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An ideological vacuum

As elections in Pakistan approach, most parties are defined by their lack of a vision for the country

An ideological vacuum

Dear All,

In Pakistan, everything is now in a countdown to elections mode.

As the ruling PML-N continues its narrative of Nawaz Sharif/Panama Papers victimhood, rival parties are allying to strike down the PML-N while it’s on the back-foot. Some rather odd alliances and groupings are once again emerging, and their targets are pretty much the Sharif family and their power base.

But what is most noticeable about this whole scenario is the total lack of ideology or national vision articulated by the main political parties. In this respect only the religious parties are able to present a coherent vision: that of old Islam and Islamic government ideology (however moderately or not these groups should wish to apply the principles).

In the run-up to elections it’s all platitudes and kowtowing to the status quo — economic, strategic, religious and military. Nobody has a vision for this country or its place in the world.

All other parties present no coherent economic or social policy. They just present platitudes about ‘improving education’, ‘providing justice’, ‘creating jobs’ and ‘initiating development projects’.

This is not policy — this is a wish list of general improvements with no reflection on structural change or integrated economic or national goals. The Pakistan People’s Party, which has somehow still managed to retain a lot of their grassroots jiyala support, is now a party that hardly speaks of a socialist vision or uplift of the downtrodden.

The main speeches at the 10th anniversary gathering on the occasion of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination were the most lacklustre I’ve heard in a long time, and certainly did not rise to the occasion. The occasion could have been used to re-affirm the vision — economic and social — of the party, instead it was just the same old narrative of family and martyrdom and paternalism.

And it doesn’t help that people see the same old feudals at the helm of the party, many tainted by accusations of venality, lack of performance in development projects in Sindh (they would probably benefit by giving more prominence to credible people like Qamar Zaman Kaira or Saeed Ghani).

The other main parties are the same: what national vision or ideology are the PTI or ANP presenting? Secularism is now considered unmentionable, socialist policies or workers’ rights are also subjects nobody wants to speak about. Nobody has an agenda for any sort of change — instead their aim seems to be simply to get into power simply to manage the existing ‘corporation’ — that state that is a huge expanding private enterprise dictated to by a region-phobic military establishment who seems to consider all our neighbours as ‘enemies’. This seems to be the only electoral goal of Pakistan’s political groups: to head the corporation, not in any way to reform or improve the structure.

Granted this is not an easy task. Privatisation for example has put into place a destructive capitalistic model that squeezes the working poor and creates social, educational and economic inequalities. It creates systems that are inadequately regulated and mostly abused. The rich get richer, and economic disparity increases sharply despite all that jargon about the ‘trickle down effect’ of such commercial activity. There is no joint purpose either — for example austerity or national service — everybody just wants to do their own thing. No serious consideration of tax affairs or mechanisms for effective revenue collection either. No talk about who Pakistan is or what kind of country it can become.

In the run-up to elections it’s all platitudes and kowtowing to the status quo — economic, strategic, religious and military. Nobody has a vision for this country or its place in the world (just considering that China will stand by you and you’ll be part of a Saudi-led ‘Muslim’ army while maintaining enmity with your neighbours is hardly coherent or constructive foreign policy).

And talking of enmity with one’s neighbours: here it’s worth sparing a thought for the peace activist Raza Khan who disappeared from Lahore last year. A tireless advocate of building links with peacenik Indians, somebody who has worked on many such projects over the years, Raza is still missing. Last year began with the episode of the abductions of the bloggers who were abducted and tortured, this year we have the case of Raza Khan still pending.

Today it’s Raza Khan, tomorrow it could be any one of us who is disappeared for questioning the activities or patronage by powerful institutions. Will any party raise a voice on this?

Of course not — its all platitudes and empty words now.

Best wishes

Umber Khairi

The author is a former BBC broadcaster and producer, and one of the founding editors of Newsline.

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