To Save Pakistan, Check Its Failed Political Parties
By Ahmed Quraishi
Pakistani political parties are violent and criminal-minded. They are a glaring failure of Pakistani democracy. And yet they get a soft treatment from our civil society and media.
Three parties in power and several others in opposition have turned Pakistan’s largest city and economic hub into Beirut. Karachi is a strategic port and a rich city. It has been home to Pakistani innovation in business, culture and arts. But today its best and brightest are moving to Dubai, Malaysia and even Bangladesh as the city’s control, indeed the country’s control, passes from the hands of innovative Pakistanis to a bunch of violent, criminal-minded mediocre politicians.
Instead of introducing democracy to the country, our political parties want to control the city’s riches and its multiple revenue streams running into billions of rupees. They want to use the city to smuggle contraband into and outside the country. And to do so they are ready to kill Pakistanis by the thousands and pitch them along fake and manufactured linguistic divides. They are ready to bypass the Pakistani state and talk directly to foreign governments. For the right price, some of them are willing to guarantee safe passage to NATO and US military supplies from Karachi to Afghanistan. Stunningly, we have parties now that demand international intervention when their interests are threatened by other criminal parties.
Like a war zone, neighborhood streets in Karachi have ugly ‘security gates’ that help political parties control and repel competitors. An ugly culture of identifying people by what Pakistani language they speak has been firmly put in place. If not stopped, these failed parties will poison the entire country at a time when the nation suffers from an acute leadership deficit. What European country has this kind of democracy? If we can’t tailor our own political system, we better be good at aping someone else’s.
The verdict of the Supreme Court on the criminal activities of Pakistani political parties, though welcome, is severely constrained and only scratches the surface. While successfully identifying the criminal parties, the verdict fails to diagnose the full extent of the problem. Karachi does not suffer from any ethnic problems. It is wrong to use the word ‘ethnic’ in the Pakistani context, where the nation is deeply intermixed in all respects. On the night of 14 August, our Independence Day, over five thousand of the city’s young and old residents, representing all stripes of Pakistanis, gathered in open air to recite the National Anthem and create a world record. Do these Pakistanis look linguistically-divided to you? Nearly seven decades after independence, Pakistanis are more intermarried and intermixed today than ever before. Many of them speak or understand several different Pakistani languages.
Pakistanis are not divided on language. Failed political parties are dividing them. These parties have nothing to offer so they divide and kill. Our problems – establishing a prosperous country with good governance and basic services – have nothing to do with language or sect, except when these parties play up divisions over real issues. Except that these divisions, and the parties advocating them, will destroy the country faster than any enemy.
This is why Karachi and Pakistan are not beyond hope provided that the Pakistani State moves in swiftly to restrict these parties and ban those that rebel.
Who gave any political party the right to represent all Pakistanis who speak Pashto? Who gave a single political party the right to represent all Pakistanis who speak Urdu [national language spoken by nearly all Pakistanis]? Who says PPPP is supposed to represent Pakistanis who speak Sindhi or PMLN should be representative of Punjabi language? Last, who gave fugitive terrorists like Brahamdagh Bugti the right to represent all Pakistani Baloch?
The Pakistani State must seize back the right to represent all of its citizens. Educated Pakistanis, regardless of their spoken language at home, have been sidelined by failed and violent parties. Those are the people that should be brought forward by the State at the expense of failed parties and politicians.
Political parties are supposed to be incubators of leadership and produce a steady supply of capable new blood. The Supreme Court verdict has to reestablish this fact. Merely asking these parties to disband their terror wings is not enough.
No political party should be allowed to operate if its sole agenda is dividing Pakistanis on language or sect. Only national parties should exist with a clear mission statement. Parties should not be free to block streets and create public disorder. In March, during city government elections in one of Switzerland’s richest cities, Geneva, parties and candidates were only allowed to establish few neat and clean kiosks manned by a single volunteer. Swiss citizens interested in picking up pamphlets bearing candidates’ pictures and manifestos could so. Few were interested. You could have mistaken these kiosks for a cell phone ad campaign. No messy street demonstrations. No wild party flags and posters. And no direct contacts between our parties and foreign governments. Local TV channels relegated local political news to the third or fourth slots. Sports, cultural events and news relevant to improving people’s lives took precedence in TV coverage.
In short, banning terror wings is not enough. To stabilize Pakistan, correct the failed political parties first. –The News