‘India is not a major issue in the election, the focus is on development’
India was not raised as a campaign issue during Pakistan general election, said the country’s High Commissioner in New Delhi, with party manifestos and leaders at campaign rallies mainly focusing on domestic issues.
“The emphasis has been on having cooperative ties with the neighbours, including India, and on peaceful means to resolve the Kashmir dispute for lasting peace in the region,” High Commissioner Sohail Mahmood told The Hindu. It is “Aiham (significant)” that India was not an electoral issue during the campaign that ended on Monday, he added. Pakistanis will vote on Wednesday.
Asked how the outcome of the election could impact relations with India, which has no dialogue process with Pakistan at present, Mr. Mahmood said that “given the positions articulated by the major parties”, Pakistan’s emphasis would be on “sustained engagement, a comprehensive dialogue process, and a peaceful resolution of outstanding disputes”.
In their respective manifestos, as well as campaign speeches, the three main parties — Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led by Shahbaz Sharif, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by Bilawal Bhutto and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) — had not mentioned ties with India or the Kashmir dispute in much detail. The PTI had called for UN resolutions to be followed, while the PPP wanted “normalisation” of ties.
“The primary focus in the campaign has been on domestic issues — from development to energy to vision for the future,” Mr. Mahmood explained.
When asked specifically about parties like the Hafiz Saeed-led Milli Muslim League, which has fielded 265 candidates on the ticket of the Allahu Akbar Tehreek after it failed to get electoral registration, the envoy said the process of scrutiny of nomination papers had been “rigorous”, and “only those, who fulfil the legal requirements, have been allowed by the Election Commission to contest”.
Mr. Saeed, convicted as the 26/11 Mumbai attacks mastermind in India, is not contesting himself, but campaigned for his son and son-in-law, who were candidates.
Casting a shadow
Reacting to reports in India and other international media that the jailing of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on corruption charges, and the entry of extremist parties had cast a shadow over the credibility of election, Mr. Mahmood said the elections were being held by a caretaker government as stipulated by the Constitution, and that no one should “prejudge their outcome”.
‘Free and fair’
“The caretaker government and the Election Commission have made assiduous preparations to hold the election in a free and fair environment. Therefore, it would be unfair either to cast aspersions on their commitment or to prejudge the outcome of the election,” he said.
Many in Pakistan as well as the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) have expressed concerns in the run-up to the election about the involvement of the military and what were seen as attempts by some within the establishment to boost the chances of PTI chairman Imran Khan.
“We have serious doubts that elections will be free and fair. Before elections, efforts have been started to put pressure on candidates to return tickets. Moreover, we have serious reservations about the use of military troops inside polling stations,” HRCP spokesperson I.A. Rahman said in Lahore last week.
Mr. Mahmood told The Hindu that instead of casting doubts, international observers should appreciate that Pakistan was moving ahead with the democratic process, with the third consecutive general election since 2008, despite a series of terrorist strikes including the recent attack in Balochistan, which killed more than 150 people.
“There were several attempts to disrupt the electoral process, manifested in several terrorist attacks” he said.
“Thousands thronged the rallies and meetings across Pakistan and boldly stood up against any forces of disruption. I think you cannot get a more powerful illustration of the courage, resilience and commitment of the people of Pakistan to the democratic process.”