April issue 2013
Vote out Terrorism?
It has become a ritual for political parties to produce and make public their manifestos before every general election, but the general public is largely disinterested in this exercise.
On the eve of the 2013 election, some political parties have announced their manifestos, though others including Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have yet to make them public. The promises made in the manifestos are being highlighted in the media and are mentioned by candidates in their campaign. It is, however, doubtful if the voters believe these promises and would vote for parties and candidates on the basis of their manifestos that appear difficult to implement.
Most parties, particularly the two major ones, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), have not devoted the required attention in their manifestos to the issue of counter-terrorism, despite the fact that it is now a major issue affecting the entire country. The PPP-led coalition government in the centre and also in the three provinces in which it was in power for five years was confronted with this challenge almost on a daily basis and the problem is not expected to go away in the near future. It will have to be dealt with in a comprehensive manner, both by the PPP and the PML-N, which is hoping to win the election and form the next government.
The PML-N, in its 100-page manifesto, has proposed certain social, political, economic and administrative measures to cope with the situation arising from militancy and terrorism. One of the proposed initiatives is to ensure that the madrassas follow the same curriculum that is used in the mainstream educational institutions. However, it is easier said than done because the religio-political parties and the madrassas have resisted change and opposed government interference in their affairs. If Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N win the 2013 general election, it would be a challenge for his government to implement this point considering the fact that some of the religio-political parties such as Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F, Professor Sajid Mir’s Jamiat Ahle Hadith and Syed Munawar Hassan’s Jamaat-e-Islami are PML-N allies. The Sharifs have always been close to the conservative forces in the country.
Acknowledging that force alone cannot solve problems of militancy and terrorism, the PML-N manifesto has proposed integrating the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into the constitutional framework and declaring it a federating unit with the consent of its people, initiating small and medium-sized enterprises under a crash programme and amending anti-terrorism laws to provide appropriate standards of evidence, prosecution and protection of judges and witnesses. PML-N has also proposed parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies and envisaged an institutional mechanism for better coordination among the secret services.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has issued a 75-page manifesto that renews the party’s commitment to the war on terror that defined its policies while in power from 2008-2013. However, the manifesto has recorded its opposition to the US drone strikes in the tribal areas by arguing that these were a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and counter-productive. The PPP’s track record in opposing the drone attacks as Pakistan’s ruling party for five years is debatable considering how little it did towards putting an end to these strikes by taking the issue to the UN, or lobbying other countries and organisations. The new manifesto also proposed parliamentary oversight of the military budget. It reminded that the PPP government had increased the salaries of soldiers and believed in close cooperation between all institutions of the state.
The Awami National Party (ANP), which undoubtedly took the most courageous stand among the political parties in confronting the militants, has made restoration of peace and security its top priority in its manifesto for the 2013 general election. Claiming to have lost 710 activists, including three provincial assembly members, in attacks by the militants over the last five years, the party argued that it was due to its sacrifices that the territory occupied by the proscribed militant group, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), was reclaimed and peace was restored in most areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The secular Pakhtun nationalist party had contested the 2008 election also on the basis of its slogan of peace and benefited by convincing the conflict-weary electorate that it stood the best chance of making Khyber Pakhtunkhwa a peaceful province once again. It tried to do so after coming to power by holding talks and concluding one peace accord with the Swat Taliban led by Maulana Fazlullah and another with his father-in-law, Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the leader of the Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM) operating not only in Swat but also in the whole of the Malakand division. When the peace accords didn’t work, the ANP put its weight behind the military operations of the Pakistan army in the Malakand division and also pushed the security forces to go after the militants in FATA.
The ANP, concerned that its election rallies would be bombed and frustrated by the unwillingness of other parties to take a stand against the militant groups, has lately been advocating talks with the militants for restoration of peace in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It organised an All-Parties Conference in Islamabad on February 14 to seek the support of other political parties for its stance. Attended by 26 parties and civil society groups, the conference recommended that the government initiate talks with those militants who accept Pakistan’s constitution and laws.
The ANP chief, Asfandyar Wali Khan, announced a shift in his party’s policy by suggesting that the militants need not surrender their arms as demanded earlier by the government because it was unrealistic to expect people living in the traditional tribal belt of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to give up their weapons. However, he wanted the militants to renounce violence and enter into peace talks with the government. The ANP leadership felt the government and its security forces would be justified in initiating decisive action to eliminate safe havens of the militants in FATA, in case the peace talks failed.
The religio-political parties have held a clear stand on the issues of militancy and terrorism. Almost all these parties are opposed to military operations against the militants and are supporters of peace talks with them. These parties sympathise with the Afghan Taliban and are critical of Pakistan’s role in the war on terror.
The religio-political parties have all along held a clear stand on the issues of militancy and terrorism and this is reflected in their manifestos. Almost all these parties are opposed to military operations against the militants and are supporters of peace talks with them. They sympathise with the Afghan Taliban, are anti-US and critical of Pakistan’s role in the war on terror as any ally of the US and NATO.
The Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, headed by Maulana Fazlur Rahman, is the biggest pro-Afghan Taliban party. It has a permanent manifesto, which is amended if need be. It is a simple document calling for the enforcement of Shariah in Pakistan, though lately Maulana Fazlur Rahman has been speaking frequently and forcefully about the rights of the people, particularly the workers and peasants, and highlighting socio-economic issues. “We have brought a manifesto of Islam that guarantees rights of workers and haris,” he said at the party’s huge ‘Islam Zindabad Conference’ in Lahore on March 31. He complained that the parliament and political parties weren’t taken into confidence when the country’s defence and security priorities were shifted from India to terrorism. Criticising the PPP-led coalition government, of which his party was a part for over three years, he said its foreign policy concentrated on terrorism and ignored the Kashmir issue. The Maulana stressed that relations with India should be subject to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
The Awami National Party (ANP), which undoubtedly took the most courageous stand among the political parties in confronting the militants, has made restoration of peace and security its top priority in its manifesto for the 2013 general election.
The Jamaat-i-Islami and other Islamic parties too are opposed to military operations in the country and support a negotiated solution to the issue of militancy and terrorism. The JI leaders even blame the US and its agencies, such as the CIA, for fuelling violence and bringing the Afghan conflict to Pakistan to avenge its failure in defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan and stabilising the war-torn country.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, led by Pir Pagara, made a passing reference in its manifesto about its plans to tackle militancy. It said a counter-terrorism authority would be established in Sindh, on the lines of the one at the federal level, and special anti-terrorism courts would be set up in Sindh to speedily try suspected terrorists. The party’s plans to do so could take a long time in view of the fact that it has taken years to establish the counter-terrorism authority at the federal level and one still does not know when it would start doing something useful.
The 22-point manifesto of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which has been singled out by the militants for forcefully opposing them, has promised to develop a national counter-terrorism policy and bring meaningful changes in the judicial and prosecution system, make the law-enforcement agencies independent, and launch awareness campaigns to curb terrorism, religious extremism and sectarian hatred. Arguing that peace and order could not be guaranteed without people’s participation, it said that the MQM, upon coming into power, would make the necessary changes in the Police Act 1861 so that public safety bodies could be introduced. One could well ask the MQM leadership as to what stopped it from pursuing these goals while in power all these years.
The 22-point manifesto of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which has been singled out by the militants for forcefully opposing them, has promised to develop a national counter-terrorism policy and bring meaningful changes in the judicial system.
The PTI manifesto hasn’t been made public, but its policy on the issue of extremism and terrorism is clear and widely known. Imran Khan was among the first politicians to advocate a peaceful resolution of the issue of militancy and terrorism through dialogue with the militant groups. He wanted Pakistan to pull out of the US-led war on terror and put an end to military operations in FATA. In his view, there is no military solution to political issues, whether it is in FATA or Balochistan.
Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Peshawar-based senior journalist who covers events in the NWFP, FATA, Balochistan and Afghanistan. His work appears in the Pakistani and international media. He has also contributed chapters to books on the region.