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Political Play
Zulfiqar Shah
Electoral politics, chemistry of fragmentation and future of Pakistan - Part I 05 April, 2013
Pakistan will undergo the decisive general elections of its history in May 2013. The country, which has been facing a decade-long human catastrophe in the form of religious extremism and war against terrorism, freedom wars and ethnic as well as sectarian violence, will get direction through the polls out of the only options of reforms or anarchy.

The upcoming general elections in Pakistan are strategically important. Although their nature is not similar to the general elections of 1971, their possible consequences may lead the country to a foreseeable anarchy. Elections are following the first ever democratically elected government in the country that has completed its constitutional tenure in last sixty-six years. At the directionless juncture of terrorism, war, insurgencies and fascistic as well as chauvinistic mode of politics, the fate of the country has to be stamped by the results of the upcoming elections.

Fault lines of election politics

Pakistan is a numerical and vote democracy. Historically, it has never translated the essence of democracy to the underdeveloped and oppressed masses, ethnicities, classes, cultures, and sub-cultures. An appropriate definition of democratic governance in Pakistan would be an electoral representation that carries forward the key decisions of the non-civilian dominated establishment consisting mostly of civil and military cronies of ethnic Punjabi and Urdu groups. Such an ethnic exclusive and religiously non-pluralist composition of state apparatus has directed a statecraft navigating Pakistan to chaos that has anchored at an unexplored anarchy.

The adhoc and ethno-religiously biased non-democratic governance in Pakistan has finally led country to the socio-political collapse of another kind. In such a situation, the upcoming elections in Pakistan will have broader and, no doubt, grave outlines.

i. The results of the elections will end up in fragmented electoral representation in the parliament. Hence, Pakistan will finally bid farewell the two-party system.

ii. The elections would be contested on ethnic and religious lines, which ultimately space out a highly accelerated ethnic contest over power in the upcoming term of the government.

iii. The extremely declining voter turnout in Pakistan during last two decades indicates that majority of Pakistanis do not cast their vote and show their mistrust in the country or its system. The turnout of this year will be something that will give caution to the real managers of the state whether Pakistan has furthered its tilt towards state failure!

iv. This election would also determine the nature of the future conflicts between center and the provinces, various ethnic groups particularly Punjabi-Urdu monopoly and the rest, and between liberals and extremists.

v. The results will decide the further increase or decline in the role of military in governance as well as sustainability of Pakistan as a viable state.

vi. The possible violence during elections will describe the outlook of peace and human security regime in future.  

Electoral chemistry of political parties  

Pakistan has traditionally four sets of political parties contesting elections; however, some new forces have now joined this club:

i. Centralist parties include center-left Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and centre-right Pakistan Muslim League – N (PML-N) and Pakistan Muslim League (PML – Q).

ii. Right wing parties include Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) Fazal Rehman and Samiul Haq groups; and Jamat-e-Islami Pakistan (JI).

iii. Federating-province nationalists including Pashtun-Nationalist left include Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakhtunkhuwa Mili Awami Party (PkMA); Baloch Nationalist left wing parties mainly include Balochistan National Party (Mengal), National Party, and Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP).

iv. Two Sindh based parties have been of distinct characteristics. Mutahida Qaumi Movement, MQM, (previously called Muhajir Qaumi Movement – Altaf groups) is the second provincial assembly seats wining party of ethno-linguistic Urdu speaking community migrated from Urdu population parts of India during the partition of 1947 and settled in Sindh. MQM cannot be framed either left or right wing party. It is an ethnic political group that gained popularity after using massive violence against ethnic Sindhis, Pashtuns and Balochs in late 1980s. It has been a key ally of the military governments of General Zia-ul Haq and General Parvez Musharraf.

The other party is Pakistan Muslim League – Functional (PML – F). It has been led by Pir Pagara (a spiritual and political leader of Hur Sufi-Muslim community of Pakistan and India) and has its key vote bank in the Sindhi, Siraiki and Baloch Hur community fellows from Sindh, Southeast Punjab, and Northeast Balochistan. The grandfather of current Pir Pagara fought the war for freedom of Sindh against British colonial rule and was hanged by British government at the end of Second World War.

He had close relations with Azad Hind Army of Subhash Chandra Bose. This party in past was enjoying close relations with the military establishment; however first time has won popularity as a Sindh rights vanguard and pro civil democracy party after undertook by current Pir Pagara in 2011.

In last two decades, PPP had a vote bank in Sindh, south and northwest Punjab, least-tribal Baloch areas and parts of Pakhtunkhuwa; however, it mainly acquired support from Sindh and Siraiki speaking South Punjab. Pakistan Muslim League – N held its vote bank in central and northeastern Punjab, Hazara parts of Pakhtunkhwa, a few settler Punjabi concentrated sub-districts of Sindh and thin existence in Balochistan.

ANP has been extracting its votes from ethnic Pashtuns in Pakhtunkhwa and some Pashtun concentrated constituencies of South Punjab and Sindh. PkMAP had its bases in Pashtun areas of Balochistan. All Baloch nationalist parties have been contesting from Balochistan. PML – Qaud-e-Azam, a splinter group of PML – N that allied with General Musharraf after coup against Nawaz Sharif government have also some footings in Punjabi speaking Punjab.

New versus old guards

Pakistan has not seen any democratic governance in its whole history especially after 1988. There have been either military or elected governments. Both have failed to deliver the outcomes of the qualitative or substantive democracy. Due to continuous failure of elected governance mostly at the behest of the military establishment in the decision-making; opting unpopular decisions and tilting Pakistan society towards political fiefdoms of certain rural and urban families, mafias and parties have created hopelessness among masses particularly youth. This has now culminated into the new entrants in the electoral politics that include Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Sindhi nationalist political parties, Hazara nationalists in Hazara division of Pakhtunkhuwa and political contestants from Gilgit-Baltistan and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
About The Author
Zulfiqar Shah is a stateless activist, analyst, and researcher. Although he is a refugee, and living a life in exile, he is a born Sindhi and South Asian. Currently he lives in India.
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