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Under Taliban shadow, Pak parties fighting to keep democracy alive

Under Taliban shadow, Pak parties fighting to keep democracy alive

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Islamabad:  Pakistan is set for historic election on Saturday but the attacks on politicians and political parties seem to have dented the confidence of many contestants.

In the last few weeks, at least 95 people have been killed and over 350 injured in election-related attacks on three major political parties, preventing many candidates from campaigning openly. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for most of the attacks.

Only big political parties like the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and Pakistan Muslim League led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are holding public rallies. The rest - like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) - are confined to corner meetings.

The Pakistani Taliban have condemned Saturday's elections as un-Islamic and directly threatened the main parties in the outgoing coalition, the PPP, the MQM and the ANP.

"The Taliban are targeting all the parties who are having a modern, moderate, progressive, democratic and secular agenda. We have lost 64 workers since March 1. But we won't surrender before Taliban and we'll definitely take part in the elections," said Haider Abbas Rizvi, leader, MQM.

Targeted repeatedly, the PPP and the ANP say this is not an election but a selection.

They say with US troops pulling out of neighbouring Afghanistan next year, there is a sinister plan to install a right wing Parliament in Pakistan - a Parliament that may be sympathetic to the Taliban.

Former Punjab Governor Latif Khosa of the PPP even accuses key rival, Nawaz Sharif's PML-N, of backing the homegrown Punjabi Taliban.

"The PML-N has always come into power through backdoor channels, through the military dictators and other conspiracies. This time they have a new phenomenon here. This time you see the radicals and terrorists are completely backing them," said Mr Khosa.
Despite all odds, Pakistan is ready to go to polls - the country's first to decide on a transition between civilian governments. With 32 years of dictatorship behind them, both politicians and their voters want nothing more than for democracy to continue at all costs.

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