The common man hopes for democracy in Pakistan

By Asma Ali Zain

Politics is a murky pool in Pakistan and the general public can only hope for legitimate rule of law. For now, we wait for the day that we can tell our neighbours, that we too are a democracy

Last week Shahid Khaqqan Abbasi was sworn in as Pakistan’s 18th prime minister since the country was born 70 years ago. If I was allowed an emoji on this page, I would choose the one that rolls its eyes because I find it the coolest.

Yes, that’s how many times prime ministers and presidents have come and disappeared into oblivion in my country. Believe me, and you have to excuse my ignorance, but I had to google to see how many (since 18 is quite a number) had actually been able to complete a democratic term ever since.

Utterly dismal is the fact that that none have, to date. But then that’s a completely different discussion and I am a very apolitical person, despite being a journalist.

Living away from Pakistan has its own, umm… perks, especially when you are living amongst ‘neighbours’ who keep reminding you that they belong to the world’s greatest democracy. Well yes, I get that!

I know they aren’t being unkind when they state this fact but, yes, it does hurt a bit and makes one think.

Ages ago, the only political talk I ever heard were the casual discussions my parents used to have about Mohammed Khan Junejo and the dictator Zia ul Haq, names that always remained just familiar and meant nothing more.

We were not residents of Pakistan and since I was busy growing up in an African jungle, politics was always distant talk until I moved to Pakistan and joined a newspaper while still a student.

Journalism in Pakistan is still mostly about politics so you can understand how badly I was out of place. It was something like a freshly laundered shirt being thrown into a murky and muddy pool. The only difference here was that I was the freshly laundered shirt that had to wade through the murk.

The years blur, but the fight, as I remember, was always between the enigmatic Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan People’s Party and Nawaz Sharif from Pakistan Muslim League. One would go — without completing a term — and the other would take over the vacant chair of premiership.

The first time I voted was for Sharif, not because I preferred him, but because I was a young eligible voter and because my relatives thought I should vote for him. I was specifically even shown where I should put the stamp. (Insert another eye roll emoji here) Yes, that’s how easily my political affiliations could change.

Later on, when I moved to Dubai and joined Khaleej Times, I was lucky enough to cover events where Bhutto was present along with her team of equally enigmatic female politicians such as Sherry Rehman and her constant companion Naheed who was sidelined after Bhutto’s death in 2007.

Bhutto was a tall and charismatic woman who commanded immediate attention wherever she went. I was immensely proud that she was Pakistan’s first female prime minister but I was focused on my work as I was still a fledgling reporter and did not pay much attention to her brand of politics. Ten years later, I can remember the news of Bhutto’s assassination. My focus was still on work since I was scrambling to put together stories from her second home in Dubai. It wasn’t until a day later that I realised we had lost a great woman and a far-sighted politician who believed in true democracy.

With Bhutto gone, the strongest contender who remained was Nawaz Sharif though there were several PMs who came into power in between for such short periods that one hardly recalls their names.

Again, I wasn’t much bothered by who came and who left the throne in Pakistan until ex-President Pervez Musharraf, who was the 10th one by the way, decided to end his exile in Dubai to contest elections in 2013. Taking lots of best wishes for safety from family, friends and colleagues, I flew with him on his chartered plane from Dubai to Karachi to cover the event.

Despite his popularity — mainly on social media, a phenomenon similar to what opposition leader Imran Khan currently faces — Musharraf lost the election badly. Luckily for me, I survived the journey and sit here telling my tale today.

Imran Khan has risen as an immensely popular leader and has swept the youngsters off their feet with promises of a new Pakistan that all Pakistanis have been dreaming of. I too, was lured by his promises but despite proving to be a strong opposition leader, I am yet to be convinced due to his ‘newness’ and wish to see some work being done on the ground. 

All seemed well on my political affiliations until last week when Sharif was disqualified (yet again, yes for the third time — insert eye-roll emoji again) and my Dubai-based story kind off played a role in his disqualification from office.

While I want to be happy that as a journalist I probably won’t be getting another chance at bringing a government down through accountability, I feel a tad sad.

Lots of congratulatory messages are still pouring in from Pakistanis and fellow colleagues back home in Pakistan and here and, not to fib, I do feel good about them.

Also, I am already a Twitter star where the number of my followers has doubled since the news broke, even though people now expect me to speak about politics only. So why am I unhappy?

Despite the accusations of corruption against Sharif, I was hoping against hope that he would somehow complete his term and Pakistan would firmly be called a democratic country.

But alas, the jinx hasn’t been broken and democracy has been derailed yet again. Not too sure now when I’ll be able to boast and tell my neighbours, “See, we too are a democracy.”

Asma has been writing health stories for
years. She enjoys sunsets and green tea

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