THIRD TIME IS NEVER THE CHARM
Omar Ul Haq
I spent the first ten years of my life in Bahrain, and grew up remarkably unaware of my family’s status in Pakistan. My parents made a concerted effort to keep my brother and I out of the political spotlight, which was probably a good idea. Following the death of my Grandfather, General Zia Ul Haq, in an airplane crash, we moved to Islamabad, Pakistan. We were immediately placed in the American school to continue our education. My brother, Osman and I were content with the comfortable, laid-back, and international atmosphere we were living in, while my parents were campaigning for the upcoming elections and trying to adjust back to life in Pakistan after two decades. Life was idyllic at the time for Osman and myself, but we quickly realized that we were living in a sheltered and innocent “bubble”, which would eventually burst when we faced the real world.
Coming from a strong political family, I have been asked the most absurd questions by people from all walks of life. I have been bombarded with questions regarding my family’s accomplishments and mistakes, my views on the Bhutto family, and if I have any plans to step into politics in the near future. I have mostly kept my opinions to myself, until now.
I confess that I am torn between the merits of military and democratic regimes. While I’ve never been one to stand on the streets and protest for leaders who are apparently going to save our country, I’m definitely not in favor of seeing President Musharaff rule our nation for much longer either. I have also given a lot of thought to democracy in Pakistan and while it is the ideal solution, I’m still not sure if I can see an effective democratic government in Pakistan; a relatively new and developing nation. While I am not necessarily in favor of a military regime, the question I pose is whether Pakistan is ready for yet another democratic government or are we Pakistanis just simply imagining and hoping for the next democratically elected political figure to come and perform miracles for our nation? As tragic as it is, most Pakistanis, including the educated elite, are unaware of the definition of “democracy”. Although we understand the basics – that officials must be elected by citizens and must gain the support of the majority of the population – do we exactly understand how these officials get the majority of votes? Do the masses even consider what the past leaders have given them (or should I say have not given them) before running out on the streets and risking their lives for them?
The latest developments have plunged Pakistani politics into a serious state of confusion. We have been hearing about so many different “talks” that have been occurring for the last few months but what exactly were Sharif, Bhutto, and Musharaff negotiating that led the country into such a disaster? Why was Bhutto’s return to Pakistan a cause for celebration in the country while Sharif was immediately deported after his attempted grand entrance? For the first time, Pakistanis throughout the world have absolutely no idea in which direction our country is heading in and we feel helpless. Is our country truly ready for democracy or are we just being blindly enthusiastic at the thought of living peacefully in an idealistic, terror-free, democratic nation? I graduated from university with a Bachelors Degree in Govenment and International Relations. Therefore, I know the basics – that democracy is a political system that guarantees its people basic sovereignty and rights. In Pakistan, it appears that we have yet to experience a true democracy. I don’t remember studying about how it is acceptable for “democratic leaders” to run away with millions of dollars that belong to citizens of the country and then be welcomed back with open arms. Perhaps, I had fallen asleep in class that day.
President Musharaff and his cabinet have spent a lot of time and energy on Pakistan in the past eight years by not only helping the country avoid an economic collapse but actually achieving a phenomenal growth rate as well. Why is it that now, he is encouraging us to resent him by making more of an effort to manipulate politics in order to stay in charge? While I think it is acceptable to reject his uniform, I don’t understand how that has led to Benazir believing that she is the saviour of our country. Does she genuinely believe that the public is going to forgive her for all of her past “immature” mistakes and give her a chance for the third time? There is a lot more to a good democratic leader than just being a strong, educated woman with a great accent. Who exactly was the one to decide that Benazir Bhutto is the symbol of modernity and democracy? In my opinion, she is utterly incompetent. She pulled a disappearing act when she was accused of corruption, came back when the charges were conveniently lifted, has not shown any responsibility of the bombs that occurred upon her arrival, and refuses to talk in detail about her past two terms as Prime Minister. Instead, she has blamed the bombings and most of her problems on Ijaz Ul Haq and General Zia’s supporters, therefore taking the easy way out and avoiding the relevant issues. It’s about time Benazir starts campaigning on her own accomplishments and her past two terms as Prime Minister rather than whining to her father’s supporters and pulling the sympathy card on how General Zia was apparently cruel to the oh-so-innocent “Daugther of the East”.
Like many Pakistanis who have lived abroad for the past few years, I have also been nervous while walking up to the immigration officers at JFK and Heathrow Airports. While Islamist extremists are doing their best to ruin the little bit of respect that we have left in the world, politicians are fanning the flame of civil war back home. I know it is easy for us to sit back, relax, and watch the show but it’s about time that we Pakistanis make a difference rather than merely depending on our past failed democratic leaders and expressing our concerns at dinner parties. Is there hope? Of course there is, otherwise we wouldn’t spend our time discussing a failed topic or even confess to the fact that we have a problem. I guess time will tell where our country is heading but let’s hope that we figure things out before the world gives up on us. Till then, I will continue to hold my head up high and be the proud Pakistani that I am.