x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Referendum to test Taliban's popularity called for in Pakistan

A Pakistani political party announced an unofficial nationwide 'referendum' asking people if they want the country to follow the ideology of the Taliban or the vision of the nation's founder.

KARACHI // A Pakistani political party announced an unofficial nationwide "referendum" asking people if they want the country to follow the ideology of the Taliban or the vision of the nation's founder.

The secular Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), an ally of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), has been critical of the Taliban and last week the militants threatened to attack the party.

The Taliban earned condemnation last month when they tried to kill the schoolgirl activist Malala Yousufzai in the Swat Valley.

Pakistan has been torn by violence in recent years, with more than 5,200 people killed since 2007.

Faisal Sabzwari, an MQM leader and the provincial minister for youth affairs in Sindh, said the poll was an attempt to harness public opinion against the extremists.

"We are holding the referendum to build an opinion among the fellow countrymen and women whether they want a Pakistan of Taliban or a Pakistan of Mohammad Ali Jinnah," he said.

Jinnah, commonly often referred to as Quaid-e-Azam or Great Leader, led the creation of Pakistan as a homeland for Muslims in 1947 in the partition of British India.

"Quaid-e-Azam founded a country for everyone without the discrimination of faith, caste and creed. We want that Pakistan," Mr Sabzwari said.

He said the party was preparing to hold voting at its offices and other places in the country. Voting online and by SMS would also be possible, he said.

"We are doing all this to save innocent lives, our schools and our tolerant mode of living."

Security arrangements at MQM's offices had been tightened, officials said. MQM's power base lies in the urban centres of southern Sindh province, particularly Karachi.