Pakistan’s War On the Poor

Protestors clashed with police on Thursday over operations to clear encroachers in Islamabad. Two sides have emerged as those who are calling the issue a question of law and order and those who are calling for sympathy for the poor. However this scene must be viewed in a broader light which is that it is simply the latest battle in our war on the poor of this country.

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Whose Nation Is This?

The post below by Musam Memon was originally published on Express Tribune Blog, and I am republishing it here because he gets it 100% correct. Whatever you think of Musharraf or Nawaz or Zardari or anyone else, it is the right of the people, not the right of an unappointed elite in the media or the military or the courts to select the country’s leaders.

Like Musam, I hear too often people telling me that democracy is good but only if the well-educated people are voting. They tell me that you cannot trust the poor to vote because they do not understand the important issues.

But this is nonsense. Do the spoiled children of Punjabi businessmen understand the hardships that are faced by rural families? Most of the country is still in poverty and poorly educated. Their voices must be heard, too.

Saying that the poor and uneducated are not fit to select their own leaders is the same attitude of feudalism, whether our new elites will admit it publicly or not. We must do away with these attitudes and embrace all of our brothers and hear their perspectives. Then we will know the facts and be able to work together to find solutions to poverty and education, bringing everyone up to a modern level of development.

Democracy: Whose right is it anyway?

I would be surprised if you still have not engaged in a charismatically disingenuous conversation in which a mischievous friend let lose a blasphemous idea, revolving around the topic of whether we, Pakistanis, are ready for, or deserve democracy. Democracy, which can be simply understood as the right of people to choose their leaders.

Now some, without chivalry, argue insistently that our country lacks education, maturity, intellect and economic growth levels – typical indicators of a developed nation. Of course, I do not refute the idea that we are a developing nation with abysmally low levels of education and economic growth. But the fact that the majority of the nation cannot read or write, is involved in subsistence agriculture and lives below the poverty line, is hardly reason enough to strip them off the right to choose their own rulers.

If those who are uneducated, who do not have access to clean water and nutritious food and are scraping together a living toiling on a farm are not allowed who to vote, then who does? The military? And the hedonistic educated elite, who seem to feel that they have an inherent right to play savior to the ‘uninformed’ and uneducated public?

Democracy means the right of choice. It is the right of the people, no matter what social strata they belong to, to choose to make their own mistakes. I say that because it is not democracy that we are not ready for, it is a lack of choice that has continued to paralyse the entire nation for over half a century; most of us vote for the party that we think will do the least damage.

Former president Pervez Musharraf probably understood this; the second time he felt like sitting on the ‘hot seat’, he did not resort to a ‘coup detat’. He has a party now.

Presidential Focus: Poverty and Women’s Rights

President Zardari has declared he will not be derailed from his domestic priorities of poverty alleviation and women’s empowerment.

At an event at the Governor’s House, the President emphasized his administration’s focus on the core issues facing Pakistanis. He discussed the concept of generational poverty. Families already struggling to make ends meet have no chance but to ask their children find work, thereby disrupting their education and continuing the cycle. We are facing the crisis of poverty. Who knows how much potential or brilliance is lost because our people are forced to work instead of striving for higher education to showcase their abilities? He cited the Benazir Income Support Programme, which was an initiative aimed at relieving some of the burdens of the poorest in our nation.

Another issue close to the President’s heart is that of women’s empowerment. We have to wonder at the fact that the country that voted for the first female Muslim head of state can be so tragically behind the times in women’s rights. There are many strong, articulate, and pro-democracy women in Pakistan, and we have well-respected NGOs working for women’s rights as well. It is with them the President will be working with to slowly but surely bring equal rights to all.