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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Pakistan 2.0

There were glitches,and false tsunamis. And wicked ironies in the results.

Written by Komail Aijazuddin | Published: May 21, 2013 12:01:37 am

There were glitches,and false tsunamis. And wicked ironies

in the results. But the elections happened

Last week Pakistan had elections and is now,we affirm,a democracy. Tada! Didn’t think that would happen,didya? Considering you guys do this like clockwork every five years,I’m sure India will forgive us our virginal enthusiasm at voting in a new government and (more importantly) voting out the old one. This is the first time that that’s happened and it feels great. Before last week,no one had finished a term,usually because someone stormed the stage to ruin everyone’s fun,leaving us in decades of dictatorships,quasi-democratic oligarchs and whatever Pervez Musharraf was (Dictator? President? Friend of Jon Stewart?).

There was an infectious sense of enthusiasm bubbling up the closer we got to the elections,one that only became truly irritating online. Suddenly,social media sites became the battleground for people who had iPads and an electoral map,a small but loud segment. The decidedly vocal,nay evangelical,political sermons that colonised my Facebook timeline haven’t made me loathe so many people so quickly since the great YouTube ban of 2012. Invariably,they supported Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and were likely to believe that wearing block print outfits with IK’s face all over is an act of political bravery. Makes sense: the PTI branded themselves as the de facto party of the educated,English-speaking youth who just want a “change”. The actual day of the elections saw tweets and status updates calling for supplies at X polling booth,or warning people about thugs at Y polling station or urging people to bring juice bottles to Z polling house. The sense of togetherness was saccharine until you realised that polling booths X,Y and Z are all in upper-middle class,posh neighbourhoods in Karachi and Lahore,the inhabitants of which are more likely to repost a tweet because they,you know,have iPhones. The thing the PTI’s coveted “youth” voters failed to grasp is that the rest of

their countrymen aren’t all like them (“OMG,no way!”).

By now,you know that the tsunami-turned-trickle Imran Khan did not win every seat his party stood for. According to the PTI’s supporters,this is a travesty of Homeric proportions and largely the result of rigging. Truthfully,most people are impressed with his performance during the elections (well,kind of; he did fall off a crane three days before and many a photo-op was lost,but let’s move on). Despite the derivative flower-child revolution that PTI youths were impersonating,I found it strange that they couldn’t grasp that they are actually a small,albeit vocal,minority in a country of 180-million-plus people. And in a democracy,that apparently counts. None of this is to say that there wasn’t rigging. Even now,Karachi is recounting some districts because apparently,the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) weren’t playing fair,a suspicion confirmed when its leader,a fat bald man sitting in London,gave an ill-advised speech threatening the secession of Karachi from the country if polls were retaken. Things turned even uglier a few

days ago when the second in command of the PTI in Sindh,a woman named Zahra Shahid Hussein,was shot dead outside her house in Karachi. Imran Khan has openly blamed the MQM.

These are real grievances. But to suggest that everyone everywhere is engaged in a vast conspiracy against “change” remains banal. It was almost as if the fact of the political awakening among the upper middle class was reason enough for Imran Khan to win (“Hey,we’re awake. Lets win! Awww. Ok. See ya.”). Every time someone would type,“Imran Khan is not a man but a mindset” or the ubiquitous,“You’ve tried the rest,now vote for the best,” followed by a prophecy of victory,I gagged a little.

The wicked irony of the results is that the only province IK swept was the Afghanistan-adjacent and decidedly un-iPhone friendly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (seriously,you get no reception after the first three mountains),where none of the “youth” live and are unlikely to visit. The reason IK won these seats was because of his stance of negotiating with the Taliban,one that is popular in the only province that actually has to socialise with Taliban. It’s a stance none of his supporters like to talk about much,which makes the victory there so revelatory. Consider this: Imran Khan later decided to join with the so-uptight-it-hurts-to-sit right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami party to form the provincial government. It is a party defined by its religious conservatism,among other things. To this party,

IK decided to give the ministries of finance and,wait for it,education. In the same province where Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for trying to go to school. Do you see the dissonance?

Hopefully,the millions of youth IK galvanised will remain politically active for the next five years. Cynicism aside,I am impressed and grateful the elections went off. Yes,there were glitches but it also happened. Nowadays,that’s reason enough to celebrate.

Nawaz Sharif is now poised to form our next government (you must be pleased. He was always a hit in India) for the third time,after two disastrous terms. Here’s hoping a new hairline isn’t the only change he’ll bring to the government.

Aijazuddin is a writer and artist based in Lahore

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