The Rebel Road…

I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man. – Ernesto Che Guevara

An exercise in futility.

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It is no secret that the death of Benazir Bhutto has had consequences far beyond the morbid imaginings of even her murderers – whoever they may be. In the prolonged and terrible wake of mass rioting, the rampant looting of places of commerce, incidents of sabotage and arson of industrial units across Pakistan and the subsequent loss of life and the deployment of armed forces units to patrol the urban centres, the country today finds itself at the very edge of the proverbial abyss.

A matter which has contributed to the political uncertainty within the country, and certainly close to the hearts of all democratic minded citizens, is that of the elections. The elections which were originally scheduled for January 8, 2008 were postponed recently to February 18 due to the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the losses suffered by the election commission due to the ensuing hysteria. Amid rumors of election rigging, this move has been less than welcomed by the public or the opposition parties, especially the People’s Party – the aggrieved party in this instance. In such conditions it is difficult to consider seriously the statement issued by the European Union’s chief of the election observers’ team, Micheal Galhar, promising 50-100 EU election inspectors to ensure proper and fair elections. In a country of approximately 167 million people and such a large geographical area, comprising hundreds of electoral constituencies, it would be nothing less than an exercise in futility to suggest that a hundred or even double that number of inspectors could possibly ensure fair elections in Lahore, much less the entire country. Furthermore, being foreigners and, as such, prone to attack by the religious extremist forces in Pakistan, the inspectors will require almost constant state ‘guidance’ and protection. The disadvantage of such guidance is that the inspectors might not be allowed to really inspect areas prone to disturbance – the areas where real rigging might take place. In addition – most of the rigging in Pakistani elections takes place not during the voting – the process the inspectors will be observing – but during the result compilation – the process they will not be witness to. The EU is also aware of the potential for rigging in these elections since it did consider cutting off aid, while simultaneously urging Pakistan to lift the emergency and ensure fair and free elections as a precondition for aid restoration not too long ago; the EU is also aware of the loss of face it will suffer in the international community if it endorses a rigged election, inadvertently or by mistake.

In such a precarious situation, with the reputation of the European Union at stake in what is primarily a Pakistani matter, the government must take serious stock of matters and pay some attention to the level of enmity and mistrust that has not just crept into Pakistani society but taken strong root now. It is high time that a government of majority consensus be restored at the Centre and in the provinces so that all accusations of lack of representation of broad opinion within the state – deserved or not – be finally laid to rest. Furthermore, the government should emphasize that the EU send over a larger group of inspectors so that not only the international audience but also the local citizens of Pakistan can develop some measure of trust in the electoral process – a process that has left them feeling bitter and powerless in the past.


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