Saturday, May 5th, 2012
By Nadeem M Quresh
People are skeptical. They say: Mustaqbil Pakistan will not succeed. The odds against us are so enormous that rational people would have to agree. Why would my colleagues and I – a group of otherwise sensible professionals – want to take on a near impossible task? The answer is complicated.
Let’s start with what we want to do. As we see it, the root of all of Pakistan’s problems, really all our problems, is that generally speaking the people who sit in our assemblies are incompetent, ignorant, insincere and dishonest. This is what MP wants to change. We want to bring into politics the best of Pakistan’s people – competent, honest, decent, educated and sincere. Even partial success in achieving this goal would be like sunrise after a long dark night.
Mustaqbil Pakistan was registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan in February 2010. Since then I have travelled the length and breadth of the country. In remote rural areas I have sat with poor villagers on their frayed charpais and sipped their generously proffered doodh pati. In some of our largest cities, I’ve walked through impossibly narrow lanes to meet many of our poorest urban dwellers. I’ve sat talking to them in their tiny homes where often the only furnishing is a rug on the floor. On the road, I’ve stopped at dozens of tea shops to chat with truck drivers and farmers. I’ve addressed hundreds of corner meetings across the country in biting cold and oppressive heat.
The people I meet are the real Pakistan. They are poor. Many are illiterate. But they know exactly what is going on. They know that the people who sit in our assemblies are thieves and robbers. They are ready for change. My meetings with people across the country over the last two years have convinced me that it can happen. Let me explain why.
Traditionally feudal landlords have exercised almost complete control in the rural areas. And since this is where most of our population lives, these are the people who have controlled the political agenda. But their control is not what it used to be. Many factors working in combination have over the years pried open their grip. Three of these factors bear special mention.
First, the unprecedented expansion of the electronic media – TV and FM radio – over the past decade has raised awareness amongst the rural population. Politicians (read feudal landlords) who they would only see once in 5 years during election time are now on their TV screens every night. And they are the sorriest of figures – uncouth, mendacious, avaricious and stupid. Their incredulous constituents wonder as they watch: Are these the people we voted to parliament?
Second, heritage has resulted in fragmentation of land holdings. A piece of land held by a single landlord at independence 65 year ago is now, two generations later, held by 15 or 20 of his descendants. This has diluted their power. And they now compete with each other to seek favour with their serfs. A situation unimaginable to their forefathers.
Finally, urbanization and migration have provided new sources of income to the rural population. Frequently at many of my corner meetings in villages the bulk of the audience is old men. This is because all the young men are either in the cities or abroad earning for their families and communities. Economic independence has brought in its wake political independence for much of the rural population.
Cumulatively these factors have changed the dynamics of rural politics in Pakistan. The landlords remain powerful. But this is not the ‘structural’ – and hence much more difficult to counter – power of years past. Rather it is power bestowed by Chief Ministers in provincial capitals who require the local police stations to be subservient to the ruling party’s landlords.
This is not to suggest that the task we have ahead of us is easy. Formidable obstacles and issues remain. These are some of them:
- A political system that many think is unworkable and beyond saving.
- Politics is local. People want their problems to be solved. Nationalism, patriotism come a distant second.
- What pass for political parties in Pakistan are really personality cults.
- Voting is not transparent and often rigged.
- Political parties have their armed thugs who are given a free hand on election day.
- At best MP will only get a few seats in the assemblies in the next election. Can this really make any difference?
- In the unlikely event we are able to get enough seats to be of influence in decision making what can we possibly do in an environment of corruption, dishonesty, bribery, disintegrating infrastructure and proliferating lawlessness?
In general we agree that our political system is dysfunctional and needs radical repair. The problem is that in order to make these repairs one has to get into a position to do so. For MP this really means that we need to work with the existing system to eventually get enough influence in parliament to make the changes all of us think are necessary. There are really no other constitutional and hence minimally disruptive options.
Politics is indeed local. But we know that making life better for people at the local level is contingent on the nation having the needed resources. This means a strong economy, efficient infrastructure and security. So the issue here really is communication. As a political party MP’s job is to tell the people we meet in villages and urban slums that what happens at the national level is critical to what happens to them locally. They get their sewage systems, water supply, gas, paved lanes and jobs only if the government is strong and well managed.
Personality cults are a problem. Despite outrageous wrongdoing the main parties continue to retain influence amongst core supporters. The good news, however, is that this has eroded substantially over the last four years. I have seen it personally in all parts of the country. Diehard PPP and PML workers have told me of their disappointment and disillusionment with their bosses. Many of them have joined MP.
There is another side to the personality cult coin. MP is a party based on meritocracy. We do not at all want to establish any kind of personality cult around any of our leaders. Yet it is unfortunately in the nature of our people that they like heroes. And in this sense we will have to be responsive to their wants, even if it means projecting the personality of one or more of our leaders beyond a level that we deem reasonable. Our long term goal of course is to wean our people off this particular narcotic. I think it will take time. But it will eventually happen.
Vote rigging is a reality that cannot be denied. If MP is going to be in the elections we do need to devise strategies to counter rigging and minimize its potential impact in the areas where we intend to compete. Devising counter rigging policy requires a keen understanding of how the voting process works and the rigging methods employed. MP’s participation in the Yazman by election last year gave us this insight. And we are indeed now working on multiple strategies to counter rigging and to minimize its impact. These strategies are not foolproof. But we are reasonably confident that they will be usefully effective.
Armed thugs and vote rigging normally go hand in hand at election time. We saw this first hand in Yazman. Naturally, as a party that wants to change the status quo, we are not in the business of armed thuggery. Can we survive without it? My feeling is that we can. In the end the best defence against any kind of thuggery is to have the community on your side. This is indeed the challenge of politics. If we can get local people excited about MP they will be all the defence we need during election time. Thugs cannot take on a whole community.
MP has a very focused strategy for the next election due in early 2013. We realize that as a young party we do not yet have the profile or resources to mount a national campaign. This is why we have decided to compete from only a few constituencies – 5 or 6 in total – in the next election. Two or three of these constituencies are in Punjab, two in KPK and one in Sindh. Each constituency consists of 1 MNA seat and the 2 or 3 corresponding MPA seats. So in total we will be competing for 5 or 6 MNA seats and 10 to 12 MPA seats.
Even if we do win some of these seats, can we make any difference on the national political scene? This is difficult to answer for sure. We will have good, competent, honest and sincere people in parliament. And they will do their best to effect change. Our objective however is longer term. We want to use the coming election as a kind of ‘test of concept’. Our goal is to prove that people like us – competent, honest, decent and educated can succeed in Pakistani politics. This we achieve by simply getting even a few of our people into parliament. And this puts us in position for a national and meaningful effort the next time elections come around.
About the author: Nadeem M Qureshi is the Chairman Mustaqbil Pakistan