Friday, September 29, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Sept 27, 2017

Mainstreaming terrorist groups The Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs grilled the Election Commission of Pakistan officials on September 26, 2017 over allowing the newly formed Milli Muslim League, a party affiliated to the Jamaat ud Dawa, a.k.a. Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, to take part in the recent by-election in NA-120, Lahore, the seat vacated by disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Chairperson of the Committee Senator Sherry Rehman wondered how an election symbol was allotted to a party banned under the Fourth Schedule. Committee members pointed out that the so-called independent candidate Yaqoob Sheikh’s campaign posters and banners carried pictures of the leaders of the Jamaat ud Dawa. Senator Sherry Rehman said the Election Commission of Pakistan should have taken action against this blatant violation of the law. In a reply that was disingenuous, the Election Commission of Pakistan officials muttered that they had asked the Ministry of the Interior for an explanation as to the status of Yaqoob Sheikh but were still waiting for a reply. This answer failed to satisfy the members of the committee, and for good reason. Senator Sherry Rehman said the Election Commission of Pakistan was a constitutional body and needed to function independently, without the kind of dependent attitude on display. In any case, the Interior Ministry had already conveyed to the Election Commission of Pakistan even before the by-election that it should not register the Milli Muslim League. Juxtaposing this fact with the obvious affiliation of the pretend independent candidate with Hafiz Saeed and company, the Election Commission of Pakistan officials were left with egg on their face. What made the whole episode even worse, indeed alarming, was the fact that Yaqoob Sheikh got almost 6,000 votes. The Election Commission of Pakistan has already received a fair bit of stick, especially from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, for its conduct of the 2013 general elections, dubbed by critics as the ‘Returning Officers election’. Now to that inglorious epithet has been added the inexplicable decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan to turn a blind eye to the obvious front man role of Yaqoob Sheikh for Jamaat ud Dawa. With his leader Hafiz Saeed under house arrest and the party proscribed, it is beyond understanding how Yaqoob Sheikh was even allowed to strand, let alone display Hafiz Saeed and other Jamaat ud Dawa leaders’ pictures during the election campaign. Critics here are incensed at this breach of the law and opening the door to the terrorist organisations’ bid to join the political mainstream. Critics abroad will no doubt view this as a deliberate act of legitimising through the electoral process outfits wedded to terror. If this is Pakistan’s version of the rightward trend being witnessed all over the world, particularly the US and Europe, where far right forces are gathering electoral strength, it is an ill considered and damaging to Pakistan’s international reputation blunder. Of late there had been speculations that the real powers-that-be had chalked out a plan to mainstream some proscribed outfits to ease the international pressure on Pakistan at allowing banned organisations to reinvent themselves under different names and new banners. Now with the NA-120 debacle, the conspiracy theory mills will grind overtime. Even if it was not someone’s bright idea to insert the Jamaat ud Dawa into the electoral fray under the all too leaky camouflage of an independent candidate, his clear expression of affiliation with Jamaat ud Dawa could not possibly have escaped the Election Commission of Pakistan. Senator Sherry Rehman is right that the Election Commission of Pakistan had no need or obligation to ask the Interior Ministry for explanations or clarifications regarding Yaqoob Sheikh. They should have exercised their own minds independently. This fresh controversy will not only alarm those who see this 'legitimisation’ of terrorist outfits alarming, it will resurrect criticisms against and demands for the overhaul of the Election Commission of Pakistan if we are not to be embroiled once again in damaging controversies in the forthcoming elections, controversies that delegitimise the democratic electoral process and more often than not engender political crises.

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