The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has once again expressed the view that it is not responsible for law and order, but it has held the caretaker governments responsible, while saying that peaceful law and order was necessary to the fairness of the election. Chief Election Commissioner Mr Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim put it succinctly to the executive authorities when he told them, “You give me law and order, I will give you free and fair polls.” This he said on Thursday during a media interaction after an ECP meeting which he chaired. This came in the midst of a militant campaign against the election, with the latest violence, in Karachi, leaving eight injured in an attack on an MQM election office that day. That there was a response by the authorities was made clear by the DG ISPR, who not only said that 70,000 troops had been assigned security duties for elections, but also that troop deployment in Balochistan and Khaiber-Pakhtunkhwa was to be completed by the weekend, while deployment in Punjab and Sindh would be completed early next week. There is an element of shutting the stable door only after the horse has bolted, for this deployment is aimed at providing security on polling day, not at making the campaigning process more secure.

The campaigning process came up in the Senate on Thursday, where members of the ANP, MQM and PPP rightly lamented that they could not campaign because of the militants’ campaign. They criticized the PML(N) for not openly criticizing the militants. However, the ensuring brawl, which was caused by these parties’ objecting to the PML(N) blaming them for their failures of governance in the last five years, added nothing to the debate. Indeed, if that is the example set by the members of the Upper House, by supposedly the most respectable and reverenced exponents of democracy and constitutionalism, can the country as a whole be faulted for becoming more violent, more intolerant, to an extent that electoral democracy is not accepted?

Caretaker Interior Minister Malik Habib told the Senate in his speech winding up the debate that the government was fully committed to providing adequate security for free and fair elections. He said that the security plan was comprehensive, and the support of the armed forces, particularly in Karachi, had been worked out. There is now only a week left to polling. While the preponderance of evidence is on them occurring as scheduled, the emphasis now should be on them occurring as peacefully as possible. The focus of all executive authorities must be on this goal.