National Clutter


*Originally published in The News.

It’s been over a month since the dharnas came to the capital.

And although Imran Khan warns of a civil war, the political temperature has come down considerably but not after exposing the bare and weak bones of Pakistan’s make.

To start off, with rumors and fears of a coup abound earlier; a most alarming reminder has been the persisting existence of the Third Umpire on the political front. Including a counsel of restraint on both sides, advocacy for facilitation of negotiations and advising the government not to use force, Dawn’s editorial published on 2ND September spoke on this string of the army’s statements and inaction towards the protesters that attacked the Parliament despite Article 245 as:

‘The carefully constructed veneer of neutrality that the army leadership had constructed through much of the national political crisis has been torn apart.’

The fact that army had to issue these statements and later another to assert its neutrality brings out a sneering irony.  

It is obvious that redressing the civil-military imbalance is urgent and yet perilous since the Third Umpire will not be leaving a field it has dominated and played on since decades anytime soon.

Secondly, while mudslinging and uncivil rhetoric has been and is an inherent component of Pakistan’s chaotic political culture, the current developments have assisted their swift mainstream resurgence; lest we forget Imran Khan’s volley of countless allegations and accusations against the sitting prime minister, ministers, parliamentarians, judiciary, police, journalists, bureaucrats and the media; and his free and open use of “oye”, “main choroon ga nahi” to “geeli shalwars”. The on-going rumpus has assisted and promoted the crude rhetoric of violence and slander in Pakistan’s political culture and discourse to once again rear its ugly head.

More importantly, a tweet by Mosharraf Zaidi on Imran Khan’s audacious release of his workers arrested by the police accentuates a disquieting issue:

‘One can blame PM Sharif to a certain extent, but delegitimization of the state machinery is now the unwitting PTI project. Disturbing.’

This act of Imran Khan’s may be hailed as bravado by his supporters, who condemn and decry Anjum Aqeel in the same breath, but since its declaration of civil disobedience, promotion of hundi; attempts to storm state buildings with PAT and this forceful release of arrested workers, PTI and its workers have certainly pursued a path of delegitimizing state apparatuses by way of blatantly defying the law.

With such a course of action, PTI has helped muddle up the distinction between the state and the government; attacking the former to shake the latter.

This is but a dangerous phenomenon in a country struggling for stability and security; adding a political plane to the constant challenges to the writ of the state by a plethora of groups including the TTP.

In the domain of the government, the consequences of ignoring political protests, as PML-N initially did with Imran Khan’s, have been dramatically revealed. Governments, especially that of parties like N which conveniently adopt smug complacency when in power, can no longer afford to be dismissive of opponents’ demands or perform sluggishly.

Moving on, as with every national occurrence, the media’s role has been of vital significance amid the inquilabi and tabdeeli mayhem. With fear-mongering, misinformation and sensationalism media houses flagrantly picked stances and sides. This glaring functioning of Pakistan’s media as propaganda houses for political parties with little room for impartiality and responsibility has been unfortunate. Media coverage has also been concentrated on the capital, with hardly any slot for the plight of the IDPs and later, the flood victims. All of this has once again lent weight to the idea that Pakistan possesses a vibrant, free media but a fledgling one not free from biases, unethical practices and oblivious to responsible, meaningful journalism.

Public discourse has also been affected, albeit with the curse of intense polarisation. With each lot sticking to its viewpoint and party loyalties with charged political self-righteousness, little room has been left for debate and discussion, let alone poor old nuance. All who oppose PTI’s politics are now ‘jahil nooras’ and all those who criticise PML-N ‘youthias’. And with debate and discussion shut off like this, this only strengthens the intolerance that is already embedded in Pakistan’s society and national mindset.

Another societal characteristic emerged amidst the dharnas, namely misogyny and hypocrisy. Appropriated into mainstream political discussion thanks to Maulana Fazul-ur-Rehman invoking the infamous fahashi narrative inside the Parliament, the dancing by women at Imran Khan’s dharna became a part of the political salvo against him.

A non-issue with no political weight or ramification, it is, as columnist and writer Abdul Majeed Abid, wrote:

‘One can disagree with the ‘dharnistas’ on dozens of accounts, without any mention of the term ‘vulgarity’….. this is important only in bigoted, misogynist societies such as Pakistan.’

It is astounding how women and men dancing at rallies can be an issue when there is a war being fought at home and a million Pakistanis are displaced from their homes, left for destitution.

This is a fine encapsulation of the clutter Pakistan is in today.

At the end, it is palpable that the political confrontation which began in mid-August sparked off a tense interaction between Pakistan’s politics, institutions, society and culture; the results of which are unsettling. A close to the current events may be uncertain but what is certain is that as a country aspiring for democracy, stability and prosperity, Pakistan has a long and difficult path to tread if it is ever to move forward.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

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No Country for Nuance


*Originally posted on the Dawn Blog, posting the unedited version here:

As yet another political crisis brews in Pakistan, political discussion and arguments steam through it.

Emotions are high, and arguments equally heated and intense.

It is often assumed to be the case among Pakistanis that any existing political support must encompass all aspects of a party regardless of personal agreement or disagreement. In other words, support has to be uncritical or it doesn’t fit the definition. If figure, institution or idea has to be supported, all that comprises them has to be backed; and whoever or whatever is to be opposed, must have the hate whole.

This is no country for nuance.

However, the problem is not limited to Pakistan, as Turkish writer and journalist Mustafa Akyol writes on Al-Monitor regarding the discourse on Erdogan in the country:

As Bekir Agirdir, the director of a polling company and a political commentator, noted, it has become impossible to reasonably discuss even Istanbul’s water problem, because Erdogan supporters will deny it, whereas Erdogan opponents will exaggerate it.

With the political turmoil pitting PTI right against the PML-N, any argument seems to define opposition to Imran Khan’s politics as ‘Noora’ support for Nawaz Sharif; and any support for PML-N, the institution of government and the state as support for a corrupt Pakistan. Any acknowledgement of Asif Zardari’s political genius and success of Machiavellian politics is taken as jiyala praise for PPP’s lacklustre performance.

Independent political opinions or thoughts are now refused to be seen without suspicion of political affiliation and loyalty lurking beneath to dictate them; and allegiance is expected to be, as aforementioned, complete, uncritical and whole.

Similarly, the dichotomy of discourse has monstrously grown to swallow all civility.

The bitter and brash assertion and argument of opinions has taken over discussions and conversations completely with derogatory words among which are jahil, noora, noony, anti-Pakistan and beghairat. Relations are publicly souring on social-media platforms and in lounges and drawing rooms, as respect is being trampled by charged political self-righteousness.

Any support for a party must be based on solid, logical reasons and if it indulges in socially, ethically or politically reprehensible pursuits; it must be condemned. Pakistan’s interest, not personality cults, must direct party support.

But in the current atmosphere no word against the holy saints of Raiwind and Bani Gala is brooked.

Social media-user and activist Meera Ceder pertinently points out:

‘Blind following or blind allegiance to anything makes one truly blind. I hate the fact that everything is seen from a black and white lens. Everything is an either or and if you choose to condemn two wrongs then you are “clearly” taking sides. Not everything can or should be seen in binaries.’

It is either this or that, with us or against us, black or white. Binaries are the order of the day.

Socially, any sign of broad-mindedness that challenges redundant conservatism on issues such as female education, attire, careers is characterised as ‘modern’ or ‘liberal’ with negative connotations. Religiously, General Zia’s toxic legacy of Islamization reigns as people consider any interpretation of Islam apart from their own to be heretical. This has been a polarisation that has had bloody effects by physical demonstration in the form of terror groups and extremism having slaughtered 50,000 Pakistanis till now.

The ideological textbook propaganda found in Pak Studies on the creation of Pakistan, its culture and religion does also not help by its distortions of history and the truth. These have been so well-indoctrinated by now that they not only, unfortunately, shape much of Pakistani national and political discourse even today, but any attempt to challenge them is undermined, ignored or thrown to the bin of numerous Pakistani pejoratives that include liberal-fascist, anti-Pakistan, RAW agent etc.

All of this spells our penchant for polarisation.

Polarisation is not merely a disappointing national phenomenon, it is a dangerous one. After all, it is polarisation which breeds intolerance and a parochial mentality by shunning debate and discussion. Being cut off from debate and a diverse range of different and dissimilar views has the effect of intellectual insulation and isolation; plus a lack of respect for opposing opinions. This creates a hostile, suffocating environment for all people to be heard, understood and respect. This might explain why many segments of the nation such as the Baloch, the Pashtuns, and the religious minorities et al are misunderstood. They are either never heard, lent an ear to be heard or their voices are hushed.

Debate, civil argument and discussion are keys to a more pluralistic, open, tolerant society; and the very heart of democracy itself, which is why polarisation is the cancer at the heart of Pakistan.

As the state transitions through challenges, so must the people by developing a pluralistic rather than a polarising environment, discourse and attitude – if Pakistan is ever to move forward.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

The Breeze Amid Political Heat


*Originally published in The News.

Since the past one month, the political temperature has been rising by the day. Attacks against the government have grown only to culminate as an intentioned final blow in the form of marches to the capital to unseat the PML-N government.

Imran Khan’s PTI and Tahir-ul-Qadri’s PAT are driving their respective marches and inquilabs.

Any political crisis is inevitably a breeding ground for opportunism, point-scoring, mud-slinging, propaganda, vendettas and agendas. The case hasn’t been dissimilar in Pakistan where the two-seater Chaudhrys of Gujrat, and the lone-parliamentarian Sheikh Rasheed have been hanging on inquilabi coattails.

However, amid the political chaos and uncertainty has been a positive development.

From JI, PPP, JUI-F, ANP to MQM, there has been a perceptible manifestation of political maturity. Having placed their own political agendas, differences and issues on the second rung of priority, they have come together in their advocacy for political dialogue; advice of negotiation, concession, flexibility and reconciliation to the government; and in the process, palpably demonstrated the spirit of democracy.

Publicly speaking on the dangers posed to Pakistan, its nascent democracy and hopes for a democratic future by current developments and the government’s response to them, many notable members and leaders of these parties such as Khurshid Shah, Raza Rabbani, Aitzaz Ahsan, Qamar-uz-Zaman Kaira, Mehmood Achakzai, Hasil Bizenjo, Zahid Khan and Afrasiab Khattak have emerged.

With separate visits made by these parties to the ruling government’s leaders and members, imparting advice and help to them in dealing with the marchers; this political engagement has been a welcome occurrence.

The government’s decision to allow passage to both marches was a prudent abandonment of the jitters and edginess it had been demonstrating by the placement of containers, barriers and other measures that were characteristic of its tendency to overreact and create crises; and making monsters of minions.

In Hamid Mir’s recent show of Capital Talk, Federal Minister Saad Rafique revealed that the government’s decision to allow passage to Tahir-ul-Qadri for his march was reached in consultation with the PPP.

It seems that the parties have learned from their mistakes and the lessons of the past which dictate that political infighting, politicking and the politics of destabilization only benefit and strengthen the forces against democracy at not just their cost but of the country too. 

It is also quite remarkable how JI has emerged as the voice of sanity and sense in the prevailing political chaos; a credit that clearly goes to Siraj-ul-Haq for practising his political leadership responsibly, thereby bringing the party to the forefront of the battle against potential destabilization in Pakistan.

Adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in America, Arif Rafiq agrees by saying:

 “Siraj-ul-Haq has been playing a solid role despite being in a tricky situation [coalition partner in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa]. They have a long way to go on the rights of women and minorities. But change on that front isn’t impossible.”

Political unity and maturity augurs well for Pakistan.

In the current crisis, it has attempted to function as a conduit between an obstinate opposition party and a sluggish government. Provided success at the end in the form of a deal out of this political pandemonium, this is sure to set a solid precedent as solution to future political tangles. Previously, it was witnessed in the signing of the historic 18th Amendment under the PPP government which effectively defanged the president by removal of the infamous 58(2)b that long stifled Pakistan’s democratic sprouts in the 90s; and enhanced political autonomy – all of which was a stride in Pakistan’s transition to a proper parliamentary republic.

Similar was the case during Tahir-ul-Qadri’s ‘inquilab 2013’ in Islamabad, which was deflated by the PPP government’s shrewd and sensible handling in cooperation with fellow political actors.

The late Eqbal Ahmad wrote in one of his articles that military intervention in politics only ends when ‘the legitimacy of the civilian system of power is established over a period of time.’  However, he went onto reason the unending military intervention and interference in Pakistani politics as, ‘We have been lacking both the political framework and leaders capable of investing the civilian system of government with authority, and taming the warrior class.’

Democratic continuity is the root of this much-needed establishment of legitimacy of the civilian system of power, a cause for which some of the prominent political parties have now been seen to be standing up for amid current political problems through active engagement with the government; PTI and PAT.

Therefore, if it flourishes, this political solidarity, maturity and sagacity can strengthen, empower and invest the civilian system of government with the power, will and dynamism it sorely lacks to face challenges and set Pakistan on the road to prosperity.

Political unity, maturity and sagacity are undoubtedly essential complements to Pakistan’s democratic evolution.

And one hopes they prevail at the end of the current political turmoil; and democracy triumphs.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

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

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.

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