It has been almost impossible to do justice with journalism in the presence of different types of restraints and the current culture of free exchange of religious and other kinds of decrees. And if someone tries to ignore these restraints and think and speak freely, it is still very difficult to come up with analyses about crucial issues.
For instance, like every democrat, I strongly hope that people enthusiastically participate in the coming general election. It is my firm conviction that any delay in the election is dangerous for both democracy and the country. I think that it is good to present the bright side of the picture for policymakers as well as for people to motivate them for a free and fair electoral exercise. However, only focusing on the bright side and completely ignoring the dark side of the picture is not prudent.
At such times, one faces a dilemma. I fear that if I highlight the threats that are directly linked with the coming election I may be seen as equal to those who are looking for excuses to delay the election. But if I remain silent and ignore some of the genuine threats I anticipate, then I worry I may be doing great injustice to my professional responsibilities.
Now that the election schedule has been announced and all institutions and departments have given assurances, I have the confidence to highlight some of the threats that could prove dangerous if left unaddressed.
First: keeping in view the external and internal security environment, I am worried that the coming election could end up being very violent – due to Afghanistan-based militants and their supporters in Pakistan. The worry is that these forces will try to disrupt the election with full strength – not only in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – with which Fata has now been merged – but in other provinces as well. Moreover, I suspect that our enemies will have made full preparations for this. Unfortunately, the Taliban and Isis will look at the next parliamentary election in Afghanistan as a direct target. Creating an atmosphere of terror, they will try to keep voters and candidates away from the election. These threats and activities cannot be overruled when it comes to Pakistan too.
Terrorists know that the participation of politicians in public rallies is their political weakness. In addition, they are aware of the vulnerability of politicians due to the recent judicial orders banning the use of official bulletproof vehicles as well as the withdrawal of police protection. Though a lot of politicians can and will arrange their own security and bulletproof vehicles, and their use of official vehicles is not just, there are some politicians – like Mian Iftikhar Hussain – who are on the hit list of terrorists and who cannot afford proper security arrangements on their own.
Moreover, unlike in KP, the last two general elections were comparatively peaceful in Punjab. However, a new threat is on the rise in Punjab. It seems that the PTI and some other elements and parties are ready and willing to use the most sensitive issue of Khatam-e-Nabuuwat against the PML-N in the coming election. It is alleged that some people have specifically been included into the PTI just for this purpose. This is a highly sensitive issue and, if used by political forces against their rivals, can end in some terrible consequences. The biggest fear is of further incidents like the attack on Ahsan Iqbal – leading to further chaos and instability. It is the primary duty of the judiciary, the Election Commission of Pakistan and other institutions to counter and eliminate this threat. Those who are blinded by their hatred for Nawaz Sharif must be aware of the fact that, God forbid, if something happened to any prominent political figure, it would not only undermine the stability of the country but would also quash anyone’s dream of being in power.
Second: pondering over the unbridled use of social media, I fear that the coming election campaign will break all previous records of abuse, blame games, character assassination and issuances of moral decrees. Previously, political parties were dependent on print and electronic media which – despite their weaknesses – had some sort of constraints. Now, though, political parties have free access to a limitless social media.
I had known personally that some within the PTI leadership had once hired people in Western countries and in the Far East for hundreds of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts. Inside the country, these numbers are in thousands. The main purpose of such fake accounts is usually to abuse political opponents. In response, the PML-N and the PPP have also made full preparations on the social media front. Not to be left behind, religious and other political parties too have special social media cells. At an individual level, every candidate and leader has social media propaganda tools. The misuse of social media and the spread of poisonous propaganda against opponents in the coming election could prove very dangerous. If this is not addressed, then such abuse and character assassination can become a great national tragedy. This time even the role of both print and electric media is quite disappointing.
Third: judging the current political dimension, I feel that the coming election could become the most controversial election in the political history of Pakistan. The political management of one party against the other has been on for some time now, but now we also see that media management is in full swing. The ECP is either weak or biased since it has not been able to properly address the complaints and grievances of parties that feel they are under attack. Some political parties are also upset with the judiciary. And then we see that, despite all efforts to the contrary, the popularity of the PML-N is on the rise in Punjab. International media reports and surveys like Gallup show the PML-N leading the way in Punjab in term of its popularity.
Interestingly, it is not just the PML-N but nationalist and religious parties in Sindh, Balochistan and KP that have been complaining about the alleged pampering of one particular party. In such a situation, if the PML-N loses or is made to lose, its supporters will not accept the result. And if the PTI wins, then not only the PML-N but the MQM and Pashtun and Baloch nationalists, as well as the MMA, will all strongly oppose the result. If the PML-N wins the election, then the shock will be unbearable for the PTI and Imran Khan who have been – perhaps wrongly – ensured by sycophants of making it to the PM House.
A free and fair election is a prerequisite for a stable democratic process, and all stakeholders should try to ensure it. For this, all practical steps must be taken to ensure all parties that the coming election will be transparent. Ignoring the aforementioned threats could lead to political tragedy.
The writer works for Geo TV.
Email: saleem.safijanggroup. com.pk