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May 23rd, 2013, by Naveed Ahmad

Naveed Ahmad

Pakistan’s befitting reply to stereotypes


Mulla Omar won’t be appointing Pakistan’s next prime minister as the nation stood its ground and voted courageously on May 11, 2013. Yes, Pakistan has recorded 22 per cent surge in voter turnout and no major leader was killed at the hands of any version of Taliban. Also true that the elections were the most modern in terms of use of technology in modern-day world. Meanwhile, the Pakistani Election Commission of Pakistan made a world record with largest SMS service offered to any single number where each voter could get a reply in 10 seconds about his vote, voter number and polling area. None of the polling stations was blown away by Taliban, who had actually threatened repeatedly.

Surely, female turnout was the highest in the country’s history but of course not the same in all districts. Even a few women in conservative northwestern province filed nomination papers to contest against male candidates in general elections.

The electioneering centered on a number of issues but imposition of Taliban-style Islamic shariah was not one. Osama bin Laden’s killings and hoardings of his ‘heroism’ was nowhere to be seen. Looking at Pakistan with western lens, the chaotic country seemed to be a place brimming with passion for democracy.

The wild cardholder in May 11 elections was an erstwhile playboy Imran Khan, who ruled hearts and cricket ground with un-rivaled skills. Neither digs against Khan over his former girl friends nor his British ex-wife’s Jewish-Christian family could deter fashionable as well as conservative women from rushing to his public rallies. He did not call for shariah but departure from the past. Khan’s manifesto and style resembled Obama’s to an extent. His mainstream and social media campaigns too had parallels with the US president instead of Mulla Omar.

Nawaz Sharif, the other heavy weight, emerging as the victor of election 2013, too is a clean-shaven man from moderate Punjab province. His head-covering wife and daughter also held separate rallies to seek vote from men and women. His manifesto promised economic revival and betterment in standard of living.

From the balcony of Presidency, Asif Ali Zardari – Benazir Bhutto’s widower and her Peoples’ Party leader – oversaw his rivals’ struggle for premier’s slot. He knows people will vote him out owing to his party’s poor performance on challenges in spheres of security, economy and social service delivery. All this sounds too much like a western democracy, right! Aren’t we talking about Pakistan, which is seen as conjoined twin of Afghanistan i.e. AfPak? Where did the Islamists go, after all?

The hard-line Islamists have been very much around. Detached from the political landscape of Pakistan right-wing Jama’at-i-Islami and other religio-political parties like Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Pakistan did not enter into a coalition with each other, this splitting their 7 to 10 per cent vote bank. They demanded strict Islamic laws and reversal of some liberal legislation but miserably lost the election. In a parliament of 342 members, total seat of Islamists won’t be more than 10 reserved slots for non-Muslims.

Taliban or whatever name you may give to these radicals have claimed over 60,000 lives in Pakistan since 9/11 but failed to scare the Pakistani people away from right to self-determination.

To match their warnings against electoral process, Taliban carried out various terrorist attacks and claimed over 170 lives besides injuring dozens. May 11 remained rather peaceful and festive.

Now that moderate political parties dominate the parliament and Nawaz Sharif, who was twice prime minister till October 1999, begins his third term, the parliament has a heavy agenda to address. Owing to incompetence and alleged corruption of the Zardari-led coalition government, the country is facing its worst energy crisis. The 188-million strong nation is looking at its representative to chalk out and implement a counter-terror strategy instead of blaming its failures on Taliban or their predecessors. The third and equally daunting is the task of revitalizing the economy by improving governance and oversight mechanism, thus attracting foreign investment and cooperation.

Youth have a great stake in today’s democracy than ever before. Politicized and inspired by Imran Khan’s charisma and struggle, the youth have a voice in almost every affair of the state. Pakistan might not be ready for Imran Khan’s activist agenda of change at the moment but the nation’s 36-million voters (below 35-year age) have reclaimed ownership of their country through May 11 general elections.

Your stereotype and armchair analyses aside, Taliban are a 1000-year away from taking over Pakistan and assuming control of its nuclear arsenal.


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