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Inside Karachi: 'Election won't change anything'

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: February 18, 2008 13:27 IST
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"America ka ashirwad hai, India ka bhi hai! Musharraf ko koi taklif nahin! (President Pervez Musharraf is sitting pretty because he is blessed by America, and, India, too)" said Karachi-based advocate Chandio Munir Ahmad in despair during a telephonic conversation with

Speaking on the ground situation in Karachi, Ahmed said, "The voting began at 8 am and the turnout is low for the 44 seats in the National Assembly. We have a population of 1.5 crore. But we believe that women folk will not venture out in big numbers. There is calm and fear in the city today."

Ahmad is an activist of All Pakistan Trade Union Organisation. He has been a grassroots' worker for many years and has founded a law college in Thatta, Sindh.

He, like the overwhelming number of grassroots activists in Pakistan, is upset with the Indian government for giving tacit support to President Musharraf's regime and America's gameplan in the region.

Many are convinced of the futility of the election. The lawyers' association has announced that it will restart its nation-wide agitation to restore judges removed by the Musharraf regime from Tuesday mainly to put pressure on the Pakistan People's Party leaders who are dodging the issue of restoration of freedom of judiciary. PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari fears that former judges, who have resigned en-masse, may revive corruption cases against him if they come back.

Ahmed says, "My vote is registered in Thatta but I will not vote to strengthen the hands of army. I don't think this election will change anything for the Pakistani people."

When asked to explain further why he is so disillusioned by the election, he said that in Karachi the Muttahida Qaumi Movement rules and controls the government machinery and the police.

"The MQM is the creation of the army. They are supporting Musharraf. The MQM is threatening election officials. I met a presiding officer of a polling booth in Karachi. He told me that MQM activists arranged dinner for all presiding polling booth officers and advised them to support their candidates. He was asking me what to do. He could have resigned and gone to a magistrate to complain. But I told him not to resign. I told him remain in the polling booth and let us find out what the MQM does to rig votes."

Ahmed says that if given a choice, people would like to vote for Benazir Bhutto's PPP. "I expect that in Punjab and Sindh, the PPP may get a simple majority. It is possible that Amin Fahim may temporarily become next prime minister of Pakistan. But these elections are not free and fair at all."

He says that this election is being controlled by the Pakistan Army and the PPP is vulnerable to pressure from America after the election. "That is why this election is not expected to bring a desired change in Pakistan politics," he said.

He added, "In remote areas of Sindh at three places we have found 'ghost polling booths' which don't exist in official records. In Kotdi and Shikarpur men have been arrested with ballot papers."

"We can understand why America is supporting Musharraf but we simply fail to understand why India is supporting Musharraf. This is very surprising for us. The people of Sindh feel India has never supported the Sindhis of Pakistan. Why?" he asks.

Ahmed said that status quo is expected out of this election unless one party gets a two-third majority, "We feel let down by India. After the election, Musharraf will control everything as he is doing now. He will be there with the support of the Pakistan Army. Since the days of the Cold War, the Pakistan Army has always got American support and that will continue even now. Tell me, what will change tonight? Nothing!"

He says a careful look at the candidates and other issues, "will show that this type of election and democracy is only to help powerful army officers, the elite, terrorists and smugglers."

He asked, "What democracy? We are not even getting flour for our rotis. The prices of vegetables are sky-high. This election is not to help the ordinary people."

"Do not forget, even if any party gets two-third majority or even if Nawaz Sharif and Zardari come together and get absolute majority, Musharraf will not share power. According to section 51(2/B) of the Constitution, President Musharraf has power to dissolve the assembly," Ahmed concluded, and added that he was going out on the streets of Karachi to find out "what kind of things are going on today."

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Sheela Bhatt