Pakistan at its best

Published: May 8, 2013
The writer is a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and currently teaches journalism at SZABIST in Karachi

The writer is a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and currently teaches journalism at SZABIST in Karachi

Here’s a secret that no political party wants to share with its supporters two days before the elections: the polls are already rigged, in Pakistan’s favour. No matter which political party loses on May 11, Pakistan will win.

Pakistani elections are a lot like Pakistani weddings; they are messy, larger than life affairs in which everything seems to be falling apart till the last minute, when suddenly, almost miraculously, everything falls into place, enabling a new beginning for everyone involved. It’s difficult to see beyond the pre-election bloodshed today but in the longer arch of history, this tumultuous period for the nation will be remembered as Pakistan at its very best.

Despite a multidimensional threat to democracy, the Pakistani people are coming together to endorse a system that is as imperfect as it is necessary. Snatching democratic rights from the jaws of entrenched interests isn’t a struggle unique to Pakistan. Many countries around the world have gone through a similar metamorphosis. What makes Pakistan’s struggle unique is that we have to do this with extremists using religion to literally hold the system hostage to their whims. In a dramatic display of courage, the Pakistani people are about to call the extremist bluff on May 11, even if they don’t perceive their vote as taking sides in a broader ideological war.

Traditionally, elections are considered an evolutionary step forward to set a country on the right path for development and progress. In Pakistan, these elections aren’t an evolutionary step forward; they’re a revolutionary step forward. This statement isn’t premised on a cliché about these elections being the first time in the country’s history that a democratically-elected government will hand over power to another democratically-elected government. This statement is premised on the hard truth that a significant majority of the Pakistani people never believed that these elections would take place on time. Somewhere in the back of our mind, many of us genuinely believed that pre-election violence and infighting between the pillars of the state would result in the unraveling of these elections. This hasn’t happened because political parties and other state institutions have displayed remarkable maturity amidst the pre-election madness. For example, political rivals in a city as complicated and competitive as Karachi set aside their differences amidst pre-election violence to announce their support for elections going ahead as scheduled, even as their district offices were being bombed one by one.

This election will be remembered as an inflection point when Pakistan’s history is written at the end of the century. The threat of extremists holding the country hostage is no longer a distant theoretical possibility; it’s happening now and mainstream political parties are finally beginning to push back publicly. The militants might be scoring tactical wins by carrying out successful attacks on secular parties but the political consensus emerging against their violent tactics will eventually form the noose that will choke their public support and defeat their cause.

One shouldn’t talk down the violence and bloodshed currently wreaking havoc in the country but one can argue that these are the birth pangs of a new Pakistan (that will emerge even if a particular political party doesn’t win). There are genuine reasons to be confident about Pakistan’s future: in the last 10 years alone, we have fought for an independent judiciary, a free press and established a democratic system of governance. Today, Pakistan has an intense national discourse on how to manage these freedoms responsibly, which is a strength that many people confuse as a weakness. The surprising truth about Pakistan is that even though the “system” is far from perfect, it is marching forward on the right side of history.

Let us take a step back from the daily gruel of political campaigning to celebrate a good thing we’re failing to see: these elections represent the triumph of Pakistan at its best. These elections are a testament to the quintessential Pakistan spirit: resilient, resourceful and determined. No matter which political party loses on May 11, Pakistan is all set to win by a landslide.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (20)

  • Mazher Mehboob
    May 8, 2013 - 11:10PM

    Bravo!! Excellent Article Mr Bilal


  • Imran
    May 9, 2013 - 12:06AM

    Great article Bilal. Couldn’t agree more. Change is indeed in the air!


  • Shahzad Chaudhry
    May 9, 2013 - 1:56AM

    Completely agree. There will not be another greater triumph than this in our history. This also proves the mettle of our people and how they unite to own the times when times get challenging. I will follow with my piece on this, soon. Victory shall belong to the people of Pakistan. And the losers will not belong to this land nor will they be from among us.


  • Roni
    May 9, 2013 - 2:22AM

    You write “the polls are already rigged, in Pakistan’s favour” and go on claiming that “this tumultuous period for the nation will be remembered as Pakistan at its very best.”
    If this is the very best then what is the worst? With the hijacking of elections and allowing only one way campaign, how could Pakistan win? Are we saying the conduct of elections under the terror is free and fair?
    Where is the condemnation and outrage against the beheading of our brave foot soldiers, 60 thousand civilians killed, maimed, bombed and TTP victoriously claiming responsibility in many cases and it is Pakistan at its very best? I can understand the euphoria and high for the supporters of two rightwing parties that are beneficiary of all the atrocities by TTP. Make no mistake about it. This is not the best day for Pakistan and it is not going to end with victories on the backs of Taliban. Families of soldiers beheaded by TTP and other thousands of families of their victims are not going to be appreciative. They are not going to forgive and forget the atrocities and brutal murders of innocent loved ones by savage terrorists. By hijacking the elections on the backs of Taliban democracy has not won it is mortally wounded!


  • Naseer Muhammad
    May 9, 2013 - 2:25AM

    Excellent article must never loose hope! Pakistan Zindabad!


  • gp65
    May 9, 2013 - 2:47AM

    Pakistan has marched forward institutionally and certainly has earned the right to take credit for these accomplishments which are hard fought. There appears to be a lack of even recognition with regards to how deep the roots of intolerance and radicalisation are (and no they did not start in 2001 or even during Zia’s time). Terrorism is the symptom but the root cause is intolerance of the “other”. That will need to be addressed if Pakistan is to flourish as a nation. I hope it is sooner rather than later. Both India and Pakistan wil ebnefit if it is.


  • Deepwater
    May 9, 2013 - 4:27AM

    You guys set the bar pretty low.

    First, let’s see if all those who are eligible to vote can vote freely especially women and minorities. Then, let’s wait for the peaceful formation of a new government. Lastly, let’s see if the new government makes the Military answerable to it and takes control of the Law & Order situation. If so, at that point, self-congratulations will definitely be in order.

    And if someday Malala can return home to complete her schooling then you will actually start earning some respect from the International community as well.


  • Falcon
    May 9, 2013 - 4:39AM

    @Shahzad Chaudhry:
    Haven’t seen your writing in ET in a while? Hope everything is ok with you.


  • Mazher Mehboob
    May 9, 2013 - 8:24AM

    Given the growth dynamics of this nation and the fractured mandate of 2013, as predicted by media pundits. It would not be incorrect to say that the growth pattern for the next five year of democratic forces would be to tolerate each other learn to collaborate and bring the best out of each other. Which i must say still a progress towards sustainable growth,


  • Zara
    May 9, 2013 - 12:25PM

    @Indians….U miss the point….U miss the resilience of Pakistani people in the wake of so many tragedies…hence the negativity…(pessimism seems to rule in india i guess)


  • bilal
    May 9, 2013 - 12:38PM

    good analysis, kudos to all the stake holders for making it happen, i.e all the ruling parties, opposition, Supreme Court and the Army. A fair job done in the continuity perspetive



  • Gp65
    May 9, 2013 - 1:00PM

    I am one of the 2 Indians and so I presume you thought my post was negative. Read again. You will find qualified praise with encouragement to move further along the path.

    Secondly I was born and raised in Mumbai. After 1993 serial bomb blasts next day Mumbaikars were back at work. Same thing after 2006 serial lasts. The politicians praised Mumbaikars for their resilience in allowing status quo to be restored and for moving on. Finally in 2008 we saidNo. We will Not move on and not let you move on. You the elected government needs to fix things so that such incidents do not recur. The message went home. While India has not been terror free, incidents have certainly been significantly reduced. You too should not allow the politicians flattering words about resilience to lull you into complacency. Hold them accountable for stopping the mayhem. We learnt the hard way that unless we force the issue nothing will change. You can learn from our experience.


  • May 9, 2013 - 2:39PM

    “….. Terrorism is the symptom but the root cause is intolerance of the “other”. That will need to be addressed if Pakistan is to flourish as a nation…..”

    Why do the “others” happen to be so bad, even towards us decent fellows.


  • Khan
    May 9, 2013 - 3:06PM

    Mate, you wasted your time at Columbia if this is the best you can come up with.


  • Yousuf
    May 9, 2013 - 5:11PM

    Big words with little substance…


  • Madhu Rao
    May 9, 2013 - 5:23PM

    @Roni It seems you got it wrong.What Mr Bilal was trying to say was whoever wins this election in Pakistan , it is Pakistan that will win. This is what he meant by ‘rigging’ … ‘rigged in Pakistans favour' and that is the reason why this election will be remembered as Pakistans best ever held election.
    BTW I am an Indian and I only wish true democracy returns to Pakistan which will be the first step for bringing peace to this region.


  • Rakib
    May 9, 2013 - 7:57PM

    @Zara: This is not to take away from well deserved glory of Pakistanis. Nor any personal disrespect is intended. But I am tad allergic to the word “resilient” & what it conveys in present context. I wish the people of the Subcontinent could be little less “resilient”, which takes on shades of pretentious callousness, and become little more assertive to suggest or demand a time bound action plan to put an end to violence, with People-Govt Partnership. Do citizens care enough to ensure action on endemic target killings in Karachi or violence in Fata or intermittent skirmishes with Maoists in India, I wonder! People find more excitement in corruption, scandals & in violence among criminals in jails (reprehensible as it is) & avoid addressing the root causes that lead to terrorism in Pakistan & insurgencies in India. And that is Resilience of the Ostrich! A new vernacular is needed with fresh vocabulary to come up with words to fit meanings. Mostly “Tolerance” is no more than “Indifference” and “Resilience” is no less than “Jadedness”.


  • gp65
    May 9, 2013 - 10:04PM

    @Rakib: You and I are exactly on the same page.


  • Positive Pakistani Today
    May 10, 2013 - 12:42PM

    Excellent article! Love the positivity! Thank you for sharing a bright side that we normally forget to focus on!:)


  • Dani
    May 11, 2013 - 12:38PM

    you guess wrong. there is a word ‘reality’…


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