Editorial: Elections in Peril?
The Baloch Liberation Army (B.L.A.) killed the Election Commissioner of Quetta District on Tuesday in the provincial capital. A B.L.A. Spokesman told the media that his organization would disrupt the upcoming general elections in Balochistan. Groups like B.L.A. that call for Balochistan’s absolute and unconditional liberation from Pakistan do not approve of Pakistani parliamentary elections. They view the elections a futile exercise because Pakistan’s parliament barely provides Balochistan with adequate representation, constitutional protection and financial autonomy.
These groups also say Pakistani elections are a ploy to undermine their national struggle as it significantly diverts attention from the actual motives behind their struggle. For these armed groups, moderate Baloch nationalist groups such as the Balochistan National Party and the National Party also fall in the category of “traitors” if they choose to participate in the next general elections.
The killing of Quetta’s Election Commissioner rings alarm bells for the government. We should step back and reconsider whether or not to trust the analysis of politicians like Senator Hasil Khan Bizenjo of the National Party who recently said that the Baloch armed groups were not as strong and active today as they were back in 2008 when the last parliamentary polls were held. Mr. Bizenjo, whose National Party is gearing up to participate in the democratic showdown, said the state of law and order was good enough in Balochistan to hold elections. If the assassination of the Election Commissioner reflects “improvement” and “peace” in Balochistan then we truly live in the fools’ paradise.
Most politicians, except the Baloch nationalists, do not want the cancellation or the postponement of the elections but Balochistan has to undergo several harsh processes before the voting day.
Besides the B.L.A., the Baloch Liberation Front (B.L.F.), which is extremely powerful and proactive in the Mekran region, has also called upon the Baloch people to boycott the polls which means the underground organization does not only want the voters to stay home but it also plans to attack election rallies and polling stations in case, which is very likely, some other (pro-Islamabad) parties go ahead a d contest the elections. Armed groups initially spread panic among the people through warnings in the media but when their threats are not taken very seriously and defied, they resort to actual violent assaults in order to show that they are capable of translating their threats into action.
The unfortunate killing in Quetta of the District Election Commissioner is apparently the formal inception of the armed groups’ anti- election campaign. If other groups, such as the B.L.F, emulate the B.L.A. then the lives of other district election officers will also be at dire risk elsewhere in Balochistan. The government’s failure to protect a senior election officer in the provincial capital means it will be very easy for the insurgents to carry out similar assaults in other volatile districts such as Khuzdar, Turbat, Panjgur, Gwadar, Awaran, Lasbela, Dera Bugti etc. The B.L.A. says it will intensify its attacks in the coming days on moderate Baloch nationalist parties that will contest elections and government employees (mostly school teachers) who will perform election duties.
The success of the elections in Balochistan hinges on a number factors or simply “ifs”.
The first and foremost challenge is to end the current governor’s rule and restore the elected government. There are speculations that the federal government may extend the governor’s rule which, if happens so, means blocking the path for a caretaker government. According to the Constitution, the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition should jointly nominate the caretaker Chief Minister but right now both the key positions in Balochistan are suspended because of the governor’s rule.
Secondly, the future of broad-based and all-inclusive elections depends on the participation of enraged nationalist parties such as the B.N.P. of Sardar Akhtar Mengal. Mengal told B.B.C. Urdu yesterday that he was soon returning to Pakistan where his party’s central committee would finally decided whether or not to contest the polls.
However, it remains to be seen what steps the government will take to provide protection to so many people on whose participation and physical safety the future of the elections entirely depends. A single major attack on a political rally, assassination of an election candidate or an attack on a polling staff-designate can easily lead to the cancellation of elections in a certain constituency.
Free, fair and transparent elections must take place in Balochistan regardless the existing challenges. The governor’s rule was already a setback to the democratic process. The province cannot afford to push that process two more steps backward through the cancellation of the elections. If the elections are postponed or disrupted, the province’s problems will further increase as all issues then would be addressed on undemocratic platforms mainly through violent means.
The Baloch Hal
Published in The Baloch Hal on March 13, 2013