pressure has but limited value'
takes the cake
of the absurd
Hussain Haqqani, in an article written in Dec 2007, had argued that the holding of free and fair elections is not a technical issue; it is a matter of intent. This pretty much sums up the entire debate about the fairness of the forthcoming polls. The rest is all nitty gritty. If the intention is to let the election be what it is supposed to be and, in our case, lead to a sharing of power or vesting of power to the rightful claimant, it will turn out to be a fair exercise and will also be perceived to be so.
However, the context is so laid out that this intention per se is under question. Ironically the context is such that an absolutely fair election may be the last chance to save this country -- as a federation. Election which has always been thought of as a digression, an afterthought, has suddenly become central to the polity, like never before. Hence the doomsday predictions, in case the election is perceived to be rigged, seem so true.
As a matter of fact, the perception that it has been rigged, before being actually held, has already sunk deep enough.
To begin with, the election announcement in 2007 was an afterthought. The coup of Nov 3 did not bring a promise of election in its wake. The general who had made the coup was forced to make this announcement under immense internal and external pressure.
By then the damage was already done.
The election 2008 was going to be held under a pliant judiciary doing the government's bidding while two third members of the superior judiciary were forcibly sent home. None of the contesting parties, except the King's own, had faith in the impartiality of the Chief Election Commissioner. Huge discrepancies in electoral rolls were noticed and rectified to the satisfaction of none.
And then came December 27 that provided the centrality of context to a free and fair election in Pakistan. Twelve days before the election, the leader of the most popular political party was assassinated in broad daylight after she had addressed a public meeting. That one incident changed everything because Benazir Bhutto's assassination was not seen as a work of an extremist terrorist against a moderate leader; it was instead perceived as the physical removal of a party leader to manipulate future politics.
There was chaos and a tremendous sense of vacuum. But the amazing speed with which the party came together to deal with the aftermath of the tragedy in a responsible way was not shared by the ruling elite. The major contesting parties announced they were ready to go to the polls on Jan 8 but the government postponed the election till Feb 18, against their wishes.
In the weeks that followed, there were no encouraging signs about the intentions of the rulers to hold free and fair election. There was senseless advertising, shifting the focus onto immediate rioting than a clean and impartial inquiry of the national tragedy.
But all that is nitty gritty.
The cartaker government seen as an extension of the ruling party, the workers of political parties being arrested or threatened on false charges all over the country, the local bodies' overt involvement in politics, the gags on the media, the money spent on electioneering, questions about Election Commission's independence, the postings and transfers in contravention of all rules, and above all the real threat of violence on election day is all nitty gritty. Because the essential issue -- the intention to hold free and fair election -- is just not there.
The nazims are famously using their clout and control over the district administration in support of the king's party
By Aoun Sahi
The role of the district, tehsil and town nazims in the Feb '08 election campaigns is being questioned by the opposition parties as well as the independent observers. The nazims are being criticised strongly for their unlawful involvement in the campaigns of candidates belonging to certain political parties and the use of the official machinery for the purpose.
In Punjab and Sindh, an overwhelming majority of nazims is politically affiliated with PML-Q and its allies. In Punjab, 34 out of 35 district nazims belong to PML-Q while in Sindh just two district nazims are PPP-prone and the rest have associations with PML-Q, PML-F or MQM. The situation is almost the same in tehsils and towns. For most political parties, their role is even more important than that of the caretaker ministers. It is practically the nazims who have been running the affairs of the local areas since 2005, while many of them are serving their second term which means that they have been in power for the past eight years. The nazims have famously enjoyed influence on the government machinery -- for the sake of their party interests.
According to Ahsan Iqbal, Secretary Information PML-N, the nazims invariably use their local, political clout and control over the district administration in support of the PML-Q candidates while "the election commission remains the silent spectator".
In all districts, the local governments are famously using their resources to support the PML-Q candidates, he tells TNS, adding that "the close relatives of a majority of these nazims are contesting elections from the platform of PML-Q, and the nazims have been announcing development projects, using police to harass their opponents and also pressurising the government employees to vote for PML-Q candidates."
Ahsan says that all these acts of district and tehsil nazims are a violation of the election code of conduct as well as the Constitution of Pakistan. "This is rigging, put in other words. We have sent complaints to the Election Commission of Pakistan repeatedly against these district and tehsil nazims but to no avail. So far not a single nazim has been suspended on charges of involvement in the electioneering process."
According to the data offered by the Central Election Monitoring Cell of PPP, so far the party has lodged up to 100 complaints against the district, tehsil and town nazims allegedly involved in running election campaigns for the candidates of PML-Q, PML-F and MQM in their official status.
A look at the candidates' list released by the ECP shows that in all districts of Punjab, the close relatives of almost all district and tehsil nazims are contesting elections.
The Karachi and Hyderabad district nazims all belong to MQM and they are also openly supporting candidates belonging to their party.
The data (in the box) also shows that the allegations leveled by the opposition parties against the district government's involvement in election campaigns aren't baseless.
Last month, an independent delegation visited the Attock district of Punjab and found the district nazim to be openly supporting and using official machinery to run the campaign of his daughter, son in law and brother in law. The situation is sadly the same everywhere.
PML-Q Deputy Information Secretary Senator Tariq Azeem, however, sees nothing wrong with the PML-Q candidates being related to the district and tehsil nazims. "What is their fault if they are relatives of some nazim? Certainly, there is no rule that bars them from contesting elections," he said.
"The political parties, instead of raising non-issues, should concentrate on the election campaigns. The senator denied all allegations of district or tehsil nazims using state resources to support the PML-Q candidates.
He added that there were nazims belonging to MMA in NWFP while PPP had a good number of district and tehsil nazims in Sindh, "The situation is the same with all parties, but it's only PML-Q and its allies that people find fault with."
He further said that no democratic country had a precedent where the local governments were suspended.
Nafees Siddiqui, General Secretary PPP's Sindh Chapter, does not go along with Tariq Azeem. "The national and provincial assemblies cannot influence the local bodies' elections to that extent, can they? No, because you have a very strong opposition there," he said, talking exclusively to TNS.
Nafees was of the view that in Sindh, the district and tehsil nazims of PML-Q and its allies were using government servants and official vehicles to campaign for the candidates of their respective parties.
He said that Benazir Bhutto had always demanded the suspension of local governments because they had the capacity to influence the election results in favour of their party candidates. "We know that in some districts or tehsils, the nazims have affiliations with PPP, but even then we want to suspend them for a certain period of time. Otherwise the elections cannot be termed as free and fair," he concluded.
Local government involvement in NWFP
Despite all rumour of suspension that has been doing the media rounds for a long time now, the local government system remains very much 'intact' in the country, as the President believes that nothing can go wrong with the polls if the nazims are in office.
This is a realistic approach, considering the suspension of the system for a specific time period will neither reduce the powers of local representatives nor restrict them from campaigning for their favourite contenders. Nazims -- whose political affiliations are for all to see -- continue to campaign, aggressively enough, for the very reason that they believe the party cause comes before their temporary office.
Interestingly, though, most nazims have their sympathies well-placed with one contender or the other in their own respective areas, there are those who have been openly influencing their voters in favour of their desired National and provincial assembly candidates -- something which is a clear-cut violation of the code of conduct issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). The code embraces all heads of district government, town and tehsil administration as well as union councils against whom appeals have long been filed with the ECP for action.
District Nazim Karak was also found attending a rally of the Pakistan Muslim League-N in Peshawar when former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif arrived in the city. A town nazim of Peshawar, who is a staunch supporter of Pakistan People's Party, had offered a goat as sadqa for Benazir Bhutto when she arrived here to address an election rally. The nazim of another town in the provincial capital is also said to be actively participating in the election campaign of his brother, a candidate for National Assembly from Peshawar.
The number of union council nazims who were accused of supporting their rivals is quite high. A bunch of union council offices are being used for corner meetings. The nazims of Peshawar, Mardan, Swabi, Dir, Mansehra, Haripur, Hangu, Bannu and Shangla districts all had affiliations with one party or the other before they took charge of their offices. Likewise for a lot of other town, tehsil and union council nazims. If any one of them is seen attending a political rally, it should not come as a surprise.
According to the statistics, out of a total of 1,135 complaints that the ECP has received from across the country on different election-related issues, 111 are against district nazims, 53 against tehsil and town nazims and several others against union council nazims, alleging that they are misusing power against rival candidates. Punjab tops the list, with 52 complaints lodged against district nazims, followed by 43 from Sindh, 14 from NWFP and two from Balochistan. Similarly, maximum complaints -- 38, to be precise -- against tehsil nazims were received from Punjab, again, followed by 10 from Sindh, three from NWFP and two from Balochistan.
The federal government as well as the Election Commission have issued warnings to the nazims time and again but no action has been taken against any X Y Z local government functionary who was found involved in campaigning for his favourite aspirant.
-- Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, Executive Director, PILDAT (Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency), an independent research and training institution
By Nadeem Iqbal
The News on Sunday: Would you like to think that the upcoming general elections will be free and fair?
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob: Well, the government has promised that the elections will be free and fair. That means if they have made a promise, they must be planning to deliver on that.
Another positive sign is that while the will is there we have also got the basic infrastructure that can be made use of, in order to ensure free and fair polls. For example, the Election Commission of Pakistan is one of the few such bodies in the world that boasts a full-time field staff in every district. Then we have a very elaborate, legal and constitutional framework for the elections. Similarly, we are one of the few countries equipped to announce results at each polling station. These are all very positive factors.
But, that's just one side of the picture. If we consider the ground realities and the logical explanations to certain happenings then that will not paint a very rosy picture.
TNS: Could you please elaborate on things that "will not paint a very rosy picture"?
ABM: See, one very important force influencing the elections is the 'administration'. Unfortunately, the administrative power is in the hands of those who are partisan, who have sympathies for a certain party or parties and they are also not bothered to hide their affiliations. They are office-bearers, so to say, of certain parties; they've been elected on their tickets. And, to think that they are now in the caretaker government. All this points to the fact that the influence of the administration is going to be used in favour of the political parties. That is the first and the foremost thing; the rest will follow. When you have the power, you can make a lot of things happen. For instance, you can sanction certain development projects; you can favour them or not favour them; you can employ force to threaten or pressurise the parties involved; you can spy on them and blackmail them and you can actually institute cases against them to harass them. I am not saying that these things are necessarily happening but these can happen if you have power.
TNS: PILDAT has recently released a report on the pre-poll process in Pakistan, encompassing the period between Dec 2006 and Dec '07. What kind of tactics, in your view, are being employed by certain political parties that amount to pre-poll rigging?
ABM: I will not attribute that to any single party. This is a collective situation of our society and of the various arms of the Executive. The society as a whole is responsible and it is going to bear the brunt if the elections are not free and fair. The factors we have identified include the neutrality of the head of the state -- he being the symbol of the federation. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The president has openly sided with one political party or a group of parties that were part of the previous coalition government. At least on one occasion, in a public meeting, he reportedly asked the people to vote for the parties that support him. So, in a way, he was campaigning for the political groups at the expense of the state.
The caretaker government is also not neutral. Then, the judiciary is not independent. Since the proclamation of the so-called Emergency, the judiciary has been purged of around 60 independent judges. This created fears among the rest of the judges that they could be treated the same way. The message that has gone out to the judges is that if they act the way Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry did, their fate will be similar to his. The message for the Chief Election Commissioner is that he can also be removed the same way.
The state-run media which is supposed to act even-handed and give equal time to all the players, is not doing so. The private media has been put under certain known as well as unknown restrictions. Similarly, as per law, the local government cannot take sides. But they are biased as most of the election staff comes from the local government.
All these factors point in the direction that the polls will not be fair.
TNS: How would you evaluate the role of the international community that influenced President Musharraf to commit to an election date? Do you think the international community can also ensure free and fair elections?
ABM: I don't think the election date was fixed because of any such influence. There might have been pressure from the outside, but I think the decision was eventually that of the sovereign government of a sovereign country.
See, if someone has the will, plan or inclination to rig the elections, the presence of international observers will not deter that. In the past, action has been taken in the face of opposition from international forces and now we stand suspended from the Commonwealth. So, I think, the international pressure has but a limited value. Most of it has to come from within the country itself. If the people, the administration and the judiciary are willing to go along the constitutional path then it is very difficult to rig elections.
TNS: What kind of tools these international observers are going to employ to assess the fairness of the elections?
ABM: We should remember that every country has its own agenda and interests. I am not saying that this agenda is against us, although in the past the west has used human rights violation as a tool to blackmail countries and forced them to agree to certain things of their (the west's) own interest.
Democracy is another card in the hands of the west. Some of the western countries have always used it to exert pressure on the Pakistani governments to take certain decisions that the latter would otherwise resist.
TNS: If you were to take one step that will ensure the credibility of the forthcoming elections, what would you do?
ABM: I'd rather we should have a neutral caretaker set-up which has the consensus of at least all the major political parties. We have seen that whenever we had conscientious caretakers we had a relatively fairer and freer elections, such as in Moin Qureshi's tenure.
TNS: Is it possible to have such a set-up, as elections are round the corner?
ABM: It is still possible. The constitution provides that the appointment of a neutral caretaker government falls upon the discretion of the president. Now if the president decides to replace this caretaker set-up with a consensus interim government, I think it is not the violation of the constitution. In this way we can probably avert some of the difficulties which we may face after the elections.
Despite EC's strict orders, postings, transfers and appointments have been made all over the country ahead of elections
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Large scale postings, appointments and transfers of government servants have been observed in different parts of the country despite Election Commission's strict orders in this respect. To date the commission has received 128 complaints regarding transfers of civil servants after Nov 20, 2007 -- the day the election schedule was announced. Out of these, 8 complaints were filed from Balochistan, 1 from Fata, 2 from Islamabad, 15 from NWFP, 55 from Punjab and 47 from Sindh.
The complaints have been mainly filed by different political parties who claim these transfers have been made to benefit a certain political party's candidates in the upcoming elections. Though all postings and transfers made at this moment can be subjected to criticism, these parties are most concerned about those made in the police and education departments and local governments. While the police and local governments have a great role in defining the course of local politics, the education department employees are assigned election duties on the polling day.
In this backdrop, the notice issued by the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice (retd) Qazi Muhammad Farooq to Inspector General of Police (IGP), Sindh, came as a pleasant surprise. He simply directed the IGP to submit a report to the Election Commission on transfers of police personnel immediately and reverse the recent transfers and postings. The Sindh government had taken plea that these large scale transfers were made for the reason that the said police officers had failed to stop violence that erupted immediately after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on Dec 27, 2007.
In a similar move, the Election Commission summoned Executive District Officer (EDO), Revenue, Gujrat on Jan 24, 2007 and asked him to explain his position regarding transfers/postings of revenue staff in the district despite the ban imposed by the Election Commission of Pakistan. The EDO was warned by the CEC to revert the transfers and be careful in the future.
These steps taken recently may have been taken due to the ever-increasing pressure of political parties, NGOs and the local and foreign observers.
The importance of neutral civil servants in a locality increases manifold in the light of a report issued by observers of Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) a network of 30 civil society organisations. The report issued last month says police were harassing supporters of candidates in different constituencies in Punjab and Sindh.
The districts where police were reportedly supporting particular candidates were Chakwal, Mandi Bahauddin, Sargodha, Kasur, Faisalabad, Okara, Rahim Yar Khan, Muzaffargarh, Multan, Rawalpindi, Khanewal, Lahore, Vehari and Jhelum in Punjab and Dadu, Karachi South, Umerkot and Thatha in Sindh.
The FAFEN report adds that police teams raided houses and offices of certain candidates and their supporters in order to recover bank loans. In Sargodha, police baton-charged people who had gathered to attend a corner meeting of a candidate. In Muzaffargarh district, the district police officer (DPO) summoned a candidate and some of his supporters to a park and asked them to withdraw in favour of a PML-Q candidate, the report adds.
Of many election-related complaints, the one regarding fresh recruitments in Attock district have caught immense attention. It has been learnt that the government carried out large number of recruitments ahead of elections as a way of political bribe and to influence the voting pattern of a large number of households in the district.
The sanctioned strength of police in Attock district prior to the commencement of the election process was about 900. 1476 fresh recruits were inducted as constables through an order dated September 27, 2007, less than six weeks ahead of the announcement of the election schedule.
These findings were made by the Citizens Group on Electoral Process (CGEP) that visited Attock districts to find out violations of election rules in the district. CGEP also found out that "on November 20, 2007, the day of the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly, and the very date on which the Election Commission announced the schedule of January 2008 election, all contract employees in the Attock District who were appointed for a period of 5 years had their terms of appointment extended up to 60 years of age -- on the basis of approval given by the previous Chief Minister Punjab, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi (also a candidate on NA 58, Attock-III) to a summary directly sent to him by the DCO Attock."
Secretary, Election Commission, Kanwar Dilshad tells TNS that the departments needing to transfer their employees have been asked to seek prior permission from the CEC. The justifications that the respective governments give carry no weight as such transfers and postings simply fall under the violation of the election rules and the directives of the CEC.
In Sindh, the police continues with its witch-hunt against PPP workers and candidates in what appears to be a politically driven move
By Adeel Pathan
The violence that broke out in the wake of the assassination of former premier and Pakistan People's Party Chairperson Benazir Bhutto seems to have provided those in power a license to victimise the political workers of the party.
Thousands of cases of arson and violence have been registered against the workers and supporters of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) while the civil society members and workers of other parties were also booked under terrorism charges.
According to estimates, more than 0.6 million people have been nominated in these FIRs all over Sindh. Some unconfirmed reports even suggest that the outgoing ruling party coalition was preparing the list of political workers who could be implicated in further cases.
Many elected representatives belonging to PPP -- from union council level to Taluka council level -- are also facing charges of looting and plundering in post Dec-27 incidents.
The process of lodging cases still goes on and the police appears to be taking a clear advantage of the situation to 'punish' the workers, supporters as well as candidates and elected representatives of PPP.
Not only were the PPP workers targeted in these politically driven cases but journalists and even children's names were included in FIRs especially in Tharparkar and Thatta districts.
Other districts where large numbers of cases have been registered are Khairpur, Hyderabad, Dadu, Jamshoro, Ghotki and Sukkur, leaving the poor activists and workers running for their bail before arrests. Those who couldn't get it in time have gone into hiding.
No wonder, such a situation is also hampering the activities that should have marked the upcoming general elections. A majority of the PPP leaders are not in the campaigning field. Instead, their energies are focused on getting bail before arrest so that they can contest elections due on Feb 18.
PPP's Sindh Information Secretary Dr Fehmida Mirza told TNS that there was a growing resentment among party workers because of the cases registered across the province being "baseless".
She added that even though the PPP could do without formally running a campaign -- given the sympathy wave -- the lodging of fake cases had created an atmosphere of menace.
"The campaigns by government-supported candidates are hollow in comparison, because they are only scared of the rising popularity graph of (the late) Ms Bhutto and the PPP itself."
Dr Fehmida blamed the government for "rubbing salt into the wounds of the people by creating a shortage of wheat and flour."
As it is, a number of old cases have also been reopened and party activists and members of civil society implicated.
What is most harrowing is the police in the interior Sindh nominating minors in terrorism cases just to fill in the FIR pages.
For its part, the PPP has formed a legal aid committee that is meant to pursue the cases of the party workers and election candidates.
Ahsan Abro, the divisional president of the Sindh People's Youth Organisation (PPP's youth wing), told TNS that one of the many cases registered against him concerned arson where he was charged with setting on fire the residence of former chief minister Arbab Raheem's brother in Qasimabad.
In yet another case of arson, he was shown as an absconder with no time mentioned as to when the challan was produced.
"This is just meant to harass me and other workers of the party," he said, adding that the case had been registered at the behest of the former chief minister and advisor of Pakistan Muslim League-Q.
He also said that he had left for Larkana after Dec 27, 2007.
"We have requested the party to launch a movement and to talk with the government, but at the same time we would like to remain peaceful. The FIRs and cases are aimed to demoralise us and to stop us from holding (election) campaigns."
On the other end, the workers of PPP are said to be grumbling about the silence of the party leadership over their arrests. Reportedly, they have expressed their willingness to launch an agitational campaign against the government, but so far they have not been given the go-ahead.
One of the PPP frontmen (requesting anonymity) confided in TNS that the leadership would not be able to stop the enraged workers, and that the government alone would be responsible for any consequences whatsoever.
According to Dr Fehmida Mirza, the party has not yet decided about launching an agitation. "Over 0.5 million workers have been booked under anti-terrorism laws, but we are still hopeful that the PPP will make a clean sweep in the elections anyway," she insisted.
Caretaker Federal Minister for Human Rights Ansar Burney along with the Sindh Governor recently gave public reassurances in Hyderabad that justice will be done with all political workers. However, their claims have yielded no results so far.
Human rights watch groups and especially the European Union (EU) election observing missions visiting the Sindh province continue to report incidents and cases that could amount only to pre-poll rigging.
The number of FIRs registered in Punjab is far less than those registered in Sindh
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
As in Sindh, criminal cases have also been registered against a few nominated but largely unknown political workers in Punjab, after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on Dec 27, 2008. The number of FIRs registered in Punjab is, however, much less than those registered in Sindh.
The charges leveled against the accused range from looting, arson and vandalism to damaging public and private property and even attacking the personnel of law enforcement authorities. There are allegations that the police is using blind FIRs as a pretext to raid houses of workers or chase them just to stop them from canvasing for their parties.
Two cases were registered in Islamabad on Jan 29, 2007, against over 200 people on the charges of creating law and order situation and damaging public and private property. Similarly, a large number of PPPP workers were booked in other cities of Punjab. In this context, the report released by the Citizens Group on Electoral Process (CGEP) says a lot. The group formed under the auspices of PILDAT had received complaints from candidates in Attock that they were subjected to excesses and intimidation of police, allegedly at the behest of District Nazim, against his political opponents.
The CGEP visited Attock and found that police had lodged FIRs against the PPP candidates and workers for allegedly wreaking havoc with public and private property. The Group came to know that 3 FIRs were lodged by police, out of which one had been sealed.
"A large number of unnamed people were nominated as culprits, which the opposition candidates alleged, was a ploy to get sweeping access to harass their workers and to lock up any one. The PPP candidates claimed that the police had arrested two workers and released them only the night before," the report claimed.
The CGEP members have pointed out that 16 MPO (Maintenance of Public Order) cannot be used indiscriminately against an unnamed person but can only be invoked against a particular person. However, the three FIRs have a large number of up to 300 persons unnamed accused persons per FIR which means a large number of people can be apprehended at any later date.
In Lahore, a total of 9 FIRs were registered against known and unknown personnel in Lahore on charges of spreading violence after Benazir Bhutto's assassination. These cases registered in Mughalpura, Qila Gujjar Singh, Shafiqabad, Green Town, Naseerabad and North Cantt police stations are against hundreds of accused who were allegedly involved in torching buses, opening fire on police personnel, looting shops and damaging election offices of PML-Q candidates.
What has been handed down to the nation in the form of caretaker governments can, at best, be termed a hotchpotch of political leaders who lack credibility, mainly representing the outgoing ruling party
The 'impartiality' of the caretakers is before everyone to see and analyse, as their balance is tilted heavily in the favour of those political parties that are supportive of President Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf and his policies. So, to say the least, the caretakers themselves pose the most serious challenge to what is their primary responsibility: the holding of free and fair elections.
What has been handed down to the nation in the form of caretaker governments can, at best, be termed a hotchpotch of political leaders who lack credibility, mainly representing the outgoing ruling party (Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid) and its allies (the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the Pakistan People's Party-Patriots, the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, the National People's Party and the Pakistan People's Party-Sherpao, to name a few).
Starting from caretaker Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro to the last rung of the ladder, there are very few names that can even narrowly be defined as impartial -- in essence, capable of ensuring that free and fair elections are held on Feb 18. Even those caretakers who may appear to be gentlemen or gentlewomen otherwise (Defence Minister Salim Abbas Jillani, Foreign Minister Inamul Haque, and Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Syed Afzal Haider to name a few) are found lacking as far as their primary responsibility is concerned. They can, at best, remain neutral in the election process, though even that seems highly unlikely right now considering the overall policies of the caretakers. Any thinking person would wonder, then, why the relatively 'neutral' faces in the crowd of caretakers chose to become a part of such setups in which they had no role at all to play.
A look at the caretaker federal cabinet, which comprises 28 ministers, gives you a fair idea of what is in store for the nation in the forthcoming general elections. It is no secret that Mohammedmian Soomro is affiliated with the PML-Q and is a staunch supporter of Musharraf, who appointed him first as the governor of Sindh and later helped his 'election' as the chairperson of the Senate. For all the favours Musharraf has been doling out to Soomro, it makes perfect sense to expect the latter to oblige those whom the former wants to win the elections.
As if this is not enough, Soomro's sister Maliha Malik and nephew Fahad Malik are contesting the elections from the platform of the King's Party and he is extending full support to them -- as well as other candidates fielded by the PML-Q -- by using his position as the prime minister. Interestingly, Fahad's father-in-law, Syed Wajid Hussain Bokhari, has also been inducted in the Cabinet as minister for Environment, Local Government and Rural Development. Other parties in the election fray have lodged several complaints with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in this regard, but to no avail. Similarly, many other caretaker federal ministers are being accused of supporting their relatives who are contesting the elections, but so far no action has been taken against them. In this context, the demand of the PPP and the PML-N to seize the powers of caretaker ministers seems justifiable.
The situation at the provincial level is even bleaker. Not only are most of the provincial caretaker ministers related to some contestant, the caretaker chief ministers are also controversial on one account or the other. Punjab's caretaker Chief Minister Justice (r) Sheikh Ejaz Nisar is considered to be very close to the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, as he is believed to have given them relief in many banking cases during his tenure as the chief justice of the Lahore High Court.
Balochistan's caretaker Chief Minister Sardar Saleh Mohammad Bhootani is not even a graduate, the basic condition for contesting the elections for the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies. The NWFP's caretaker Chief Minister Shamsul Mulk is known for his pro-Kalabagh Dam views and does not enjoy the trust of most of the people in the province. Sindh's caretaker chief minister Justice (r) Abdul Qadir Halepota is the brother of Ali Ahmed Halipota, the ECP's member from Sindh.
The composition of caretaker governments at the provincial level varies, with Sindh and the NWFP emerging as the most controversial ones. For instance, in Sindh, close relatives of many caretaker ministers are contesting elections -- Shujaat Ali Baig's wife, Khushbakht Shujaat; Arbab Naimatullah's uncle, Arbab Ghulam Rahim; Sibghatullah Rashdi's brother, Sadaruddin Rashdi; Ghulam Rasool Unar's son, Abdul Hafeez Uner; and Ejaz Shah Sherazi's son, brother and nephew. Similarly, in the NWFP, caretaker ministries have been allocated to favourites without any regard for merit. The PPP-S has emerged as the major beneficiary as a result and the ministers hailing from the party -- Syed Kamal Shah, Bakht Baidar and Ejaz Durrani -- are openly supporting their like-minded candidates. In addition, two brothers of Bakhat Baidar are contesting in the elections; and so is another minister Imtiaz Gailani's brother, Iftikhar Gilani.
• District Nazim Gujrat, Chaudhry Shafa'at Hussain's brothers Chaudhry Shuja'at Hussain and Chaudhry Wajahat Hussain are contesting elections from NA-105 and NA-104 respectively, on PML-Q's tickets
• District Nazim Attock, Maj (r) Tahir Sadiq's son-in-law Waseem Gulzar is contesting elections from NA-59, whereas his daughter Eman Waseem is contesting from NA-57 -- both as PML-Q candidates
• District Nazim Faisalabad, Rana Zahid Tauseef's two brothers -- Rana Asif Tauseef and Arif Tauseef -- are contesting from NA-80 and PP-67, on PML-Q's platform
• District Nazim Chakwal, Sardar Ghulam Abbas's brother Sardar Nawab Khan is a PML-Q candidate for National Assembly (NA)
• District Nazim Sargodha, Inamul Haq Paracha's nephew Haroon Paracha is contesting for NA on PML-Q's ticket
• District Nazim Gujranwala, Fayyaz Chattha's father Hamid Nasir Chattha is a PML-Q candidate for the NA
• District Nazim Khanewal, Ahmed Yaar Heraj's family members Raza Heraj and Hamid Yaar Heraj are contesting for two NA seats on the platform of PML-Q
• District Nazim Rahimyar Khan, Rafiq Haider Laghari's son Arsalan Haider Laghari is contesting for PP-295 on PML-Q ticket
• District Nazim Jhelum, Chaudhry Farrukh Altaf's paternal uncle Chaudhry Shahbaz is contesting for two constituencies NA-62 and NA-63 on PML-Q's platform
• District Nazim Hafizabad, Mubashar Abbas Bhatti's close relatives Shaukat Bhatti and Liaquat Bhatti are contesting elections as PML-Q candidates
• District Nazim Jacobabad, Maliha Malik's daughter and Caretaker Prime Minister Muhammad Mian Soomro's sister is contesting elections
• District Nazim Ghotki, Sardar Ali Gohar Maher's brothers -- former Sindh Chief Minister Ali Muhammad Maher and Raja Maher -- are contesting elections from Ghotki
• District Nazim Dadu, Karim Ali Jatoi's father -- former federal minister Liaquat Ali Jatoi -- is contesting elections. Liaquat Jatoi's two brothers -- Sadaqat Jatoi and Ahsan Jatoi --are also participating in elections from Dadu
• District Nazim Shikarpur, Arif Maher's father Ghous Bux Maher is contesting elections
• District Nazim Qambar-Shahdadkot, Nawab Shabbir Chandio's two sons are contesting elections
• District Nazim Naushero, Feroze Aqib Jatoi's uncle Ghulam Murtaza Jatoi is contesting elections
• District Nazim Sukkur, Syed Nasir Hussain Shah is actively campaigning for his nephew Syed Javed Shah
• District Nazim Khairpur, Pir Niaz Hussain Shah is campaigning for his brother
-- A. Sahi