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Heal the nation

You are what you choose to be when you are down and out. You can choose to get hanged or martyred or you can choose to burn everything to the ground. How you choose either makes you the ‘Quaid-e-Awam’ and the ‘Daughter of the East’ or it makes you a mockery of your previous self, fighting to save a bloated reputation pumped by media frenzy and paid trends. This is what makes you either a Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and a Benazir Bhutto who are revered, or it makes you Imran Khan, a pied piper leading us all to our unfortunate but avoidable chaos. You are what you choose to be.

There have been quacks offering miracle drugs but very few messiahs of shattered glasses; there have been many who have asked us to dream for the promised land but only a few willing to get crucified for it. Long have all of us lived under the shadows of men like Imran Khan trying to grab more and more power. Long have we died for the egos of men like Imran who were willing to poison us against each other. We are what we have been left to choose from by failed experiments after every coup and every undemocratic transition of power, and again we have been left with a path to self-destruction and a road to redemption. We will be what we will choose to be – a fascist and failed state on the verge of collapse or a democratic and prosperous nation with a future to dream of.

In a world rushing to join one of the two blocs, or in a world looking to bomb the children of lesser gods left in trenches of religious extremism or in a world moving away from the rule of the people, for the people, by the people, how do we always end up with dictators trying to subvert the will of the people through fraud referendums? Why are we always inheriting a constitutional crisis brewed out of the actions of hidden or self-proclaimed saviours seeking legitimacy from the courts and the people?

But a more important question is: how do we always get out of this? We rose from the ashes of a crippling defeat in East Pakistan, we laid down the path to restore democracy, we built consensus over rolling back the authoritarian powers of dissolving assemblies at the whim of a dictator or president’s will after and we devolved powers and resources to federating units after every Ayub, Zia and Musharraf. Maybe, we the people of Pakistan, are the messiahs of shattered glasses; we hold the power to heal our wounded souls and perhaps it can start by answering hard questions.

The fall of Dhaka was the death of the dreams of a generation, many of whom had to go through a political upheaval of this magnitude twice. We were beaten and bruised but we still managed to put ourselves together and we found the foundation to build a federation upon in the form of the constitution. From the Movement to Restore Democracy to the Pakistan Democratic Movement, we have seen generations upon generations withering away searching for spring in autumn and then again standing up and fighting through democratic struggle on streets and on screen.

Our political will has always manifested itself in favour of democracy over authoritarianism and populism, but will it be the case this time too? Our democracy has survived a (civilian) coup, parliament and the courts have stood by the constitution and for the first time we have seen a prime minister installed through a tainted election being ousted through democratic means. But don’t be fooled. A large number of young voters have not been disillusioned by the past four years of mismanagement and bad governance, rather they feel aggrieved and wronged by the same old faces and same old parties. When we see a yearning for the return of a populist to the helm amongst a significant number of people on the street, we should be worried. This is what they have read in their schoolbooks, this is what they have heard from their hero, this is what they have seen online, this is 40 years of anti-democratic propaganda taking the center stage in all these rallies. They need a messiah of shattered glasses.

The political parties need to reach out to them and provide an alternate to the only reality they have ever believed in. Many of these youngsters cast their first ever votes for the hero they have loved since the 92 world cup, and leaving them behind or excluding them is not the option. Our political parties have to open their doors to the other side. The struggle for democracy can’t be exclusive, it has to include everyone – even those who have chanted for autocrats, even those who have showered flower petals on dictators and even those who don’t believe in it. Only then we can heal the nation and mend the shattered glasses. We have to choose democracy over populist autocracy again.

Malaika Raza, "Heal the nation," The News. 2022-05-07.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political parties , Political will , Democracy , Dictators , Parliament , Imran Khan , Gen Zia , Pakistan