Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
One day, a 10-year-old girl died. The next, a seven-year-old boy. The victims of the relentless attacks on election meetings in Pakistan are so very rarely named that you have to start counting the ages of the children to give some kind of human meaning to the deaths.
More than 50 people have been killed ahead of elections on May 11 that should have been a milestone in the country’s history, the first time a democratically elected government completed its term and handed power to another through the polls. Instead it has turned into a bewildering bloodbath where a mother or father taking their child out to watch history being made cannot be sure of bringing them home alive.
At one level, the violence is neither without meaning nor bewildering.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which have claimed responsibility for most of the attacks, have given it a very specific meaning. They have said repeatedly they will attack the Peshawar-based Awami National Party (ANP), the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has its roots in Sindh province, and the Karachi-based Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). They have been as good as their word. All three have been bombed, although the ANP, the last clear line of Pashtun resistance to the Pakistani Taliban, has borne the brunt. Since all three oppose the Taliban, the TTP is making it harder for them to bring out their voters or hold political rallies, effectively trying to rig what should have been a free and fair election in favour of right-wing parties more sympathetic to their cause.
The TTP have also been specific about what they want – the implementation of sharia (presumably their interpretation of it) throughout Pakistan. TTP spokesman Eshsanullah Ehsan, speaking to Dawn newspaper, also made clear that they would not stop with the three parties currently under attack.
Arriving into Kabul you are struck by two contrasting images. Streets jammed with noisy traffic, pavements spilling with hawkers and women in sky-blue burqas wending their way through the crush of people. And then just a few metres from this bustle of everyday life are whole streets walled off, defended by layer upon layer of guards with machine guns behind sandbags and blast barriers set up in a zigzag manner to stop or at least slow down the suicide bomber.
These are the green zones of the Afghan capital where the top international military brass, diplomats, officials, and staff of the dozens of non-government organisations work and live and party, cut off from the turbulent nation outside, like virtual prisoners.