Thursday May 30, 2024

Ray of hope?

By Kamila Hyat
January 26, 2023

Most Pakistanis – for obvious reasons – are pessimistic about the future of Pakistan and what it holds for them and the nation as a whole. Much of this stems from the ongoing economic crunch and the fact that there is no way to climb out of this abyss.

There are other issues that haunt us, including the dearth of leadership, the endless petty infighting within parties, the lack of consensus among major political parties, and the consistent use of abusive language against each other. The country’s powerful quarters have also been caught up in the latest political mess, as have other players in the country.

While there are those who argue that there is simply no way out, a group of politicians suggests that a solution may lie in talks. These politicians have decided to hold a series of seminars to find a way to end Pakistan’s major problems. They held their first seminar in Balochistan, arguing that the voice of the country’s most deprived province needed to be heard first. This seems to be a good place to start. The question is what these seminars will bring and what they can deliver. We hope, as we did at the first seminar, to hear from groups that have not been able to raise their voices in the past and also from other people from all ranks and places in society so that some kind of consensus in saving Pakistan at this critical moment can be reached.

But we wonder if the limited number of people involved in the seminars is enough. The idea of talks is a good one and so is the idea of discussion and, hopefully, debates at open forums. Indeed, had more of this existed throughout our history, we would have been in a better place today. But years of authoritarian rule in the country and our inability to tolerate dissent has made this difficult. In future seminars, perhaps there should be some attempt to bring in people from outside political circles, including economists such as Dr Asim Ijaz Khawaja, who also believe that Pakistan’s economic woes can be solved and that there is still hope for the country and reasons to be optimistic.

There has been far too much pessimism over the past year or so as the country descended into a state of chaos. If minds from across the spectrum that exists in the country could come together and put forward ideas for change, perhaps we could find a path to lead us out of our current distorted situation and the problems that it brings with it.

It is indeed imperative that this happens. Unless it does, there is danger that the spate of street crimes that we see in Karachi could turn into something far more dangerous. After all, there is a limit to how far people can go in situations where they have no food to eat, no gas to turn on their stoves or heat freezing homes, and no provisions for a basic social welfare net to protect them in times of need. The situation for Pakistan is an extremely difficult one. And has been brought about through many years of bad governance. Major contributions to this have come from military dictators, including the much-praised Ayub Khan, who essentially worked only to place Pakistan firmly in the US camp and to contribute to the wealth of a limited number of families.

The disaster that General Zia brought with him is in front of all of us, as we look at the state of minorities, women and other groups who have been rendered essentially voiceless. We have slowly turned into a society where there is much fear about talking, discussing, reasoning, putting forward ideas, and about the very notion of dissent.

While Musharraf may have had a chance to save the country to some degree as US dollars poured in, he did not do so and we saw this clearly in 2007 when people rose up against him, leading to his downfall a year later. While many insist that military leaders, including Musharraf, are popular, the fact that hardly a few dozen people attended the meetings of the new political party Musharraf created makes this notion doubtful. People – formally educated or not – know what they want and understand how it can be achieved. They know that change can only come through the goodwill and good governance of leaders.

Finding good leaders is a more difficult task. The most recent seminars suggest there are politicians who are willing to think and listen to others. This is in itself a good sign. But we need the collaboration of many factors to create any real change. This will not happen quickly, and there is little hope of climbing out of the current messy situation. The country has slipped to the bottom. Less-privileged countries are better than Pakistan in terms of their level of development and ability to provide for their people.

We need to find solutions to all our problems and to arrange enough funds to turn these solutions into reality. This is not an easy task and all of us know this already. But talking things through and putting forward as many different ideas as possible, ranging across the political spectrum, can perhaps at least offer us something to think about and help generate debates. We have a generation that knows little about such things, especially since student unions were banned in the 1980s. The reason to debate, discuss and hold a discourse on various factors that have an impact on the way we live – and indeed the way people die – is immense.

More such seminars need to be held. We will see which way to go as the politicians who are holding these talks may wish to launch a political party of their own or at least factions within their parties go with these seminars and talks of ‘reimagining Pakistan’, which is something that is badly needed.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. She can be reached at: