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Pondering Pakistani Politics

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By Raheel Raza *   

As Pakistanis hunkered down for an election in which for the first time in 65 years, one elected government will hand over power to another elected government, I’ve been watching from afar and thinking about what we’ve seen unfold in the past year. Sometimes those of us who are physically at a distance can get an objective bird’s eye view.

Since we left Pakistan in 1978, there has always been nostalgia for what we were However we’ve seen the steady decline of our land of birth. Institutions crumbled; politicians got richer and more corrupt; the law & order situation made the Wild West look like Disneyland; religiosity was on the rise and people labelled Pakistan a failed state – some in the West even calling it the “Frenemy” (friendly enemy).

We have lived through the changing colours of the political landscape in Pakistan watching as leader after leader molested the country, leaving its masses beleaguered, confused and economically destitute while they filled their own coffers with empty promises of change.

Today there’s a sense of déjà vu as I see a frenzy of activity among young and old, passions running high and emotions on a tight rope for a “Naya” (new) Pakistan. However the naya Pakistan has the same ‘purana’ (old) politics and some of the same people running for elections who originally brought the country to the brink of destruction.

Leading up to these elections, there was a rush of violence unleashed on the people of Pakistan and we kept wondering why the ‘establishment’ a.k.a. the army and ISI were not doing anything? Even Imran Khan stayed silent on issues of the minority Ahmaddiya for example and let the religious right have their way. One would question why a reasonably honest educated man; darling of millions would stay silent on some of the most gruesome events leading to this election? Pathetic moves like kidnapping of the ex PM’s son have had not a peep from the ‘establishment’.

One particular point to note is that the three secular parties (PPP, ANP & MQM) were the ones who got trashed the most and their candidates regularly molested, some killed. You would think the establishment & law enforcement agencies would condemn the violence and take action. But they turned a blind eye to the violence.

There are two leading candidates: Mian Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. In my opinion, whoever wins this election will form the government in coalition with fringe religious parties, causing horse trading and floor crossing to begin with gusto. Some parties have even fielded candidates from banned extremist organizations to run in the election!

There is a method to this madness!

The answer to this dilemma dawned after reading various brilliant opinion columns by Pakistani thinkers themselves. What’s unfolding in Pakistan is not about a ‘Naya’ Pakistan. The focus of the ‘establishment’ is not to better the misery of the masses, but much more far sighted. Let’s segue to 2014 when the Americans leave Afghanistan. Pakistan has a very close vested interest in Afghanistan and the only way they will be able to bring the Taliban back to power is to support the religious right. Ergo the religious right WILL be in power after this election playing the game of cat and mouse once again as our history has shown.

As I said in my interview on Pakistan day this year, what makes a country strong is not individuals but institutions. This is why we don’t see the larger interest of the people as an election mandate. Let’s not forget that if the candidates had wanted a strong and free Pakistan, the issues that should have been up front and center in these elections would have been women’s rights; education; land reforms; a free judiciary; minority rights and freedom of religion.

Nevertheless, the most positive thing that has happened is Pakistanis are politically active and are going to vote because it’s only a sustaining democracy that can bring about change for a long term future. For better or for worse, its’ their choice.

What’s Ahead?

Pakistan came of age in these elections. Challenges are many: the war on the terrorists and the economy to name the top two….the latter is linked to the first. But in voting in the numbers they did - 60% turnout, it is said, which if true makes it historic - Pakistanis said they would not be cowed down. Taliban now face even a more resolute nation.

Secondly, as all the major political parties (those who won and those who lost) have accepted the results in general (if not in particular), political legitimacy and stability will continued to be ensured going forward.

Imran Khan did a Herculean service by getting the voters out, by energizing our youth and by bringing out for the first time our politically lazy and disengaged elite to vote. Of course, the energy he imparted coursed through the whole body politic and the higher turnout helped PML(N) as much, if not more, as PTI.

President Zardari deserves special credit for bringing Pakistan to this stage of political maturity where power will peacefully be transferred from one elected government to another for the first time in the country’s history. He shares this credit with General Kayani, Chief Justice Chaudhry, Nawaz Sharif, Asfandyar Wali and Altaf Hussain.

Political power is diffused in Pakistan so all mandates would have to be respected by PML(N), not just its own. And PML(N) and its leader Nawaz Sharif would have to show similar fortitude in the face of harsh criticism as PPP and President Zardari did for the past five years. And also similar tolerance and flexibility to its opponents and to the competing institutions (the Army and the Judiciary) as PPP and President Zardari did.

It is the politics, stupid!!

Now that we are beginning to get our politics right, and now that the people have experienced directly that they have the power (tremendous power) to punish mis-governance, the good, God willing, will follow the Pakistani nation…….in time. In that time it would demand continued patience, sacrifice and a steady hand on the steering. Perhaps then we may finally have the luxury to say, "It is the economics, stupid!!"

* Raheel Raza is author of “Their Jihad – Not My Jihad”, a public speaker, activist for human rights and diversity consultant. Being  a strong advocate of gender equality, she is the first Muslim woman to lead ‘mixed gender’ prayers in Canada. Raheel is of the Council of Muslims Facing Tomorrow, Canada.


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