Electoral rigging is a common issue in Pakistan. After every election, a common refrain the opposition party holds against the winning party is that the victory has been achieved through engineering and manipulation. The 2013 elections remained in the limelight until Imran Khan held a sit-in of 126 days and later a Judicial Commission (JC) was formed that rejected the PTI allegation that there had been systematic rigging leading to 2013 victory of PML-N. It was a general assessment of the electoral governance and not constituency wise analysis to search for the truth. Even, in spite of the clean chit by the judicial commission, it has been hard to swallow the conclusion that there was no rigging in Balochistan. Findings of the JC Report notwithstanding, the Balochistan’s politics have become a symbol of rigging and maladjustment. If the recent change in the Balochistan assembly is any indication that catapulted a candidate, who had barely won from his constituency Awarn with 544 votes in 2013, to the chief minister’s slot, there should be little doubt about clean elections in Balochistan. This is what perturbs Muhammad Qasim Khan Suri who contested election on NA 259 against Pukhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party’s (PkMAP) Chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai, who was supported by the PML-N.
NA- 259 covers half of Quetta. According to Qasim Suri, the General Secretary and former head of PTI’s Balochistan chapter, though voters in his constituency belong to various ethnic and educational backgrounds, it is the nationalist and religious vote that eventually decides the winning candidate. Suri said: “Religious and nationalist sentiments are the easiest to evoke. Mehmood Khan Achakzai has never lost election from NA-259 without ever doing anything substantial for the economic or social uplift of his constituents. The urbanisation of the areas is due to the sustained efforts of many governments over the last 70 years. But if we talk of job opportunities or human development in term of education, skilled workforce or even law and order, Quetta is still not anywhere near that growth model. Achakzai has been using the Pashtun card to camouflage his weaknesses.”
PTI contested the 2013 elections under the slogan of change. Suri was sure that if votes were cast on performance, Achakzai and none of the 36 candidates, not even Hamdullah Khan from JUI-F had any chance to win. “I was winning until 10 at night on the day of election, but then everything changed and Achakzai turned the winner in the morning,” said Suri. Even though, Achakzai may have had won, the reality would not change. The reality according to Suri is that the people of Quetta and NA-250 are fed up with the politics of ethnicity and religion. They want peace to prevail. Achakzai raised the slogan of Pashtunistan and gathered sympathies of Pashtuns not only in Balochistan but in Afghanistan as well. But, he was never sincere to either side of the Pashtuns. He has been only sincere to his politics of expediency. The movers and shakers of Balochistan elections had been aware of Achakzai’s power over the Pashtuns. That was the time when Pakistan, especially Balochistan and the Pashtun Belt from Peshawar to FATA was under severe home-grown terrorism. All these factors combined helped Achakzai and his party PKMAP in 2013. Suri is however confident that now with the PML-N leadership exposed Achakzai will have hard time winning elections. Suri does agree that taking the long winding road of electoral politics is inevitable to eventually become eligible to serve his people. Good intentions of the candidate are just one per cent of the asset that he/she could expect to earn profit. The return to investment in Balochistan elections depends on factors that involve money to the ability of the candidate to influence undemocratic politics. Giving details of rigging Suri said: “The polling booths for the women were shifted to far flung areas at the eleventh hours. I was told by the late DC Quetta Mansoor Kakar to stop canvassing because my life was under threat. Akthar Mengal held a press conference showing the PTI vote that he had found in garbage.” But, Suri, believes that democracy is the only route through which Balochistan can achieve stability. Unless the Nawabs and the Sardars are disempowered through the strengthening of the electoral politics, Balochistan, Suri said, would remain hostage to inequalities and expeditious sef-interests.
Qasim Suri had been the right hand of Imran Khan during the 126 days Dharna in Islamabad. For the last five years, he is engaged in active politics to galvanize his constituents towards the PTI manifesto that envisages dispensation of clean justice, equitable education and equal opportunities of economic progress. He agrees that CPEC without Balochistan cannot become a success, but he also wonders if the benefits of this project would flow towards the underdeveloped areas infested with insurgency such as Punjgur. The irony is that candidates from Punjgur were elected unopposed in 2013 elections. No elections were held there. All this must change if peace is to prevail in Balochistan.
For so long have we made mockery of the people of Balochistan and have given them the reason to be allied with the enemies to destabilise the country. We have given such reasons to many, such as Manzoor Pashteen, who is having a complete support of Mehmood Achakzai. Twisting politics is infesting the political culture with direct bearing on the mind-set of the general people, which is learning that it is fine to dodge and manipulate. The solution lies in cleansing the rot across the board and shunning the politics of intimidation by the forces not political theoretically.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore.