Pakistan: Elections, 1937 onwards

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Pakistan: Elections, 1937 onwards

Nostalgia for poll fanfare

By An Unknown Voter

Dawn

THE philistines have taken over. They are out to deprive me and all like me of the few pleasures of social life that we can have to reduce the dreariness of our wretched existence. After spoiling my Eid by forcing me to pray under guns and stopping me from watching the Zuljanah from the balcony or roof of my house, they have conspired to deprive me of the mela of the general election.

Less than two days before the polling I should have been putting on my ‘Sunday best’ or finalising plans with buddies as to how and where the election will be celebrated. Instead a fierce debate is going on in the family as to whether the women should at all be allowed to risk their lives and how long should they wait for the old man’s return from the polling station before ringing alarm bells. All the excitement and joys of the election day are gone.Election was always a great event — excitement of competition, fun and thrill of surprises, occasions to make friends, to forge social bonds and much more. Now, all this is replaced by fear and warnings, and orders not to do this, not to go in this direction or that.

My earliest recollection is a morning in 1937 when a group of 10-12 men walked a mile and a half in a small town to cast their votes in an election to a seat in the provincial assembly. None of them had a motor car. They were not the richest people in the town.

Except for one or two, who had the right to vote by virtue of owning land, a few acres or so, others were privileged as they were considered to be educated. All of them had a sense of pride. They were important because they were going to elect their rulers. Even in a colony of the British Crown that meant a lot. Most people like me did not have the right to vote. We silently envied the fortunate few.

Eight years later the right to vote was still restricted. Only a small percentage had this right but I was no longer a dumb onlooker. I eagerly participated in the drama that I hoped was going to lead to self-rule, to freedom. What a joy it was to run to the Mochi Gate and join the call ‘Laikay rahenge Pakistan’.

The shout apart, I had my pathuras and papars and there were chess addicts who brought their kings and queens and pawns. And how wonderful was the joy of looking down at the fake and the pompous!

For us election meetings were high grade social events. Life offered us, especially for our women, few occasions for social get-together — a milad function here, a majlis there, a mushaera once in a while. My uncle in Sanghar had a festival only when a wadera died. He had pulao, too.

When cinema came it became a prime social event. But participation in all such ceremonies and diversions depended on one’s belief, or social status or one’s purse. The one social event that was open to me and everybody else, regardless of age, or belief or social status (though not to all women) was a public meeting, a political precession, and especially an election rally. And we all loved it. On election day voting was a privilege. Even watching other people vote was a pleasure. If I was not making history I was seeing it made.

Came 1951. Everybody, man and woman, who was 21 got the right to vote. Thousands like me could not believe what a revolution had taken place. We shook our heads as we were brought out of our villages in carts and tongas to be transported to polling stations.

My friends in the railway workshop got so excited they went to cast votes straight from the factory, without washing their hands. Their soiled fingers left so many marks on ballot papers that our most popular trade union leader’s victory was turned by the stage-managers into defeat. Yet the losers enjoyed the festival as much as the winners.

Do you remember the 1970 election? How can you forget the exhilaration of those days of song and laughter. Candidates were asleep while we were voting for them. We sang all the way to the polling stations. We went by ourselves. I didn’t wait for any candidate’s chhakra. We didn’t need any police to tell us where to queue, where to put the mark.

Din Mohammad felt freed of centuries of slavery to the landlords, though only for a couple of minutes. Bakhshoo thought he had taken sweet revenge upon the owner of the mills where he worked, that too for a few minutes.

I remember the days of military laats also. General Ayub Saab defeated Miss Jinnah but he could not deprive me of the joy of a rally outside Mochi Gate, or in Aram Bagh or in Qissakhwani chowk. In those days there was Pattan Maidan too. And the MRD rallies against General Zia? They revived the dry plants and even the cynical professor who taught me trade unions was cured.

Why has all that changed? Remember Saigol? ‘Kya mein nay kia hai?’ Why am I denied one of the best melas I have ever known?

There was a great mela in Karachi in October. They killed many members of my family because they had dared to celebrate a moment of happiness. There was another mela in Rawalpindi and this time they killed the source of our happiness.

Now they are telling me not to go to the polling station because some big men have declared it unsafe.

A rich Lahori cousin tells me his children are not going to school because of ‘bomb scare’. How will they go out to vote?

Now I hear there are plans to control the TV. They say zinda coverage of polling is more objectionable than zinda nachgana in the chowk. I hope they do not go to such lengths only to spite me. Poor Rahmoo has bought a new TV for his dhaba to entertain his customers.

I have never missed the nightlong TV programme of results as they come. The real thriller. Somebody was losing, 10 minutes later he had taken the lead. Sometimes everything may have changed in the morning but we knew who had lost and who should have won. Can the spoilsports really have the power to deny me election thrills? Sometimes more than a Rambo film.

Somebody said I am being forced to give up election joys for my own sake. To protect me. Some bombwallas are after me. I do not understand. They do not protect me when I climb a pole to join high tension wires with my bare hands. They do not protect me when I am exposed to poisonous gases while cleaning the choked gutter in Lahore. They do not protect me when the dakoo abduct me from the highway near Kashmore.

When, they did not protect Nasiban’s boy who died after going down a manhole. They are interested in protecting me only at the polling station which makes me suspicious.

I know bombs are going off here and there. All this is said to have been started by Osama. I did not invite him. I do not think my nephew in Kabul knew him either. I think the terrorists have appeared as a result of denial of my right to the election mela.

Why should the Wazirs or Swatis try to harm me? If they cannot deal with them, they may step aside. Maybe we, Nathoos and Khairas (that is what they call us) can persuade the Mujahideen (I am sorry they are no longer described so) to put their guns away and choose a peaceful route to paradise.

What adds to my anger is the fact that when I told some young men of how I have been robbed of my happiness they did not understand. They have not known the joys of the election mela. If we do not revive the festival, our children will be poorer than we are.

No, I cannot give up the few pleasures I still have. I must get my election mela back. But who will do me this favour? I think I should talk to other Nathoos, other Khairas. Let’s get our election mela back.

For all I know we may succeed.


2002 elections

2002 polls ‘Political management’ done in 2002 polls: Zamir

By Our Staff Reporter

Dawn

ISLAMABAD, Feb 26: A former point man of President Pervez Musharraf said on Tuesday “political management” had dominated the 2002 general election.

Maj Gen (retd) Ehtasham Zamir, a former head of the internal wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), also admitted the ISI had played a role in persuading “like-minded politicians” to support Mr Musharraf.

“Of course, in the political management you were there. That is why the people termed it pre-poll rigging. If the political management what the ISI was doing prior to the election by arranging the people of similar ideology or similar mindset so that was there, ” Ehtasham Zamir said during an exclusive interview with DawnNews.

He conceded that whatever the ISI was doing before the 2002 elections was not “purely constitutional”.

“Pre-election manipulations are one form of rigging. The rigging is a network used for support and manipulation. That is why the people call it pre-poll manipulation or the support which you extend prior to the polls.

“Thereafter, if you get involved in manipulations, bargaining or something else other than the norms of democracy, that would also be rigging,” Ehtasham Zamir said.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Q was, in the eye of opponents, the “biggest beneficiary of pre-poll rigging” in 2002. It emerged as the single largest party in the National Assembly and with the support of other “like-minded” candidates, formed a pro-Musharraf government.

But it was not as simple as that. After the ouster of Mian Nawaz Sharif on Oct 12, 1999, the intelligence agencies set about to tear apart the PML-Nawaz and the People’s Party. The aim was to make the sailing smooth for Gen Musharraf.

Enter Ehtasham Zamir.

He took over the ISI’s internal wing — which also comprises the political desk as one of its departments — on Sept 11, 2001.

Before he took over, the Q-League had already come into being after many loyalists of Nawaz Sharif changed their loyalties, declaring their support to the PML-Q.

Lt Gen Mehmood Ahmed, the then chief of ISI, had a reputation of behaving abrasively with politicians who refused to jump onto Gen Musharraf’s bandwagon.

But Ehtasham Zamir proved himself a different man. He developed friendly relations with many Q-Leaguers, including Zafarullah Khan Jamali.

The immediate task which Gen Zamir had been given was to ensure the victory of the Q-Leaguers in the 2002 general election. But he claimed the ISI, which played a major role in pre-poll manipulations, was not involved in rigging at polling stations.

“We were basically providing the political management, precisely if I can be as civilised as possible, in the form of sponsorship.

“That’s why the ‘King’s Party’, or the ruling party,” Ehtasham Zamir recalled during the interview. “The sponsorship was very much there of cobbling like-minded people, which could support the seven-point agenda of President Musharraf.”

He said the ISI was one of the tools used in “pre-poll and post-poll arrangements”. After the elections, the Q-League emerged as the largest party in the National Assembly with some 130 seats. But it was still short of the required number of 172 MNAs to form government.

Maj Gen (retd) Zamir said the ISI had no role in the “post-poll phase of manipulations”.

“I can tell you from my side that the ISI was not handling this issue of (People’s Party) Patriots. But we had information that there was a certain group which was keen to support the president and get into the government.”

In that “post-poll phase of rigging” more than 10 People’s Party MNAs from Punjab and Sindh defected from their party and joined the PML-Q.

The then director-general of Rangers, Hussain Mehdi, was alleged to have been instrumental in the formation of a forward bloc in the PPP, called “Patriots”.

The former ISI official said several ISI-MMA meetings were held at safe houses in different parts of Islamabad.

He recalled his meetings with Zafarullah Jamali before his appointment as prime minister. However, he denied charges that the meetings amounted to informal discussions on governance.

According to Mr Zamir, Q-Leaguers like Humayun Akhtar Khan and Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri tried hard to reach the highest political office.

The former ISI official said a strong lobby within ISI had advised General Musharraf not to put all his eggs in one basket. They had suggested the president not to bank solely on the Chaudhrys of Gujrat.

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