I Voted For a Better Pakistan & You?

So 11th May 2013 is finally over! It was the day we all expected to be the day of ‘Change’ and revolution. My spirits were high as I had been to a few PTI jalsas before, and just like any other enthusiastic Pakistani I was looking forward to a Naya Pakistan. Another special thing was that I had voted for the first time in my life and I wanted to make it a memorable one.

IMG_5463So, while everyone was glued to the television channels, I decided to go around Lahore and enjoy the election fever. Before leaving, my father discouraged me & said “Everybody will be lazy and clumsy; you won’t see much on the roads”. But, ignoring his advice, in a few moments I was wearing a PTI cap and roaming around the streets of Lahore. From Chauburji to Mall road, I was there to witness the political fervor of Pakistanis! I grabbed my camera while going for a ride, just to capture any extraordinary sight I might encounter on my way.

I stopped by at a shop in Gawalmandi to grab some snacks and a cute 13/14 year old waiter ran towards my car. Before I could place any order, he said ‘Baji, abhi aya’. He ran away and came back with a PTI badge.He quickly placed it on his shirt and tried to rub away the dirt while giving a pose for my camera. His eyes were filled with exhilaration and anticipation. Despite of the fact that he was underprivileged, illiterate and life had been very hard on him, he was still optimistic about these elections. He wasn’t familiar with words like ‘rigging’ and ‘corruption’ but he had faced much more atrocities than what we had stumbled upon in our lives. If this boy could be sanguine about a better Pakistan, what’s stopping us from actually working for it? This thought actually moved me!

The enthusiasm

Before leaving this boy said “Baji!” and I thought he was going to ask for some money. But astonishingly he requested me to give him a cap of Imran Khan with Balla (bat). While, handing it over him, I felt pity for my own materialistic approach and yet was amazed by the gusto with which he was celebrating these elections.

Around 3:00 p.m. a lot of bikes, cars and people on foot started marching around these areas. These groups were chanting names of their leaders and I could sense their optimism for a better Pakistan. Their eyes gleaming with passion, each one of them wanted to revive the spirit of Quaid.

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As I passed through Jain Mandir, I saw a Sitta-wala hawker with a flag of a political party. I stopped my car, stepped down to take his picture. He was a 25-30 year old man, all sweaty, sun burnt and skin of his palms almost burnt due to repeated exposure to fire. I went to him and inquired “Apne yeh jhanda kyun lagaya?”. He looked at me with some

surprise initially and then a dazzling smile took over those expressions. “Pakistan ke liye lagaya!”  he said. I was so moved by these words that it actually gave me goosebumps. I quickly took a shot and went back, but my mind was stuck there. I was living an extravagant life and enjoying every possible luxury and yet I was disappointed. While, these individuals were facing excruciating pains to earn a full meal and still expected something out of these elections.

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The moment I reached mall road, I was surprised to see that it was full of life. Kids, boys, men and women wearing PTI & PML-N souvenirs were all around. It seemed that the scorching heat and the corrupt leadership couldn’t mar their zest to come out and work for their parties. As I took out my camera to take a snap, they all started chanting their slogans and gave their best smiles even in those sweaty t shirts. This was exhilarating and quite different from the gloomy picture my father had painted from his past memories.

This was my last stop and I went home after that. Shortly, results started coming out and my friends were texting me and cursing the election commission of Pakistan. But I wasn’t concerned about the results anymore; I was already stirred by the vigor and zest I had just witnessed.

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When after enduring pains and sorrows, illiteracy and despair, if these people out there can hope for a better Pakistan then we have no right to complain. We can’t whine about rigging and corruption until we give in our honest contribution for a better Pakistan. We all need to work for the revival of Pakistan, a country created for prosperity and now marred by terrorism and bloodshed. If we all grow out of our petty issues and vouch for betterment, only then we can have a better Pakistan. I’ve decided to play my part genuinely for a better Pakistan; no flamboyant heroic claims rather candid conduct with a tinge of patriotism & love amalgamated with progressiveness. Let’s do it and make a better Pakistan together, for us and for everyone out there! A better Pakistan where there will be equality & peace!

Strong Contenders & Weak Manifestos!

With less than a month left in election 2013, Pakistanis witness some of the most invigorating and creative election campaigns by its major contenders. With Pakistan People’s Party being judged on the basis of its last 5 years in power, the competition of manifestos, promises, speeches and processions boils down to PML-N & PTI.

Whereas on one hand we see viral social media campaigns, on the other we observe billions being spent on hiring musicians and winning loyalties through television commercials.

But amidst of all this, we see another change! We observe that everything from policy to manifesto, & campaigns are focused on the youth. These youngsters ranging from 18-35 years of age are the centre of attention for politicians grappling over seats for power and privilege. Provoking these youngsters and boosting their high energies, is an easy task, as most of them are too naïve to understand political intricacies.

We see this naivety in the causes they attribute to Pakistan’s economic decline and the reasons they choose to select a party. According to a survey youth voices on political economy 2013, around 54% of the youth rated ‘corruption’ as our biggest obstacle in gaining economic prosperity. So to lure these young minds, our politicians are whole heartedly working on policies against corruption.

Similarly, parties entice them by narrating tales of freedom, where Pakistan will not be under the control of foreign and especially U.S. elements. Another important term being used is ‘Justice’. PTI demands justice against debt defaulters & PMLN demands justice against PPP’s corrupt leaders.

The third most important tactic used to attract attention is to tell people about how everyone will pay taxes and they will increase the tax base with a magic wand. As the youth complains against load-shedding so these manifestos are filled with energy crises and policies to cover it within a few years or even months.

All these claims might be appealing but are not a solution to some of the most scathing real life problems. The truth is that Pakistan has some chronic issues feeding on its already torn economy.

The first and foremost issue is of Pakistan’s ever growing population coupled with poverty and social issues. Pakistan’s population growth is the second highest in the Muslim world with projections rating it to be around 258 million by 2030. This is a number of enormous value especially with reference to future fiscal growth and consumption. To counter this problem a comprehensive plan was needed but it was an issue forgone by parties perhaps to abstain from the wrath of religious political bodies.

Another important point to note is, that half of the above given population figure is estimated to be of females. Around 60% of the women headed households are ranked to be below poverty line. Moreover, Pakistan was ranked at a 134 out of 135 countries in the global gender gap index. This means that almost half of the population is lagging behind economically, politically, educationally and hence, pulling down the economy of Pakistan as a whole. While PTI has decided to give 33% representation to women in all political decisions, PML-N has completely ignored the gender issue with some old promises given a page length in its manifesto.  PTI’s policy has also not given any substantial program to counter poverty prevalent in lower class women of Pakistan.

Lastly, the strongest force working against Pakistan’s economy is nothing but terrorism and the war we are indulged in. This war has not only wounded our citizens physically and mentally but also financially. Including the direct and indirect costs of war which includes uncertainty, infrastructure lost, FDI, exports etc. overall we have lost around 5037 Billion rupees so far till 2011. This is not an ignorable figure which actually amounts to more than 1/3rd of our total public debt. And this doesn’t include many other factors e.g. brain drain, incurring expenditures, local security conditions & lives of innocent citizens!

Now, what’s PTI’s or PML-N’s stance over these issues?  While PTI leaders showed some mettle during the Quetta protests, PML-N has decided to remain silent over these controversial topics. The security policy should be to eradicate these forces right away; PTI has decided to appease them with some favorable conditions.

Summing up the given arguments, we can observe that our current top contenders and their policies are not giving coverage to what should be treated as ‘critical’ problems. Chanting about corruption & accountability is important but it’s not what’s most vital to our economic deterioration. Corruption is widespread where even the top most developed countries’ bureaucracy is considered corrupt by its citizens. What’s important is that we make sure something important is not ignored just because our ‘youth’ and voters don’t consider it important. Issues like population, women empowerment, terrorism, war against terror and its widespread ramifications must be considered as major issues of our economy along with energy crises and corruption.