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‘Democracy is the least bad option’

October 11, 2013

KARACHI, Oct 10: Dispelling myths about democracy, Sherry Rehman, a former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, said that one myth was that elections would bring in democracy. “It will not. Elections will bring in elected government.” Another myth she said was that an elected government would bring a transformative change. “They can be stymied. Look at the US government and its partial shutdown because the two parties have failed to agree over the budget.”

She, however, added that democracy was the least bad option. “It is not a Mughal’s chain-of-justice model. It is a system that allows you to ask for a change and it is the only way,” she said.

The former information minister emphasised these aspects at a lecture titled ‘In the service of my country: the politics of living dangerously’ on Thursday at the Aga Khan University.

Earlier, speaking about her career choices beginning with journalism, she said that when she finished school she was unclear about her career aspirations. “I did not see myself as a doctor or a teacher but my aim was to assiduously move away from professions that ghettoised women.” When she did embark on a journalistic career, she said, she realised that no other career really offered such an opportunity for change. By the time she became editor of the monthly magazine Herald, she said that Karachi had changed dramatically. “It was the end of Karachi’s innocence. It was the time when the Bushra Zaidi incident happened. We ran stories that depicted conflicted realities and thus one had the opportunity to shape public opinion even while facing multiple risks.”

It was Benazir Bhutto who actively reached out to Ms Rehman and thus began her foray into politics, said the former Pakistan Peoples Party member of the National Assembly. “BB was talent spotting and met me in London. She said that I have to sign on. She said that we need to build capacity for political parties in a culture that had become so depoliticised. We need educated people to come into politics.” She highlighted her achievements as a member of parliament which included authoring of five bills pertaining to women with the dismantling of “black media laws”.

Finally, speaking about her previous assignment as a diplomat, she called it a red-eye job in which one had to be alert for 18 hours a day. “The aim was to offer all that we could to stabilise US-Pak relations and we do not interfere in the affairs of Afghanistan, because we have a history of doing that. Afghanistan wants to have its own future and we want them to do so. We have enough challenges to deal with,” she said.

During the last days of her US ambassadorship, Ms Rehman said, she told the Americans that the fact that Pakistanis voted in large numbers meant that everyone wanted to be a part of the democratic story. “Except for Balochistan, which was a sobering reality, everyone stood in line to vote and this is despite TTP’s threats. Pakistan united and voted against terrorism and that is the message we gave to the world,” she said.