30th October was a significant, some may say historic, day in recent Pakistani political history. This was the day when Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the political party founded by Imran Khan, former cricketer and captain of the 1992 ICC World Cup winning Pakistan team, arranged a mammoth anti-government rally at the historic Meenar-e-Pakistan in Lahore. Estimates of how many people actually attended the rally vary from fifty thousand to half a million, depending on who you ask. The common consensus is that the number was somewhere between 100 and 150 thousand, which is, in anyone’s books, is a major success, and a lot more than any pundits had expected or anticipated.
It was an emotional few hours, even watching on TV from a distance; the backdrop with the Pakistan flag, tens of thousands singing the national anthem, a sea of flag waving men, women and children from all walks of life coming together as one to exercise their democratic right of sending a message to a corrupt and incompetent leadership, both in government and in opposition, that we do not accept their hollow excuses and promises any longer. And that we can see, through their masks of piety, their truly horrible faces that have become marked and ugly with the truth of their immorality and greed.
I can only imagine what those who were there at this momentous occasion were feeling. To those who were at Minto Park last Sunday, congratulations! Even though I am not a member of the PTI and I don’t agree with everything that Imran Khan has said or done in his 15 year political life, I am a Pakistani and I envy you for having been able to witness what could be a turning point in our nation’s recent history.
Regardless of whether you agree with Imran Khan’s views and no matter whether you fully subscribe to his vision, you must agree with that he has been able to engage the emotions and ignite the passions of many millions of people (a lot of whom are in the 18 – 27 age group that we call the “youth” of Pakistan, but there are many more, like me, who are a lot older(and, hopefully, wiser) and have held diverse political views) who have been apathetic to politics, believe politicians to be, almost by definition, criminals, who it’s better to stay away from.
Even if you disapprove of Imran Khan’s views on certain topics, you have to agree that it is a massive achievement that political discourse is no longer considered a waste of time, that people are starting to believe that perhaps they do have a say (after all) in who holds the reins of power, and that middle-class, educated parents are willing to participate in a political rally with their teenage sons and daughters, with their retired mums and dads, with their drivers and cooks, with their friends and neighbours.
This has never been true in our country, where real politics on the ground has always been the exclusive playground of would-be MPAs and MNAs, nazims and naib nazims, union council members, patwaris, feudals, land owners, mill owners, political workers and sundry favour seekers. More recently, you can include in their ranks bhatta mafia, qabza groups, kidnappers, extortionists, dacoits, looters, thieves and all manner of organized criminal gangs, their members and their influential and powerful sponsors. That Imran Khan was able to motivate and emotionally engage the wide variety of people who turned up at Meenar-e-Pakistan that day, is no less than a miracle that I, for one, never imagined I would see in my lifetime.
I know it is hard to believe that anything constructive can be done when nothing has been managed in so many decades. I know that it is tough to imagine the military establishment letting anyone supersede their authority in matters of foreign policy. I know we cannot visualize anyone being able to stand up to the powers that really run the country. I know how hard it is to reconcile what we hear from our leaders with what we know is happening in Balochistan. I know how the current war on terror has evolved from the events of the 1980s. I know how much cynicism and bitterness has built up in many of our friends’ minds over the last 20 years or so. I know all of that. And I know that you know it, too.
But for now, in the emotionally charged mood of national and inspirational songs, of slogans and cheers, of flags and symbols, of the national anthem and the images of Jinnah and Iqbal and, of course, the status updates and tweets of Facebook and Twitter, I urge you to forget! I urge you to believe that we have, as a nation, taken the first step towards a better future! I urge you to be the visionary, be the idealist, be the CHANGE! We all know what our reality is today. I urge you to think about tomorrow! What we have now is broken. I urge you to consider your role in fixing it!
If you don’t believe Imran Khan can bring that change, that’s great! If you don’t believe this is the right way to bring about change, that’s fantastic! Find a better way, then. Advocate it, join like-minded people, cultivate your way. But please don’t be negative and cynical. That path will only lead to defeat. Keep believing, keep moving forward. If you don’t do that, the only other option is to give up.
Of course, only hoping and believing will not make anything happen. Tomorrow, in the cold light of day, when the chairs have been stacked up, when the speakers and microphones are packed away, when the guitars and drums are not on stage any longer, we will have to continue thinking. We will question, challenge, analyse, dissect, evaluate and assess. But we will do all of those things in the belief that we have a role, that maybe we can make a difference, that our future is not necessarily condemned to be as bleak as some would have us believe. And then, we will make our choice.