In need of a narrative

Elections will pave the way to political stability in the country? Put your right hand on your heart and say it again. Elections will lead to political stability. The answer might guide you to see the real issues facing the country including the declining economy, education, health and welfare of the common man. Agreed, political stability will lay the foundation to achieve objectives in important social sectors. However, could you name any government in power since 1947 that achieved these objectives during the small spans of available political stability? Political clouds would come floating into our lives with hopes of gentle rains but every time the nation would end up with rosy promises made by political and military leaders who ruled the country for decades. How many of them made a statement and lived by it in letter and spirit? Changing the life of the common man for the better was always a proudly stated objective. Has it happened? It has not happened because you harvested what you planted and not what you intended to plant.
So, should we expect some relief for the nation once the hullaballoo of ‘selected’, ‘imported’ or ‘real’ government in Islamabad dissipates?
The question is not whether the elections would take place soon or next year. The real question is: would the elections be free and fair so as to put in place a genuinely represented government? The dark shadows of ‘behind-the-scene’ agreements for more-than-deserving share of power along with familiar cries of rigging and recounting are likely to keep hovering over the political landscape. Balloting through EVMs or not is an important issue. However, the more important issue is: following democratic norms, would the losing parties accept the election results graciously? It doesn’t take a Chomsky to foresee the would-be government struggling with grave issues like deficit-financing, debt-payments, conditions imposed by the lending establishments, menacing inflation, tax collection from the rich, inept governance, law & order, internal & regional security threats and complex civil-military relations. Add into it some of the complicated issues of foreign relations like defining the basic contours of foreign policy, Pakistan’s relations with India, Afghanistan, the US, China and the fate of mega projects like CPEC and you have a basket full of serpents awaiting the ‘real’ government.
In a political atmosphere where taking a date for elections and winning a two-third majority are the top national priorities, it is almost impossible to point towards some of the hard-core national issues like controlling population growth, providing basic education, health and housing facilities and clean water to all, raising the per capita income and purchasing power of the masses and providing a peaceful environment for the youth to grow, get fair treatment and adequate employment on the principle of meritocracy. In a country where ‘governance’ is equated with ‘power’ and not ‘responsibility’, could anyone even think of talking about the hazards of climate change or glacier geoengineering?
It would be wrong to presume that the nation’s sacrifices would one day bring forth fruits of prosperity. Unless, the people of a country have a collective endeavour to prosper and the leaders know how to direct the masses to that end honestly, there is no way it could tread the path of progress. Suffering could lead to success but directionless suffering leads you nowhere. Secondly, possessing an atom bomb and bringing prosperity in the country are mutually exclusive. Hence, it would also be wrong to assume that the atomic-knowhow and the capacity to strategically deter the enemy would ultimately transform into any economic benefits. Thirdly, the wise course of action would not be to overpower the enemy. Eliminating animosity should be the aim so that the focus remains on putting one’s own house in order.
Honest and visionary leadership is not enough for a nation to prosper. It could at best be a good beginning. The Peoples Republic of China was not built by Mao Tse Tong or Deng Xiaoping alone. The millions of Chinese responded positively to their leadership and collectively reaped the benefits. Hence, to presume that all economic ills of Pakistan will vanish with the advent of honest leadership in the country would be another false assumption. The mindset of the people needs to change to think beyond personal gains and individual progress. Put your right hand on your heart and answer this question. Are we actually ready to change by adopting a mutually beneficial collective approach in addressing our national issues?
If the answer is not in affirmative, be ready to watch the vicious circle of power politics in Pakistan for an indefinite period of time. Be prepared to see the main political parties taking turns, blaming either each other for their follies or crying wolf or rubbing into far-fetched foreign conspiracies for the ‘naive’ people of Pakistan to come out in hopes of any change for the better. Get used to seeing politics mixed with economic issues resulting in additional burdens on your pockets.
The pattern of taking turns of two political parties was altered in 2018 by putting in place a comparatively new political party in Islamabad with hopes of change. The experiment seems to have dismayed the ‘powers that be’ if not outrightly disappointed. Steering the country through troubled waters while covering ‘all bases’ still remains as enigmatic as it was at the end of any civilian or military rule. On the other hand, too little time is left from now to holding the next general elections for devising long-term plans or even medium-term strategies. The immediate concerns over presenting an acceptable budget and controlling the dramatic fall of the rupee coincides with the announcement of election-dates. Clearly, adjusting the sails seems to be the immediate aim. Now for the last time, put your right hand on your heart and ask yourself, ‘how much power will my vote have in framing a narrative for the country.

The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan and author of eight books in three languages. He can be reached at

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