Pakistan in Transformation

*This article originally appeared in and has been republished with permission.


Founded in 1947, Pakistan has traveled a troublesome road.

For approximately thirty-five of its sixty-six years in existence, four different military dictatorships have ruled the country.

Even under civilian rule, the country has been gripped by political instability, with governments subject to intrigues and interventions by Pakistan’s powerful military establishment.

In light of the Arab Spring, many Arab nations have been compared to the country, especially regarding the military’s involvement in politics.

Nevertheless, despite Pakistan’s many challenges, there has been a lack of attention to contemporary developments in the country, which represent nothing less than a silent revolution.

Pakistan is in transformation.

Democratic Political Evolution:

In 2008, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was elected to office. The civilian government brought an end to the military dictatorship of then Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf, which had started nearly a decade earlier.

Five years later, in May 2013, Pakistan held its next scheduled round of parliamentary elections, making the PPP the first democratically-elected civilian government in the country’s history to complete its full term.

While this was an important milestone, it was also a bittersweet moment of reflection for ordinary Pakistani citizens.

An excerpt from Omar Waraich’s TIME’s article “Two Cheers for Pakistani Democracy: A Sobering Milestone” may help in explaining these sentiments:

‘Public resentment has been fed by an endless litany of problems: enduring power shortages (up to 18 hours a day at the peak of summer); the failure to curb terrorist attacks, protect religious minorities and formulate a coherent anti-terrorism strategy; a slow and weak response to the floods; sluggish economic growth, a bloated public sector, cresting inflation; and tales of legendary corruption, carving out private fortunes from a treasury to which they scandalously pay little in tax

In the words of Huma Yusuf, a Pakistani policy analyst: “It’s a true milestone that signals an emerging consensus that democracy is the right governing system for Pakistan. There’s a long way yet to go.”

Having suffered greatly under the previous administration, Pakistanis jumped at the opportunity to vote the incumbent PPP government out during the elections held on May 11. Recording an impressive voter turn-out of 55%, the contest set Pakistan on a new path.

The elections were largely peaceful with the EU Mission finding that 90% of polling stations exhibited satisfactory electoral conduct.

Braving security risks, terrorist threats, the sweltering heat of May and an entrenched sense of indifference, the people boldly gave their vote of confidence to democracy. In doing so, they rejected and repudiated perceptions that countries like Pakistan are ‘not ready for democracy’.

An unprecedented feat, the elections marked the peaceful transition from one elected government to another. In the process, these events resulted in a notable win for the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) and Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, the party head and former twice-elected prime minister, was elected prime minister for the third time.

The PML-N is generally seen as a moderate party. Before being ousted by General Pervez Musharraf in the coup of 1999, it was  previously voted into power in 1990 and 1997, and it is, to date, the only party in the history of the country to have a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Since the coup, it has reiterated its commitment to democracy and complete opposition to any undemocratic intervention in Pakistan’s politics and government.


A number of misconceptions about Pakistan’s state structure must be clarified to understand the changes currently occurring in the country as well as its democratic, political and social development.

In contrast to popular assumptions, with only one exception, Pakistanis have never elected an Islamist government or been ruled by Islamists. General Zia-ul-Haq, a military dictator without electoral legitimacy who ruled from 1978 until his death in an air crash 1988, is the one aberration.

While religious parties have wielded great power at the grassroots level and mastered the art of populist rhetoric, they have managed to grab only a meager amount of votes in elections.

This might explain the eagerness of religious parties in Pakistan to offer their services to military-run governments, which represent their best chance of sharing in governance processes.

Along with having vital, functioning state institutions, since the 1970s, Pakistan has had a proper, popularly accepted constitution in place, although numerous military interventions in politics have prevented its proper implementation from occurring. In recent years however the activist judiciary and media have resulted in greater accountability towards the ideals the constitution upholds.

In contrast to the gloom and doom that many believe indefinitely prevails in the country, Pakistan today hosts a vibrant, free, and fledgling independent print and electronic media; an active judiciary that respects the importance of the rule of law; an army that has begun to receive scrutiny and that has, at least ostensibly, taken a back-seat in politics; a robust opposition in parliament; and a vigilant network of citizens on social media who generously indulge in the country’s relative freedom of expression.

Pakistanis are also looking forward to the trial of Musharraf, under house arrest since his return this year on charges of deposing and arresting the judiciary in 2007 (in response to which the Movement for the Restoration of the Judiciary, popularly known as the Lawyers’ Movement, which ran from 2007 to 2009). He is also to face justice in connection with the murder of both Benazir Bhutto and the Baloch leader, Akbar Bugti; both cases in which he has been named the prime suspect.

Pakistan is a country that is continually learning the prerequisites for successful democracy: consensus-building, collaboration, dialogue, and inclusiveness.

This developing view can be seen in the country’s eighteenth constitutional amendment. Passed in 2012, the new law curbed the president’s sweeping powers to unilaterally dissolve the parliament, which had caused much havoc in the preceding years.

Population and Social Characteristics:

Pakistan enjoys massive human capital that has heretofore been hindered by political crises and widespread unemployment.

It is home to a population of 190 million people. Seventy million of these individuals are part of the country’s middle class, while 16 million have access to the Internet. 67.1% of Pakistanis are below the age of thirty.

The country is urbanizing at the fastest rate in South Asia. Half the population will live in cities by 2025, up one-third from current figures.

Pakistan has a burgeoning textile industry and immense potential to be an emerging market. It has women who serve both on political and combat frontlines and has produced a Nobel Laureate and two Oscar winners.

Conclusion: A Difficult Country

Yet side by side with these signs of success are the other, alarming aspects of Pakistan’s character.

Today, the country stands at the convergence of many grave social, political, and economic issues. It faces challenges from the dual monstrosity that is terrorism and extremism; an acute imbalance between military-civilian relations; corruption and venality; an economic breakdown; societal decadence; bureaucratic infighting; and hurdles in its geopolitical relations.

Just as the Arab world is in the throes of revolution and rebellion today, Pakistan also seeks a break from its own past, which is riddled with instability, uncertainty, contempt of law, and dictatorial violations of the sanctity and soul of the country.

This year’s democratic transition brings with it the hope that Pakistan will finally close the chapter on its history of military intervention in politics. It also indicates the emergence of a democratic culture in a place where the rule of law had long been subordinate.

Pakistan’s new government may not entirely cure its problems but that these historic elections have occurred is an achievement in itself. Indeed, it represents a much-needed first step in the right direction.

The world should embrace Pakistan as it finally embraces democracy.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Tackling The Disease of Desensitization and Its Effects by Activism in Pakistan

The Arab Spring, a Christian terrorist overturning notions of associating extremism to a single race and religion and last if not the least, the London riots [ that should be finally putting to rest the practice of describing particular cultures and people of possessing a ‘special traditional proclivity’ to behave in such a manner thus deeming them inherently uncivilized ] – 2011 has been more or less, a year defined by change.

But for Pakistan, it has represented nothing but a painful aggravation of political, economic and social instability.

From Salman Taseer’s cold-blooded assassination, the ‘Raymond Davis Saga’, Operation in Abbotabad for Osama Bin Laden to the paroxysms of violence in Karachi exploding to become a siege of a  reign of terror in the city.

Incidents of brutalities have now merged into the routines of the Pakistani, developing a great sense of vulnerability.


Also, the budding yet professionally weak media has caused an over-exposure of barbarities to people of all age groups, to the extent of imbuing [ albeit unintentionally one might suppose, in regard to how frequent such happenings take place in Pakistan; making their inclusion in the daily news  permanent] dispassion and insouciance in them towards occurrences that should naturally elicit responses of shock and leave one in a jarring spell.

Coupled with these, the contagion of being stung by the helplessness of not being able to stop this savagery has contributed immensely to the epidemic of hopelessness in the country.
The convergence of all these has affected the country, inevitably, with the disease of desensitization.

Joseph Stalin is to have allegedly said:

‘The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.’

Nothing better illustrates the human propensity of desensitization. The human mind perceives a single death or loss with genuine compassion and sympathy but when it comes to a loss of more lives, it simply can not grasp it with the same rush of emotions.
The grip of those emotions loosens with the loss being bigger.

Keith Payne, a social psychologist, excellently notes in an article of his ‘Why is the death of one million a statistic; Why we feel the least when we are needed the most.’ :

‘Joseph Stalin is reputed to have said that the death of one person is a tragedy; the death of one million is a statistic. And Mother Teresa once said, “If I look at the mass I will never act.”
When Stalin and Mother Teresa agree on a point, I sit up and pay attention. It turns out that the human tendency to turn away from mass suffering is well documented. Deborah Small and Paul Slovic have termed this phenomenon the collapse of compassion.
It’s not simply that as the number of victims goes up, people’s sympathy levels off. No, when the numbers go up, the amount of sympathy people feel goes perversely down..’

One witnesses the very ‘Collapse of compassion’ in Pakistanis as the state of Karachi  deteriorates and corpses over corpses pile up as the result of being caught up in the crossfire between the thugs, goons of different political parties fighting for the hegemony of the city.

‘The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said 800 people have been killed in Karachi so far this year, compared with 748 in 2010’. With some reporting the number to be 1450 on social networking sites. 

Changing channels, shifting the topic of conversation and blocking all confabulations related to Karachi are the new trends for coping with the reality of the ‘City of Lights’ having been made into nothing but a graveyard where some of the living reside. This also applies to the killings in Balochistan, murders of Hazaras and suicide attacks.

This desensitization has also given birth to the ‘Bystander Effect’ becoming widespread in Pakistan of which beastialities such as that which took place in Sialkot are a consequence.

At  TEDxPSU, Sam Richards says in ‘A Radical Experiment in Empathy’:

‘Step outside of your tiny little world. Step inside the tiny little world of somebody else. And then do it again, and do it again and do it again. And suddenly all of these tiny little worlds they come together in this complex world and they build this big complex world…Attend to other lives, other visions’.

By turning away from the cruelties in Karach or elsewhere in this manner, one insults the humanity that is within all since birth. Pakistanis need to abandon this desensitization and find the empathy that they have lost.

If people are affected adveresly in any place in Pakistan, nonchalance towards them is nonchalance towards the whole of the country because those people and that place too, is a part of the country.

The inferno that has set ablaze different areas of Pakistan will eventually devour all of the country if the pathetic numbness towards it is maintained by the rest of the nation while it chars countless Pakistanis mentally, physically and emotionally.

Tahmina Durrani wrote in the last pages of ‘My Feudal Lord’ :

‘Silence condones injustice, breeds subservience and fosters malignant hypocrisy’

 This silence, fathered by despair arising from the feeling that the people are powerless, needs to be torn too.

It wouldn’t be fallacious to say that it is Pakistan’s mortifyingly obscene acclimation and acquiescence with the exacerbation of the state of affairs around them that has quite generously contributed to their greater intensification and added to the confidence of the perpetrators and miscreants.

Condemnable compliance with the worsening environment has been once again, been jumbled with heroic grit and resilience.

The Quran states:

‘Verily Allah Will Not Change The Conditions of Those Who Do Not Wish To Change Their Conditions Themselves.’ [13:11]

This isn’t a mere message for only Muslims but for all mankind, keeping in mind that it is a fact.

Unless and until the people themselves transform their wish to change their conditions into action, all will remain static and stagnant.

An invitation to a colloquium ‘Public Action in Pakistan: Vacillating between Apathy and Anger’ faultlessly elucidated the problem in Pakistan:

‘While noticing the non-presence of robust movements of social action in Pakistan, the academic wisdom identifies the supposedly widespread ‘apathy’ towards public action in Pakistani society as one of the major reasons.
Dubbed at times as social malady, many observers claim that apathy is a commonly observed phenomenon in developing countries. Its symptoms include lack of participation and social responsibility resulting in meek public actions, allowing either the status quo or worsening of individual rights and civil liberties.

It is indeed true that the pattern of public reaction in Pakistan is sewn on its oscillation between anger and apathy, eventually halting at inaction and so, there is a striking void left by the nonexistence of dynamic social movements/activism. Social malady at its best.

One may attribute this to six factors;

1. Economic Conditions: most Pakistanis are engrossed in earning enough to put a four-square meal on the tables for their children and affording the basic necessities of life.

2. Discouraging situations in the country, desensitization and lack of trust in the elected representatives in regard to the possibility of their demands being fulfilled even if social movements are initiated or of a change occurring.

3. Disinterest and apathy: Many merely believe that the country is already in an abyss of disaster and the chances of bringing a change have dispersed into nothingness. This despondency lures them into adopting and accepting inertia.

4. Lack of appropriate knowledge pertaining to social actions: Majority in Pakistan wants to contribute in making a difference but they seek a set of guidelines, information and a direction for this [ Ways in which they could participate in social movements/groups/NGOs etc] which none have thought of providing them even now.

5. Limited vision and objectives of existing activist organizations that either do not strive to involve more people with them or are not determined enough to bring their organization or cause into peoples’ attention.

6. Political idealism: The general perception in Pakistan is that a change can only be brought through political means and figures even in matters of the society and community that they are well-capable of changing themselves.

Anyhow, what must be realized is that the public reaction in Pakistan must stop swinging and swaying between anger and apathy and must be converted into social activism and public action.

Be it in the form of peaceful protests, strikes, boycotts, demonstrations or internet activism. People must learn to register their dissent, initiate plans to make their demands met and must not be desensitized into inaction which has paralyzed the country.

Can one expect the politicians elected from the people to lend the mayhem, that has cloaked this country, some consideration if the people themselves do not seem to be burdened with the distress for it?

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” — Edmund Burke.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

For Syria, It Shall Be Hamza Al-Khateeb!

This is Hamza Al-Khateeb, a 13 year-old Syrian boy who marched with his family in a rally to break the siege of the city of Daraa. On April 29th,  he was detained with hundreds of other Syrians during the massacre of Siada [ where citizens of Deraa were randomly killed by Syrian security forces] .

His whereabouts were unknown until 25th May, when his dead body was delivered to his family – swollen with bruises with countless marks of torture, his gentials cut off [ Its being said, he was shot after this brutality ] and disfiguired due to decay.

This is the video of his body [ Extremely graphic ] :

Hamza is one of the thousands murdered savagely by the Syrian Forces [ Which is almost a mafia system under the command of the Assad Family, their cronies and mainly Maher Al-Assad who heads the 4th Divison – the most ruthless of all ] to smother the rebellion that erupted in the country on 15 March 2011 as part of the Arab revolutions that raged into an inferno this year.

Beginning with laying sieges to cities; cutting of water and electricity in the city of Daraa along with confiscation of flour and food. [ Similar situations occured in Homs, Baniyas, Hama, Talkalakh, Latakia, the Midan and Duma districts of Damascus, and several other towns ] – Bashar’s regime expanded and ran a whole gamut of inhuman tactics from flagrant killings, detentions, piling up of dead bodies in refrigerators to myriad of cases of unimagineable barbarity.

Bashar, whose quite the chip of the old block , is like all other despots clinging onto authority and declaring the revolution as a ploy by ‘armed terrorist groups’ as both to justify the crackdown on the people and display the revolt which calls for his removal in their list of demands – as a threat to the world posed by ‘terrorists’ who might takeover if he leaves.

The people of Syria, Libya and Yemen need to be supported wholly in their fight for liberation against the savages that have been throttling them since ages and in their struggle for basic human rights, social justice, freedom of expression, action and the right to take back the power to rule their countries.

As for Syria, Mosa’ab Elshamy [ One of the prominent youth activists in Egypt who took part in the revolution and has been just released after being detained for protesting infront of the Israeli Embassy on Nakba Day] aptly put it :

‘ Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi. Egypt, Khaled Saeed. Syria, Hamza El Khateeb.’



~ Hafsa Khawaja

* Also, a thank you to @tweets4peace for helping me with this!


 Updated: It surfaced yesterday that Shahd, a beautiful 5 year old Yemeni girl was martyred due to the attack on Alhasba.

Oh and, will the West that claims to be the torch-bearer of All-that-is-right-and-good please raise its voice against these Heads of States/terrorists too, on whose head they kept their hands as Godfathers?