Pakistan goes to polls on Monday amid hope and despair. Pakistan People’s Party chairperson Asif Ali Zardari brought this out vividly in an emotional speech on poll eve invoking the legacy of his slain wife Benazir Bhutto.
His voice quivering, Zardari exhorted voters to join hands to change a system that had failed to measure up to their needs and expectations. Amid heavy security and concerns of violence, nearly 80 million Pakistanis have an opportunity to elect a new national assembly and four provincial legislatures.
Around 30,000 armymen will be on the stand-by as a deterrent against attempts to disrupt the polls. Barring the 1122 ‘most sensitive’ polling stations in the tribal areas where the army will be in the forefront, the first two tiers of the security cordon in other constituencies will be manned by the local police and the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers and Frontier Corps.
The Interior Ministry’s categorisation of sensitive constituencies is a confirmation of the precarious law and order situation, brought home so tellingly by Saturday’s suicide bombing at a PPP rally in Parachinar that left 38 dead. In all, the authorities have declared 9545 of the 64,176 polling stations in the four provinces as ‘most sensitive’. Of these, 3787 are in Punjab, 2192 in Sindh, 1094 in the NWFP and 1350 in Balochistan.
In this backdrop, Zardari’s recall of his wife’s last comments that she “feared” for Pakistan underscored the danger of fissiparous elements filling up the political vacuum in the absence of the forces of reason. The PPP leader traveled to Islamabad from Lahore against the advice of the security agencies.
On his first visit to the federal capital after Benazir’s December 27 assassination that left the country dumb in grief, Zardari made an impassioned call for unity. Recalling his son Bilawal’s oft-quoted comment — that democracy was the best revenge — he said there was a stage in one’s life when one lived for one’s children.
“For me, all children of Pakistan are like Bilawal,” Zardari remarked at the launch of a liberal Urdu daily Aaj Kal. “On behalf of my wife, my party and its cadres, I assure that we’ll never bow down or compromise.”
Zardari’s election-eve promises assume significance in the backdrop of his two recent meetings with potential ally and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. In the election campaign, the Nawaz League has spoken with greater clarity on issues agitating the people---the restoration of the pre-November 3 higher judiciary, and no-truck with President Pervez Musharraf.