Elections are looming in Pakistan, set to be held on May 11th, and while many observers are cautiously optimistic that this could be the nation’s first true democratic election, many observers are warning. The Commission on International Freedom has released a report warning that the risks to minorities in Pakistan is reaching a crisis level. This comes at a time when the Taliban and other terrorist organizations are launching renewed efforts to disrupt elections.

Pakistan elections

Violence Against Minorities In Pakistan

The report, which analyzed events up until January 31st of this year, found that ethnic violence has reached “unprecedented” levels. Most of the violence has been directed against Pakistan’s Shia minority. For those unfamiliar with Islam, Sunni and Shia split in the years following the death of the Prophet Mohammad largely due to differences in the order of the caliphates (early Islamic rulers) and interpretations of various aspects of Islamic culture and religion.

Election seasons are now stirring up passions as politicians attempt to play off partisan and racial politics. The same is proving true in Pakistan with increasing levels of rhetoric used to stir up tribal and other ethnic tensions in order to secure votes. While politicians may be more interested in securing votes than actually setting off racial conflicts, the potential for talk spilling over into rioting and ethnic reprisals is increasing in the run up to the election.

So far most of the violence has been against the Shia minority. Tensions could escalate, however, and break out along tribal lines. This could increase violence levels across the country and even derail the democratic process. Pakistan has a long history of tribal and religious conflicts and elections often stir up strong emotions. North West Pakistan, often viewed as the conservative hinterland of the nation, is especially problematic as the national government has only limited control of the area.

Not only that, but terrorist organizations, including the Taliban, are now targeting more liberal Pakistani politicians in an effort to get to them through intimidation or murder. The organization has stated that it does not support democracy, which is for “Jews and Christians” and that it will work to ultimately undermine democratic processes.

Numerous attacks have been carried out in recent days and there is a high risk of large scale bombings during the election itself, which will be held on May 11th. On Sunday, eight people were killed in a pair of bombings in Northwest Pakistan targeting independent candidates. This brings the death toll related to the Taliban’s activities in the run up to the election to 46 people.

Will Pakistan’s first uninterrupted Democratic hand off of power actually occur? And if so, will it be a cause of celebration or mired with violence? While the country is looking to step up security, the risk of bombs, rioting, and other forms of violence will only continue to increase as election day draws nearer. And if passions spill over or the Taliban moves to disrupt the elections, the death toll could mount.