Pre-Election Violence Leads To More Concern For Pakistan’s Democracy

On Friday morning, a suicide bomber killed at least 128 people in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. This became the deadliest attack in the country since 2014, when the Pakistani Taliban attacked a school, killing 132 children and 9 adults. A separate explosion killed at least four people further north of the Balochistan province, almost simultaneously with the explosion in the south that killed a grave number of people. This attack targeted a campaign convoy of another candidate in Bannu.

Together, the two attacks killed at least 132 people Friday morning. An increase in violence is now prominent as the country moves towards a general election on July 25th, when voters will elect candidates for the Pakistan National Assembly. Tensions are high as fear of violence surrounding the election increases throughout the country.

The suicide bomber attacked a political rally for the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) in Dringarh. Sirah Raisani, a Balochistan provincial assembly candidate for the BAP, was one of the unfortunate lives to have been lost in the bombing. Raisani was running in his home district of Mastung, where the attack took place. Mastung and its surroundings have been the site of several attacks by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) armed group. “Human remains and red bloody pieces of flesh were littered everywhere in the compound. Injured people were crying in pain and fear,” local journalist Attah Ullah told the AFP news agency.

Leading up to the last election in 2013, more than 158 people were killed in a period of six weeks, according to the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies. The attacks on Friday caused fears of pre-election violence to return. Pakistan has been feuding with the Pakistan Taliban and its allies since 2007, as they aim to impose a stricter interpretation of Islamic law on Pakistan. There was a drop in violence in 2014 when the military launched an operation that displaced the Pakistan Taliban’s fighters from their headquarters of North Waziristan, but high-casualty attacks on civilians, such as the ones seen on Friday, have unfortunately remained a deadly risk.

High tensions are linked to the conviction of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on corruption charges. Friday’s attacks came hours prior to Sharif flying in from the UK, where his wife is seeking medical attention, to Lahore. The city was put on lockdown by authorities to prevent his supporters from organizing a huge welcome for him.

A group of Pakistani and international academics issued a statement condemning intimidation and harassment of Sharif’s supporters on Friday. They claimed that the crackdown prevented the country from being able to hold free and fair elections.

So what has lead to pre-election violence in Pakistan being so deadly in this past election cycle? Among other reasons lies the main culprit, corruption. It is hard to find someone in office in Pakistan who is not corrupt. Injustice is the norm in Pakistan, and whenever injustice is being done, corruption will follow in its tracks.

In 2010, the Global Peace Index (GPI) ranked Pakistan at the fifth most unstable country, ahead of only Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Sudan. The factors that contributed to this ranking included corruption, interior conflicts, suicide bombings, large-scale violence, bad governance, and the deteriorating law and order situation. In the 8 years since, nothing has changed. All of the factors that placed Pakistan in that position are still prominent, as seen especially during this time of pre-election violence.

Instability is attributed to two provinces where violence and terrorism are on the forefront. One of these provinces is Balochistan, where the deadly Friday attacks took place. However, the other two provinces are not free from terrorism and bad governance. Frustration among the citizens of the country has been growing for years due to dissatisfaction in most realms of the standard of living. The human security index in the country is at its lowest due to the widespread corruption, the economic divide, the low quality of life, and the breakdown of infrastructure. Along with that, the government has failed to control the prices of essential commodities such as medicine and food, while failing to provide satisfactory governance in general.

Pakistan is a democracy, which no matter how unstable, is better than a dictatorship. However, its democracy has not be allowed to flourish under the conditions the country currently faces. Most of the population has little to no education, and those who are educated take no action in fixing the problems currently facing the country. Some of the population is not even aware of the injustices being placed on them and within the country. An ignorant society weakens the democratic values trying to be installed in it. With Pakistan’s low literacy rate, many cannot fight for their rights because they do not know their rights. The first step towards completely turning around the way that Pakistan’s democracy works is by ensuring that the masses are educated, and are literate at the very least. When the population becomes literate, their voices cannot go unheard.

Literacy is a big and crucial step in ensuring no more human rights are violated in Pakistan, but other steps can be taken to assist in reaching this ultimate goal. Organising lessons on the concept of social justice and how it affects society could educate the population about where Pakistan stands and how their lives could be better if they spoke up for their rights. With murders, kidnappings, and other crimes being norms in Pakistan, we could also educate them on where their country stands as opposed to the countries that the GPI ranks as more stable. Most uneducated citizens do not know that countries with such low crime rates are even possible.

Finally, unemployment is a huge factor in the failure of Pakistan’s democracy. By sending in a peace group that could offer jobs or assist in finding job opportunities, economic development could slowly but surely be underway. Together, the improvement of the Pakistan economy, education system, and literacy rate could give Pakistan the push it needs to get away from the corruption and large-scale violence that kills so many of its innocent people today. Violence surrounding elections would go down because elections would be a time when educated people could discuss and make important decisions, instead of seeing it as a time to induce terror.

Hallie Kielb