The Pakistan National Forum (PNF) organised a series of meetings to discuss the various aspects of parliamentary elections, reportedly, scheduled for March 2013. The forum is represented by all segments of the civil society comprising two tiers.

The first deals with common people to understand their problems and views about the present state of governance in the country.

The second deals with specialists working in various fields to ensure national security and help promote good governance by all stakeholders.

For this purpose, special sessions of the PNF’s National Security Special Committee (NSSC), comprising former federal and provincial ministers and governors, retired chief justices of the Supreme and High Courts, ex-officers of the armed services and bureaucracy, and legal and foreign policy experts, are held every month to evaluate different aspects of national power.

The committee’s latest meeting was held on February 13, 2013, to examine several issues that directly or indirectly impacted the election process and steps underway by the concerned authorities, especially the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), to ensure a smooth transfer of power through the ballot box. Riaz Ahmad Sheikh, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, presided over the meeting.

Syed Fakhar Imam, former National Assembly Speaker, rightly, stressed on the announcement of the caretaker setup and the date of the polls by the PPP-led coalition government to put an end to the uncertain atmosphere prevailing in the state. Indeed, these will be positive steps to strengthen democracy.

Next, the escalating tensions on the eastern and western borders and their implications, in addition to the situation in Karachi, Balochistan and Fata that has assumed alarming proportions and is a threat to Pakistan’s internal security, were discussed by the participants.

The reported conditional ceasefire offer made by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to Islamabad was also on the meeting’s agenda. According to media reports, the Awami National Party (ANP), perhaps without doing any fact checking, called the All Parties Conference (APC) in Islamabad and recommended that the offer be accepted. However, the TTP’s spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, on February 15, stated: “The APC called by the ANP to discuss the issue of terrorism has no significance…….We are still waiting for a serious response from the Pakistani government.”

Prior to this, the participants of the meeting (held on February 13) after thorough debate concluded that agreeing to any such offer without solid guarantees may lead to catastrophic consequences. The TTP leaders must first agree to lay down their arms and show allegiance to the state of Pakistan before peace talks could take place.

In a 13-point declaration about the 2013 polls, the participants urged the government and the organs of the state to adhere strictly to the responsibilities specified in the constitution, without intruding into each other’s domain. It, indeed, is important for the strengthening of democracy.

Also, the holding of general elections on time without any delay is essential for the promotion of democratic norms. Failure to do so will likely result in further chaos and lawlessness in the country.

As far as the issue of new provinces is concerned, the forum recommended that this sensitive issue may be postponed for the newly-elected Parliament. The members made several recommendations on the ways to scrutinise the candidates that will participate in the elections.

Finally, the committee discouraged attempts made by certain quarters to raise controversies about the composition of the Election Commission of Pakistan, as it will disturb the electoral process. It is hoped that the polls will be held on schedule and in a peaceful environment.

The writer is president of the Pakistan National Forum.  Email: ikramullahkhan1@yahoo.com