You must have had the experience of catching just a part of an interesting conversation and wondering how it might have evolved. It happened to me today as I moved past an African and a South Asian who, the words suggested, was a Pakistani. I heard the African asking, “What do professionals like you really want to see happening in Pakistan?” And before I could hear the answer the words were swallowed by the silence.
It was a good question at a time when Pakistanis seem to be living from day to day just hoping for the situation to stabilize. What kind of Pakistan might middle class professionals really want beyond this immediate crisis if they got around to thinking about it? I would have loved to hear but the opportunity was lost. I wondered then what I might have said had I been given that part in some role-play exercise or in a mock UN format.
Let me try and imagine the elements that might comprise a vision capable of eliciting support across the spectrum of Pakistani professionals and would-be professionals who are now in schools and colleges.
First, there might be agreement that Pakistan should make the transition that has been achieved in Latin America – from the dominance of the military to stable democratic rule with the military unambiguously answerable to the civilian leadership.
Second, that the country should have an authentic civilian leadership – not one manufactured by the military as a cover for its control or orchestrated by the American government to further its strategic interests.
Third, that this authentic democratic leadership should turn its focus inwards to address the major issues that have reached crisis proportions. For this to happen, the leadership should put aside the aggressive designs that have been pursued in foreign policy and call a truce with the country’s neighbors to create the space and release the resources needed to address domestic issues.
Fourth, that the domestic agenda should give the highest priority to amicable relations among the constituent elements of the union by giving much more autonomy to the provinces.
Fifth, that the leadership should focus first on the bottom third of the population consigned to sub-human existence for over sixty years. This would involve reallocating resources for employment, education, and basic services for the most deprived groups in the country.
Sixth, that there should be guaranteed civil rights and equal access to justice for all Pakistanis.
Seventh, that Pakistan should transition to a society based on merit with accountability to the public of all office holders and service providers.
I feel the above would constitute an agenda that could hope to command the allegiance of a majority of Pakistani professionals. Beyond this there would remain critically important issues but ones that would prove divisive. Amongst these would be issues like the separation of church and state, the end of discrimination against women, the reform of the public school curriculum, and the teaching of the performing arts in schools. These would remain partisan issues that would call for a continued struggle within Pakistani society.
Of course, the big issue would remain the achievement of the vision outlined above but articulating it as the basis for the coming together of civil society would be a necessary first step. Hearing the question framed by an outsider made me realize that perhaps Pakistanis have not given sufficient importance to this preliminary requirement for social and political mobilization. Clearly their political parties have not put forward any coherent or comprehensive or even contending visions for the future of the country.
This was a hypothetical exercise in role-play for me and I am curious to know the extent to which Pakistani professionals would agree to it. I also wonder what other South Asians would have to say – what in their view should Pakistani professionals be wanting for the Pakistan of tomorrow?