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For better or worse


By Imtiaz Gul

 The Friday Times, April 05, 2013


The first three months of 2013 saw an unusual surge in violence across Pakistan. There have been an average 70 incidents of terrorism, violence and unrest every week since January. The average weekly death toll has been round 175 - most of the violence occurring in Karachi, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. 

Various militant groups continue their terror campaigns relentlessly, and there are threats some of them might try to disrupt the coming elections. Intelligence agencies have told the Election Commission of Pakistan that banned outfits such as Jundullah, the amorphous Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and the Waziristan-based Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are planning large-scale terrorist attacks in Balochistan, with Nushki and Quetta as their particular targets. High-profile government buildings and security installations are among potential targets. 

The Balochistan Republican Army also plans to use improvised explosive devices against the government and the Frontier Corps in Dera Bugti, Naseerabad and Jaffarabad, they said. 

Intelligence officials also believe Usman Saifullah Kurd, a 'commander' of the Balochistan faction of the LeJ, is preparing for sabotage acts in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. 

In a number of public statements, the TTP has made its intentions of election day terrorism clear. In general, the group says elections and democracy are un-Islamic and wants people to stay away from the process. But it has also identified individuals and political parties it plans to target. In Karachi, the Taliban want to target leaders and members of the MQM, the ANP and the PPP. In the tribal areas, their threat is general. 

The group set off alarm bells when on the eve of General (r) Pervez Musharraf's return to Pakistan, it threatened to send suicide bombers and snipers to assassinate him. In a video message, Adnan Rasheed, who took part in a previous attempt to assassinate Musharraf, warned: "The mujahideen of Islam have prepared a special squad to send Musharraf to hell. There are suicide bombers, snipers, a special assault unit and a close combat team."

ntelligence officials believe that the Mir Ali-based TTP militants or those still nestled in the forested hilly terrain between North and South Waziristan will also try to disrupt the electoral process through a string of suicide bombings, ambushes and IED attacks on important government buildings and installations in Peshawar, as well as southern Punjab regions of Khanewal, Jhang, Multan and the surrounding areas.

The situation in the Khyber Agency is already tense because of clashes since January between Lashkar-e-Islam (led by Mangal Bagh) and pro-government Ansarul Islam, with a number of candidates demanding postponement of elections. The situation in North Waziristan is not encouraging either, where a terrorist attack on March 23 left 17 soldiers dead.

At least 6,512 of the 9,284 polling stations in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and a majority of the polling stations in Balochistan have been declared sensitive. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is asking the centre to return about 45 platoons of Frontier Constabulary for deployment in the sensitive regions. 

The army plans to deploy at least 50,000 troops at most of the stations considered sensitive. A Joint Task Group consisting of officers from the operations wing of police, Inter-Services Intelligence, the Intelligence Bureau, the Military Intelligence, civil armed forces and the Election Commission of Pakistan will regularly monitor and review security arrangements based on the threat assessments coming from various regions.

The army will lead the 'integrated security arrangements' for the May 11 elections, according to a decision made at the 159th Corps Commanders meeting held on March 27. The army-led integrated security plan would involve deployment of police, Rangers and Frontier Corps personnel.

The integrated security plan, it seems, is the result of intensive consultations between the General Headquarters and the Election Commission. General Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief, had reportedly insisted on a lead role for the army in the entire process. The army does not want to be held responsible for the shortcomings or failures of a security plan that the army cannot lead, the general reportedly told a group of analysts early March. Mere deployment of soldiers at polling stations can hardly guarantee a transparent electoral process or security. It requires a mapping of regions, threat assessments, and corresponding deployment measures, he had argued.

Will these administrative measures guarantee peace and transparency on the election day? Can army deployments keep suicide bombers away? Will the army presence minimize inter-party violence that often accompanies polling in closely-contested constituencies? And, most importantly, should the polls be postponed in view of the intimidating messages by terrorist outfits? 

Administrative measures for over 90,000 polling stations in an environment where, beside the terrorist threat, violence is socially ingrained, can hardly mean much, unless the contesting candidates and the community decides to support and reinforce the security arrangements. 

Amid increasing violence since the beginning of this year, new threats by Taliban or other terrorist groups may hardly matter. Their messages, therefore, must not serve as a pretext for postponement of elections. Such an action clearly amounts to cowing down to terrorists and giving them a sense of achievement. We must deny them this feeling.

The worst-case scenario is widespread violence across Pakistan, but if the ECP manages to complete the process despite all odds, that itself will be the best-case scenario for an election that is being watched world over as a "watershed event" in Pakistan's history.

The army, the election commission and the political parties must stick to the election plan, and this grand consensus itself will guarantee success in the democratic transition.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk