Pakistan’s national politics continues to wallow and lurch in vacuity. Its immediate future is indeterminate. This gives rise to pervasive restlessness and a sinking feeling of imminent doom. Ominously, its less than stellar past seems to be catching up with it again. There is a distinct possibility of the redundant, obsolete political dispensation of yore being returned to power in the next general elections, whenever they take place. That lot has repeatedly failed the nation. Pakistan deserves better.
There are many factors that call for a basic paradigm shift in the qualities, competencies, capabilities, and capacities of Pakistan’s elected political leadership. Our earlier rulers have been incapable of comprehending and resolving challenges that were critical for the nation’s evolution as a modern, prosperous, strong, developed, responsible, and respected member of the international community. A critical look at where we stand as a nation today tells the story of their accomplishments for Pakistan or the lack of them! It is an abysmal saga of deficient, self-serving leadership, incompetence, poor governance, and lost opportunities.
However, the most glaring factor that favors change today is the yawning generation gap. All heads of our major political parties are in their early to mid-seventies and beyond. Sixty-five percent of our population, a significant majority, is below thirty, however. The void is expansive, palpable. The two have precious little in common. The older generation still plies the outdated, irrelevant politics of the 80s and 90s, which does not resonate with the current majority. It does not seem to have grasped the changed geopolitical environment of the twenty-first century, which is epitomized by a technological revolution of sorts. This has changed the dynamics and imperatives of geopolitics, geostrategy, and geoeconomics, of international relations, and most importantly, of domestic politics and governance within the country. The constantly evolving environment demanded a suitably educated, well-trained, prepared, groomed, and self-confident new generation that could understand these complex challenges and overcome them once given the mantle of national leadership. The older generation not only crucially failed to understand and grasp this challenge but was also unable to raise the next generation accordingly.
The current majority of the nation would like to have leaders who it can relate to, who it can walk in step with, and who give it hope. It wants leadership that speaks its language, understands its issues, ambitions, and educates, trains, prepares, and provides it the opportunities to acquire a better, more prosperous, contented, and successful life. This can only come about if the next general elections in Pakistan turn out to be that point of inflection, that crucial turning point in its national politics, that revolutionizes its dynamics, imperatives, and dimensions for the better and for good.
How can the forthcoming general elections become a true point of inflection? The neutral Caretaker Government could consider organizing a two-phase pre-election program to create a direct interface between the political parties and the electorate. In Phase One, all heads of major and significant political parties (in alphabetical order) could be allotted at least one hour of time on PTV. These could be monologues. They could spell out their party manifestos in reasonable detail for the public. They could also lay down their priorities and plans to achieve their desired end states. Most critically, they could lay down how they will generate the funds to operationalize their plans. Their discourse must specifically explain how they intend to overcome the multitudinous challenges that Pakistan faces, especially the economy, including debt management and handling IFIs, international relations including major powers and regional countries in particular, counter-terrorism and extremism, climate change, poverty, food security, water, education, health, infrastructure, defense, existential threats, etc.
In Phase Two, a series of debates between the heads of major and significant political parties could be held at all provincial capitals, including Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, by turn. A chosen panel of neutral, apolitical, well-reputed media personnel could pose piercing, exhaustive questions on national/domestic, geopolitical, geostrategic, and geoeconomic challenges that Pakistan faces and generate a healthy discussion/debate highlighting the issues and the solutions proffered by the various parties. The heads of the parties could thus give out their understanding of national, provincial, and local issues and their policies to deal with them too. One portion of the questions must, of necessity, deal with the issues that beset that particular province where the debate is being held.
A series of discussions across the media spectrum should naturally ensue thereafter. Those political parties declining to become a part of such an exercise will lose an opportunity to positively engage the nation as a whole.
This could be a win-win exercise for both the political parties and the electorate. It will allow the parties to make formal presentations of their manifestos and policies to the people who, in turn, would be able to judge the parties and their leaders better. It will set aside the vacuous pre-election rhetoric that pervades our politics and bring in more substance, authenticity, and value to our political discourses. The public will then be in a position to make well-informed, educated, and well-considered decisions and choices at the polls. Free, fair, transparent, all-inclusive, and timely elections under the law and the Constitution will bring such an electoral exercise to a positive and fruitful closure!