Pakistan in Transformation


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

427136_10151039860712983_247076754_n

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.

Misconceptions:

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

Advertisements

Political Expediency & Abetting Extremism in Pakistan


*First published on Borderline Green.

__________

With the arrival of 2013 and fast-approaching elections scheduled for the year, the political environment in Pakistan is heating up. Recently, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) which is in government presently, announced an alliance with the Sunni Ittehad Council.

ppp-sunni

In view of the political season, this would be seen as a conventional electoral alliance, except that it isn’t.

In early January 2011, Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who belonged to Pakistan People’s Party himself, was gunned down in broad daylight by his guard Malik Mumtaz Qadri due to his vehement opposition to the country’s controversial Blasphemy Laws. An incident which intensely polarized the Pakistani society, leaving its fault lines exposed; with the people divided over antipathy to the killing and shockingly, raising justifications for it on religious grounds.

A product of this polarization, the Sunni Ittehad Council, amongst the other hordes, thronged to the court where Qadri was later presented to hail, cheer and garland him. Later, they held rallies in his support.

Despite being small, like all religious parties in Pakistan, the Sunni Ittehad Council has great street power stemming from the country being deeply religious (over 95% in Pakistan are Muslims) and have considerable organizational capacity and ability. Although, for reasons otherwise, this power of the religious parties does not translate into a significant percentage of votes at elections.

In 2001, the Sunni Ittehad Council(SIC) launched a *’Difa-e-Pakistan’ (Defense of Pakistan) campaign that was aimed at creating public awareness against NATO attacks on Pakistan’s border military posts in Mohmand Agency. Also involving participation in a ‘Condemn America Day’.

Despite this, it was revealed after SIC’s support for Qadri that the U.S government had given aid to them in 2009 to plan and organize nationwide rallies, demonstrations and protests against militants, suicide-bombings and terrorist attacks.

A report on the matter says:

A US diplomat said that the embassy had given money to the group to organise the rallies, but that it had since changed direction and leadership. He said it was a one-off grant, and wouldn’t be repeated.

The Ittehad council was formed in 2009 to counter extremism. It groups politicians and clerics from Pakistan’s traditionalist Barelvi Muslim movement, often referred to as theological moderates in the Pakistani context.

Taseer’s assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, is a Barelvi. He claimed he acted to defend the honour of Prophet Mohammed.

At its rallies, the group (Sunni Ittehad Council) maintains its criticism of the Taliban even as it supports Qadri — a seemingly contradictory stance that suggests its leaders may be more interested in harnessing the political support and street power of Barelvis than in genuinely countering militancy.

For many, this indicated that Sunni Ittehad Council’s ardent antagonism towards militancy was somewhat, a dollar-fueled programme or play that they merely executed and orchestrated.

In response to the revelation, the head of the council Sahibzada Fazal Karim said:

This propaganda is being unleashed against us because we are strongly opposed to Western democracy and American policies in the region and in the world.. we are against extremism, but we support Qadri because he did a right thing,”

The Sunni Ittehad Council also strongly denounced any move to grant India the status of Most Favored Nation by Pakistan as means of liberalizing trade between the countries which it is firmly against.

Scholars and clerics from the SIC were part of the Islamic clerics in Pakistan which publicly denounced and even issued a fatwa against the Taliban’s attempt to kill Malala Yousafzai. Many people and skeptics see these occasional stances of theirs as a smokescreen to appear religiously moderate and politically progressive.

What makes this alliance stand out is the popular perception, at home and especially abroad, of the Pakistan People’s Party as a liberal or a relatively liberal party in Pakistan: one that has suffered the losses of many of its members and leaders to the rage of extremism, including its chairperson and the Muslim world‘s first female prime minister, the iconic Benazir Bhutto, due to its liberal and staunchly anti-extremist stances. But the  PPP has continually belied this image with its decisions and reactions to events in this tenure, that astoundingly go uncritically unquestioned by Pakistan’s otherwise vocal intellectuals.

PML ASWJ articleIt is not just the PPP which has formed such an alliance, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz or PML-N is also widely known to be on cordial terms with and to have reached a political consensus over seat adjustments for the upcoming general elections with the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. The SSP, which resurged by changing its name to ‘Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat’ in order to display organizational differentiation – from the SSP which was banned under Musharraf’s rule – is an extremist and terrorist organization.  Ineffectively banned by the state, it is primarily concerned with thwarting Shia influence in Pakistan. It is the ideological father of the terrorist militant organization, Lashkar-e-Jhangivi which has been responsible for the slaughter of countless Shias in Pakistan.

These are not isolated events of the electoral season.The formation of these reprehensible alliances by two of Pakistan’s largest and most prominent political parties which have enjoyed stints in power are but a microcosm of politics in this South Asian country:

Playing to the gallery of the religious right, exploiting religion, allying with extremist factions for political gain which inevitably leads to appeasing and patronizing them thus, augmenting their growth and emboldening them.

pakelections

These instances of indulgence in political expediency, which reign supreme, have been a potent factor in abetting extremism in Pakistan.

As Pakistan finds itself at a crucial juncture, it is a demand of time that all segments of the state unite to devote themselves, with absolute sincerity, to the battle against extremism and terrorism that has already spilled the blood of over 40,000 innocent Pakistanis and cast the state as a virtual international outcast.

It is mutually exclusive for a party or government which blatantly collaborates and partners with organizations, that are established on the idea of hate and radicalism and promote bigotry, to ever fully commit itself to the war against terrorism and extremism in Pakistan. And that is the last that the country needs today.

_____________________________________________________________

*Not to be confused with ’Difa-e-Pakistan Council’ (Council for the Defense of Pakistan) which is an umbrella coalition of more than 40 Pakistani quasi-political religious parties that advocates closing NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and rejects the Pakistani government decision to grant India most-favored nation status.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

PTI: Nickel and Dime No More


The week of all hyped political shows-of-power finally came to an electrifying end with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s massive Jalsa in the heart of Punjab on Sunday.

Led by the heads of PML-N and PTI respectively, the rally and Jalsa contained mediocre speeches and may seem to be just pre-2013 election jockeying but their implications yield greater implications and establish substantial modifications in Pakistan‘s national, political and social landscape, especially the latter’s.

(Regardless of the drastically differing views and opinions the nation holds when it comes to Khan Sb)

With estimations of the number of those who attended varying from 150,000 to 500,00, PTI’s Jalsa was undeniably a befitting announcement of its entrance into mainstream politics and to put it aptly, the birth of Imran Khan, the politician.

Imran Khan’s Jalsa succeeded in mobilizing the middle class, upper middle class and the youth to come out of their comfort zones, drawing rooms and into the field, with sheer zeal and discipline, to take part in the political process of the country; something which is imperative for the democratic structuring of Pakistan thus, for the development and advance of the democratic environment too.

Nadeem F. Paracha writes in his article:

‘Becoming a political participant through the democratic process edges out the fanciful Utopianism that usually overtakes and muddles the thinking of those who want to remain outside this process in the name of revolution or whatever. The result of such a disposition is mere frustration and eventual isolation from ground realities turning the person into a mindless, babbling conspiracy theorist or a blob of reactionary emotions.’

One may attribute the pleasantly surprising turnout of these people to their complete and utter disillusionment and disenchantment with the two main tried-and-tested parties, PML-N and PPP against whom they view Imran Khan and his party, as the only alternative to rule and take Pakistan forward.

While overuse of the word ‘Inquilab’ (revolution) and ‘Tabdeeli’ (change) does not actualize them, a spark has already been lit by the populist event which evoked a fresh sense among all, those who attended it and those who watched through the media, of being active participants in the next elections and using their votes as the channel for a change.

The day right after the Jalsa, groups thronged to the Office of Election Commission in Lahore and around Pakistan, to register themselves and their families to verify themselves, many of whom have never voted or deemed voting to be an act of significance, as voters or to get registered as ones.

Outside the Lahore Office of ECP, the diverse range of parked vehicles, each associated with a different class, attested to the scope of influence emanating from the event.

This particular surge in the rush of voter-registration is also the result of statements from political parties (which comes after their practice of dismissing PTI as an important or worthy party to be even discussed by stating its followers are all ensconced in their air-conditioned rooms in front of their laptops or computers; ’Facebook warriors/supporters’) questioning PTI’s ability to translate the number of supporters at their Jalsa into votes in the next elections. To prove wrong their delectable skepticism of the capacity of PTI Supporters to vote for their party, the supporters of other parties who were a part of this rush and the PTI supporters abandoned their apathy in pursuit of making their voice and choice count through their votes in the forthcoming elections.

The ECP Officials in Punjab had also been increasingly disobliging after the Jalsa, which might be ascribed to the instructions given under intense insecurity by the Provincial Government.

A revival of this activity is a betoken of the restored faith in people related to the system of democracy and their vigor to strengthen it; a manifestation of the hope the event has permeated people with.

In the political arena, PTI’s Jalsa which surpassed PML-N’s two-days-earlier held rally in attendance of genuine supporters, luster and in magnitude of all that mattered- sent jolts of shock to them by conducting an entirely triumphant event at what is, the core of their power.

The Jalsa clearly denoted, increased and accentuated the cracks of division in PML-N’s urban vote bank in Punjab; evincing a snap or a fracture in their prepotency and dominance with its origins in Lahore, auguring well for both PTI and PPP.

Although, PTI’s stupendous Jalsa should push all parties in Government or in Pakistan to a rouse from complacency

PML-N’s apprehensions connected with the rise of PTI are well-grounded if the reported registration of 3 crore new voters, of the chunk of which comprise much youth – generally, which is a quarter of the population amongst which Imran Khan has an immeasurable clout, is taken into consideration.

While it is certainly debatable whether PTI can sweep the next elections or even bag enough seats to form the provincial government in Punjab in 2013, as seen in retrospect; late Benazir Bhutto’s Jalsa in Lahore in 1986 was the biggest in the city’s history yet the 1988 Elections resulted in PML-N being the recipient of a notable slice of the seats in Punjab, and the country after PPP, (They were supported by the Establishment as part of the IJI  to counter PPP, which also makes that comparable to the state of affairs currently involving PTI and PML-N).

Not to mention, PTI’s vote bank centers around urban areas and has not, yet, reached rural areas (where around 60% to 70% of Pakistanis live) where support for PML-N is concentrated. PTI will have to toil to break through the entrenched voter loyalties and political demographics of Punjab and Pakistan.

Nonetheless, PTI has now self-validated and elevated its position to of a party, that can not be deemed nickel and dime or bundled into oblivion, and in all that followed on at the Jalsa, the victor was no party but the cultivation of the democracy and the democratic culture in Pakistan.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Getting Registered As A Voter!


The most important political office is that of the private citizen.  ~Louis Brandeis

The most important political office is indeed, that of the private citizen and I add, his authority lies with the power of his vote.

The Election Commission of Pakistan recently its campaign for the door-to-door verification of voter-lists.

It began on the 22nd of August and will end on the 30th of September 2011.

Many wish to vote in the next elections but either do not have themselves included/verified in the voter lists or haven’t registered for them yet.

To sort this out, I’ve Googled and gathered the instructions from here to get one’s vote registered:

 

REGISTRATION PROCESS :

Go to your nearest Office of Assistant Election Commissioner / Registration Officer located in your area.
If you do NOT know where your closest office is located, you can find out by contacting the Election Commission of Pakistan at  (051) 920 1975  or  (051) 920 6062  and asking them the address and phone number of the closest office to you.

You can also contact 1217 to get the same information or log onto http://www.ecp.gov.pk/Contactus.aspx.

Once at the office, collect a “Voter Registration Form” and fill it out in full.
Basic information will be required as well as a Photocopy of National Identity Card as well as Proof of Residence – this includes any kind of utility bill (electricity, gas, water or telephone).

Once complete, submit the form and you’re DONE!

PLEASE NOTE: Your vote will be registered to the address written on the National Identity Card.
For example if you are registering in Karachi and your home address is in Lahore, you will have to vote in Lahore.


For Overseas Pakistanis :

Overseas Pakistanis are allowed to be registered by their family, friends or relatives who live in the area of your residence in Pakistan. The process is simple roughly the same however please note! Any Citizen of Pakistan can get registered as voter anywhere in Pakistan and can cast their vote if he or she is in Pakistan during the time of elections. You must be IN PAKISTAN to cast your vote!


AFTER REGISTRATION :

After you have submitted your registration form, in a few days confirm to make sure YOU ARE ON THE VOTER LIST!
This can be confirmed;

You can obtain the “Voter List” from the Assistant Election Commissioner/Registration Officer. Check to see whether your name is on the list.

You will also be able to see the “Voter List” on the Election Commission’s website, but it’s currently unavailable.

Once you have confirmed you are registered, you will be able to vote in the Federal and Provincial Elections.

____________________________________________________________________________

As far as the Voter-Verification Drive is – I, although am someone who is vehemently Anti-Imran Khan lend my full appreciation and admiration to the PTI-Supporters and workers for their efforts in trying to help people register and mobilize them to vote.
The following is from their site page:

The Verification Process:

The ECP representative will bring the Electorol Lists with them. If your name is present in the list and the address and information is correct, you will just verify it and will not be required to fill a new form.

If your name is missing in the list, or you are registering your vote for the first time, then you will FILL THIS FORM.


Which Documents Are Required? 

1. Copy of Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC).

2. If your current address is different than your CNIC address, you will be required to provide a proof of residence in the form of a Utility bill (Electricity, Gas, Water or Telephone) or rental agreement.


Who is eligible to register as a voter? 

As per ECP: I am entitled to be registered as a voter, if:

  1. I am a Pakistani citizen
  2. I am not less than eighteen (18) years of age
  3. I have not been convicted by any court of law
  4. I am a resident of the area/ owner of, or in possession of immovable property in Pakistan.


Election Commission did not visit my house, my vote is still not registered!

In case no representative from ECP visits your house till 30th sept, you must contact ECP or your local PTI organizer.


Contacting Election Commission Contact:

Address:      

ECP Secretariat, Election House,

Constitution Avenue G-5/2 ,

Islamabad.


Secretary Office Telephone:   
 (+92)(51)(9201975) (+92)(51) (9206062)

For ECP Provincial Offices: CLICK HERE:

           

How Can I Help In This Campaign:

Help out to register the vote:

1. You can take a printout of this FORM (A) 

2. Make as many photocopies as you can and distribute it among your family and friends.

3. Make sure you encourage and help to register.

Spread the Word:

1. Discuss the importance of registration of votes at your educational institutions.

2. Start youth mobilization campaigns at your educational institutions.

3. Write about it in newspapers, magazines, notice boards.

4. Make awareness on social media – Twitter, Facebook, Forums, Youtube etc.

______________________________________________________________________

For a nation that seems to have a natural propensity to whine about the situations in the country and is defined by inaction, voting should be the start for them in contributing for a change in Pakistan.

One who does NOT bother to fulfill his duty to vote does NOT have the right to cry and crib about the state of Pakistan, what is happening in the country or call himself a concerned and responsible citizen.

Better to make an effort than whining for the rest of the 1825 days after the elections.

So spread the word. Get all those eligible in your family to verify their information in the voter lists by co-operating with the ECP Officials and taking them to register their names for it if they haven’t before. Engage people in discussions relating to this matter and spur them into action.

Convince and help them to get enrolled as voters. Prompt the people in your educational institutions, area, among friends, relatives. Make posters, prinoutouts with catchy slogans. Propogate the significance of voting. Use internet activism. Print out the registeration forms and hand them out.

Democracy can only function properly in Pakistan if its people have a democratic mindset and wish it to work by availing what it involves and believing in its effectiveness; voting, protesting etc.

If one by one, the individuals in Pakistan come to make almost 200 Million people. Vote by vote, change can come to Pakistan.

You owe your vote to your country.

So please, Get Yourself Registered. Vote Your Voice For The Revolution of The Polling Station. Create the Change!

~ Hafsa Khawaja