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August 2, 2018

A new day, a new beginning

August 2, 2018

The outcome of Election 2018 is now clear. The PTI will form the government in the centre and, almost certainly, in Punjab. The PML-N has been swept off the ‘throne’ that it had held for so many years and should be pondering its own future, with signs of skirmishes beginning to emerge within the party.

The opposition has, as a united force, sensibly opted to stay within parliament and fight its battles from the lower house. This is how things should be. According to the latest calculations, the PML-N has secured 64 seats and the PPP has clinched 43 seats. The PTI is being forced to seek the support of independents – which is always risky business – to obtain the 172 seats that it needs to form a government. It seems that the opposition will be a powerful one.

In many ways, this is beneficial to the people as it will ensure proper checks and balances. The MMA has added its own 12 seats to the opposition benches, with others coming from the ANP and various other parties. This can help give parliament an opportunity to fathom the best ways to run a complex a democratic system.

There was a surreal element to Imran Khan’s victory. Thousands of social media posts, often from the youth, have suggested that the results are a reminder of what people must have felt on August 14, 1947 when Pakistan was created. The advent of ‘Naya Pakistan’ is being equated with the creation of a new country.

Amid a sense of injustice during the pre-polling and polling processes, there is also a great deal of excitement over electing a new leader. Pakistan is now officially a state with three major parties, and this can only be hailed as a positive development. However, to compare current events with those that occurred during Partition – which stands out as one of the most crucial moments in modern history that resulted in bloodshed and suffering – is rather inappropriate.

We must, however, hope that the new nation which people believe they are living in is not treated as badly as the old one was. Within the ‘old’ nation, hatred grew quickly along with political rivalry and the death of democracy. Within 10 years of Pakistan’s creation, a prime minister had been assassinated; a military dictator had seized power; and coercion, repression and force had become the order of the day as parties from the left and their media organs were repressed. Many other forms of oppression occurred as well.

Pakistan has perhaps never recovered fully from those difficult times despite the periods of democracy that interlaced three more eras of military dictatorship. An entire wing of the country violently broke away in 1971. We hope ‘Naya Pakistan’ will enjoy a better future than the old Pakistan that the often zealous supporters of Imran Khan insist has been buried and left behind.

However, they should remember that history doesn’t disappear. It looms over a nation forever and needs to be accepted, learnt from and embraced rather than merely forgotten or pushed to the sidelines. The controversies that preceded the elections and the dubious actions reported during the polling process take the shine off from the newly-minted ‘Naya Pakistan’.

Political adjustments and the games involved in forming majorities in assemblies will hold sway in the coming days. This is inevitable, with so many blocs winning seats alongside mainstream parties. We also hope that matters involving the allegations of wrongdoing can be dealt with in a constitutional manner through the ECP and in parliament rather than on the streets. Pakistan doesn’t need more dharnas. We have learned this lesson from Imran Khan’s dharnas.

Imran’s initial offer to investigate the concerns that other parties have about the electoral process is encouraging. We hope that he will adhere to his promise and create a cabinet that is willing to do the same as well. Since corruption was the main slogan during this election, those who have been accused of corruption within Imran’s own setup also need to be removed from the scene. This will truly convince the people that a ‘clean’ government has been put in place. Imran has a reputation for immaculate honesty. He must ensure that this image isn’t ruined through actions that raise questions or associations with those who are considered to be ‘clean’.

When we challenge the ‘old’, a great deal of introspection is required. The tweet by a woman associated with a political family that belongs to the upper echelons of society stating that she wouldn’t even allow rural women who line up at polling stations to run her kitchen, generated outrage. But the fact is that many of our elite think in precisely the same manner. There are many people in our society who think it is acceptable to make fun of domestic servants and publically demean them.

The servants, of course, cannot respond. Although there is no doubt that they discuss these matters in the privacy of their own cramped servant quarters, very few of us are privy to these conversations. A ‘new’ Pakistan must work towards narrowing the divide among people and building respect for all groups regardless of their social standing, political affiliations and religion.

Pervez Khattak hasn’t been helpful in this regard as he has used abusive language against his opponents and the women of a particular party. Women, it seems, are the favourite target of slurs made by the powerful in a society that remains deeply misogynistic and patriarchal. Building rationality, developing scientific thought, and removing superstition from our midst should also be our prime target. The failure to do so has held us back for too long.

Imran Khan and the team he selects will need to begin the inevitably long process of addressing these issues along with the immediate concerns that he partially identified in his speech. Unfortunately, it appears once more that we may be left with no choice but to borrow from the IMF and leave it to our future generations to incur the massive debt that we have accumulated due to severe mismanagement. Dealing with misgovernance and corruption goes beyond changing who run key bodies. It involves reforms in the system. This is also an issue that Imran needs to think about carefully and put before parliament – a body that he hasn’t shown too much respect for in the past.

The ‘old’ Pakistan will need a true effort to extract the rot that has eaten away at a country where people are desperate for change. Many people believe that Imran Khan can deliver this change. At the same time, the emergence of hatred, and the presence of people who suggest that certain groups should be killed or express their lack of respect for a particular party or ethnic group are simply frightening. There is a pressing need for tolerance.

Imran Khan will also need to prove that he is prepared to deal with extremism, even though groups like the fiercely anti-Shia Pakistan Sunni Tehreek are allied with his party. The challenge of setting up a new country is an immense one. The circumstances are quite different to 1947 – the year to which present-day events are being compared.

While a comparison of this nature seems ludicrous, it is equally true that creating something new is harder than addressing problems that have entrenched themselves deeply in the system, damaged institutions and torn to shreds a constitution that few people are willing to abide by as they go about their quest for power and use people as pawns in their effort to gain what they can.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

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