Welcome back to Purana Pakistan: Here's what should return, and what should not

Old habits die hard. For democracy to thrive however, some will have to change.
Published April 13, 2022

As the clock struck midnight on Saturday, Pakistan experienced its very own Cinderella moment, with PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari proudly proclaiming: "Welcome back to Purana Pakistan".

The words resonated with many, who had been fed up with the Imran Khan-led PTI government and had been hoping for change. Others weren't too happy that the dream of 'Naya Pakistan' had dissipated so quickly, pouring into the streets the next day to voice their anger.

Read more: 'Welcome back to purana Pakistan': Politicians, pundits react to PM Imran's ouster

Amid the time travel between the Naya and the Purana, here's what we hope to bring forth in the new Purana Pakistan and what we wish to leave behind:

Corruption

The tales of corruption of Purana Pakistan are nothing short of legend. Be it the Omni Group saga or the Calibri font debacle, fiscal and moral corruption became one of the rallying cries that propelled the PTI to power.

The mass appeal for a change in the status quo, evident by the outpouring of support for Imran Khan, should serve as a clear warning for political leaders that Pakistanis will no longer put up with the embezzlement of taxpayers' money. No longer is 'kuch khata hai tou lagata bhi tou hai' good enough.

Despite his faults, Imran's accountability crusade — which mind you, caused a falling out with ATM-cum-sugar daddy Tareen, among others — remains one of the main reasons behind his popularity.

The new government will really have to prove it's serious about fighting corruption if it wants to survive the next general elections, which are just around the corner.

Bad laws

One of the PML-N's worst contributions to Pakistan's laws was the draconian Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) in 2016, which has since been used on several occasions against the party itself. This time, we hope these political parties will understand that any legislation they pass through parliament today can and will be used against them tomorrow.

Legislation should be forward-thinking, keeping in mind the requirements of the current day and age and should be aimed at making the lives of citizens better, instead of making adding to their woes.

Nepotism

In Purana Pakistan, who you knew mattered more than what you knew. Whether it was appointments in the bureaucracy, the judiciary or other government agencies, nepotism was rife in all departments.

Not only did this impact the performance of these institutions, it also demoralised employees who had actually been appointed on merit but were forced to work on the whims of the blue-eyed boys, the majority of whom cared little for service-delivery or facilitating the public.

One of the worst examples of this could be seen in the police apparatus, which was filled with political appointments and was largely at the beck and call of the respective party in power, facilitating VIP movements and hanging back in Vigos belonging to anyone remotely affiliated with government or their relatives.

Dynastic politics

Over the last few decades, Pakistan's political landscape has come to be dominated by the two families — the Sharifs and the Bhutto (now Bhutto-Zardaris). Both parties seem to have become family-run affairs with the party chiefship being passed down from one generation to the next.

Amid all this, the PTI — promising a truly democratic party setup — seemed like a breath of fresh air.

For political parties to survive, they need an induction of fresh minds, not just at the lowest rungs but on the decision-making table. Parties can no longer be run as personal fiefdoms, subservient to the whims of a royal family.

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Ethnic and political violence

If you've lived in Karachi at any point during the last three decades, you would know know the feeling of dread each time there was a disagreement between the PPP and the MQM — which, in case you've forgotten, enjoyed considerable sway back then.

In fact, each political party with a stake in the city had its own militant wing, whether it was the MQM's trigger-happy target killing squad or the Lyari-based Peoples Aman Committee nurtured by the PPP to do its dirty work.

Ultimately, as the body count rose and the violence overflowed into every corner of the city — taking on ethnic flavour — it was ordinary citizens that were invariably caught in the crossfire.

In Punjab, the PML-N would do well to keep the Gullu Butts at bay. Gone are the days when henchmen could influence voters. With Twitter, TikTok and Facebook watching, any machismo stunts by the "lions" of Punjab are sure to put off potential voters.

Nor must the PML-N use law enforcers to do their dirty work — the 14 people, including women, shot dead by police in Lahore's Model Town are still awaiting justice.

Political victimisation

As Imran Khan keeps reminding everyone, most cases against the Sharif and Zardari clans were registered in each other's tenures. The idea was to keep the opposition so tied up in court proceedings that they would have no time to spare for political activities.

Take the ARY Gold and Ursus Tractor corruption cases for example, registered against Asif Ali Zardari in the 1990s during Nawaz Sharif's second tenure as prime minister. The court finally acquitted Zardari almost two decades later in 2014, for want of evidence. Another two cases, the SGS-Cotena corruption cases, met the same fate a year later.

As we've seen in "Naya Pakistan", these tactics don't really go a long way and ultimately, cede space for non-democratic forces to creep in.

Dance with the deep state

Speaking of non-democratic forces, Pakistan's political parties have a 70-year-old habit of flirting with the deep state — much to the detriment of institutional harmony and the democratic process.

Such experiments are bound to fail. Politicians must have learnt by now that the romance lasts only till the honeymoon period and that for democracy to flourish, it is only the will of the citizens of Pakistan that should matter.

Let each arm of the state perform its role, without getting involved in matters that are beyond its mandate.

The dance must end now.

Tolerance for critique

One of the most disturbing facets of PTI's Naya Pakistan was the complete lack of tolerance for critique aimed at the ruling party and its leadership. Critics were regularly trolled on social media and in some instances, even made to feel the leaders' wrath through coercive action by law enforcement agencies.

Read more: Chilling tactics

In fact, the abuse became so insufferable that 165 women journalists were forced to write a letter to the PTI government, highlighting the "online attacks instigated by government officials and then amplified by a large number of Twitter accounts". It served little purpose, and the abuse continued unabated.

While the PPP and the PML-N were no saints — the fate of citizen journalist Nazim Jokhio being the most recent example — they were admittedly better recipients of critique, not just from opposition parties but also the media.

Pro-women legislation

During the PPP's reign from 2008 till 2013, a slew of pro-women laws were passed, aimed at addressing sexual harassment, besides curbing regressive practices such as depriving women of their inheritance, forcing them into marriage to settle disputes, etc.

Ever since, legislation against domestic violence has also been enacted in many parts of the country, most recently in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. What is needed now, however, are the mechanisms such as women protection committees, shelter homes, etc, to ensure the implementation of the said laws.

Governance in Punjab

One may find a thousand faults with him, but Shehbaz Sharif's stint as the Punjab chief minister earned him much praise for good governance. The younger Sharif worked tirelessly to improve infrastructure and service delivery, particularly in urban centres.

If he can apply the same rigour as prime minister, the country could make some remarkable leaps in infrastructure development in the years to come.

Charter of Democracy

All through the 1990s and early 2000s, the Bhuttos and Sharifs were at each other's throats, constantly plotting the ouster of each other's governments. Many a times, they did succeed, only to be thrown out again through the revolving door.

In 2006, however, the only winners in this game of musical chairs were the ones pulling the strings. Thus was born the Charter of Democracy — a document signed by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in 2006 with the stated aim to return Pakistan to its people.

Subsequently, the PPP government that came into power in 2008 was the first to complete its term. The PML-N too limped to the finish in the subsequent tenure.

While the system of governance this document has offered is in no way been perfect, it provides a good starting point — that the country's political leadership, despite their differences, can partake in the electoral process through a system whose sole mandate is of the people, by the people, for the people.


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