Date :Wednesday, July 25th, 2018 | Time : 14:55 |ID: 67566 | Print

Will Shiite life be safer after Pakistan election?

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SHAFAQNA – Pakistan will go to the polls on Wednesday to elect a new prime minister in what will be the country’s second ever civilian-to-civilian transfer of power. Political parties have started negotiating with Shia political parties, local groups and clerics to muster support from the community to get their candidates elected

A far-right religious group that declares members of Islam’s Shia to be heretics, and has been banned by Pakistan as a “terrorist” organization, is running 150 candidates for National Assembly in Pakistan’s July 25.

Pakistan is a nuclear power with volatile relationships with the U.S. and its neighbors, India and Afghanistan. An election that could have been a democratic breakthrough has been fraught by violence and military meddling.

Pakistan has alternated between quasi-democracy and pure military rule

Over 100 million Pakistanis will cast their votes for nearly 12,000 candidates, who are fighting for 849 national and provincial seats in a campaign that, in mid-July, was marred by shocking violence.

Pakistan’s powerful military has ruled the nuclear-armed country for nearly half its existence, and picked favorites among politicians.

According to CNN, Pakistan could see only the second peaceful transfer of power in its history when it holds general elections on July 25.

Today Pakistan’s 11th national election, the country’s dream of undiluted democracy appears to be receding – again.

In its 70-year history, Pakistan has alternated between quasi-democracy and pure military rule. In the process it has become embroiled in international conflicts and morphed into a home base for Islamist.

Terrorism main problem

Terrorism has always been a problem for Pakistan and its neighbors. In the run-up to the elections, politicians have become a major target for terrorists. The most recent incident was the attack on Awami National Party (ANP) candidate Haroon Bilour who was killed along with over 100 others in a rally in Peshawar city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. In 2017, another ANP leader Abdul Razzaq and his brother Abdul Khaliq were killed while on their way to attend a public rally.

In this election, several groups who are said to be a front of known terror outfits are contesting polls, first post reported.

Who are the main players?

According to BBC, Imran Khan, Shahbaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari battle for power. Leaders of major political parties made last ditch efforts to lure voters as election campaign ended last night.

The election will be a battle between Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and Khan’s, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

“All major parties try to have these extremist outfits on their side to secure seats in areas where these groups hold strength”, the political analyst Zahid Hussain told the Daily Times.

While radical Islamists have traditionally won little of the vote themselves, major political parties have been busy courting them with polls putting Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Mr Khan’s PTI neck and neck, Telegraph reported.

The cricketer-turned-politician who could win the forthcoming vote, Imran Khan, now appears to be in the generals’ good books, but past experience suggests he too should be careful. Not one Pakistani prime minister has completed their term.

Good relations with the armed forces are just one of the issues Pakistan’s new leaders will have to deal with. A faltering economy and tough foreign policy issues will require steely nerves.

Chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province and a key electoral battleground, Shahbaz’s credentials and successes as an administrator could serve him well, according to Zaidi, the journalist.

In fact, Shahbaz may have the opposite problem to Khan, said Haqqani, in that he is more of an administrator than a politician, and lacks the charisma and flair of his rival or brother.

Time Inc. reported that however, the economy remains in desperate straits  and there are doubts about whether the party will be able to alleviate poverty levels for another five years.

Also in the running, though not expceted to have much impact, is the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. The son of two-time former Primer Minister Benazir Bhutto and ex-President Asif Ali Zardari is running on a welfare platform that guarantees basic necessities and jobs while battling religious extremism.

These parties include Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek (AAT) with alleged links to terrorist groups, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), whose election promises include imposition of Islamic law in the country, and members of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat group, accused of inciting violence against religious minorities such as the Shia.

Some of Pakistan’s hardline Islamic groups, who defend the blasphemy law, and have been accused of playing a role in global terrorism and murders of religious minorities, would be contesting the July 25 general elections, triggering concerns of further radicalization of the conservative country.

Human rights groups, mainstream political parties and the media have been repeatedly warning against the danger posed by the entry of these groups into the political arena.

Around 1,500 candidates are backed by religious and hardline parties for the July 25 general elections. Some of these groups are political fronts for groups banned for anti-state activites.

On July 25, a battery of candidates associated or backed by religious parties or banned groups will be vying for national and provincial assembly seats in Pakistan’s general.

Some 1,500 candidates backed by these parties are part of 11,855 candidates in the fray for 272 general seats and 577 seats in four provincial.

Islamist parties have seldom had a major impact in Pakistani elections, though they have created a high profile and have at times, according to analysts, enjoyed covert support from Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.

Still, a rash of new Islamist political parties have entered the political sphere in the past year, an apparent fulfilment of an army-backed proposal to “mainstream” extremists groups into politics that Sharif rejected while in office. The military has denied it is behind any of the new religious right parties.

Political parties have started negotiating with Shia

Shiites account for about 15 to 20 percent of the Pakistan Muslim population.

Though Muslim, Pakistan’s Shias have suffered enormous losses, with hundreds slaughtered at the hands of radical Sunni Muslims who consider Shiites heretics and believe it is their religious duty to kill them. However, unlike other minorities, Shias in Pakistan are not allocated any special seats in parliament and can run either on their party’s ticket or as independents, Hindustan Times reported.

The Shia community’s vote bank in some of Karachi’s constituencies has attracted the attention of major political stakeholders, who are flexing their muscles to win the maximum number of seats in the city’s electoral battle scheduled for July 25.

Political parties have started negotiating with Shia political parties, local groups and clerics to muster support from the community to get their candidates elected.

According to Shia political parties, there are more than 25 neighbourhoods in the city where the Shia population live in a sizable number and their support help major political parties’ candidates in winning. Prominent among these neighbourhoods are Soldier Bazaar, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Abbas Town, Malir, Jaffar-e-Tayyar Society, Kharadar, Ancholi, Federal B Area, Dastageer, Rizvia, Hussainabad, Hussain Hazara Goth and Mughal Hazara Goth.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Karachi chapter has managed to enter into an electoral agreement with the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen, a leading Shia political party, to win the community’s support for their candidates in the constituencies that include the major Shia-populated neighbourhoods of Soldier Bazaar and Jaffar Tayyar Society.

The MWM, which was formed after the killing of Shias in Quetta and Karachi in 2012, has emerged as key religio-political party in the recent years in the country, including Karachi.

According to the agreement between the two parties, MWM leader Syed Ali Hussain Naqvi will be their joint candidate in PS-89, a District Malir’s constituency that consists of Jaffar Tayayr Society and other Shia-populated neighborhoods of Malir.

The Islami Tehreek Pakistan (ITP), another key Shia political party, is part of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an electoral alliance of five religious parties, and fielded only one candidate under the banner of the coalition in provincial constituency PS-105, where the group’s leader, Sarwar Ali, has been contesting polls.

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