I traveled through Pakistan for two weeks in late February and early March—a time of particular violence in a country that has suffered much of it in the recent past, in which a common thread in conversations was fear about the forthcoming national vote. “It is going to be a violent election,” a magazine editor told me. And many others echoed him, citing Taliban threats to attack a process they deemed un-Islamic and political parties using violence as a campaign tactic, especially in the edgy city of Karachi, with its ethnically and politically fractured populace. Then, on Saturday, May 11th, Pakistan came out to vote. It was the first time in the country’s turbulent history that a civilian government completed a five-year term in power without being overthrown in a military coup or deposed by a President working in tandem with the military. The past five years have seen a democratically run government, but have also been an era of inflation, low economic growth and intense violence, building up a sense of frustration and certain desperation to change things for better.
In some places, the fears were realized. By the evening, twenty-two people were killed in attacks on voters across the country. In the frontline city of Peshawar, a motorcycle bomb, planted near a polling booth set aside for women, injured eight. In the final two weeks of campaigning, around a hundred and thirty people were killed in terror attacks. Six hundred thousand security and police personnel were deployed to safeguard the voters and the polling booths.
Yet on Saturday, Pakistan was overwhelmed by an enthusiastic outpouring of voters across classes and ethnicities. Some waited for hours to get into the polling booths. Some walked miles, in temperatures ranging from a hundred to a hundred and ten degrees Farenheit. Some had flown from U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, and the United States, taking time off from their jobs, to be able to cast their votes and make a statement in favour of sustained civilian rule, in hope of a better Pakistan.
One of the Pakistanis who partly lives abroad is the London-based novelist, Kamila Shamsie, the author, most recently, of “Burnt Shadows.” Shamsie had returned to her city, Karachi, before the elections. As she left home to vote, she began to tweet #pollingboothtales describing the atmosphere. Shamsie was moved by a mass turnout of women voters: “They came in niqab, they came in hijab, they came in combat trousers and even a kaftan,” she tweeted.
Full Article: A Heady Vote in Pakistan : The New Yorker.