constitutional provisions introduced by General Zia ul Haq. The Constitution requires rejection of those “opposed to the ideology of Pakistan”. It requires candidates to be “sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest and ameen ”. These provisions have led to returning officers initially rejecting the candidature of former Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and General Musharraf, who now faces court proceedings.

Pakistan is paying a high price for its Sharia laws. The “Blasphemy Law”, also enacted during the rule of General Zia, results in religious minorities being intimidated.

A recent public opinion poll in Pakistan gave a clear indication of the mood of the youth. As many as 94 per cent of the youth thought the country was going in a wrong direction. Sixty four of the male youth and 75 per cent of the women are religiously conservative.

Islamic tanzims are drawing more and more disenchanted youth. The survey revealed that while only 29 per cent of young Pakistanis support democracy, 32 per cent favour military rule, while 38 per cent favour imposition of Islamic Sharia.

With the exception of President Zardari’s PPP, Asfandyar Wali Khan’s ANP and Altaf Hussain’s MQM, virtually all other parties are resorting to anti-American sloganeering. India finds little mention, in election rhetoric.

There are virtually no references to Kashmir. Imran Khan’s Tehreeq-e-Insaf acknowledges that armed Jihadi groups in the country include “Kashmiri militants”. Despite spiralling inflation, endemic power shortages, rising unemployment and falling growth rates, economic issues find very little mention in public debate.

The Economic Manifesto of President Zardari’s PPP sounds like a booklet of India’s populist National Advisory Council. It dwells predominantly on “people’s schemes” that target youth and others, apart from “direct subsidies” for “working masses” and other sections of society.

The PML (N) manifesto, however, is akin to what Indian business chambers advocate. It pledges to revive privatisation and restore the confidence of investors.

PUNJAB DYNAMICS

The focus of attention in the forthcoming elections will be on the populous Punjab Province, which accounts for 182 of the 342 Parliamentary seats. Northern and Central Punjab, from which the bulk of the Pakistan army is recruited and is the home of terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba have for long been the stronghold of PML (N).

On the other hand, Southern Punjab, which is Seraiki-dominated and not Punjabi speaking, is a region where rich, landowning Pirs such as former Prime Minister Yusuf Ali Gilani are influential, has been a PPP stronghold. Tehreeq-e-Insaf could well rally disaffected youth and split the votes of the PPP and PML (N).

The ruling PPP is expected to lose a number of seats because of the anti-incumbency sentiments resulting from declining growth rates, spiralling inflation, prolonged power cuts and charges of corruption. Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N) could well emerge as the largest single party in Parliament. But, Imran Khan backed by the military could eat into votes that were assured for Nawaz Sharif in the past.

He has evidently impressed the youth and women and spoken out against the rich and privileged. His economic manifesto speaks of reviving the agricultural sector. Pakistan appears to be heading towards rule by a fractious coalition. Islamist Parties like the JUI are expected to play a greater role in the months ahead.

Army Chief General Kayani recently said: “Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and Islam can never be taken out of Pakistan”. This is not good news for India or Washington.

(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)

social-fb COMMENT NOW