Risky Jitters


*Originally published in The Nation.

The Azadi March is all set to commence with PTI’s supporters all geared up to bring down what they believe to be the illegitimate PML-N badshahat. Equally charged are the supporters of Canadian national Tahir-ul-Qadri to bring an inquilab.

Both of these campaigns have one thing in common, and that is the departure of the current regime which has just entered the second year of its five-year term.

Analyses have been pouring in from all quarters of the country anticipating the results of the marches.

It really is, as Ali Aftab Saeed wrote in Dawn recently, that amidst plenty of speculation, none of us are sure whether the government will crumble or survive.

However, the March alone will not define the result.

It will be the interaction between the government and the protesters that will determine what the protests yield.

Numerous areas in Lahore have been blocked by containers, barricades and barbed wires while news of PTI and PAT workers’ has also spread. 400 containers have been installed to cordon off the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Fuel supplies have been suspended. Article 245 has been invoked, and now Section 144 has also been imposed in the capital city, while leaves of the Islamabad Police have been cancelled. The suspension of mobile services is also under consideration.

These have been causes of extreme inconvenience to citizens.

But more alarmingly, the PML-N is once again demonstrating its disappointing tendency to panic and jitter, a characteristic the people would like to discount from a party in its third stint in power; which inevitably has the effect of creating and self-starting crises. What the government, despite being given a democratic mandate to rule, is also demonstrating through such decisions is a posture of intimidation and weakness.

The right of protest is one of the most important constitutional rights; it is one of the many mechanisms within a democracy that checks the government in instances of deviation.  Asha’ar Rehman is right to point out that, and the quote follows: ultimately, the essence of a protest is how sensibly and responsibly it is reacted to by those it is aimed at.

 The flurry of decisions taken by the government is not only reflective of its characteristic edginess but also holds potential for prompting an explosive situation as impediments to the protest; a disquieting  development that will give way to chaos by way of exacerbation of the conflict.

As Ayaz Amir mentions in his recent piece in The News:

‘The PML-N’s fate depends not on the constitution or its mandate.  Its fate depends wholly and solely on the Punjab police and the Islamabad police. If there is even a hint of disorder, the first signs of chaos on the roads in and around Islamabad…that will be the time for the strategic phone call or even something more.’

The PML-N government needs to abandon its current bearing of edginess that is directing its unmeasured response to the scheduled protests and March; and adopt a cautious and sensible approach to the unfolding events.

Rameeza Nizami’s solid piece of advice to the government in her recent editorial must ring louder than ever at this point:

‘To affirm the public’s faith in the democratic process, the government would do well to accommodate protesters rather than creating hurdles. Give them water if they’re thirsty. Provide them shade if they need it. Act like the democratic government worthy of being saved.’

Crackdowns and blockades shall only enrage the spark that threatens to inflame the government, and the future of democracy in Pakistan. The only path out and forward is political engagement, which the government must spearhead by shedding its lassitude and dangerous edginess.

The ominous uncertainty looming over Pakistan right now can only be dispelled if better sense and sensibility prevails on all sides, and eclipses Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri’s extreme demands and obstinacy; and the government’s jitters and delayed political engagement.

Otherwise, all shall be lost.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

At the Cost of Pakistan


*Originally published in Pakistan Today.

Embroiled in a war at home and a plethora of political, economic and national crises, Pakistan is nearing a tumultuous 67th year in existence.

Imran Khan’s initial demands for electoral recounts in particular constituencies have now snowballed into the demand for the departure of the entire PML-N government or badshahat; and mid-term elections that he, once again, expects to sweep.

230636_43698242For many, this transformation of demand indicates Imran Khan coming out for what he has really wanted all along for a government that he refuses to believe was not given to him to lead. All set to head as prime minister, a development he was sure enough to have declared it on national television on Hamid Mir’s show, Khan Sahab’s romantic expectations defied entrenched Pakistani electoral dynamics and intricacies leading to a result he did not anticipate.

In a developing, chaotic and overly-politicised country like Pakistan, there are no doubts that the elections of 2013 were not without irregularities, problems and issues. All of which lends greater gravity to the need for electoral reform.

However, to deem the entire election ‘stolen’ and call for re-elections is to repudiate the will of those who voted for the government. Some of the top electoral rigging claims of PTI have been debunked for political claptrap, most recently done by Zahid F. Ibrahim in his Express Tribune Op-Ed ‘Ten Truths about Electoral Rigging’ which takes each claim and factually counters it.

It is also quite peculiar that, according to the PTI, the entire elections were a dishonest affair with the Election Commission, caretaker government, media, judiciary actively colluding – and it is yet to present evidence and prove how exactly this collusion transpired – to prevent its victory in all of Pakistan; but in KPK. With this in mind, it really does seem to be the case then that the PTI is protesting against winning in the ‘wrong’ province.

A recent video of PTI Deputy Information Secretary Fayyaz Chohan does not only accuse Kayani of rigging; but also goes far to point to an international electoral conspiracy including the USA, UAE, KSA and India.

Popular blog Kala Kawa also writes:

‘That the PTI is demanding mid-term elections on the back of evidence that Election Tribunals have found insufficient speaks solely to the damaging lust for power Imran Khan has found himself in.’Pakistan-Gallup-Nawaz-PPP-PML-N_4-12-2014_144335_lAs evident is the callow approach of the PTI operating under the ‘Azadi March’, which seems to be exactly as Ammar Rashid, an independent researcher and information secretary Awami Workers Party (Islamabad/Rawalpindi), called out to be: PTI standing for little more than making Imran Khan PM at all costsa – equally astounding is the performance of the government in its first year that has largely been characterised by lethargy. The PML-N has come to power at a time when Pakistan is the convergence tip of crises; which does not grant the government the allowance of incompetence and lassitude. With increasingly-unbearable power shortages, huge numbers of the unemployed, persisting poverty, a sluggish economy and fear of a terrorist backlash of Zarb-e-Azb; this is a moment demanding sharp and decisive decisions, policies, works and implementations. The Sharif government must realize that gone are the days when it was till the ballot box that a party had to prove itself; in today’s competitive political environment, it is now beyond the ballot box that parties have to prove themselves with performance; or risk being pounced on by opponents.

With blockades and containers around Lahore, and the decision to invoke Article 245, the government’s panicked response to the planned marches of the PTI and PAT is congruent with its disappointing tendency to overreact and create crises; that it needs to learn to avoid.

Similarly, it is essential for Imran Khan to accept that his expectation of becoming the prime minister was not fulfilled to by the majority of the people as demonstrated by the ground realities which hit him hard in elections. Having broken the shifting political monopoly between the PPP and PML-N, PTI holds immense potential to be potent force of opposition in the parliament, an attacking but constructive role augmenting the democratic plinth in Pakistan; but its present politics of fixation, immaturity and obstinacy are not only destructive for Pakistan’s nascent democracy but for PTI itself.

It needs to channel its potential and power as a formidable political force in Pakistan; as opposition, keeping the government with their socks pulled up all the time; and as the provincial government, focusing its strength and vision in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and practically presenting itself as a plausible alternative to other parties in Pakistan. PTI should focus on developing KPK as a model of its governance; it should compete with the PML-N government through governance, for the last thing Pakistan needs right now is destabilisation.

As Adnan Rasool mentions in his article in Dawn:

‘The way the system works is that the opposition, irrespective of how small it may be, asks the tough questions and projects an alternative ideology, instead of trying to leave the system because of being beaten in the elections. They need to make the government work hard for a reputation.’

Columnist Gul Bukhari raised a pertinent point on Twitter commenting that the Sharifs seem to have lost all interest in governance and adopted a singular programme of reacting to Imran Khan’s relentless pursuit of power.

Protesting is one of the most important constitutional rights, even more significant for the exercise by the opposition; however attempts to topple a democratically-elected government and seeking to sink the system merely because your dominance is denied in it are no rights whatsoever.

The system in Pakistan has problems, Pakistan’s budding democracy has problems, but to set the stage for instability, destabilisation and the Doctrine of Necessity in the pursuit of personal political and party interests is never the solution.

Imran Khan’s bare demand of fresh elections coupled with his obstinacy project a sure stalemate. However, if the government displays political maturity and level-headedness in handling this delicate situation with cautious care and control; if the army stays at the battle front; if other political parties like PPP, JUI-F, JI, ANP and MQM recognize what is at risk and come together in interest of Pakistan and democracy; if better sense prevails, the situation may still be able to be salvaged.

Just last year, Pakistan witnessed the term-completion of a democratically-elected government for the first time in its history. And the Elections were expected to augment this democratic tradition, however ensuing political attitudes inclined towards infighting seem to push Pakistan back into the 90s which was an era of intense tug-of-war, and we all know where that led to.

All at the cost of democracy and Pakistan.

 ~ Hafsa Khawaja

Why I Voted PML-N and the Expectations Now


*Originally posted on Express Tribune Blog, posting the whole version here.

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So the people of Pakistan have finally spoken!

And their votes have surged the PML-N to power once again.

PML-N’s supporters and voters are immeasurably elated, they may not have been as expressive in declarations of their support but they certainly have been expressive and assertive of their support through the ballot box.

I voted for PML-N because I felt it satisfactorily addressed the list of pressing matters that I personally prioritize for Pakistan:

nawaz_1_670-600x3501. The acute civil-military imbalance that characterizes Pakistan’s power disequilibrium is an issue that I view to be not only pressing but whose offshoots are several other troubles in the country. It demands a rectification, and the PML-N has shown the clearest stance in this regard: upholding the rule of civilians; respect for the mandate of elected-representatives; autonomy from the military establishment, its ventures, adventures, forays into the political and policy-making arena. Picking and sticking to such a stance, in my opinion, is the first right step in the direction of its redressing.

2. Their economic and infrastructural focus has always been palpable, and their track record is a testament to that.

M2_Pakistan_3From the M2, setting up of NADRA, dams and power plants, PML-N has delivered in the past in the little time they were given in contrast to their mandate of a total of 10 years in separate stints at the federal government. The Metro Bus system has also been a noteworthy project that can not be denied as not having benefited countless people, regardless of other criticism.

3. It has proven its seriousness towards education. Apart from establishing the outstanding Danish Schools, the Punjab Government’s effective implementation of education reforms all over Punjab, although criminally underreported in Pakistan, yielded remarkable results. 

4.  A specific characteristic that struck me about the party, had been its sense of political maturity and responsibility.  I believe the PML-N displayed judiciousness by allowing the last government to complete its term and not bestowing a crown of political martyrdom and victim hood on its head.

If the PML-N’s role is seen in this regard and context, then it also gets the credit for contributing to the milestone of the first term completion of a democratically-elected government in Pakistan and thus, facilitating the transfer of power from one democratically-elected government to another which these elections were.

Tahir-ul-Qadri4In its continuous display of political sagacity, the PML-N also brought together all opposition parties against the “circus” that Tahir-ul-Qadri put up in Islamabad; a reiteration of the party’s pledge to stand by democratic principles.

PML-N’s leaders also did not reciprocate the mudslinging and potshot-taking initiated by Imran Khan.

5. It is a party that has acknowledged its mistakes regarding Balochistan in the past and is making efforts to rectify those; it has reached out to Baloch leaders and called upon them to contest in the elections.

mengal-sharifBack in September 2012, the PML-N announced its backing to the six-point proposals of Akhtar Mengal in removing the deprivation of the people of Balochistan.

6. One can gauge the interest and dedication of the party for cultural revival by the initiation of projects for the restoration of famous cultural and historical sites and places in Punjab, particularly in Lahore, that many citizens are well-aware of. The beautification of the provincial capital and the opening of the New Lahore Food Street only add more weight to this measure.

7. From Sartaj Aziz, Ishaq Dar, Khawaja Asif to Ahsan Iqbal, PML-N hosts a competent and capable team of veterans that will certainly assist in the implementation of its vision.

8. Lastly, the PML-N is an alternative for me to PPP and PTI, parties that I do not support for a number of reasons.

I was and am conscious and critical of PML-N’s flaws and wrongs, and know that the party I chose for these elections may not be the best. I also know that the aforementioned points I have penned as my reasons to support it may even be or are found in other party’s stances, manifestos and works but the collective existence of all of these in a single party, constituted a reason enough for me to cast my vote for them.

PAKISTAN-UNREST-VOTE-SHARIF

Now that they have been elected as the government, PML-N will understandably under the pressure of its mandate to fulfill its duties and expectations of the nation. It is required that they actualize the roadmap they presented in their manifesto: from economic revival and growth, curbing of terrorism and maintenance of law and order in the country especially in areas where the government’s writ has been blown into smithereens and that are routinely aflame; dealing with the energy crisis; reintegration of FATA into the political and national mainstream; the country-wide implementation of their education reforms of Punjab to promises such as the depoliticizing of sports boards.

PML-N can also rid the influence of the undemocratic forces in Pakistan by assertive democratization of the country which can largely be established through good governance.

Keeping aside the emergence of rigging allegations and controversies surrounding the elections for a moment, there is little doubt that these elections have been a historic one for Pakistan. Being the first transfer of power from one civilian democratically-elected government to another with the highest voter turnout to date; they have been more a victory for democracy than any party in the country.

The single sentiment that has simultaneously surged with the results of the elections has been of hopefulness.

Even if the PML-N was not the pick of a segments of some people, these elections and this government are hoped to be the opening of a new chapter in Pakistan’s tumultuous journey that sees the beginning of every Pakistani basically wants: a better, prosperous and progressive Pakistan.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

An Open Letter to PTI Supporters


Dear Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s supporters,

This is something that I’ve wanted to write about for long.

I’m not a supporter of PTI but I am miffed at many of you who are, and no, this is not another in the long list of posts written by victims of the trolls. This is about the general, average PTI supporter that I have come across. (Now, now. You may say these are just a handful, but what matters is, they are still there).

With the rise of PTI there has been inevitable and palpable rise in your numbers; its supporters, their visibility and their displays of support to the party.

There is nothing at fault with this, it is only vital to the cultivation of a democratic culture of political choice, participation and support in a developing democracy like Pakistan.

Talking of democracy, and this is where my problem with you appears.

Urban PTI supporters, by their sheer force of numbers and assertions of party support, have created, consciously or unconsciously, an environment of fear, uneasiness and reluctance for others to openly declare or admit their differing political choice of another party.

This reluctance and uneasiness lies in your attitude, which may exist in segments of other parties too, but I have personally found it to be greater in prevalence in PTI’s supporters.

There is an air of self-righteousness about many of you, which seems to stem from your support for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.

Here is a revelation: every single citizen of Pakistan has the prosperity and progress of Pakistan in both his heart and mind when chosing a political party to support. Supporting a different party does not make him to be a Pakistani who wants it any less than the supporter of another party, which in your case, is PTI. It does not make him an unintelligent individual who must, and must, be voting for the other party on the basis of ignorance, ethnicity, religion, sect or biraderi.

Nor do you, by the virtue of being a PTI supporter, become a better, more patriotic or a more wise Pakistani than others.

At7dZfJCAAINElJAnother question that I have and continue to frequently face from you is “Why don’t you support the change?”
“The change” has been converted, by you, into one that is synonymous with Imran Khan.

Another realization knock: change is a very subjective word. What may constitute  change for you, may not constitute change for me. Imran Khan is the torch-bearer of change for you, and with all due respect and my admiration for him as a cricketer and a philanthropist, I do not subscribe to his political ideology. And if I state this as a reason for ‘not supporting the change’, it is best that you accept it.

And in contrast to what many of you tend to turn to as a course, it gives you absolutely no right to corner, mock, intimidate or question another party’s supporter for having a political choice dissimilar to your’s.

No voter is accountable to any other voter for his own political choices; he is neither bound to justify those to him nor is he obliged to feel awkward or uncomfortable for having a political party that seems to have lowered in mainstream popularity or in your/his eyes.

10733-jalsa-1332599040-946-640x480

As supporters of PTI, you have been at the forefront of canvassing for your party’s candidates and convincing others to vote PTI. What you must realize is that there is a difference between convincing and forceful political proselytizing.

If I haven’t asked to be ‘convinced‘, and don’t push you to support my party and have already made up my mind, kindly cease the over-assertive attempts at my conversion from your high horse.

Everyone has the provision of a single privilege, by which he exercises his prerogative of a voter’ one person has only one vote; and to you, your vote, to me, mine.

I wholeheartedly respect your political pick, you respect mine.

At the end of the day, you must realize that you are not doing anyone a favor by this attitude which you have adopted. Especially not your own party.

What you must realize is that difference of political opinion and choice is a natural composition of the political landscape of any country wishing to espouse democracy, and as we inch towards its establishment, it will be the sooner the better that we all come to accept and adapt to it with tolerance and respect.

Here’s wishing these elections help and heal Pakistan, and we begin to mature ourselves as citizens, party supporters, voter and above all, Pakistanis.

With regards,

Another party’s voter,

Hafsa Khawaja.

Political Expediency & Abetting Extremism in Pakistan


*First published on Borderline Green.

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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.

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*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

Pakistan’s Political Messiah Fixation


*Originally published in Pakistan Today.

A chapter of a survey released in July 2012 by PEW, spanning six predominantly Muslim countries – Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia – shows that majorities in four of the six states believe that democracy, rather than a strong leader, can best solve their country’s problems.

The country with the most prominent opinion contrary to those of other countries is Pakistan, where preference of a leader over a democratic government is mirrored in the percentages: 61 percent of Pakistanis say their country should rely on a strong leader, while just 31 percent say democracy can better solve national problems.

The expression of favorability towards an individual over a system, be it judicial or governmental, isn’t a new phenomena but a political and cultural approach that has been ingrained in Pakistan.

The plausible notion of a strong leader being the pivot of progress has been made to inflate in importance through over-emphasis in the country, to a magnitude that all remaining requisites for the state’s prosperity are blurred into insignificance by it. That is, potential leaders or figures are deemed the panacea; virtually messiahs.

Although the roots of this precedence remain somewhat obscure, it can be assumed that they lie in the grounds of political culture and history.

A quick glimpse through Pakistan’s tumultuous history would reveal a dearth of stability and continuation of a democratic system, which all the more provides validation to the idea that Pakistan is a developing democracy, not yet a complete democracy.

In February this year, a survey conducted by the Oxford Research International says Libyans would favor a ‘strong leader’ over a democratic government. Commenting on which Oxford University’s Dr Christoph Sahm said the survey suggested Libyans lacked the knowledge of how democracy works.

This applies to Pakistan as well.

This inadequacy of acquaintance with the system of democracy is one of the reasons for the ‘Messiah Mania’ in Pakistan: lack of understanding of how democracy works and interest in it leads to supposing one man can cure the country’s ills all by his existence at the helm.

A developing democracy, as we are, Pakistanis are also terribly disenchanted with the order of democracy itself after what they have seen in this greatly disappointing democratically-elected government’s tenure.

 Sifting through the historical pages of Pakistan’s formation, most Pakistanis evince towards Jinnah single-handedly creating Pakistan in support of this preference (of choosing an individual or leader over a system), forgetting the lapses of decades that have occurred since 1947 and the vortex of change that there has been on the geographical, political, social, regional and national landscapes, which cancel much, if not the entire, basis of comparisons and references of Jinnah.

Pakistan’s political culture has also bred this disposition: with parties centered on dynasties, their histories and scions, politics and governance in Pakistan have been made a play of personalities beyond what they should probably be.

But with the rise of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), it has been proven that the fashioning of this leaning is not exclusive to dynastic and ‘family’ parties such as Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

The Kaptaan’s larger than life persona, charisma of the cricketing days and illustrious background in a sport that is similar to religion in Pakistan’s – along with philanthropy, his shrewd stance that subliminally echoes this mentality (a single honest man can channel change even through a team of ideological turncoats, opportunists and remnants of previous regimes) – has alone bolstered and intensified the idea of a messiah.

A dictatorial history may also explain why nations like Pakistan and Libya would choose a ‘strong leader’ over a democratic government.

A past that has been a witness to and victim of four separate authoritarian military men wheels around the concept of a single omnipotent figure. This has devised the perception of ‘one-man-government’ in peoples’ mind who believe a lone man can cause massive shifts in the country’s fortunes, systems and situations depending on his nature an d intentions (good or bad).

After the death of Czech politician Vaclav Havel and North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, Joshua A Trucker, professor of politics at New York University, pertinently writes in his article on Al-Jazeera English ‘How much do individuals really matter in politics?’

The most pressing question for policymakers now is how likely it is that the course of Czech or North Korean politics will be altered by the death of Havel or Kim. Many important differences exist between the two, not the least of which is that Havel has been out of political power for years now, while Kim (we assume) has been running the country.

However, perhaps the most important difference is the fact that the Czech Republic is an institutionalized democracy while North Korea may be the world’s last totalitarian dictatorship. Therefore, one viable hypothesis would seem to be that there should be less disruption to the Czech Republic’s political trajectory (or any established democracy) due to the death of an important political figure than in a case like North Korea, where power is so centrally wrapped up around one person.”

Professor Trucker’s analysis is the principal point in this matter: power patterns contrast between a totalitarian and democratic governments and countries. Absolute control and authority is always vested in one figure in an autocracy but an individual is weighed by and down by the system in democracy (especially in a parliamentary democracy) with no space for any such ‘messiah’.

Another pressing question arises of this messiah culture that stresses a tremendous amount of reliance on a single figure: what will become of the country with the demise of the leader? Will the system, institutions and nation tumble into chaos? Who will take his place? After all, even messiahs are mortals.

Pakistan will have to take political leaders as they are: humans with flaws, who will have to make compromises, reconciliations and unfavorable decisions in the face of political gridlocks. A politician may possess a fine character and even a vision, but to expect him to actualize it for the country’s good all in his own entirety, unaided of followers, party members, a framework for implementation and a civilized system of governance is outright ludicrous. Which is why critical thought must be lent to all these factors and to make a cult of leadership is wholly nugatory.

Sculpting messianic idols out of political leaders, criticizing whom is to blaspheme and who are unknown to mistakes and over and above any system or principles – and the search for saviors needs to end for Pakistan, for it is an endless and futile one. To pull Pakistan from the precipice it currently staggers at will take more than a leader or a savior, and the population’s sensibilities being held hostage by this mindset that seeks a messiah will certainly not help.

~ 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