The Mandate of Your Vote, for “Change”

Source: voteforchange.com

Source: voteforchange.com

It is May 9 and the general elections are hopefully just a couple of days away. May 11 is the date. With Imran Khan falling off a makeshift elevator, forklift or whatever it was, getting severely bruised and injured, and explosions rattling the country from Peshawar to Karachi and several candidates losing their lives, campaigns are still going on. You can only hope that the elections day will pass safely.

More than ever in the 2013 elections, the emphasis is on voting for “change”. While like President Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign, it is a great slogan, (though I am not sure what change he was talking about, perhaps social reforms) I am not really sure if my vote or that of any other Pakistani citizen for that matter, carries that mandate. I mean the mandate for change. However, it does feel good to imagine things, but that is the way it is. Inconvenient, I guess.

The last time I checked, I was only able to elect two officials to two positions in national and provincial legislature. In other words, my vote means that it is my responsibility to use my ballot to determine what kind of people will be using public money for these two positions for the course of next five years. So as it is, and at least to me, the process of the general elections is nothing more than electing and more appropriately hiring two public officials.

This means that all “change” that I am responsible for, or even capable of, is just trying to remotely influence what kind of people make it to the legislature from my constituency. And to that extent, yes, your vote can be a catalyst to change. But that’s all you can do. And that if you are deliberately voting for candidates which would ensure reelection, you are deliberately wasting public money and that you apparently are an idiot of the highest electoral order. But that’s alright.

You don’t have to apologize for your vote.

So while ideology is important, the candidate for the legislature seat is even more so, and especially his or her stance on various political, social and economic issues. To me, this forms a much greater and stronger basis for voting instead of what party they belong to or what ideology they claim to be proponents of.

Considering the prevalent extent of democratic values in the country and the restrictive and suppressive constitution and norms of the land, I can hardly imagine if any ideologies are at work on ground except for those allowed by the state. Still, I would not be cynical enough to suggest that there is no use in voting for ideology, no. Vote by ideology, vote for ideology by all means.

However, in our land of the pure, another high claim of the adherents of a higher than other faiths, ideology is often synonymous with individual leaders. Due to the absence of direct electorate for the positions of the Prime Minister and the President, the people are forced to imagine, like many of their inherent faiths, that the general elections are actually being held to allow them to choose their head of state. What a fallacy.

With the atrocious 14th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan and its criminal ratification in the otherwise celebrated 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, you can hardly call this system of governance democracy anymore. If you ever could, that is. And you are forced to observe that the Parliamentary System is designed to block any change whatsoever lest it suits the vested interest of the politicians.

So the change you are looking for is sort of a far fetched idea. Because apparently your selected legislators would not be able to make their decisions independently. We are at the mercy of organized gangs.

I hope you do get the change you are looking for, I mean I am tired of the more than 12 hours of black outs in Pakistan myself, thanks to the current moronic and almost demonic interim “caretaker” government, with apologies to Lord Satan and his high accomplices.

I just hope I’m wrong.

But to be on the safe side, I am voting for the best possible legislators, party or independent.

My Comment on Pakistanization: A Post by Syed Ali Raza Abidi

Apart from people fighting over how racist they are while discussing incidents of violence, sometimes words of sense appear on the pages of the Express Tribune as well. Oh, but then again, what I am talking about right now is not a work of a full-time professional columnist, so maybe that is why. However, let us come to the point. Pakistan right now seems to be passing through the darkest and worst of its phases ever since its creation in 1947. Pakistan is currently facing every possible problem which exists under the sun, let it be corrupt leadership, poor law and order, violence, lack of education and discipline, threat from terrorists, international pressures, a weak economy and even the worst natural disaster in recent history of the planet.

A coincidence? Maybe not, because in Pakistan, it doesn’t rain, but it pours. Some basic problems lead to many others. A lot of people can get you depressed with their words, but maybe not Syed Ali Raza Abidi. His recent post in the Express Tribune Blogs titled “Solving Our Problems: Pakistan-ization“, which offers solutions for a change, instead of the same old rhetoric of hopelessness and the same old mantra of “the end is nigh”. This is the reason why I have decided to mention this meaningful and constructive post here and to add further to it. I also added a brief and impromptu comment on the blog page.

A Secular Constitution, Education and Brave Leadership. Will solve many social problems. The goal must be Economic Freedom. One of the most meaningful posts that I have read on this site for a long time.

Although some people may not agree with the first three words of my comments. So let me address those first of all. Although it is a popular notion that the struggle for Pakistan was initiated for the Muslim community of the India under the Raj, so that is why many people believe that Pakistan should have a constitution with Islamic provisions, but that does not mean that Pakistan should not consider a Secular constitution like most sensible countries. Incorporating Islamic provision is not really an issue, unless they result in the preference of a particular community as compared to the others, and even worse, may not offer enough, and ideally equal civil rights to some communities.

It is useless to be too specific about it, but it is common sense if you look at it. Every citizen of Pakistan must have equal rights and the constitution should guarantee that. I don’t really understand why anyone should disagree. There should not really be a concept of a majority and minority community. I personally disapprove both these terms when it comes to communities. When every community and citizen has equal rights, why is one community a majority or a minority? What if the Sunni population is larger than that of the Shiites, and what if the Shiite population is larger than the Ahmedis? And the same applies to other religions like Hinduism, Sikhism and Zoroastrians. It does not matter because all are equal in importance. All are Pakistanis.

Maybe it is not possible to completely prevent social discrimination of communities which do not have the majority of population in a particular area, and this applies to anywhere in the world, whether you take the example of India or the United States, but at least Pakistan should correct the text book. It is important to do so. I think the most important step that any government can take is to change the communal based status of the constitution. This will be an important achievement, unless some crazy right winger registers a petition in the Supreme Court to get the amended constitution reversed to its miserable communal state. It will be the most tragic thing that will happen to the country since the 2010 floods.

Unfortunately, hardly anyone in Pakistan talks about it, and even the most progressive and secular parties of the countries assign no weight to it. Maybe they are afraid of the reaction of the people, who are under the false impression that Pakistan needs to have an Islamic constitution. There is no need to delete the Islamic provisions, if everyone agrees to that, but not if they are conflicting to the equality of civil rights. However, there is no need to paint a communal color to  the constitution anyway, so that no community in the country should feel left out. Only Muslims can be the President and the Prime Minister of the country currently. Pakistan should be an equal opportunity employer.

This was how the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a Twelver Shia by faith, but a Secular statesman in political vision, wanted the country to be like. Yes, he believed that the country should offer the freedom to Muslims to practice their faith, which they have, but he also wanted other communities to have equal rights in every way. They may have their freedom in the country, but we have to offer them their equal civil rights yet. The Ahmedis often complain of discrimination, and with a secular constitution, their complaints will be answered on a basic level at least. It is up to the Muslims to decide about their status as Muslims or Non-Muslims, but as far as ensuring  equal civil rights are concerned, that is the responsibility of the secular government.

I think we must not be emotional or sentimental in this regard, and must treat the matter pragmatically. This could solve a number of social problems in Pakistan and could prove the first step towards the education of the masses, which will further result in the eradication of communal prejudice, violence and sectarianism. Mr. Abidi talks about a solution in his post that as a nation we need to speak and face the truth. This is one truth which we have been avoiding for a very long time.

The blog post under discussion puts forth five very brief and strong points in his solution to the problems of the country, which are:

  • Separation of Religion from State
  • Bringing Uniformity to the Education System
  • Revamp and Revolutionize the Health Sector
  • Transparent Judiciary
  • Accountability with Honest Work by Citizens

While these points could never have been put in a better way, I only added a brave, honest and straightforward leadership to it, which should have a clear intention to work towards the progress of the country, unlike the passive establishment and the morally corrupt political leadership of the country. The bureaucracy, feudals and politicians of the country have been infested with corruption, which has become an integral part of the society, from the grass root level to the ruling elite.  And yes, the armed forces should be as accountable as any other Pakistani institution, because they ensure the existence of the country.

The people of Pakistan already realize the importance of an independent judiciary. But an important point was raised in the post under discussion that we must recognize the enemy within our ranks. It is the enemy within which is pinning the country down. As for the pseudo-intellectuals he talks about, well let’s just say that people find it fashionable to speak against their motherland. There can be no second opinion about the attention which the health sector requires. But education by far remains the most important element of the post. Unless the people are educated, do not expect any progress or improvement of any kind.

This means that the education facilities should reach every single village from Gilgit-Baltistan to Gwadar. Not only will this produce an economically self-sufficient society, but will also purge out the disease of acceptance of violence and prejudices in the society. A sincere and honest government can make that happen. We have all the funds we need. Once everyone is educated, and in a uniform system without abolishing the Madrassah system, there will be no more incidents like the Sialkot murder. Many in the West blame Islam for all the violence, but do not realize that actually the cause is lack of education. Why the educated Muslims around the world are not resorting to such violence?

I know it is easy to rant about it, but the right intention is all what is needed for offering a solution to the problems of the country. If you want to sum up the post under discussion, it can be done in just two words: “right intentions”. Moreover, Pakistan must work towards financial independence, no matter how difficult and hard it seems. This is the only way the country can break free from the shackles holding it down. This will also offer more diplomatic freedom to the country and greater influence among the nations of the world.

As for the pressures from the world powers in various areas, this is where the role of brave leadership comes into play. Leaders like Jinnah and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto have done that. It can be done again.

Things have never been worse for Pakistan. It is the perfect time to change.

The journey towards improvement can be begun

Facing the right way is needed to be done.

Why worry about the distance ahead

When you’re even afraid to take the first step.

The Independence Day Post

So, we have completed 63 years, and what have we done?

Was this the dream? What have we become?

Although things may not look good, for we’ve lost a lot on the way.

But we must not give up, to rise and fight another day.

We had gained independence from the Imperial rule in 1947, but the question to ask ourselves is whether we are still independent or not? As in the lives of individuals, the independence of states comes with their financial power and freedom, and unfortunately, this has been an area in which we have been doing poorly. Currently, Pakistan is in a gross external debt of more than $42 billion offered by institutions such as the World Bank & the IMF. No wonder why Pakistan has largely been an instrument in the hands of the world powers.

This means that not only Pakistan needs to follow the instructions of the international financial body, but also is unable to maintain its assertiveness as a state due to its financial weakness. While Pakistan struggles to repay the IMF debt and debt to many other donor countries, we need to ask ourselves what are we doing to improve financially. Unless, Pakistan becomes economically strong, it will not be able to make a meaningful impact diplomatically as well.

The events in the recent years have been nothing short of a disaster. Probably the worst power crisis in the history of the country has paralyzed the remnants of manufacturing industry in Pakistan. One of my friends and ex-colleagues, Umer Farooq, had once pointed out to me how Pakistanis are neglecting the importance of manufacturing industries, and how the recent economic policies have only been focused on developing the service sector, that too, under foreign investment.

It is nothing else but the power of manufacturing industries, which has made China a global economic power, and which is why it is dominating international markets, including the Pakistani consumer market. Unfortunately, Pakistan is even losing grip on its existing strengths in the manufacturing industry, such as textile. Unless we are able to produce things we are able to sell, we will never be able to add to our income as a nation.

At the same time, we also need to check our lifestyle as a country under debt, under a financial crisis and as a nation struggling to maintain its position among the international community. While the war against terrorists  have been a hindrance to progress for Pakistan, our attitude has been an even greater one. We need to check the way we our running statecraft and ask questions of our priorities.

Millions of rupees are spent every month on the expenses incurred for the maintenance of the Prime Minister House and the President House. Similarly, millions have been incurred on the expenses of the serving ministers and parliamentarians, who whine all the time and demand for more raises in benefits. How much of this money could have been spent on other areas, which desperately need the attention of the government.

The ruling elite lives in comfort in Islamabad, while their supposed “employers”, which are the People of Pakistan, are suffering every day of their lives. A person in a rural area may face a power outage of 18 hours straight and may not even have access to clean drinking water, education and medical facilities, while the rulers of the country roam around in the most sophisticated and expensive motorcades.

The purpose of this post is not to bring a bad image to the name of Pakistan, but is just to point out that we need a reality check on the completion of yet another year of the country’s independence. That we need to realize what problems are we encountering and how can we work towards a solution. Even if we are able to change our approach in a matter such as curbing expense, which is totally in our control, we can make significant progress.

Even if we compare ourselves to India, despite the fact that India is a continent of a country, with far greater resources, their leaders have not resorted to the kind of lavishness that has been enjoyed by the rulers of Pakistan in its 63 year history, probably with the exception of  Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, Khawaja Nazim-ud-din and a few others who were in office in the early days. At least, they are not as ostentatious.

All the three ruling elements, the bureaucracy, the military and the politicians, including the feudals, have been responsible for the development of this culture of extravagance. When an organization is not able to generate additional sources of income, they consider cutting down expenses to maximize their profitability under given resources. This is what Pakistan needs to do.

However, in the case of Pakistan, we are asking for more IMF debt to maintain the lavish expenditure incurred on the ruling class. It is an ironical situation really. The servants of the people of Pakistan are enjoying a lavish lifestyle bought by the tax Rupees of the Pakistani people, who themselves are deprived of even the basic necessities at some places. How can such a nation ever achieve financial independence?

This elitist culture needs to be changed. We need to change the mindset that the bureaucrats, the military and the politicians are superior to the people of Pakistan. They were chosen from the masses themselves. Anyone who thinks in such a manner does not deserve a position in any of the state institutions. The way the civil servants are trained needs to be changed.

Anyone acquiring a position as a civil servant assumes that he or she has transcended the level of being an ordinary Pakistani citizen and  has entered an elite club. Of course, it is true that they work hard for getting their positions, but they must not forget that they are nothing more than paid servants of the Pakistani people.

To me, a tax-paying vendor is the employer of even the highest-level serving bureaucrat or Army officer. Unless this approach is developed, Pakistan may never achieve what its people aspire for. Unless we work to eliminate the moral corruption plaguing us as a nation, we can never attain the discipline necessary to achieve true independence.

Pakistan must work to rely on its own resources to progress. Unless this approach is adopted, it can never escape the vicious cycle of debt servicing. We need to cut down our military expenditure and stop the race of arms with India. We need to concentrate on strengthening the people by offering them easy access to education, so that manpower, which is one of the most important and abundant resource at our disposal, does not go to waste.

On August 14, 2010, Pakistan probably faces the most asking of all the challenges that it has ever encountered. Pakistan is fighting the worst natural disaster in a century, and right now apparently lacks the resources  to build the lost infrastructure as a result of the monstrous flooding that has currently brought a fifth of the country’s area under water.

With about 1,600 deaths and 20 million people left homeless, Pakistan needs to fight this disaster and must work harder than ever before to restore the lost infrastructure and to help out the affected people. While the international community is helping us out to overcome the challenge, for which we should be grateful to them, we need to develop our own resources as a nation as well.

This independence day is not a time for celebration at all, but one of contemplation and self-evaluation.

But the bottom line is clear. The bottom line is that we must work hard, especially even harder on this hour of crisis, to raise to the level of true independence and glory which is worthy of great nations, before thinking about celebrations and making false claims of pride. Pakistan is a nuclear power with one of the strongest military forces in the world, but none of that is helping us right now.

It is true that Pakistan needs to spend on its security to ensure its existence, but we need to shift our focus from military expenditure to improving the living standards of the people and to offer them education and medical facilities in a better way. We should also develop our focus to strengthen the manufacturing sector of the economy, even if we have to resort to drastic measures for doing so.

Why cannot we produce things as trivial as locks and umbrellas in the country, and why each and every single object we use needs to be “Made in China”? Are we so incompetent and resourceless as a nation? Or have we descended to a state of decadence in which we cannot differentiate wrong from right? But I am aware that a lot of other nations are facing this situation as well.

Never expect change unless you act for the change.

I’m concluding the post with the quotes of two of the fathers of the struggle for freedom for the Indian subcontinent from the Raj, and God knows we need to act on this advice more than ever before.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“With faith, discipline and selfless devotion to duty, there is nothing worthwhile that you cannot achieve. Work, work and work harder.” – Muhammad Ali Jinnah

If you want independence, you have to earn it.