As the country comes closer to actual voting, the violence grows, almost as if opponents of the polls have been given a free hand. Of late, they have turned their attention to Karachi, which has election offices attacked, with fatal results. The latest is the attack on an ANP election office in Karachi on Friday night, which led to 11 people being killed. However, ANP candidate Bashir Jan escaped. It would appear that the militants are targeting the three parties they had earlier announced they would: the ANP, the MQM and the PPP. However, in March, a JUI(F) rally was also attacked, thus indicating that having, or being supposed to have, pro-militant sympathies, was no protection against attack, at last not enough to outweigh the ‘crime’ of taking part in the elections. It must not be forgotten that the militants had asked the heads of three parties to guarantee talks with the government: the PML(N)’s Mian Nawaz Sharif, the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Syed Munawar Hassan and the JUI(F)’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman. There were also grenade attacks on an election office and the house of a candidate belonging to a nationalist party, which indicated that the militants did not oppose any particular ideology, but the election itself.

The ANP has been targeted before, though not in Karachi, but in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, where it is primarily based. However, its leader, Asfandyar Wali, was laudably firm in his reaction, that the party would not boycott the elections. This sounds in contrast to the MQM, whose chief’s reaction when an MQM office was struck was to repeat his call for the postponement of elections, and to make special mention that there had not been any attacks in the Punjab. His attempt to provincialise the issue should not allow the covering up of the fact that Karachi, nowadays the focus of militant attacks, was already in disorder. The MQM, which claims the city as a stronghold, was part of the ruling coalition, and thus was part of the problem, not the solution. Of course it has every right to go back to the electorate, but it will inevitably reap what it has sown. It has winked at the problem of lawlessness in the country’s commercial capital, and now is facing the consequences. Not just in Sindh, but polls in all provinces are under threat due to the growing impunity with which terrorists are striking. There must, therefore be a national response.

However, the real responsibility rests with the caretaker governments, federal as well as provincial. They have a specific responsibility to hold the polls, and to ensure peaceful participation in them. This means that there must be proper intelligence. The militants do not strike at random. It is in the process of target acquisition that their designs must be crushed.