Lessons from Daska – Dr Farrukh Saleem


Lesson 1: Elections in Pakistan have become an intra-elite, medieval tribal war. An election was supposed to be a “formal group decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office.” Not in Pakistan. Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’. Not in Pakistan. Our democracy is ‘of the elite and for the elite’. Democracy, around the world, had made two promises: ‘no one will be left behind and no voice will be left unheard’. Not in Pakistan. Our democracy has two barriers to entry: lineage and money.

Lesson 2: Our tribal elite are armed-to-the-teeth. On February 19, two were killed and seven injured. In 2013, BBC called Pakistan’s election as the “bloodiest ever”. In 2018, 132 including a candidate were killed and 300 were wounded.

Lesson 3: The entire government machinery goes completely partisan. On February 19, when motorcyclists were firing indiscriminately the police became a silent spectator. The chief secretary of Punjab, the IG Punjab, the commissioner of Gujranwala and the deputy commissioner all became inaccessible to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Lesson 4: Our tribal elite are at war to capture the state’s resources. On January 27, PM Imran Khan, chairing a meeting of the PTI’s parliamentarians and its allied parties, “approved Rs500 million in development funds.”

Lesson 5: We civilians are unable to guarantee the ‘sanctity of vote’ on our own. We civilians are unable to count our votes on our own. In 2013, 70,000 army personnel were deployed on “election-related duties including provision of security and maintenance of law and order.” In 2018, the ECP decided to deploy 371,000 army personnel both inside and outside polling stations. Lo and behold, on February 19, presiding officers (POs) went missing. Yes, ‘sanctity of vote’ is directly linked with ‘good governance and institution-building’. Unfortunately, our democracy has produced neither.

Lesson 6: Democracy is all about good governance, strong institutions and uplifting poverty-stricken citizens. The election in Daska was about three things: animosity, hate and revenge.

Lesson 7: Animosity, hate and revenge have resulted in four things. One, the directly elected National Assembly of Pakistan has become irrelevant to Pakistan’s ground realities. Two, the Supreme Court of Pakistan is in a state of infighting. Three, the Senate of Pakistan, it seems, is up for sale (Liaquat Jatoi-ex-CM of Sindh, ex-minister of industry and production and ex-minister of water and power, has claimed that a ticket was sold for Rs350 million). Four, the executive is bent upon undermining the ECP.

Lesson 8: This intra-elite tribal animosity, hate and revenge has nothing in it for the common Pakistani. For the record, two years ago, there were 70 million Pakistanis below poverty; now there are 90 million.

Lesson 9: Poll-day rigging cannot be kept hidden in this day and age.

Lesson 10: Our politicians must learn from Daska – learn not to repeat Daska. If we can’t handle Daska, how will we handle 272 National Assembly elections in 2023? Our politicians must learn four things. One, learn to solve economic problems. Two, learn to reduce polarisation. Three, learn to reinforce trust between the government and its citizens. Four, learn to reduce partisan hostility. Or else, face the great unravelling of politics altogether.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.