ISLAMABAD: As Pakistan gears up for the parliamentary election, a wave of attacks and intimidations from militants across Balochistan appeared to have frightened away voters, due to which political experts have predicted a poor turnout during the polling day in May.
In a visit to Balochistan, Media observed that political parties contesting the upcoming general election will have to face a great challenge in Turbat, Gwadar, Panjgur, Pasni, Awaran, Kharan, Khuzdar, Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Sibi, Washuk, Kalat, Mastung, Bolan and Quetta, mainly because of the volatile security conditions and death threats by outlawed militants to candidates as well as voters.Political observers from Balochistan, while talking to Media, said the turnout in most violent parts of Makran, Nasirabaad and some other Baloch-populated areas, would not be more than 10 to 15 percent due to the unstable security situation.
It is worth mentioning that Baloch population’s reluctance to vote could seriously weaken any new government.Meanwhile, the banned Baloch National Front (BNF) – an alliance of BSO-Azad and BNM – has decided to observe a complete shutter-down and wheel-jam strike in Balochistan from May 5 to May 11, aimed at disrobing the upcoming election. On the other hand, the Balochistan National Front and Balochistan Liberation Army – both militant organisations – have threatened to attack polling stations, terming the participation in polls “treason”, and urged the Baloch people to stay away from polling stations on May 11.
Baloch militants are threatening the candidates nominated by parliamentary parties, holding them responsible for shedding the blood of innocent people who have been seeking independence.Bordering Iran, the Makran division is the second largest division of the province with respect to population, and remains notorious for cross-border smuggling. It has recently been infiltrated by Baloch insurgents. This land route from Balochistan to Iran, Turkey and Greece is used for human smuggling. This part of the province has also become a breeding ground of insurgency and target killings.
With only about a month in election, candidates and party workers in this division have a very risky job at hands – contacting voters and seeking their support before and on the polling day.Given the current insecurity in Balochistan, political parties are apparently nervous about hold big public meetings and gatherings. Such meetings have been an important canvassing technique for political parties.“Threats to the electoral process, particularly, the political forces, have not come as a surprise. The risks were imminent and anticipated since long,” said Assadullah Baloch, a political reporter and information secretary of the Turbat Press club.
During the visit to Turbat, National Party President Dr Abdul Malik Baloch told Media that Baloch militants had strictly prohibited NP workers from casting vote. He said that fighters made their announcement in the NP’s Kech office by throwing pamphlets some days ago, and the word spread fast.But District Commissioner Abdul Hameed Abro said they were “satisfied” with the number of votes, and hoped for a free, fair and transparent election in the region. He said it was too early to make a final statement on the turnout. “When a person is afraid to cast his vote, how can elections be fair?” Maqbool Baloch of the Balochistan National Party-Awami questioned.
According to locals, the militants – including security forces-led proxy groups – have repeatedly demonstrated their ability to attack secular parties like the NP, BNP-Mengal and BNP-Awami, while security forces have failed to clear them out of their undisclosed sanctuaries.The NP – the largest political party in Makran – and the BNP-Mengal – the largest in Khuzdar – have been worst hit.In October 2010, the NP’s district president, Mola Bakhsh Dashti, was killed near his hometown. Since then, the party’s top leaders have limited their movements and avoided public exposure.
Abdul Malik Baloch said that in recent days, low-intensity bombs have gone off at the NP’s election meetings in Turbat, reducing its ability to conduct an open campaign in Makran.Meanwhile, the BNP-Mengal abandoned its plans for an electoral campaign following what party leaders called “security threats” from establishment-backed groups, like the Baloch Musallah Difa.Election Commission of Pakistan’s Turbat-based returning officer Basil Dashti believes the election would go “reasonably well”, as he thinks that it was “premature” to make a final statement on the turnout. – DailyTimes