Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sights, sounds & observations from the PTI rally in Karachi

To cut a long story short, participating in PTI’s jalsa on Sunday was a transformative experience for me. Originally, I didn’t want to go because I don’t agree with everything Imran Khan has to say and felt his policy platform was too vague. Plus, there was a small chance that a bomb would go off or something could go wrong. This was Karachi after all.

The tipping point came when Imran Khan positioned this rally as an opportunity to usher in a new era of peaceful politics in Karachi. Sitting with friends the night before the rally, we made an impulse decision to attend. “You’ll tell your grand children that you were a witness to history in the making,” my friend remarked as he made his case for us to attend the rally. 

His advice inadvertently triggered one of the best decisions of my life.

It’s difficult to capture the energy of the crowd at the PTI rally in writing. There were people & PTI flags as far as one’s eye could see. “Please stop climbing the electricity poles,” pleaded one of the PTI speakers, trying to bring order to the sea of people that had thronged the venue. “You may electrocute the electric pole with all your current.”

This was Pakistan at its very best; men, women & children of all ethnicities and economic classes breaking the shackles of fear and coming together to support a political candidate who thinks peace in Karachi is the key to a prosperous Pakistan. There was music, there was dancing, there was laughter and above all, there was a palpable sense of hope. It was unlike anything I’ve experienced before in Pakistan.

Every time a pushto or a sindhi song would play, the tsunami of people would roar unanimously and dance without any discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or economic class. Every speaker would talk about bringing together Pashtuns, Sindhis, Balouchis, Punjabis and Urdu speaking folks under one banner. We are all Pakistanis they would say. 

Almost every leader wished Pakistani Christians a Merry Christmas. This was the politics of inclusion, diversity & tolerance. This was the need of the hour in Pakistan. And it wasn’t just talk, the roaring response of the tsunami was visible proof that PTI is already beginning to unite people who would otherwise be at logger heads with each other. Instead of brandishing guns to show their support, people waved colorful PTI flags. 

Shah Mehmood Qureshi said it best when he remarked that after years of disillusionment, he finally saw hope in the young people around him. There was a sparkle in their eyes. Karachi doesn’t want bloodshed or target killings he said; today Karachi-ites are here to spread the message of love. 

When Imran Khan took to the stage, the crowd was on fire. Imagine young pathan men gushing over Imran like teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert. It was a magical moment. It could turn out to be one of the most pivotal moments for politics in Karachi in our generation. 

As Imran Khan announced another high profile defection to his party from the PPP, a young man in the audience quipped “ab thori deir mein khabar aye gi kai Quaid – e – Azam nai bhi PTI join kar li hai.”

Imran Khan’s speech was a class act of both political maturity and populist acumen. He said he didn’t want to make any hateful statements against any political party. But he had to respond to Nawaz Sharif who challenged him to a 10 over match recently. “Please arrange this match quickly,” a beaming Imran told Nawaz. “You may not have enough men to make a team at this rate,” he quipped as he referred to the high profile defection of PML-N heavy weight Javed Hashmi to PTI. 

More importantly, Imran promised policy papers documenting PTI’s stance on every important issue from the economy to education in his speech. He pointed out that naysayers have challenged him all his life but he has proved them wrong every time; from winning the cricket world cup to developing his cancer treatment hospital.

In a moving anecdote, Imran told the story of a young man from DG Khan who sold his mobile phone to fund his trip to Karachi to attend this rally. It was an anecdote that serves as a window into many similar stories; people flew in the Lahore, Dubai, London and America to attend this rally. There was even participation from handicapped people on wheelchairs.

The rally was meant to set Karachi and Pakistan on a new trajectory in the course of history. By that measure, PTI’s rally yesterday was a smashing success. Imran has single handedly managed to change the course of our national discourse on Karachi, for the better.

Even without taking a political position, it’s clear that Imran Khan is one of the only leaders in Pakistan whose success is contingent on bringing Pakistanis together rather than dividing them along ethnic & political lines. And that deserves support from all Pakistanis, regardless of our ethnic, economic or political affiliations.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Year’s Resolutions for Pakistan

Three days ago, I attended a seminar on “New Year’s Resolutions for Pakistan’s Economy” at IBA and the speakers appeared to fracture into two schools of thought. 

The first school of thought, led by Saad Khan (Vice President, American Business Council) argued that Pakistan needs to develop a long term “vision” for economic uplift. The second school of thought, led by Ishrat Husain (Former State Bank Governor) argued that Pakistan already has many “visions” parading around as white papers in the system, what Pakistan needs is implementation, implementation & implementation. 

All of us like to make New Year’s resolutions. Some want to lose weight, others want to quit smoking. Almost everyone wants to fight their demons and become a better person. The New Year is a chance to get a fresh start on life. Despite the fact that most of us fail to live up to our resolutions, we never fail to make new resolutions. 

Pakistan is no different.

Imran Khan & the 2013 elections promise a “fresh start” for Pakistan. Imran Khan has a bold vision that almost everyone can buy into; he promises to end corruption and offers that as a panacea to solve all our problems. 

The question most of PTI’s critics have is a simple one: does Imran Khan have the discipline and the political muscle to implement his vision or is this another New Year’s resolution that looks good on paper but will never be brought to life?

How do we resolve the tension between developing a vision and having the discipline to execute it? If you don’t execute your vision, does it mean that you didn’t believe in it in the first place? And if that’s true, why do we develop visions to begin with?

Specifically for Pakistan’s case, why are politicians so big on “visions” and short on precise plans to achieve those “visions”?

The answer is simple. “Visions” are meant to inspire and bring out the best in us. Plans on the other hand are cumbersome and require hard work to be executed. Politicians, like us on the cusp of a New Year, like to believe that we can bring out the best in us without working on the discipline needed to achieve our goals. 

Based on the seminar and the subsequent unpacking of ideas for this blog post, I’d propose the following to be Pakistan’s New Year’s Resolutions:
  1. Developing a clear vision for our future that inspires all sections of society – Imran Khan trying his best to do a good job here
  2.  Creating a plan of action that charts the specific steps needed for success – No one is doing this, yet.
  3.  The discipline to execute plans & make sacrifices – this needs to be part of all our New Year’s resolutions.
I’ll end with this beautiful quote that puts the tension between vision & execution into context:

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.”
Henry David Thoreau