Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) recently issued a threat to the three main political parties of Pakistan, warning them that their candidates will be targeted in the elections to be held in May. These parties are Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party (ANP). Furthermore, TTP alerted people to stay away from political gatherings linked to these political groups.
The question is how lightly or seriously should these threats be taken. Moreover, what would be the likely impact of these warnings on the election process of Pakistan?
Pakistan’s military is certainly not taking the threat lightly. Reportedly the operations being carried on in Khyber and Orakzai Agencies, including those in Karachi, are directly linked with preempting any serious attempts by TTP to disrupt the elections. It should be noted that in the period leading up to the last elections, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, allegedly carried out by Baitullah Mehsud, swung the sympathy vote in favor of PPP.
Despite large attacks carried out by TTP during the previous elections, it was unable to interrupt the democratic process from working its way through. However, to claim outright that they were unable to influence the election outcome would not be fully correct.
Thus, the current threat cannot be taken lightly. Despite doubts about their capability, TTP has proven through attacks on the nation’s most sensitive military bases that they have the ability to instill devastating blows. Just last December; senior minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bashir Ahmad Bilour was assassinated in Peshawar during a political event. At the time, TTP spokesperson had claimed the attack was just a beginning and they would intensify over time. TTP has also threatened to kill former president Pervez Musharraf, who recently returned to take part in the elections.
Because of the serious risk, PPP has already cancelled some political gatherings. According to media reports, one of the reasons Bilawal Bhutto suddenly left the country in March was also linked to threats from the extremists.
While TTP might fail once more from stopping the elections altogether, it can still impact the election results. One of the major influences TTP can force, this time, will be to scare the liberal vote away. This will by default benefit the conservative, nationalist and religious elements in the coming elections. And, consequentially, this may also influence the dynamics of political reconciliation in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s ties with India, Iran, and the US.