Wednesday, January 14, 2009
2009 Happy Pakistan Series – Yes We Can!
A Karachi blogger writes exclusively for Pakistan Paindabad.
[Text by Kazim Aizaz Alam; picture by Sajjad Ali Qureshi]
I think Pakistan has made remarkable progress in the last couple of years in terms of civil society activism. 2009, I hope, will see more participation of human rights groups and civil society activists in the Pakistani body politic. I believe that any positive change in Pakistani society can come only through citizens' involvement in the political process.
Last year we had a general election that was, according to foreign observers, transparent to a considerable extent. That was meant to be a transition from dictatorship to democracy. Although our hope for an independent judiciary still remains unfulfilled, the elections proved that we as citizens are not completely helpless. In the last two years we learnt how to register our protest and anguish as a nation against the excesses of the government.
Unlike in the past, Pakistanis are not going to tolerate corruption and mischievousness on the part of the government anymore. Just to quote an example, a few months ago one PPP federal minister used an illegal electricity connection to hold the wedding ceremony of his son in one of Karachi's up-scale areas. As a resident of the city, I know this is a common practice, and a minister celebrating his son's wedding at state expense is not something unheard of in the past.
Yet, civil society groups like the People's Resistance came out on streets demanding a public apology and compensation for the stolen electricity by the minister. Newspapers did follow-up stories on the issue and TV channels kept on playing clippings of the wedding venue in order to shame the minister into extending a public apology. Within two weeks, the minister came on TV and showed the copy of an electricity bill that he said he had paid to the Karachi Electricity Supply Company.
On the face of it, this example may seem just one small instance where a powerful political figure bowed to pressure from the public but in actuality this shows that we as a nation have regained confidence in political activism. I believe that the cure for many an issue facing Pakistan lies in citizens' willingness to demand their rights and protest against repression. The state of apathy that we lived in for so many years now seems to have vanished.
Like every Third World country, nepotism is common in Pakistan. But we saw a public outcry recently when the daughter of the sitting chief justice of the Supreme Court was given 21 extra marks so that she could secure admission in a medical college. When the scandal came in the news, a number of politicians termed it a 'non-issue'.
Going by the past record of our judiciary and political class, that was indeed a non-issue. But it blew up a storm among civil society and the public started holding the chief justice up to ridicule. Everyone is now demanding his resignation and letters to the editor have appeared in newspapers calling for a social boycott of the CJ's family. What the politicians supporting the chief justice for a vested interest could not comprehend was that how the award of mere 21 marks to the child of the country's chief judge could trigger such a massive reaction from the general public.
Pakistan's civil society underwent a reformation after the deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, said no to a dictator in uniform. He set an example of refusing to give in to a tyrant's diktat. He became the impetus for change. He has inspired a vast number of people to stand for their rights regardless of the likelihood of their success.
Hope is what we need most. People had lost faith in the state of Pakistan but the historic lawyers' movement -- which was both non-violent and secular to the core -- has rekindled their hopes for a better society.
This year may not bring any material improvement in the lives of ordinary Pakistanis but it is surely going to make us a people able to at least stand for our rights and demand equal opportunities for everyone. In Dalai Lama's words, "With realisation of one's own potential and self-confidence in one's ability, one can build a better world."
[The author runs a blog at redkazim]