“Pakistan Struggles For Survival – Religious Warfare and Economic Chaos Threaten the Survival of this Nation,” wrote LIFE magazine in January 1948, five months after creation. Sixty-five years on and all those problems persist and new ones added. Pakistan is still struggling for survival. The list is long. Hope being unrequited because their leaders haven’t delivered, a sleeping giant is waking up. It is the people.
All predictions about the May 11 elections came wrong. How did Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N win so big and Imran Khan’s PTI so little? The Tsunami turned out to be a splash but not for the right reasons. The PML-N’s performance in Punjab, while wanting, stood out much better than the performance of the PPP-led Sindh government. People were wondering why the PPP was not campaigning in the Punjab and yet President Asif Zardari seemed so serene. Protection being Zardari’s prime concern, perhaps there was an understanding between him and Nawaz that the PPP won’t campaign in the Punjab and leave the field open for the PML-N provided that Zardari is either given another presidential term or a safe exit.
Rich and poor, the incorrigibly optimistic people of Pakistan had so much hope in the May 11 elections that even the elite and their children came out to vote for once. But their hopes were dashed because of large-scale electoral fraud and rigging. Witness the beauty of democracy:
- Elections Commission officials not turning up on time and delaying polling, often by 6-7 hours because they were threated.
- Voters of certain parties being deliberately stopped or delayed from voting while those of other parties were given precedence.
- Ballot boxes arriving late.
- Ballot papers arriving late.
- The backs of ballot papers not stamped by the Election Commission. One wishes that our politicians were as good at governing as they are at rigging.
- Ballot boxes being stuffed with bogus votes. Proof: in many constituencies more votes were cast than the total number of registered voters. Did the angels also vote?
- Ballot boxes being hijacked by candidates. We have all seen the video of what happened in NA 125 where supporters of the PML-N candidate stuffed ballot boxes or stole some while helpless election officials remained inert.
- Threats and bullying galore, with party workers entering polling stations brandishing guns, all caught on camera and threatening TV anchors and cameramen to desist filming and vamoose.
- ‘Worser’ still, the voter turnout was 60 percent; double our traditional average. Those 30 percent new voters didn’t come out to vote for the traditional parties, else they would have also voted in earlier elections. They obviously came to vote for change. Where did those votes go?
- Voters, old and young, men and women, stood for hours in the searing heat to exercise their right to vote but didn’t leave. They wanted change. Now some constituencies will suffer the indignity of a re-poll with some parties boycotting.
Pity is, like in 1977 if Bhutto hadn’t rigged that election he would still have won. If this one hadn’t been rigged Nawaz Sharif would still have got the largest number of seats though less than he has and there would have been a genuine coalition to give the federal government a national character and a stronger opposition.
Today, re-polling is taking place in 143 stations of Karachi’s constituency NA 250. The PTI is likely to win so the MQM is boycotting. God forbid, if they start saying it with bullets and just one body falls, it would be enough to set the country on fire. Pakistan is a tinderbox of parched expectations waiting for a spark. Iskra. Not even a real tsunami will douse that fire.
I won’t even go into the pre-poll rigging, like many corrupt but high profile politicians made eligible to contest while honest ones were disqualified. This entire electoral process seems to have been a pantomime directed by invisible hands, and I am not talking about our army that is the perennial whipping boy. I am talking of our mindless politicians with their inordinate influence on petty officialdom, their illegal wealth and financing from overseas, their storm troopers and promises of patronage to those who would help them grab power.
Did the people actually vote for change of another kind – separation – or did they vote for confederation? Neither, but that is how the script had it. It was made to seem like that because political Mafiosi masquerading as parties headed by dons who have been foisted on us again by others with their armed squads and hordes of illegal wealth hold every square inch of Pakistan hostage. If there had been no NRO, no Saudi deal and Articles 62 and 63 meticulously followed, this disaster wouldn’t have happened. But it was in the script.
How can a stigmatized vote represent the will of the people? It represents the will of predators who have sliced up the country between them while the people are left to protest on the streets. I called my last article ‘Survival Moment’. If people keep waking up and remain awake, they will grasp their moment. These elections must be cleansed as soon as possible because the country cannot afford another. The economic and political tsunami that is lapping our shores will swamp us. Governments must be formed post haste. That can only happen if suspicions of rigging are purged with alacrity else question marks will hang like swords over all five governments. Then they won’t last long and another election could be upon us before time. By then every party could be wiped out by bad performance, except for Imran Khan provided he remains in opposition and does not form a government in KPK. Imran will be the last man standing. Will he listen? They never do. He is gung ho about forming the KPK coalition government to make it a ‘model province’. Chances are that despite the best will in the world its achievements will not match its rhetoric and could disappoint a lot of people. Then the political vacuum will be complete. Hello revolution.
I said last week that the post-election challenge will be bigger than the pre-election, but I didn’t foresee rigging as a pre-election challenge that would trespass into the post-election period. But it has and our problems have multiplied.
- There is no national party left. All parties have been elected on the basis of province, city, area, ethnicity and language.
- The Nawaz League won a simple majority but only because of the tyranny of Punjab’s majority. Virtually all PML-N’s seats are from the Punjab; it has little following in the other provinces.
- The PPP has become a rural Sindh party while the MQM represents urban Sindh.
- The PTI has replaced ANP as KPK’s party – the only real change.
- The Balochistan Pathans and ethnic Baloch have elected their parties.
- Religious parties were routed, getting only 5% of the vote. Shows that the people don’t consider the making of a theocratic state as the purpose of Pakistan but an Islamic welfare state as our founder spelled out on August 11, 1947.
Is the Two-Nation Theory morphing into a ‘Multination Theory’ based on ethnicity and language, not religion – the Lahore Resolution of 1940 talked of Muslim majority states in the plural, implicitly recognizing ethnicity amongst Muslims. It is staring us in the face. We made it stare by our dishonesty and shenanigans, while a good performance could have buried ethnicity and multinational nationhood would have arisen. We really are our own worst enemies.
An MQM-PPP coalition government in Sindh will perennially snipe at Nawaz Sharif’s heels if he doesn’t give protection to Altaf Hussain or Zardari. If Zardari doesn’t get another term he could sit in Sindh and no one dare touch him. If anyone tries to, or Altaf Hussain for that matter, what is to prevent them from unilaterally declaring independence? Though he tried to backtrack, Altaf Hussain has already threatened secession. All Zardari has to say is, “Pakistan na Kapay’ and that is it. If the people of Sindh celebrate and India recognizes them, what can army intervention do and for how long? Baloch leaders have openly being threatening secession for years.
This does not bode well. Have elections strengthened our centrifugal forces? Are we headed for balkanization? Or are we moving towards confederation? Confederation is far better for if God forbid Pakistan falls apart northern India’s balkanization that started in August 1947 and continued in 1971 would gather pace – the subcontinent trifurcated in just 24 years. The chaos would beat the anarchy of 1947. But then it can be argued that the subcontinent is moving towards its natural pre-British equilibrium. Yet, I am sick at heart and full of foreboding. Hopefully I am wrong.
A pretty lady messaged me from Karachi’s sit-in: “The energy here is of a full-blown confrontation. Confidence in the authorities, politicians, the army and the caretakers turned undertakers, is zero. The citizens are taking over. Finally Pakistan is waking up.”
“Who will play Robespierre?” I messaged back.