May Issue 2013
Blood and Ballots
The May 2013 elections will probably rank as the most violent and the bloodiest in Pakistan‘s history. There was a spate of bombings in three of the four provinces. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Sindh, notably Karachi, continued to be targeted on a daily basis by the Tehreek-i-Taliban, Pakistan (TTP) who have threatened to attack secular parties like the MQM, the ANP and the PPP. Balochistan, meanwhile, is being targeted by insurgent groups such as the Balochistan Liberation Front, who are opposed to the elections and are clamouring for independence.
The worst hit was KP. During 2013’s first quarter, 180 blasts were reported in the province, including 12 suicide attacks four in Peshawar alone; 27 schools were also blown up in FATA and KP. The deteriorating security assumed alarming proportions as the schedule for the general elections was announced on March 22.
TTP did not mince its words when declaring the ANP as its enemy number one — it vowed to target its candidates and election rallies all over Pakistan. And it made good on its threat, by making an assassination attempt on the ANP chief, Asfandyar Wali Khan at a political rally in Charsada. Seven people including two policemen, were injured in the remote control blast.
“The attack on ANP’s rally is just the beginning. We will intensify our attacks on political rallies of the infidel ANP and MQM,” declared the TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, urging the masses to stay away from such gatherings if life was dear to them.
“TTP considers us as the main hurdle in the pursuance of its agenda in KP,” remarked ANP spokesman, Senator Zahid Khan in reaction to the Charsadda blast.
Since coming to power in KP in February 2008, ANP has braved seven suicide attacks and lost more than 700 workers, including senior leader Bashir Bilour on December 22, 2012 in a suicide attack in Peshawar. Earlier, the TTP had gunned down Mian Rashid Hussain, the only son of KP’s information minister, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, in Nowshera on July 24, 2010.
Earlier on October 2, 2008 ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan had escaped a suicide attack in which four people were killed. He was forced him to take sanctuary in the President’s House in Islamabad and, later on, shifted to Birmingham. Another ANP leader, KP’s Chief Minister Amir Haider Hoti, escaped a suicide attack on February 16 this year.
ANP’s All Parties Conference (APC) in Islamabad on February 14 this year was a last-ditch effort to appease the Taliban so that it could at least run its election campaign without my hindrance. Though the ANP projected the APC as being a success, in reality it was a tacit admission of the party’s failure to control terrorism in KP. Even the statement issued at the end of the APC was tepid. It read: ‘Terrorism must be controlled if the country has to progress, and its solution should be found in light of the constitution and the law.’ Predictably enough, the TTP rejected the declaration
ANP’s present ordeal began on March 30, 2013, when its leader Abdur Rashid, principal of a school in Karachi’s Baldia Town, was killed in a grenade attack. Six children were also injured. The following day, the TTP blasted an election rally of the ANP politician Adnan Wazir in FR Bannu, Janikhel, killing two and injuring eight others. Wazir and his brothers were among the injured.
ANP’s All Parties Conference (APC) was a last-ditch effort to appease the Taliban so that it could at least run its election campaign without my hindrance. Though the ANP projected the APC as being a success, in reality it was a tacit admission of the party’s failure to control terrorism in KP. Even the statement issued at the end of the APC was tepid. It read: ‘Terrorism must be controlled if the country has to progress, and its solution should be found in light of the constitution and the law.’
On April 11, the TTP targeted both the ANP, as well as the MQM. ANP’s Arbab Ayub Khan was injured, along with three others, in a roadside bomb blast at Tarnab Farm, Peshawar during his election campaign. And an MQM candidate from Hyderabad, Fakhrul Islam, 46, a grocer, was gunned down in Hyderabad.
The next day, ANP’s Amir Rehman, a candidate from PK-32 Swabi, was injured in a roadside blast at the Shewa village.
The fifth attack on the ANP was carried out on April 14, in which its leader Mukarram Shah was killed when his car, attached with explosives, blew up at Minglore in Mingora. The same day, another leader, Syed Masoom Shah, was injured in a remote controlled bomb blast in Charsadda.
The seventh attack was a suicide blast at an ANP rally in Peshawar at Yahatoot on April 16, which resulted in the death of 19 people, including two children, a journalist and six police officials; 50 others, including women and children, were injured. ANP leader Ghulam Ahmed Bilour also sustained minor injuries in the incident. TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said that the target was Haroon Bilour, son of the late Bashir Bilour.
The eighth attack was carried out in Charsadda the next day: Farooq Khan, ANP’s vice-president in PK-17 and also the coordinator of Asfandyar’s election campaign, was targeted when a bomb was planted near his vehicle. Fortunately, he escaped unhurt. On April 21, two workers of the ANP were gunned down in Pishin, Balochistan. This attack was carried out by Baloch separatists. On April 22, a student leader was injured in a grenade blast on ANP’s election camp in Maneri town, 8 kms from Swabi.
The above statistics reveal that the TTP is targeting the ANP almost on a daily basis. Except for the Hazara division, the entire KP has been a declared sensitive area — 600 polling stations (out of a total of 981) are deemed sensitive. More than 7,000 personnel of the police/FC/paramilitary will be on election duty on May 11. The Election Commission (EC) has allowed each candidate to maintain upto five personal guard
The ANP is not hoisting its party’s flag or displaying its election symbol, the lantern, in FATA due to the TTP threat. However, for parties like Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), it is “campaigning as usual” because the TTP does not view them as secular parties and poses no threat to them. In fact, the TTP had nominated Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Nawaz Sharif and JI chief, Syed Munawar Hasan as guarantors for any talks with the army for a truce.
The TTP is on a killing spree, which is forcing PPP, MQM and ANP to minimise their election campaigns and resort to mediums like TV channels and social media. However, TTP’s threat does not include rightwing parties like PML-N, PTI and JI. They are running their campaigns fearlessly all over Pakistan, leading to accusations that some sort of collusion exists between the state institutions and the terrorists to keep secular parties out of the running.
Although the PML-N also came under attack on April 16, the TTP had nothing to do with it — Baloch separatists were behind the attack. The party’s Balochistan President, Sardar Sanaullah Zehri’s convoy suffered a bomb blast in his area of Zehri. He escaped the attack unhurt. However, four people were killed, including his son Sikander Zehri, brother Mir Mehar and nephew Mir Zaid. Alongside, 30 other people were also injured.
Following the relentless attacks on the ANP, Asfandyar Wali Khan threatened to sue the Election Commission if the attacks and the killings did not stop. He made this threat on April 15, a day after Mukarram’s death. Five more deadly attacks against the ANP have taken place since then — the deadliest one being the April 16 suicide attack, in which 19 people were killed. Asfandyar shared that the TTP was targeting the ANP because its Swat chief, Mullah Fazlullah, had phoned him asking for safe passage through KP to carry out terrorist activities in the Punjab, which he did not grant.
The TTP, however, mocked Asfandyar’s statement. “Asfandyar is not TTP’s chief. We don’t need his permission to carry out attacks in the Punjab. We have a strong network in the Punjab and other provinces of Pakistan. We have carried out attacks in the Punjab earlier. Did we do it with his permission? We carry out attacks with the permission of our advisory council [shura],” reports Saifullah Khalid in Daily Ummat: (April 21), quoting a friend of Fazlullah’s. Khalid goes to extent of writing that the ANP is divided over the question of whether it should contest or boycott the polls. ‘A faction of the ANP is of the view that it can lose the elections in certain constituencies because of its inability to run its election campaigns due to TTP attacks. Thus, the respectable option would be to boycott the election. The other group thinks that the boycott would be tantamount to political suicide.’ (Ummat: April 21).
The ANP is, undoubtedly, the worst victim of terrorism. ANP’s Bushra Gohar, who represents the NGO sector, has been tweeting against terrorism on social media, putting the blame on the caretaker government as well as the security agencies. She protested strongly when the JI and others, in response to her tweets, reminded her that the ANP is reaping today what it had sown yesterday.
ANP is known to be a secular party but it boasts people like Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, who are willing to go to any lengths to appease the TTP in order to save their own skins. In September 2012, the notorious Railways Minister announced a bounty of $100,000 on the producer of the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims, leading Britain to ban Bilour’s entry in the UK.
The Bilour bounty caused ANP’s secular credentials unprecedented damage. Bushra Gohar termed it a ‘criminal act,’ but neither Asfandyar nor the prime minister took any action against Bilour. He was, however, hailed as a ‘hero of Islam,’ by the TTP. And yet, the latter did not spare him either. The TTP carried out a suicide attack on his rally. Luckily, he survived. Whether he is any wiser remains to be seen.
One of the criticisms leveled against the ANP is that in its five-year tenure, it did virtually nothing to strengthen the police or build its capacity. So inefficient was the ANP that it could not even equip KP’s bomb disposal unit with state-of-the art equipment to defuse bombs. As a result, the country lost its best bomb disposal expert — Hukam Khan — on September 28, 2012 while he was trying to defuse two bombs in Peshawar. He had managed to defuse one bomb, but he lost his life while trying to defuse the second one. The brave Hukam was not even provided a proper outfit for the job.
Earlier, he had lost three fingers of his left hand while defusing a bomb, and his friends had urged him to quit the profession but he stayed the course, till that fatal accident ended his life.
The TTP has spread its tentacles in a city like Karachi too, where the powerful MQM used to rule the roost. TTP’s uninterrupted and brazen attacks have ostensibly terrorised the MQM. Back to back blasts within 48 hours — the first outside an MQM camp office in People’s Chowrangi, Taimuria which killed five and injured 22, and the second one close to an election office in North Nazimabad, which left five people dead, made the MQM close down all its election offices in Karachi.
The TTP is on a killing spree, which is forcing PPP, MQM and ANP to minimise their election campaigns and resort to mediums like FM radio, TV channels, cell phones and social media. Unfortunately, more than 60 per cent of Pakistan’s population does not have access to these mediums.
TTP’s threat does not include the rightwing parties like PML-N, PTI and JI. They are running their campaigns fearlessly everywhere in Pakistan, leading to accusations in certain quarters that some sort of collusion exists between the state institutions and the terrorists to keep secular parties out of the running. A report by Amir Mir in The News reveals that the Election Commission (EC) has simply failed to prevent 55 candidates from the Punjab, belonging to 10 different sectarian groups, from contesting the general elections, despite the fact that intelligence agencies had warned the EC that they were on terrorist lists. Most of them belong to the defunct Sipah Sahaba.
The PML-N, in a bid to ensure Anjum Aqeel’s victory in NA 48, has sought Sipah Sahaba’s support. If the PML-N comes to power, it may appoint SSP chief Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi as minister for religious affairs.
A recent development that took place on April 25 lends credence to Mir’s report. PML-N candidate Anjum Aqeel Khan, a former member of the National Assembly from Islamabad’s NA 48, allegedly embezzled 6000 million rupees by selling land to a housing society, the National Police Foundation. The land did not exist. Anjum was arrested and presented before a court of law in Islamabad, from where he escaped with the help of his supporters. Some hidden deals saved his skin. Anjum had dented PML-N’s reputation but he still got its ticket. His opponent is the very powerful Javed Hashmi, (ex-PML-N member and now with PTI). The PML-N, in a bid to ensure Anjum’s victory, has sought Sipah Sahaba’s support. If the PML-N comes to power, it will in return appoint the SSP chief Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi as minister for religious affairs.
So the May 11 general elections seem to have already been stolen by terrorists. If they manage to keep voters away from the polling station, by instilling fear in them, they will have secured victory for pro-TTP parties. There is no word of condemnation for the TTP’s vile acts from the PML-N, PTI or JI. They have conveniently forgotten that the jihadis, who are the creation of the Pakistan Army have now, Frankenstein like, turned against their creators. And tomorrow they may, in all likelihood, turn on the PML-N, the PTI and the JI as well. The Director General, Rangers, Major General Rizwan Akhtar did not mince his words when he linked political parties to the acts of terrorism and extortion that are taking place in Karachi: “I don’t want to name them, but if they decide today that they will not support terrorism, then Karachi will be free of crimes. Terrorists can’t be stronger than the state. If the state vows to kill them, they could be killed for sure.”
Unless all political parties unite on a single-point agenda and commit to showing zero tolerance towards terrorism, extremism and sectarianism, the TTP will continue to grow from strength to strength. Instead of strengthening their parties’ armed wings, they will have to strictly implement the existing laws against terrorism and address the lacunas in the existing laws through effective legislation. As a first step, members of all the proscribed outfits, who have re-emerged under a new banner, should be barred from contesting the elections.
Mohammad Shehzad is an Islamabad-based journalist and researcher.