Congratulations, Pakistan!

By Saad hafiz:

Despite allegations of polling irregularities, Pakistanis can be rightly proud of the outcome of the electoral process that culminated on May 11. An unprecedented turnout around 60 percent Pakistan’s 86 million registered voters, and the exceptional enthusiasm and political maturity shown by the voters who braved Taliban threats and violence have bolstered the democratic process. President Asif Zardari and Mr Nawaz Sharif, who shunned the past practice of using political violence by civilian leaders against each other, deserve the most credit for the orderly civilian transition.

The moderation shown by the political leadership can help build a peaceful political tradition that, hopefully, will filter down into the society at large. This can only strengthen the world’s fifth-largest democracy and avoid the collapse into civil war or repression that political confrontations have wrought in the past. Yet another hopeful sign for the future is the fact that civilian politicians did not turn to the military as the final arbiter and guarantor in the electoral process. It is no surprise to this writer that the essential moderation of the Pakistani people was able to take on the absurd and colossally destructive narrative offered by the Taliban and their acolytes (once again). One feels that finding the collective will to reverse the use of terror groups as strategic assets, removing nationalist nonsense from textbooks and honestly dealing with the founding myths of the country can render further telling blows to extremism.

The successful democratic elections and civilian transition are only a first step towards bringing Pakistan from the brink of being a failed state. It is a good thing that Pakistanis are starting to wake up and realise that they deserve better than the status quo and that in the long run strongman politics leads to no good. However, the extraordinary challenges arising from the continuous slide in governance, the economic meltdown and the overbearing tide of obscurantism, terrorist and sectarian violence will severely test the new government. The lack of trust of the ordinary citizen in the political classes and the state institutions, particularly in the smaller provinces, runs very deep. Pakistan requires honest, transparent and accountable government to revive local and international investment. Corruption must be tackled head on through law enforcement and the culture that breeds corruption and entitlement needs to be eliminated. While the constitution process and electoral system in Pakistan have been tested, it is also essential to institutionalise the role of civic organisations to monitor the ongoing performance of governmental authorities. There is a need to contain opportunists politicians (of one ilk or another) selling themselves to the highest bidder and trying to buy the will of potential voters. While it will not happen overnight, but qualified persons that enter into politics motivated by public service must exceed those that are only enticed by money and power.

“I am a child of the House of Commons. I was brought up in my father”s house to believe in democracy. ‘Trust the people — that was his message…I owe my advancement entirely to the House of Commons, whose servant I am. In my country, as in yours, public men are proud to be the servants of the State and would be ashamed to be its masters. Therefore, I have been in full harmony all my life with the tides which have flowed on both sides of the Atlantic against privilege and monopoly….” Winston Churchill, First of three speeches to a Joint Session of the States Congress, after Pearl Harbor, delivered December 26, 1941. (The others were delivered in 1943 and 1952)

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) as the clear election winner has a unique opportunity to extend its national reach from its Punjab-centric roots. This will require sagacity and moderation from its leadership, especially in dealing with the representatives and problems of the smaller provinces. The PML-N must demonstrate that it is not only a better economic manager but that its social agenda is inclusive to minorities and women who seem hopelessly left out in terms of electoral representation. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) reformist image has yielded electoral dividends but it now needs to demonstrate its governing abilities in the KP province to ensure future success. Both the PML-N and PTI should realise that coddling extremism is a double-edged sword, with potentially serious consequences for themselves and the country in the longer-term. The PPP and the Awami National Party, the main losers in the elections have tried to pin their electoral defeats on terrorist threats and on a global agenda to foist right-wing parties on Pakistan. Facts do not support this conclusion, as it is clearly economic mis-governance and a serious perception of corruption, which played the key role in the heavy defeat of both parties particularly the PPP. The PPP has been reduced to caricature of the party it was under the charismatic Bhuttos and will require deep soul-searching to become nationally relevant again. Overall, while it is too early to gauge whether the positive election results can change Pakistan’s disastrous trajectory, they nevertheless do offer some hope.

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