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What Pakistan’s elections mean to me

14 Aug 2018

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons

The second ever democratic transition of power in Pakistan took place on 25 July 2018. Two days later, the results were in (sort of): Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Imran Khan’s party had received the lion’s share of the vote and are now expected to enter into a coalition Government with smaller parties and independents.

This election, like many others in Pakistan’s short history, was not without controversy. Khan’s swearing-in ceremony, set to take place on 18 August, looks to be in jeopardy as protests have begun in Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad, with demonstrators alleging fraud and irregularities in last month’s elections.

Adding to this the loss of over a hundred individuals in two separate bomb attacks, one of which took place on the day of the elections, as well as the aforementioned allegations of fraud and military presence, are just two examples of the dangers of engaging with democracy in Pakistan

But what does all of this mean to the British-born-but-of-Pakistani-heritage individuals, where the South Asian state is nothing but a homeland reminisced about by their parents?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learnt to appreciate my country of origin, and have begun the process of learning its intricacies, shortcomings and potential

My interest stems from my dad; an intelligent, emotional and passionate man, with whom I would have endless discussions with growing up, about politics more generally. He taught me the meaning of democracy (“of the people, by the people, for the people” was oft-quoted to young me), the woes of his homeland’s political landscape and predictions for the future.

Over time, with the foundational knowledge I had learnt from my father, I learned to develop my own love for the subject, going onto study Politics and International Relations at university. South Asian politics was always something that resonated with me, and it irked me no end when I was unable to find modules relating to the region.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learnt to appreciate my country of origin, and have begun the process of learning its intricacies, shortcomings and potential, none of which would have been possible without the help and support of my father. From a personal standpoint, the elections mean a chance to connect with my father, to engage in a discussion that ignites a fire within him. It is the strongest tie I have with both my dad and, in turn, Pakistan.

Having spoken to fellow British-Pakistanis, the sentiment regarding the recent elections, and Pakistani politics in general, is that of apathy. For some, the politics of the South Asian country is of little to no regard for them because of the physical distance that exists, dismantling the idea of the “native informant”, a role that many minorities feel compelled to play in order to act as a middle ground between their peers and their own heritage, the latter ironically previously left untouched for fear of embarrassment.

Outside of personal connection and interest, Pakistan is a country that has existed for just over seventy years and is on the cusp of great success, electing a leader who is not reliant on familial prestige. I can only hope that Khan’s leadership marks a departure from his predecessor Nawaz Sharif from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for corruption on charges of money laundering based on allegations that resurfaced in the Panama Papers leak. This sentencing no doubt had a part to play in the minds of voters, including my parents, who both see Khan as the leader who will clean up Pakistan and empower its people, including themselves.

If this is a foreshadowing of what women can expect under Khan’s reign…then Pakistan will once again be failed by its leaders

However, Khan has been less than empowering in areas such as feminism, with his statement that western feminism has denigrated the traditional notions of motherhood. His party’s provincial government also failed to enact Pakistan’s landmark women’s rights bill against domestic violence. Members of Khan’s party have also made derogatory comments about women, with one remarking on national television that “If women come out of the house, then rape is inevitable.”

If this is a foreshadowing of what women can expect under Khan’s reign (subjugation, blatant disregard for women’s rights and moves towards archaic notions of womanhood), then Pakistan will once again be failed by its leaders. That is, if it hasn’t already been tainted with fervent allegations of a Khan x Pakistani military partnership; a mutually beneficial deal allowing the military to continue its stronghold over the country’s domestic and foreign policy.

Thus, I have mixed feelings about Imran Khan. His election win was celebrated by so many, but he has an arduous task ahead; keeping the country content amid aforementioned allegations. The elections mean something to me because Khan’s win ended years of political dynastic rule. For many Pakistanis, my dad included, his victory means a fresh start, a chance of success on the international stage and an era not bogged down with corruption and nepotism. More significantly, the Elections have meant that I have been witness to Pakistan’s political history through my dad’s eyes, the stories he has shared, the passionate speeches of the country “back in his day”. But with controversy swirling around Khan’s swearing-in ceremony, will his leadership really mark the change so many Pakistanis are hoping for?