Where George W. Bush failed, Tunisia may yet succeed. Inspired by the Jasmine Revolution, the street-fighting young are crusading against some of the most oppressive and ossified regimes in the Middle East and North Africa, daring to take back what it rightly theirs: control of their collective destiny. It’s enough to make anyone think.
Here in Pakistan, people are just waking up to the significance of events in faraway Tunisia. As a member of Parliament, I have been traveling the country from the forgotten parts of Gilgit-Baltistan to the criminally impoverished villages and hamlets of Sindh. These areas do not feature in our limited public discourse, but they ought to for there is courage here, and faith in country.
Everyday Pakistan has mettle, even if it is the unglamorous one of living life by one’s convictions, unbowed and undefeated by the furies of oblivion and inflation. Everyday Pakistanis have faith in our country, and no amount of betrayal by politicians has been able to snuff it out completely.
Those I have met and spoken with believe that Pakistan will one day be a place where everyone can live with dignity, where hunger and injustice have receded into an unrecognizable past, where there is peace and security, where those who want to can do well by the country on merit alone, and where lives are fulfilled and meaningful. We all want this, or at least say that we do. But we will not reach this Pakistan through utterances alone. If we want this badly enough, we need to change that fundamental obstacle in our way: the defeatist notion that nothing can ever change. And now Tunisia dares us to dream.
We are all aware of the scandalous conditions the majority of our countrymen live in. I have seen young children drink from the same pool of dirty, germ-infested water as cattle. I have visited school structures falling at the seams, where there are no chairs, and no teachers. Yet, children show up in the hope that an instructor also will. I have heard stories from far too many bereaved families about pregnant women who have died on their way to midwives or whatever passes for a health-care facility because of roads that exist only on paper. I have seen the effects of industrial waste ruin lives. I have heard stories of killing for family honor, kidnapping, lack of access to justice, and great personal tragedy. But among all these horrors, I have always seen hope in the hearts of those who have suffered the most.
While the people are resilient, their elected representatives could do much better. Few in Islamabad are willing to do anything besides maintaining the status quo. This is no option. In the three years since the last elections, people can be forgiven for their dissatisfaction with government. The majority of Pakistanis are far worse now than ever before.
The economy is on deathwatch. The political, bureaucratic, religious, business, feudal and military elites have both hands, and both feet, in the till. The kleptocrats are looting with impunity. The terror of deprivation and lawlessness is acute and debilitating. The wishes of foreign powers are overriding requirements of national self-interest. The political class is spectacularly unmoved and unprepared, enslaved by their own delusions, pointing their guns at each other when the country could really use some unity and real consensus to fight the real fight. It is rueful that it is a happening when a day passes without any new scandal emerging against the government. Except for the judiciary, all other state institutions seem to have abdicated from their responsibilities to the public in a fit of hopelessness.
We deserve far better, and we should feel no shame in saying it or wanting it. Pakistan was not born to fail. We have the human capital and natural resources to make our country a story of prosperity. But we remain divided by our sub-identities and self-inflicted fault lines, and have been unable to reap the demographic dividend that countries like India have. There is too much at stake here for us to remain quiet and complacent. A developed and moderate Pakistan will require yet more sacrifice. Like our forebears who worked for Independence, we have to be willing to die for a Pakistan that our children can be proud to call home. We owe it to them to step up.
By Marvi Memon member of the National Assembly from the Pakistan Muslim League-Q