No real ‘change’

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) rally in Karachi attracted, according to varying estimates, between 100,000 and 300,000 people on December 25. This was not a surprise given that PTI chief Imran Khan’s popularity has risen in recent months. Seeing the party’s rise as a ‘third force’, a lot of politicians have jumped ship and joined the PTI. Most of these are those who were either not happy with their former party or were sidelined. Former foreign minister Sardar Assef Ali has also joined the PTI, so it seems that the party is just new wine in an old bottle (read politicians). Reservations from the Christian community were shown when the PTI announced a rally on Christmas day but the PTI justified its decision since it also fell on Mr Jinnah’s birthday. Symbolically, the rally was held at the Quaid’s mausoleum. Though there is no bar on people with diverse views to attend a political rally, it was a bit disconcerting to see Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s posters at the rally. Not only were her posters being flashed at the rally, PTI’s new entrant Javed Hashmi said she was our ‘daughter’ and the US should return her to Pakistan. It is disturbing to see that Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian woman accused of alleged blasphemy, is rotting in a Pakistani prison while some hardliners have declared an al Qaeda operative ‘qaum ki beti’ (nation’s daughter).

That said, the turnout at the PTI rally was impressive and it is hoped that those attending political rallies such as this one will come out to vote come election day. Low voter turnout has afflicted this country for far too long. In a democracy, it is important that people cast their votes to show that they want to bring change through the ballot box. It is equally important that Pakistanis not remain apolitical. A politically aware nation is critical for the democratic process. As far as the PTI leaders were concerned, some of their speeches were direct attacks on President Zardari. Azam Swati asked for the president to be placed on the exit control list (ECL). Shah Mehmood Qureshi took the stage amidst shouts of ‘Go Zardari Go’. He declared that Pakistan’s nuclear assets were safe but needed to be safeguarded from those who could be a security risk. This was an uncalled for and totally baseless allegation against the president. Mr Qureshi sounded like a warmonger when he said that a ‘no first use’ policy would make our nuclear weapons worthless. He needs to be reminded that ever since India and Pakistan went overtly nuclear, war is no longer an option, and that using nuclear weapons is the greatest disaster that can ever take place.

The main attraction of the rally was of course PTI chief Imran Khan. He came prepared and sounded mature in his speech. Mr Khan talked about minority rights, animal rights, women’s rights, free healthcare, education, justice. It was good to see Mr Khan offering an apology to the Baloch and admitting that Pakistan is treating Balochistan like its colony, as it did with East Pakistan. He promised that his party would put an end to this if and when it comes to power. Mr Khan should be aware that the reason the Baloch feel alienated from this country is because of the military’s callous ‘kill and dump’ policy. The military has adopted oppressive policies in the country’s largest province against its own citizens. Unless and until the military is made accountable for its atrocities and a political solution negotiated, the Balochistan issue cannot be resolved. Mr Khan’s rhetoric on making Pakistan a social welfare state is hollow without a proper programme, which was ‘promised’ but not spelled out. It seems that PTI wants to make the existing system better by reliance on private enterprise, investment and welfare for the working class and peasants in a capitalist-feudal system. The PTI has not addressed property relations or the issue of land reforms. For an ordinary citizen, this is no ‘revolution’ or ‘change’; it is but a promise of reform in the existing system. Those who are living under the illusion that the PTI will bring any fundamental systemic change need to wake up and smell the coffee.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


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