Naya Pakistan, an old fable: Ayesha Siddiqa

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Guest post by AYESHA SIDDIQA: The renowned television anchor Quatrina Hosain was in tears. A day after the incident of her being sexually assaulted at a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) jalsa by party workers in Wah Cantonement, she talked about how the bruises may heal but not her emotional scars. She was covering election rallies and got invited by a PTI candidate Mohammad Sarwar to his rally in Wah. It was a sudden plan so no one could have conspired to misbehave. This is important to note, as  many PTI workers have subsequently tried to blame the incident on Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)’s workers. However, when confronted with facts, PTI workers tried to hide behind the argument that women should not provoke people by coming out and mixing with them.

Hussain planned to raise the issue in a television programme. Her argument was, ‘Criticise us (women) for how we dress but that does not give you a right to attack us physically.’ She still hopes the PTI leadership will apologise publicly. I asked her if she was surprised given the arrogance and aggression of PTI supporters, especially on social media. The Christian Science Monitor correspondent Taha Siddiqui was viciously attacked and abused merely for suggesting that Imran Khan’s fall from the forklift on May 7th was an accident caused due to mismanagement of his security personnel.

Welcome to naya (new) Pakistan these above stories are a part of. This is not to point fingers at PTI in particular because other parties have their fair share of rowdy supporters; the other day PML-N workers broke down the wall of a stadium in a city to make way for their leader Shahbaz Sharif. This is to argue that what is being posited as naya is in fact as stale as the old. Even if the PTI makes it to power, conditions are not likely to be too different from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s naya Pakistan of the 1970s. The crowds which had risen on its feet for his support went totally out of control later, because Bhutto had told them about empowerment but not responsibilities. Consequently, the state used force to crush these people, resulting in such humiliating incidents like the police stripping students naked in Anarkali, Lahore, and beating them up.

Election campaigning in Rahimyar Khan. Photo by Imran Khan/PakVotes.pk
Election campaigning in Rahimyar Khan. Photo by Imran Khan/PakVotes.pk

Recently, PTI’s Imran Khan had to abandon addressing a rally because of utter lack of discipline during the inauguration ceremony of the PTI office in Rawalpindi. His supporters even broke or stole the chairs that were placed in a rally in Kasur a few months ago. If the behavior of PTI supporters on social media is anything to judge by, Imran Khan’s brigade will run riot whichever of the three possible scenarios come true for the party.

There is the ideal scenario that the Imran Khan ‘tsunami’ sweeps the elections. Although, it is not likely to happen, we must shudder at the thought of what this storm might do in the name of change. Pakistan is a great country where the elite abuse others by calling them elite and thus worth targeting. The PTI support base will hound anyone and everyone who is not part of their elite base. The other possibility is for the PTI to get a maximum of 30-35 seats. This case involves a double whammy of not being the tsunami that was expected and being forced to make a coalition with the less perfect parties in order to then form the government. This is a case in which the PML-N may get around 90 seats, limiting Nawaz Sharif from making a coalition. Then the PTI would have to make a government in coalition with the PPP, JUI-F, MQM, ANP and JI. Under the circumstances, the PTI could opt to sit in the opposition, in which case it will do nothing but ensure that the government falls as quickly as possibly paving way for next elections. The third option, of course, is making coalition with some of these parties that Imran Khan has lambasted all this while. The third option could break the party as its ideological base will get frustrated and even whither away.

An MQM rally in Jhang. Photo by Aamir Ali/ PakVotes.pk
An MQM rally in Jhang. Photo by Aamir Ali/ PakVotes.pk

One of the pre-conditions of the change mantra is that the PPP will lose badly. Some enthusiasts have even predicted the party getting limited to ten seats in the entire country, which is wishful thinking. The party will make gains in Sindh even thought it is likely to lose about 15 odd seats there out of a total of 61. It is likely to gain another 15 or so from Punjab and perhaps 2-3 in KP. The total will then be over 75, which gives it a safe margin to form a coalition with the help of MQM, ANP and/or JUI-F. Such a scenario is likely to en masse depression amongst those who hope for change. For them, it is unbelievable that the PPP could manage to form government again, given its lacklustre performance. It is indeed a fact that the People’s Party did nothing to help ordinary people except provide jobs and other opportunities to its clients. This system contributed tremendously in damaging the fledgling education system in its own home province in Sindh where a large number of schools are used as stables or stores for the local waderas (landed-feudal). Some such schools will hopefully be vacated on orders of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to serve as polling stations. People in Sindh will vote for the PPP because the other alternative is hardly an option. Sindhis were of the view that the PPP at least they could abuse, but not the Pir Pagaro who is a spiritual leader and cannot be taken to task the same way as any other stakeholder.

Interestingly, the PPP is absent from the electoral scene. None of its leaders is out there campaigning. Bilawal Bhutto has security concerns and Asif Ali Zardari is barred from political activity. In any case, it would not benefit the party if Zardari’s face is shown too often as part of the campaign. The party continues to use the dead Bhuttos to muster support. Lately, it has also engaged in negative publicity against the PML-N, a party that seems to be under fire from three sides: the Army, PTI and the PPP. The Sharif brothers and the larger Sharif family are bending backwards to showcase their successes such as the Metro Bus project in Lahore. This is a transport project that services north and south Lahore. While there is a lot of criticism of the project, it does provide relief to many in the city especially the lower-middle class.

At the launch of the Metro Bus service in Lahore in February this year. Photo credit: Sajid Rana / Dawn.com
At the launch of the Metro Bus service in Lahore in February this year. Photo credit: Sajid Rana / Dawn.com

The PML-N also distributed free laptops to students to check the PTI’s growing popularity amongst the youth. In many ways, the PML-N is obsessed with Imran Khan, who appears to be the only one with the capacity to thwart their chance to rule the country for next five years. The Sharifs believe that they should now get an opportunity to form government.

Their obsession to return to power in Islamabad also pertains to the unfortunate way in which their government was ended in 1999 and they were packed off to Saudi Arabia in forced exile. Which is also why the army is divided in its support of the PML-N. It is popularly believed that the GHQ at Rawalpindi is likely to tolerate the younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, over the older, Nawaz Sharif. The younger one is seen as a satisfactory administrator who will play ball with the army. It is the older brother that the generals don’t like as he is the one who is ideologically poised and less willing to take it lying down from the army.

In a recent interview with the Indian journalist Karan Thapar, Nawaz Sharif talked about setting up an inquiry commission on Kargil. He is also not ready to forgive Pervez Musharraf and many generals feel he will not be compromising. Many observers, therefore, argue that Sharif’s ascendency to power will offer a major challenge for civil-military relations. People in touch with inner circles of the army and the ISI talk about the apprehension that Nawaz Sharif’s government will be a death knell for the military’s influence. These sources even suggest that the confrontation could be avoided if Nawaz Sharif opts to become Pakistan’s Sonia Gandhi and lets someone else from the party become prime minister.

That, however, is not his style.

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It is worth appreciating that forming a government is a matter of life and death for both PTI and PML-N (the PPP is psychologically and emotionally more of a spoiler this time). The Sharifs do not want to lose any seats. This compulsion is one of the many reasons that forced PML-N into a seat-adjustment alliance with the political wing of the banned Deobandi militant outfit, Sipha-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) which is contesting elections under the banner of Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat (ASWJ). The agreement is meant to capture thousands of SSP votes scattered all over Punjab and Sindh. It could also be argued that this partnership is a natural extension of the deal which was struck between the PML-N and the SSP way back in 2008. According to this deal, the SSP had agreed not to contest elections against Shahbaz Sharif and not to physically hurt the family in return for the party providing jobs to SSP workers and freeing one of its key leaders, Malik Ishaq, provided that the courts freed him. The agreement worked out well for both.

It was also this relationship that General Kiyani alluded to in one of his recent speeches. The only issue is that Kiyani’s warning is too little too late. Allowing militant outfits to contest elections is bound to provide them greater depth and penetration in the society. It will further radicalisation, which does not bode well for religious minorities.

Two Hindu candidates campaign in Sanghar. Photo by Ghulam Rasool/PakVotes.pk
Two Hindu candidates campaign in Sanghar. Photo by Ghulam Rasool/PakVotes.pk

The final outcome of the elections is a big mystery. The answer depends on several imponderables, starting with where the youth will put its weight. However, every time I am asked to review the situation I am reminded of the scene at the Islamabad airport international departures. Since the authorities have decided to open only one gate, there are long queues especially as there are usually 3-4 flights checking in at the same time. The waiting in line is inevitably always accompanied with some fight as some people try to jump the queue. But once inside the building there is endless checking by the Anti-Narcotics force, followed by the Airport Security Force. By the time passengers are through with another queue for check-in they are fairly exhausted. Their patience runs out at the third queue for the immigration. There you can hear some people cursing the country and the immigration staff jeering at them for living abroad as ‘second class’ citizens. This always ends in hot exchanges.

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Cartoon by Sabir Nazar for PakVotes.pk

Naya Pakistan is like waiting in an endless series of queues. People get frustrated also because the bar in terms of expectation of change has been set too artificially high. No one is telling ordinary folk about the sacrifices they will have to make personally to bring the transformation. Making right choices in elections is just the first set of queues. Other lines have to be made to bring structural change that people expect will come from heavens, or with just the change at the top.

This in Pakistan is a time to vote and say a prayer for sanity.

(Ayesha Siddiqa is a Pakistani political commentator and author of Military Inc. She is @iamthedrifter on Twitter.)

23 thoughts on “Naya Pakistan, an old fable: Ayesha Siddiqa”

  1. 61 seats in Sindh – 15, plus 15 in Punjab, plus 2/3 in KP is 63/64. How did the author arrive at over 75 for PPP? Am I missing something?

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    1. Maybe you should consider the fact that people are ready to make sacrifices and are willing to stand in the lines. Maybe you should think on the lines that nobody had asked them to change before..nobody had motivated them. Rome was not built in a day. Nor will a new Pakistan…but did you learn nothing from partition? This nation is strong and can borne all sacrifices give the leader is worth.
      Ps: Thank you Ayush.

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  2. is it pure illiteracy that election symbols, both in india and pakistan, get more attention than candidates or their political view points, or something else? i dont think any political party here can dare to have a DONKEY as its ection symbol. no wonder a voiceless tiger got killed due to over exposure to heat durng nawaz’s election ralies. i wish we could export our maneka gandhi to pakistan so to campaign against such a cuelty towards animals.

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  3. Very interesting mixture of Ideas using poor Katrina and ending in nothing as usual. I think the change has come. Imran may not win these elections, as doubts and confusions were created and the reaction of Pakistan people, who have a vast illiteracy and specially mistrustful political past is more emotional than rational. But the change has come. Measuring people on performance has been started. Giving reins of power to the youth is on the rise. The writers and authors still are trying to confuse the situation. I think, Imran Khan has the capacity to lead this nation. It would be a difficult task though. The expectations are high. But most chances are that people of Pakistan would win this time.

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  4. So Ma’m what do u want the leaders to tell the ignorant masses that “Vote for us but hey we wont be able to bring any quick and durable changes”. This is how you sell yourself to the ignorant masses with pretentious rallies with grandiloquent speeches and flamboyant promises. Even I agree that their wont be a NAYA Pakistan. But what I can assure you is that a ‘journey’ will definately start towards NAYA Pakistan. :-)

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  5. “PPP has also engaged in negative publicity against the PML-N, a party that seems to be under fire from three sides: the Army, PTI and the PPP”
    “unfortunate way in which their government was ended in 1999 and they were packed off to Saudi Arabia in forced exile”
    “Naya Pakistan is like waiting in an endless series of queues”
    every one is against N league… forced exile of Shareefs… naya pak is like waiting in a queue which is never gonna end… seriously what a biased and pessimist writer :(

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  6. I find it surprising that it has been few days since Quatrina’s unfortunate incident happened and the author did not have a chance to follow up with the anchor. Imran Khan himself called Quatrina and apologized. A lot of us PTI supporters have apologized for the disgusting behavior of the few and she has been kind enough to forgive as well. This is precisely the kind of missing information that brings to question the credibility of very respectable analysts like Ayesha Siddiqa. At least acknowledge the good where it exists.

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  7. I sense quite a bit of resentment in your article, which I feel is emotionally aggravated. I have two humble comments:

    Firstly, whilst it is absolutely unacceptable and horrific what a couple of PTI workers did to Quatrina Hosain, the blame should not really fall on the PTI and what they stand for. This is more of a civil matter where the police should be involved and charges should be brought against the accused perpetrators. Like you said, this could have happened at any other party jalsa and what I would like to add to this is that it could have actually happened anywhere in Pakistan or even anywhere in the world. This does not mean that all Pakistanis or all of humanity is to blame. Similarly, the PTI are not to blame for the actions of a few individuals who happened to be at the jalsa.

    Secondly, I find your analogy between Naya Pakistan and the airport queue quite interesting. However, I would like to point out that the fact that people are trying to make a Naya Pakistan should be applauded rather than dismissed. If people were to simply resign to the fact that change will never come so why bother trying as your article leans towards, then there is no point in hoping or trying for a better future whatsoever.

    The world never thought the Arab Spring would happen yet it did. That in itself should show that an improved Pakistan is possible and a fast track protocol queue might be opened for Naya Pakistan.

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  8. I totally agree that IK’s supporters and the Pakistani citizens at large have to learn to take responsibility. Participating in Jalsas like a Mela is one thing. Real change or transformation will impact each person’s life. Are individuals willing to act responsibly now and in the future? That to me is a big question. I whole-heartedly support change but I also keep cautioning the young people I know that they have to learn to be responsible and accountable and be good citizens if there is to be any lasting change…

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  9. To some of the comments above, the author has sent this response:

    If they talk to Katrina they will find out that no one made a public apology. The initial reaction is to deny it happened and then attack those who raise the issue. This is not even about apology but about a certain attitude which is expressed by the person who has asked how much money I got for the article. This is a fascism one fears will come with PTI.

    Apologizing to the female journalist after the deed was done cannot be considered good enough. This is about changing the basic attitude of people and especially of the youth and PTI supporters who try to abuse everyone and trash any suggestion that counters Imran Khan. The other parties are extremely bad and have underperformed but at least they are attuned to the culture of tolerating criticism. A positive change is required in the country which also means tolerance to opposing views. The comments just posted prove my point that PTI has serious attitude issues. Any disagreement and they accuse people of taking bribe or start harassing them in general. I have yet to see Khan sb control his supporters and teach them to engage rather than lynch people.

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    1. its election day and we can see the tolerance of other parties. name a single incident in which pti fired a single bullet. on other hand, every other party has done what its has been doing since ever. so much for tolerance.!!!!!

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  10. Spoke to Quatrina.Told her I was extremely upset & apologised on behalf of the party.Have zero tolerance 4 any abuse,mistreatment of women.— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) May 7, 2013

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  11. “Mishandling” of a lady because of her gender is not sexual assault?
    I joined PTI as a member in 1996 and I will vote for it but I hesitate to publicly admit it because of young members bad manners and outright hooliganism. This party has to learn tolerance and courtesy, not to say that other parties are not equally intolerant and discourteous. It also has to accept criticism on merits and not respond with knee jerk denial or personal attack.

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    1. @farmerdr
      No sir, it is not…. sexual assault is a VERY serious term and gives the impression that people tried to grope her or rape her. Getting pushed at a jalsa or snatching a camera from a cameraman do not mount to sexual assault.

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  12. ELECTION COMMISSION OF PAKISTAN

    First well done voters lists with NIC and photo.

    Cheaters are weeping because they have less chance to cast now bogus votes

    Most Urgent

    SUGGESTIONS

    1. Avoid rush in the Presiding Officer room / Polling booth. Due to rush presiding officer can not identify the voter properly. Due to crowed bogus vote can be caste by some one else or stamped by another person

    2. Only 3 men and 3 women should be allowed in the polling booth.

    Circulate it through media to all presiding officer, police, rangers etc.

    Masood Sipra,

    —————————————-

    الیکشن کمیشن آف پاکستان

    سب سے پہلے اچھی طرح سے قومی شناختی کارڈ اور تصویر کے ساتھ ووٹر فہرستوں کیا.
    اب وہ بوگس ووٹ کاسٹ کرنے کے لئے کم موقع ہے کیونکہ Cheaters رو رہی ہو

    سب سے فوری

    تجاویز

    1. پریزائڈنگ افسر کے کمرے / پولنگ بوتھ میں جلدی سے بچیں. پریزائڈنگ افسر مناسب طریقے سے ووٹر کی شناخت نہیں کر سکتے ہیں کی وجہ سے تیزی سے لے جانا. بوگس ووٹ دی کی وجہ سے کسی اور ایک یا ایک سے دوسرے شخص کی طرف سے مہر کی طرف سے ذات ہو سکتی ہے
    2. صرف 3 مرد اور 3 خواتین کے پولنگ بوتھ میں اجازت دی جانی چاہئے.

    تمام پریزائڈنگ افسر، پولیس، رینجرز وغیرہ سے میڈیا کے ذریعے یہ گردش

    مسعود سپرا،

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