Concerned Citizens Forum
There is a future for Pakistan
Over the last 40 years the civil society has been gradually
squeezed out of the public space in Pakistan. Educated people and successful
professionals who have chosen to stay and would like to build up their
own country have no say whatsoever and are captives of the military.
What do such people think about Pakistan, its foreign policy and especially
its involvement in Afghanistan and Kashmir?
What future do they foresee? Brigitte Voykowitsch spoke for Die Gazette
to Sohail Zafar and Hussain Halmat, by profession a medical doctor and
a lawyer, repectively, and both of them founder members of the Concerned
Citizens Forum in Lahore, one of a number of such citizens' organisations
in the country whose members - lawyers, doctors, businessmen, academics
and other professionals - are trying to get a dialogue going on "What
kind of Pakistan do we want?"
Gazette: Three decades after their last war, Pakistan and India
have moved toward the brink of yet another military confrontation. Are
you confident that a solution can be found and what could it look like?
Both India and Pakistan are to blame, we have together destroyed the
Kashmir valley, there is no trade there, there is no tourism there,
only militancy and violence. Let the people of Kashmir finally decide
what they want, if they want to stay with India or with Pakistan or
be independent, let the people decide, it would be the only fair thing
to do, why do we always have to meddle.
India, however, is definitely not inclined to allow a referendum
in the valley nor has Pakistan given up its support for the militants
whom it calls freedom fighters. What then can be the way out of the
Then give the people in both parts of Kashmir genuine and full autonomy
and open borders. But solve the problem and move on. Pakistan has made
the mistake of selling its soul for Kashmir and Afghanistan. For the
past decades our involvement with Afghanistan and our schizophrenic
view of Kashmir has only been in the interest in the army and at the
cost of our economy and development.
It is extremely unfortunate that for a good part of our 54 years of
independence we have been too involved with our socalled security concerns.
Look at this country. Why has it become a failed state? Because no one
was bothered about the country, everyone was bothered about Kashmir
and Afghanistan. The United States of America have supposedly been a
friend of Pakistan but in reality they have been siding with the army
and wanted our army to serve their interests. It was all wrong to get
into the hands of the superpowers and play second fiddle to them.
Now that the Taliban regime has collapsed let us put an end to our follies
in Afghanistan. Let us concentrate on our own country where the vast
majority of the people are so poor and dispossessed.
Let us finally state that we have no ambitions to become any power in
Central Asia or West Asia or anywhere else. Let us finally build up
this country because this now is not the Pakistan that we want. Now
I want the next 20 years for Pakistan only. I want my country to be
Malaysia in 20 years, and for that we need to concentrate on our own
Look at the state we are in. We don't have proper health facilities
here, we dont have proper education. Our government may say that the
literacy rate is about 35 to 40 percent, but I dont believe it is no
more than 20 percent. You just can't say a person who can sign his name
People want food and medicine, clean water and roads, they want their
children to be educated and they want to concentrate on their own affairs
and not have their lives forever hijacked by our foreign policy. The
army should stick to the borders.
Given the history of Pakistan and the prominent role that the army has
played in it, how can this be achieved?
It is going to be a long and difficult process. The military is too
well entrenched. Over the years the armed forces have developed a huge
industrial complex and amassed so many privileges, now they are there
to guard them and just dont want to give them up. But if we look at
the world, there is no other country with a population the size of ours,
around 140 million, where the army thinks it can and should rule. These
are no longer the times to rule a country with the barrel of a gun,
with one man calling the shots. You feel ashamed that your country is
running like this, while India is having elections, Sri Lanka has a
civil war but still holds regular elections, Bangladesh is having elections,
and even after 11 September a new mayor was elected in New York.
Afghanistan and Kashmir simply must no longer be the cornerstones of
our living. We want a leaqdership that is worried about the next generation
in this country.
The establishment of a genuine democratic pluralist order must be the
goal. I still hope that fresh elections will be held this year and that
these could be the start of a new process. Of course, democracy is much
more than elections, it is about people having a real say and a strong
civil society. Over the years the people of this country have lost their
say, we have become a more repressive and cynical society, we dont believe
in ourselves. But now a different generation has come up after the fall
of Dhaka [the breakaway of former East Pakistan and its independence
as the new country of Bangladesh in 1971]. These are educated professionals
who graduated in the 70s and are now in their professional lives and
well settled. They wish to move forward, to become modern, democratic,
scientific-oriented, in step with the world. They themselves would not
wish to leave Pakistan and they want to make this country a liveable
place for their children so there is no longer any incentive for them
to leave. Right now we are suffering from a huge brain drain among the
Right now there are no opportunities for the young in this country.
They have access to the internet and to cable TV and see what is out
there in the world and then they look back at their own country and
feel so helpless. Why, they ask, can't we do anything, why can't we
develop, why can't we move on? That is why organisations like ours are
being formed. We need to reflect on what the civil society can do and
debate on the kind of Pakistan that we want to build up.
We have such outstanding citizens here like Asma Jehangir [top human
rights and feminist lawyer, currently special rapporteur on extrajudicial,
summary or arbitrary executions of the UN Commission on Human Rights],
to mention only one. There have been individuals who made tremendous
efforts in the interests of the people and set up schools and hospitals.
But we don't have a parliament, we are captives of the military, the
feudal elite, the bureaucracy a a small circle of politicians. And this
has been going on almost since independence. Pakistan has conducted
itself so poorly and it is certainly not up to our intellectual standards.
Of course, now the multiple efforts within the small civil society must
Despite the long periods of military rule, Pakistan has had a full
decade - the 90s of the last century - of democratic rule. Yet people
were so frustrated at the end that a great number of them welcomed the
military takeover by General Pervez Musharraf.
I dont think those two prime ministers [Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif]
were really free to do what they wanted to do, there was always the
military in the shadows. But, of course, they were also to blame for
their corruption. The civilian interludes in our short history did not
give the opportunity to either the political parties or to civil society
to develop the process which leads to a consolidation of democratic
institutions. Our democratic institutions were weak from the beginning.
The interruptions in the democratic process meant that we again and
again went back to point zero. The political parties have been weak
and also corrupt and the military has exploited this to impose its own
Unfortunately, the democratic experiment of the 1990s was not very successful.
But democracy is still our only way out. As I have already said, this
can only be an evolutional process. So much needs to be done. It is
most unfortuante that politics has got such a bad name, it has really
become a taboo for certain classes. But what can one expect when you
have had policitians being murdered, hanged and exiled. Civil society
now needs to raise its voice and to make itself heard. Unless we demand
a different country we are not going to get it ever. We want to stir
the silent majority into action, we want to bring out what the common
men want in this country.
Genuine democracy is the only solution to our multiple problems. This
country is deivided on so many counts, ethnicity, language, urban-rural,
feudal-modern. If you have true democracy, the various cultures in this
country can function within their different provinces and a mixed culture
will prevail at the national level. It is only when the centre tries
to grab the power in the provinces against the spirit of federalism
that the problems arise. Let me be a Punjabi and have my language. Yes,
Urdu is the national language, but it does not belong to this area at
all, I have accepted it as natonal language, but my identity should
be recognized like that of a Pashtun or a Sindhi or a Baluch or a Kashmiri.
We know there are so many different people in Pakistan, but there are
so many languages and cultures in India and they are all living together
within a democratic setup. We need to achieve this as well, but the
only way to live together is to give every one a fair share of power
and of resources.
When people like you are speaking about a new generation of educated
people who want democracy and a modern society, you are really only
talking about a very small minority within Pakistan. What are the wishes
of the vast majority? Where do you consider the radical Muslims who
do not show the least interest in a modern democratic state?
The radical Muslims are only a minute minority in Pakistan. Religious
parties have always been there, but they always only got a few percent
at the polls. If we have radicals, we, the elite, also have to blame
ourselves. What stake have we given the masses of the poor and dispossessed
in this Pakistan? The only places where the poor are taken care of are
the madrasas. They feed them and educate them in their own way. We should
have made sure to give them literacy of another type and taught them
trades and skills. We don't have to close the madrasas. If we get real
democracy and give people their rights, give them education and food
and shelter and a future, the problem of fundamentalism will take care
of itself. Religion plays a prominent role in our lives. But we dont
want the distorted message of the Mullah.
The majority is neither repressive nor fundamentalist. More than 90
percent of the people of Pakistan are progressive and want to build
a modern educated country. But the army and the bureacracy want to use
Islam to blackmail people.
The army never thought of what it was doing to this country. They got
us kalashnikows and a drug culture and did not think about what wrong
they were doing and how much they were destroying here. The armed forces
have seen people as their enemies and been keen on maiming and destroying
them. They don't want the political parties to coalesce, they dont want
the people to unite to reclaim civilian supremacy over the army. But
democracy is our only hope. We need a new leadership for the new millennium.
We want real peace.
13. Januar 2002