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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Pre-poll rigging: Myth or reality? Dr. Farid A. Malik explains!

Dr. Farid A Malik, Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, talks about how the political cell by ISI was set up to keep tabs on "unscrupulous" politicians holding public office. However, the files produced by ISI are used against the politicians for pre or post-poll rigging.

Every electoral contest since 1970 has been disputed. Some scholars maintain that it was free and fair only in the Western Wing of the country, meanwhile, Awami League was given a free hand in the Eastern part. As East Pakistan became Bangladesh under the leadership of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) took control of what was left of Pakistan.

While the democratic journey was fast-paced, ZAB decided to create a ‘Political Cell’ in ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence). Till then the agency had kept away from the civilians. Ayub Khan relied on CID (Central Intelligence Department) for intelligence gathering to torment the opposition. In the words of the most upright politician of his times, the one and only Air Marshal Asghar Khan, “The agencies know more about us than we ourselves.”

Files are kept and regularly updated by the agencies. It has been alleged that during ZAB’s term if a minister or a party worker tried to cross the line, he was invited to the Prime Minister (PM) Secretariat to review the file. Record of the misdeeds had a deafening effect on the individual forcing him to tow the party line. Even after the fall of the elected government, the cell continued with its surveillance work of the unscrupulous politicians who multiplied manifold after the 1985 partyless elections.

Read more: No free and fair elections in Pakistan due to ‘Toady’ politics

These files are used at the appropriate time as determined by the establishment. The speed at which the ‘Joint Investigation Team’ (JIT) was able to present a five-volume report in the famous ‘Panama Gate’ case that disqualified Mian Nawaz Sharif the sitting PM, baffled his party. Rana Sanaulla termed it the ‘Jinn Investigation Report’.

The recent happenings in the Senate and the National Assembly clearly indicate the power of these files. The famous proverb, “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others” appropriately applies here. There is no defense against the record of the misdeeds committed.

Like the heavenly angels on our shoulders that keep records of our journey from cradle to grave, the ISI performs its duties during the term of office only. Defiance in the land of the pure calls for purity of body and soul, those who are dispossessed of this virtue should quietly gather their bounties and go home as they are vulnerable.

Pakistan’s unfortunate history with poll rigging

It is an admitted fact that the country has been plundered in the last forty years. Resources of the nation have been squandered by a few causing collapse of most civilian institutions. Those who have held public offices are required to submit money trails of their assets, both home and abroad. Hiding behind the weaknesses of common law cannot redeem their honor.

While no major convictions have taken place yet, no one has been exonerated except for the infamous Chaudhrys of Gujrat who now own almost all of the properties on Zahoor Elahi Road named after the founder of this ‘Rogue Political Dynasty.’ Because of their silence and cooperation, they manage to retain power at all times as they are sensitized to their past misconduct. Imran Khan, after resisting the entry into the cabinet of their third generation, finally succumbed to their blackmail.

Pakistan has a history of both pre and post-poll rigging. Shahid Khaqan Abbassi, the stalwart of PML-N, has openly admitted this phenomenon as they have been the major beneficiary of this approach.

Read more: Shahid Khaqan admits to rigging elections, says no electoral reform can save Pakistan

ZAB, the most popular leader of his times, in order to get the absolute majority, tried to manipulate the electoral process in 1977 but badly failed. He not only lost power but also his life. By contrast, Mian Nawaz Sharif of Gawalmandi has been able to attain a two-thirds majority twice in the National Assembly of Pakistan and once in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, a feat that remains unexplained and unmatched.

According to my friend Comrade Aitzaz Ahsan, Mian Sahib will return only when he gets a nod from the powers that matter. Hopefully, his platelets will come back into place when he starts his journey back home.

The blame game and manipulation to continue?

It is through these files that pre-poll rigging takes place while post-poll rigging happens through the administrative individuals recruited in the last forty years by PML-N in Punjab and PPP in Sindh. Recently, Atta Tarrar, grandson of Ex-President and party loyalist Rafiq Tarrar, has asked the government to open the recent election held in Sialkot. He has also demanded a forensic audit of the votes. In the recent loss in AJK, the party has accused PTI of buying votes.

I am all for a free and fair electoral contest, but nations must learn from their mistakes and misdeeds. After the 2013 elections, PTI demanded the opening of only four constituencies which was denied, resulting in the August 2014 Dharna.

My friend Hamid Zaman applied to NADRA for a forensic audit of the votes of his constituency. He even deposited the fee which was around Rs 55 Lakhs. When Tariq Malik, the then Chairman, started the audit, he was summoned to Lahore and asked for ‘Haula Hath’ (Soft Handling), and on his refusal, he was removed from office. Though Islamabad High Court restored him, he was harassed out of office.

Read more: Soul searching must to revive the essence of democracy

The pelting of stones by residents of Glass Houses will get them nowhere. Major electoral reforms are needed for credible electoral contests. Till then, this blame game and manipulation will continue. Political parties like PML-N who have managed absolute majorities multiple times through unexplained Angel Interventions will not be easy to come around.

Eventually, the ‘Political Cell’ within ISI will have to be disbanded but only when the politicians regain their credibility. Unscrupulous, compromised individuals will continue to be softened unless they come clean and clear their names. The Chaudhrys of Gujrat have managed through subservience while the Sharifs of Lahore are trying to save their loot by playing on both sides of the wicket but for long-term political survival, they will either have to call it a day or return the money which belongs to the nation.

Well-documented and preserved past will continue to haunt the unscrupulous in the form of pre or post-poll rigging while honest upright contestants like my friend Hamid Zaman have nothing to fear. When Chaudhry Nasir, the then Interior Minister, threatened Comrade Aitzaz Ahsan saying, ”I will take you to the courts”, promptly came the reply, “I will take you to the cleaners, “ending the conflict there and then.

Read more: Chaudhry Nisar pays price for abandoning Nawaz

Dr. Farid A. Malik is an Ex-Chairman of the Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at fmaliks@hotmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.