The people of Pakistan have taken a great leap of faith

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By SALMAN BASHIR

The General elections in Pakistan on July 25 have been a game changer for this nation of about 200 million people. Across the length and breadth of the country they have voted for change in the form of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the party led by the charismatic Imran Khan.

There has been a wholesale rejection of dynastic politics. The monopoly enjoyed by the previously dominant mainstream parties, the Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, has been demolished. This is a veritable revolution, albeit brought about by democratic means.

In his address to the nation Khan, who is likely to be the next prime minister, pledged to make Pakistan a welfare state based on justice for all, and social and economic development. His emphasis will be on effective governance and strengthening institutions, creating a conducive environment for business and investments by overseas Pakistanis, not on any political vendetta. On foreign relations, he spoke of neighbors, deepening friendly cooperative ties with China, peace in Afghanistan, better relations with Iran, and talks with India to resolve the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and normalize trade relations. He emphasized the importance of relations with Saudi Arabia as special and historic.

Unfortunately, the Indian and Western media and columnists continue to be harsh critics of Khan, projecting him as a candidate promoted by the Pakistani military, which has been accused of political engineering. This has been a favorite theme of Pakistan’s critics, who have dwelled for decades on the civil-military divide. Much of this thesis is spun by so-called liberal circles within Pakistan.

PTI’s convincing win should put to rest such prejudiced and self-serving propaganda by people who see nothing good or, at worst, only wish to harm Pakistan’s interests.

Imran Khan’s convincing win should put to rest prejudiced and self-serving propaganda by people who see nothing good or, at worst, only wish to harm Pakistan’s interests.

Salman Bashir

The 2018 election has, indeed, demonstrated democratic progression. There is a wave of new awareness among the masses, brought about by technology and social media, and the political maturity of the common man, who is no longer prepared to tolerate misgovernance, injustice and an iniquitous existence. The landed and big-business classes, or the moneyed elite, have to some extent been removed from the political scene rather unceremoniously.

Slowly but surely a generational shift is also in the offing. The young no longer feel entrapped by the closed minds and conventions of the old. Several new faces have emerged. One of them is Jibran Nasir from Karachi. He campaigned without any political patronage and faced assaults by hoodlums from some extremist groups. His brand of issues-based politics embodies the hopes of millions of Pakistani youths in the coming decades to take over national responsibilities with a vision for a brighter future for the people of Pakistan. Nasir’s street-corner meetings have become a symbol and a model for new politics, even though he did not succeed this time in winning a seat.

Another interesting facet of the elections was the independence shown by voters in their political preferences. Within many families, everyone voted according to conscience. This is hugely significant as a sign that Pakistani politics might be emerging from “biradari” (extended tribal and family) loyalties. Again, this is a good and encouraging sign of the maturity of a young nation coming to terms with its present circumstances and developing a vision for the future. The politicians from the old school probably underestimated the power of social media and technological tools such as smartphones, Wi-Fi and the internet.

It is to be hoped that Khan will fix governance, deal strictly with the corrosive cancer of corruption and bring simplicity, and that the new Parliament will have the welfare of the people as its legislative intent and not the privileges of the elite. This is a moment of opportunity and hope for Pakistan and for the region as a whole.

Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as foreign secretary of Pakistan and ambassador to China, India and Denmark.
Twitter: @SalmanB_Isb

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