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With election campaigns bloodied and top leader in jail, Pakistan is staring down the barrel

By Shubham

Islamabad, July 14: It's quite tough for Pakistan at the moment. In one week, three terrible blasts in election rallies in the western and southern-western provinces of the country left over hundreds of people killed, including a few candidates for the July 25 national and provincial elections in the country.

With election campaigns bloodied and top leader in jail, Pakistan is staring down the barrel

While Awami National Party's Haroon Bilour was killed in a blast on Tuesday, July 10, Balochistan Awami Party's Siraj Raisani was killed in an explosion in Balochistan's Mastung district. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam's Akram Khan Durrani, meanwhile, had a narrow escape in an IED attack on his convoy in Bannu district of Khyber-Pakhunkhwa.

These terrible blood-spilling violence happened around the time Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was arrested along with his daughter Maryam Sharif in connection to the Avenfield corruption case in which the duo was convicted a week ago. The Sharifs were arrested after they returned from London after meeting Nawaz's ailing wife Kulsoom.

Endless bloodbath at campaigns; top leader in jail

Unabated violence ripping election rallies just 10 days ahead of a crucial election and the country's topmost civilian leader landing in jail might look coincidental but for those who read between the lines, these instances have a devastating cumulative effect on the prospects of Pakistan's democracy which found itself going uninterrupted for a decade.

Pakistan, despite having a troubled election in 2013, saw a peaceful power transition. It was the first time in the country's history that one government completed its full tenure and was succeeded by another. 2018 was set to the second such peaceful transition but ever since the last ruling party - Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) - got rattled by the disqualification of Sharif as the PM in July 2017 and other internal trouble, the country now seems to have lost its way a bit and nobody really knows what's in store after the results of the July 25 polls come out.

Secular outfits targeted

With a major party getting derailed and another one declining because of its failure; the extremist elements have found it convenient to spread the terror by targeting the secular outfits.

The failure of the Pakistani state apparatus to ensure their security (all the three candidates who found themselves under attack had seen attacks earlier as well) especially in the run-up to an election which is going to shape Pakistan's political journey says the state of affairs of the nation's tirade against terrorism.

There was no prior warning about the attacks which speaks about the failure of the intelligence gathering on the ground. In 2013 also, the situation was similar but the extremists had issued prior warnings. But this time, there is no prior warning and the attacks are originating from Pakistan's western side bordering Afghanistan which its army had claimed to have cleaned up.

Pakistan at crossroads

Pakistan is at the crossroads between a will to become an ambitious democracy and the weakness of surrendering before the disruptive elements who think the civilian state is now in its most vulnerable state. It is very important for a country like Pakistan for having personality cults in its civilian politics. Over the decades, it has seen key political leaders who could lead from the front being removed from the scene by other influential power centres.

The assassination of Pakistan People's Party's Benazir Bhutto in 2007 had left only Sharif as its only big leader (we don't yet know what Imran Khan is capable of) and though the latter is lucky that his fate has not gone the way of some of the earlier civilian leaders, yet his removal from the political scene leaves Pakistan's politics faceless. The upcoming election might see several outfits scramble for power, but that is far less than a remedy to see revival of Pakistan as a truly democratic nation.

There are allegations that the country's powerful military and the judiciary are micromanaging the media and some political parties though they have denied it. The media has seen a serious crackdown ahead of the election and this has given the plotters a far greater freedom to operate. There is very little clarity as to which direction the country is heading at the moment and who really can lead it from the front at the moment.

The enemies of democracy want to scuttle the July 25 elections, aiming to permanently hurt its prospects so that the country walks back to the stone age and with the military not really eager to take up the reins and invite wrath both at home and abroad, it is difficult to visualise any easy exit for Pakistan from the mess it is in.

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