The impunity to hope

Published: November 12, 2012
The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant. She tweets @tazeen and blogs at

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant. She tweets @tazeen and blogs at

Four years ago, when President Barack Obama became the first person of colour to be elected as the president of the US, the world was hopeful that a lasting change would come along. We all know how that turned out but there are still some positives from that election and the current election, where President Obama was re-elected, which have shaped and will continue to shape domestic politics in the US. People are less divided across race and gender lines and vote on social issues; these lessons provide an example for other countries.

However, an Obama-like victory for any individual is next to impossible in Pakistan. For starters, the middle class that played a key role in bringing this political change in the US, is limited to a few big cities (mostly Karachi and to some extent Lahore, Faisalabad, Sialkot and Hyderabad) and it is fast shrinking given the energy crisis and economic woes of the country.

In addition, our politics is caste/clan/ethnicity-based. The election result of February 2008 is a clear indication of that trend. The PML-N with its Punjabi leadership did well in upper and central Punjab. The PPP with its Sindhi leadership did well in rural Sindh and the Seraiki belt. Pashtuns voted for their nationalist party, the ANP, and urban Sindh remained loyal to the MQM. Chances are that the new elections, expected to be held in the first half of 2013, would be more divisive as more actors of the same hue have entered the political arena.

Pakistan, perhaps, is the only country where democracy, tribalism and feudalism have coexisted and still continue to coexist. Our parliament looks more like a national jirga council, where most of the elected representatives are tribal and feudal heads with fairly dubious histories. More often than not, they try to stall any progressive legislation with impunity and pride, usually in the name of religion and culture.

The American people moved away from centre right politics to centre left politics when they voted for President Obama back in 2008 and again in 2012. There is no chance of that happening ever in Pakistan. To begin with, we don’t have a middle class big enough in numbers and the urban population is too attached to religion to embrace anything different. A country where original thought is shunned and a parliamentarian had to remain in hiding after proposing changes to the blasphemy law has a long way to go before it starts hoping for change.

In a country suffering from the worst leadership crisis of its history, religious obscurantism is at its peak, the education system has failed and the youth is apathetic; the only change that can be predicted is more chaos, unless we produce a leadership that gives the whole nation a chance to hope, like President Obama did in 2008. Unfortunately, we do not have the system to produce someone like him. With an absentee foreign father and a family with meagre finances, Obama was able to attend an Ivy League school on the basis of merit and finished his degree with the help of student loans. Sadly, that’s not the case in Pakistan. Forget admission of a poor kid to an elite school, we do not provide a level playing field to our children in the same family as most families prefer to spend more money on the education of the male child. In such circumstances, we want to remain tied to a distant past.

Should we even have the impunity to hope for a better tomorrow?

Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • Toticalling
    Nov 12, 2012 - 10:56PM

    Truth is stranger than fiction, they say. But this is not always so. Sometimes truth hurts and fictions makes us happy. Obama won only a few decades after Blacks got equal rights. He belongs to a middle class family. In Pakistan, we like rich people and do not care about normal people. In fact we avoid having contact with them. We like to make friends with rich and powerful. On the other hand the author is trying to complement comparing P. with USA, the most powerful and probably the most tolerant society on earth, as far as race relations are concerned.
    But the thoughts are worth talking about.


  • Uqaab
    Nov 12, 2012 - 11:08PM

    The point being made is correct that we have a long way to go but the arguments flimsy. The vote in US election was divided along race and gender lines, majority of women voted for Obama and majority of white men did not. Majority of urban population too close to religion, what’s wrong in that? Yes, wrong interpretation of religion could be an issue but it should be argued as such. And lastly, this worst leadership crisis is at a time where the most left of center parties are ruling so we should also start arguing/writing about corruption, lack of governance and lack of political will as the main cause of the mess we are in and not only focus on right & left,close and away from religion, liberal & conservative etc.


  • Falcon
    Nov 12, 2012 - 11:14PM

    So do Pakistani op-ed writers right about anything other than doom & gloom? Everybody starts somewhere. U.S. also started somewhere. Obama is a product of a long struggle spanning multiple centuries, but our problem is that we want to get there in a jiff without paying the price of sweat, blood, and failures.


  • Parvez
    Nov 12, 2012 - 11:46PM

    You are so right. We have a democratic system that a joke, that runs on the principle of : Government by the few, for the few, in the name of the many.
    The people who stress that the answer lies in voting as this acts as a filter process to weed out the bad are just delaying the inevitable. If you ask me what that is, I’d say I don’t have a crystal ball, but past history does not give us much hope.


  • sabi
    Nov 13, 2012 - 12:01AM

    Peace is fundametal for a society to prosper,and peace is not there.Unstability on the other hand suits those who are not legitmate to rule and unfortunately they are at the helm of affairs.
    In the absence of peace, complaining for good leadership and corruption eradication is un.natural.Pakistan is reached to a stage where strict reforms are needed to neutralise highly intolerance society.Army is the only institution which can take initiative to help civilions to implement much needed reforms.But army leadership is either incompetent to understand the gravity of situation or is not intrested to change the staus quo.This is really very horrible situation and time is runing out.Better ten to twenty thousands be silenced in time to save millions than millions be killed when our shamefull silance bring that moment in our life.


  • sabi
    Nov 13, 2012 - 12:20AM

    “but our problem is that we want to get there in a jiff without paying the price of sweat, blood, and failures”.
    You are absolutly right.It doesn’t count what we want it counts what we do.Our actions, our deeds make our destiny.And what a destiny we have as a nation in the future is not difficult to predict.


  • Yusuf
    Nov 13, 2012 - 12:30AM

    Lets ask a simple question, ” Who owns the Constitutional Right of Pakistan ? ” The Citizens of Pakistan Wants To Exercise their Constitutional Rights, But How ?


  • Mohammed
    Nov 13, 2012 - 6:32AM

    Pakistan does not need blood, sweat and tears to advance as it has left its destiny in the hands of God. Hard work, sweat and toil are of any use only to unbelievers as they do not rely on God. See the result of reliance in God.


  • Feroz
    Nov 13, 2012 - 11:33AM

    I like the tongue in cheek sarcasm of your remark.


  • 3footninja
    Nov 13, 2012 - 1:53PM

    well said!


  • Shadow
    Nov 13, 2012 - 7:46PM

    Plagiarism is Pakistanis only method in including this article. Obama wrote audacity to hope.. The book. Pakistan needs to learn from European enlightenment era where Vatican was ousted as the sole authority on morality as well as science. As a Muslim I say Islam needa to be ousted and common sense brought in. No offense meant to anyone. As shown above by Mohammed’s post… Pakistan needs a reality check and then help in becoming aware of it. :)


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