Monday 28 July 2014

Faith Matters Attended an Interfaith Gathering in the US

In March, 2014, I got an opportunity to attend an interfaith gathering arranged by DC Interfaith Network in Bethesda (just outside the US capital, Washington DC). The gathering was arranged at the house of Peter Kovach, a senior diplomat who has previously held a number of key positions in government, including the director of International Religious Freedom at the U.S Department of State and a counsellor for public affairs in the American Embassy in Islamabad. Numbered among the other attendees were Rebecca Cataldi from the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy (ICRD), Anjum Ali, president at Speaking Unites and Shama Farooq from the 9/11 Unity Walk.

The discussion started with an update of the wonderful work being carried out by ICRD in Pakistan. This has focused on engaging with the religious schools (madrasas), carrying out teacher training and educating the young people on the ideas of human rights, conflict resolution and religious tolerance. We’ve previously gone on about the importance of education in interfaith work, and so it was really heartening to hear about other groups active in this field.

Rehman Anwer, Project Manager Faith Matters Meeting with the American Civil Society Activists
One of the key issues that was raised in the discussion was that of ‘identity’, specifically the issue of American Muslim identity, and its meaning for many living in the US. Some participants shared how they encountered some difficulty when trying to balance the two, or putting their national/cultural affiliation first, with some even reporting hostility from others in their own community. We discussed various dimensions of this issue, as well as broader tensions around identity, including what happens when people feel their identity is under threat. The debate also included Islamophobia in the West today, and how is it fuelling tensions between different communities. I got the opportunity to discuss some of our work around Islamophobia and anti-Muslim attacks in Britain, and it was really fascinating to compare this to the trends and tendencies of anti-Muslim hate crime identified in the US.

Since many of the participants had some Pakistani background - and some have on going social projects in Pakistan – there was also a big discussion around the interfaith challenges in Pakistan. This also touched on the history of the country – many participants traced much of the damage to majority-minority faith relations, and the current culture of restrictions on freedom of religion and belief, to the country’s past of military dictatorship. Those present discussed how discrimination against the minority communities had become institutionalized in Pakistan, thus contributing to the rise of the contemporary environment of violent extremism in the country.   I got the opportunity to discuss my experiences of working on countering violent extremism and interfaith related projects in Pakistan. There was a broad consensus that the way forward is to counter the extremist narratives at every front, and to promote a culture of interreligious dialogue in Pakistan. Through this, many affirmed, Pakistanis can promote a sense of shared values and respect for each other’s religious beliefs.

This was a unique experience, and I felt privileged and honoured to take part in it. Interfaith dialogue can sometimes be a grim and endless experience, with every day bringing a new depressing story about sectarian violence and conflict. But gatherings like this gave me a great sense of trust and confidence in the interfaith dialogue. The commitment of all the participants to promote interfaith relations was outstanding, and gave me hope for the future.

Rehman Anwer

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Challenges and Opportunities of Interfaith Dialogue in Pakistan

Although it’s extremely valuable, the interfaith movement in Pakistan needs more than the commitment and enthusiasm of local and international interfaith groups - it requires a consistent strategy to achieve its desired results. This article can’t lay out such a strategy on its own, but does seek to offer a few pointers of important issues to take into account when developing such a strategy.

Pakistan is a country of over 190 million people, and a home to people from diverse religious beliefs - facts which signify the need for a stronger and more pervasive interfaith and intra-faith dialogue. In a country like Pakistan, where religious beliefs are considered to be an integral part of the identity of a vast majority of people, the struggle to promote good interfaith relations between different faith communities is extremely important. The country has a poor history of communal violence, and many minority groups feel marginalized and targeted by various violent and extremist groups.

One of the biggest challenges posed to the interfaith struggle in Pakistan is the inadequate understanding of interfaith dialogue and conflict resolution, and what they really mean. Many of the current interfaith initiatives in the country revolve around participation of religious leaders, discussing complex theological issues which may not always be understandable or relevant to the vast majority of young Pakistanis – who make up more than half of the Pakistan’s population. The involvement of religious leaders in an interfaith seminar or meeting is meaningful and leaves a positive message with the participants, but if the goal is to strengthen the interfaith movement in Pakistan and create a real impact for different faith communities, the involvement of young people in this struggle holds a crucial position. They need to be trained and educated in interfaith dialogue, and should be well equipped with the ideas, knowledge, and techniques to promote interfaith harmony in Pakistani society.

Another challenge, closely linked with this, is the near-complete absence of interfaith education in school textbooks and curriculums. Introducing and outlining the basic teachings of all the major religions can be extremely helpful in breaking down stereotypes and hostilities about each other’s religions, and can promote greater and deeper understanding. Organising interfaith visits to various places of worship can also help in overcoming barriers to promoting interfaith harmony in Pakistan. Teachers need to be trained on community cohesion and religious diversity elements and the schools must arrange regular seminars to promote interfaith relations between students. This isn’t an attempt to convert young Pakistanis to a different religious standpoint – quite the opposite. This sort of interfaith learning is necessary both for better interfaith relations, and the maturing of one’s own beliefs.

Last but not least among these challenges, is the issue of countering the dominant narratives against minority faith groups. One of the major obstacles in popularising the ideas of interfaith relations is the widespread social acceptance of prejudice against members of minority groups. Society at large needs to be sensitised over this issue, so that every person, irrespective of their religious beliefs, takes it as their prime civic responsibility to counter the hatred and violence prevailing in society. Media can play a central role in this. At the moment, some certain sections of media do raise and cover interfaith issues in Pakistan, but it does not always seem to be on the top of their agendas. Civil society organisations can play a large part in resolving this; they need to adopt a collaborative approach with the mainstream media to address these issues, and play their part to raise awareness on the importance of interfaith dialogue in Pakistan.

All these threats and challenges to the interfaith dialogue in Pakistan are not without opportunities to strengthen it, however. Pakistan is a country that originally came into being as a consequence of an ideological struggle of religious freedom and identity surrounding the Muslim minority of India. The founder of Pakistan’s vision was to promote citizenship and inclusiveness in Pakistani society – although Jinnah’s vision was later badly distorted by the subsequent civil and military regimes. Nonetheless, contemporary Pakistani society is increasingly rediscovering the importance of promoting interfaith relations between communities. The case of Rimsha Masih, a 15 years old Christian girl accused of desecrating pages of Quran in 2012, is one example of this; the vast majority of the Pakistani society supported the girl’s side, and the landmark case resulted in the arrest of the local imam who had wrongly accused the girl of blasphemy.

Rimsha’s case is not the only one. Pakistan has set some brilliant precedents of Muslim leaders standing up firmly to promote minority rights, sometimes making great sacrifices to do so. In 2011, the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, publicly supported a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy charges. Although, his fearless stance eventually cost him his life – he was murdered by his own security guard but his brave initiative encouraged other Muslim activists to champion and work on the issue of persecution against minority faith groups in Pakistan.

Though tragic, these sorts of attacks against the many moderate voices in Pakistan have arguably helped in isolating the extremists, and begun to shape public opinion against them. Although extremist elements are gaining ground in the Pakistani society, they have failed to win the hearts and minds of the majority of the Pakistanis, who can increasingly see them for what they are. This recognition of the very real threat of extremism – for all Pakistanis - provides a powerful opportunity to enhance the coordination of all these moderate voices, and to counter the extremist narratives at various levels in society, in order to foster community cohesion and interfaith harmony.

Finally, it’s worth noting Pakistan has a very large young population, with about 66% of the population below the age of 30. The young people of Pakistan can bring about a revolution in terms of bringing peace and stability to the country – provided, that is, they are educated on the true theological teachings based on peace, love, tolerance and compassion. They also need to be aware of the contribution of members of minority faith groups in the creation and development of Pakistan – the unsung heroes of Pakistan who are rarely discussed in their textbooks. This approach will promote a sense of citizenship and equality among the citizens irrespective of their religious beliefs to make a just, united and inclusive Pakistan, where people are not oppressed because of their faith.

Rehman Anwer

Tuesday 12 November 2013

A Negotiated Settlement with the Taliban – Can it Be Achieved?

It won’t be wrong to state that today Pakistan’s society is extremely polarized, divided and confused over what is going to happen between the state and the terrorists – The Pakistani Taliban.

Looking at the print, electronic and social media, one finds that Pakistanis have been visibly divided into two camps on the potential relationship between the state and Taliban. One camp suggests that negotiated settlement is the only way out to bring peace and stability to Pakistan. And the other camp is of the view that peace negotiations with Taliban have been tried and tested before and its time when the state needs to take action against them. They argue that the Taliban have been attacking the innocent civilians in Pakistan and have killed more than 40,000 Pakistanis; hence they are ‘unforgivable enemies’. This is a very strong argument and any concerned Pakistani would agree with the fact that Taliban have almost changed the social fabric of Pakistani society because of their terrorist activities in Pakistan.

The ‘pro-peace talks’ camp, however, contends that it is important to look back and fix the root causes of the terrorism in Pakistan rather than treating the symptoms. They argue that the present chaotic situation in Pakistan is because of the disastrous domestic and international policies in region that started during the Afghan Jihad time and deteriorated after 9/11. Pakistan was dragged into the war against terrorism, the Pakistan Army started an operation in Waziristan and Taliban, who never posed a direct threat to Pakistan, called for a ‘Jihad’ against the state of Pakistan. Increased Army operations by Pakistan’s security forces coupled with the notorious US drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan escalated the situation and eventually Pakistani people had to pay the price of this ‘Forced Marriage’ between US and Pakistan and a ‘Forced Divorce’ between Pakistan and Taliban. This is their narrative

Both sides have some truths and I think I will be one of those few people who will agree with both. However, I need a solution as well. I want to look beyond the ‘point-scoring’ debate because I know that winning any debate will not bring a workable solution to the problems faced by my country. To find a solution, we must find answers to the following questions:
  • Are we aware of the realistic connection between Pakistani Taliban and Afghani Taliban?
  • Is it sensible to talk about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban? Do we have to move on from stagnant positions to ones which bear risk though which can yield rewards?
  • Can we institute confidence-building measures for a workable negotiated settlement?
The first and foremost element for strategizing a practical road map of peace negotiation with Pakistani Taliban is to understand the complex relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan based Taliban. Any negotiated settlement with Pakistani Taliban cannot be advanced in a vacuum – without taking the reconciliation process with Taliban in Afghanistan into context in which the Afghan Government, US, ISAF and especially Pakistan are the stakeholders. According to a recent report by Danish Institute of International Studies (DIIS), in the ‘Peace Process Roadmap 2015’ ( A strategy paper by the Afghan Government), Pakistan is considered as a key facilitator of direct contact between the Afghan Government and Taliban leaders.

The popular narrative about Taliban is that the state of Pakistan gets along with the Afghani Taliban but take Pakistani Taliban as public enemy number one. Apparently, the founder of the Tahreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Baitullah Mehsud, was dismissed by Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Omar because of his continued attacks on Pakistan. However, Baitullah Mehsud always took Mullah Omar as his leader. It is interesting to see that often the talks with Pakistani Taliban are viewed by many analysts as a completely separate subject without realizing the ideological bond they have with Afghani Taliban. Members of both the groups cross the Durand line on a daily basis and are hosted and protected by each other. One must not forget that the narrative of Pakistani Taliban only varies from Afghani Taliban in their stance against the state of Pakistan. Undermining any negotiated settlement with Pakistani Taliban will have an impact on the global efforts for reconciliation with Afghani Taliban.

Perhaps, the most ridiculed idea in Pakistan is considered to be a discourse around the ‘Good and Bad Taliban’. In principle, I also agree that there are no good Taliban because those who justify violence and kill people to popularize their ideology can’t be ‘good’. However, our sense of history tells us that this idea can actually work to isolate more radical members of the extremist groups from those who are interested in a dialogue to end the conflict. The peace deal between the IRA and the British government is a perfect example by which to understand it when the more extreme elements within the radical republican wing were isolated from the IRA. Pakistani Taliban has no structured organization. Various media and research reports suggest that Pakistani Taliban are splintered into dozens of smaller factions. Even the TTP (Tahreek e Taliban Pakistan) does not represent all of those groups. This situation has pros and cons but a major opportunity in it for Pakistan is that the state can devise a strategy to start getting on board all those groups who envisage that peace process is worth negotiating.

Lastly, can the stakeholders sustain the peace process by developing the right confidence building measures? There is another common narrative in Pakistan that no negotiation with Taliban can be successful because all such previous efforts were failed. Indeed there were serious efforts made for negotiation in 2004, 2005 and 2008 but it must be noted that there has never been a formal peace agreement or a structured dialogue between the government of Pakistan and the Pakistani Taliban. A strong anti-drone policy with some sort of agreement from the US government is central to build confidence for a successful negotiated settlement with Taliban. However, what is the realistic likelihood of this when US foreign policy in Pakistan relies heavily on the use of drone technology.

In the wake of the recent killing of TTP leader, Hakimullah Mehsud by a US drone strike, once again the negotiation process is in danger. Although Pakistan has officially condemned and denounced the attack, the situation over the coming days will unfold if the Pakistani Taliban are still interested to settle down the conflict through a dialogue or they will prefer continuing their violent movement. I hope the coming days will bring the message of a real peace to Pakistan but that entirely depends on devising a right strategy to end the conflict with Pakistani Taliban and then sustain the peace process without compromising our national interest and our core democratic values. Peace is required but not at a price that throttles the future of Pakistan. 

These views are the personal views of Rehman Anwer and are not necessarily reflective of positions taken by Faith Matters.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

The Attack on All Saints Church is an attack on Pakistan

Christian and Muslim communities have been living in Pakistan since independence. The Christian community is around 2% of the total population of Pakistan and, like other members of minority faiths, they also experience prejudice at various levels in their everyday lives. This faith-based prejudice is both casual and institutionalised. The majority of Christians in Pakistan are extremely poor and do menial jobs across the country.  The contribution of the members of the Christian community towards the protection and development of Pakistan is totally missed in the school text books.

Although there have been various incidents of Christian-Muslim conflict in the recent past, the incident on Sunday 22nd September turned out to be the deadliest attack to ever be committed against the Christian community in Pakistan. Two suicide attackers blew themselves up near the All Saints Church in Peshawar at a time when hundreds of Christians were returning home after the Sunday Church service. So far, 81 people have reported to be killed and over 100 terribly injured in the incident. According to the Interior Ministry of Pakistan, there were 7 children and 34 women amongst the victims who lost their lives.

A splinter group of Pakistani Taliban known as TTP-Jandullah has taken responsibility for the attack, saying that such attacks will continue against the non-Muslims until the US ends drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan – a demand that makes little sense.

The persecution of minorities in Pakistan is not new; but the recent incident in Peshawar has an interesting element to look at. The present Pakistani government has recently decided to initiate a peace process with the Taliban and is actively discussing the modalities of peace talks. There is a perception in Pakistan that there are certain elements in the country who do not want the peace process to go ahead and they are trying to sabotage the negotiation strategy of peace with the Taliban.

However, given the state of minorities in Pakistan since its independence, there requires a comprehensive strategy to ensure the protection of the minority communities. The response from the civil society and wider public is similar to that which they exhibited in the past. The majority of the people are showing solidarity with the victims’ families, but it certainly requires more than a timely support. We should not allow this vicious cycle, in which we condemn the ruthless mass murder of our minority communities and then no concrete actions are taken against the perpetrators, to continue. It is time to learn from the past. What did we learn from Shanti Nagar, Sangla Hill, Gojra and Badami Bagh incidents? Did we develop a counter-terrorism strategy? Did we increase the security of religious places? Did we train our police to deal with the terrorists? Did we start monitoring the hate-based narratives against minorities? Did we think of legislating against hate crime against religious minorities? Did the government start supporting the interfaith organizations operating within Pakistan to promote a dialogue between members of the faith communities to foster better relationships among them?

The answer to all the above questions is one word – NO

The government has announced ‘Three-Day’ mourning in the country after the barbaric attacks against the Christian communities in Peshawar but would this mourning ensure the protection of minorities from future attacks?

This government of Pakistan must think beyond sheer condemnation and timely solidarity with the victims and their families. Pakistan certainly needs serious and consistent efforts to tackle the challenges of terrorism and extremism. It is the time to prove that the ‘Attack on the All Saints Church is an Attack on Pakistan.’

Rehman Anwer

Tuesday 18 June 2013

The strange paradoxes of Revenge – a reflection on the destruction of Quaid’s Residence in Ziarat

The philosophy of revenge is a strange one. People who are so filled with hate, anger, or feeling of righteousness that they feel they must strike out against someone – anyone - sometimes forget to discriminate between their friends and foes. In their quest to find some great act of violence that they hope will satisfy them, they target not only innocent people, but also buildings, symbols, and the very fabric of a country’s history to achieve their blind, unthinking objectives. Terrorist groups targeting buildings is not a new phenomenon – violent groups of all stripes have long appreciated the symbolic impact of blowing up or otherwise destroying large, impressive structures, as incidents like the September 11th attack on the Twin Towers, the 1963 Birmingham Church Bombing, the tearing down of the historic Babri mosque in India, and numerous other attacks have shown. To attack individual people is a horrifying act, and losses of human life are terrible; but to destroy a significant or meaningful building sends a very clear message to those who hold it dear, and wipes out a piece of history.

Quaid’s residency before (l), and after (r), the attack

In the early hours of Saturday 15th June, another building was added to this list of  historic buildings destroyed by terrorist actions – Quaid-e-Azam’s historic residency, in Ziarat, Balochistan, was wrecked by an incendiary device. This was the 19th century colonial-era building in which the father     of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, spent the last days of his life. The building was constructed in 1892 by the British, and was later officially declared ‘Quaid-e-Azam’s Residency’ by the government of Pakistan. The place has been the centre of attraction for tourists from all around the world, who used to come and see the residence of the founder of Pakistan, and to pay him tribute for his untiring struggle for the protection and promotion of the rights of the Indian Muslims. The people of Pakistan have long had a deep respect for everything associated with their founder, and so the Quaid-e-Azam’s residence was highly respected and was considered as a national asset.

Responsibility for this iconoclastic attack was claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army. The BLA, a proscribed terrorist group of Balochi separatists, burnt the entire building to the ground, and tearing down the Pakistani flag, replacing it with their own organisation’s flag. Citing government discrimination, human rights abuses (including hundreds of ‘disapperances’ of prominent Baloch activists and journalists), and hostility to the central government’s resource extraction policies, Baloch nationalists have long been involved in an ongoing (fairly low-level) struggle against the Pakistani government.

Since the BLA’s founding in 2003, however, they have emerged as a serious growing threat  to law and order in Balochistan. Despite claims not to target civilians – following an attack which killed eleven in Quetta in 2004, a BLA spokesman ‘expressed his deep grief over the civilian casualties caused by the blast’ – the group’s attacks have often involved high civilian death tolls, either directly, or as by killing bystanders. Indeed, in the attack on Quaid’ residency, a policeman guarding the house was killed in the initial blast – yet another incidental death resulting from the BLA’s campaign of terroristic violence. On top of this, they have also specifically targeted Pakistani security forces in the region, diverting vital resources from the fight against the remnants of Al-Qaeda in the area – a conflict that is only likely to escalate if rumours of separatist insurgents receiving arms and materiel from outside sources to continue their campaigns of violence in Balochistan.

Quaid with Baloch leaders (source:

A struggle to free oneself from oppression, and to assert one’s own human rights is the fundamental right of any community, and it is important not to let the recent terrorist attacks by the BLA change our minds on this either way. Nonetheless, targeting innocent civilians, carrying out attacks on dearly held national symbols for millions of Pakistanis, and destroying national treasures can never be productive for any movement struggling to secure their rights. The recent brutal attack on the residency of Quaid-e-Azam has not only had a huge psychological impact on many, many Pakistanis, but it has also undermined the peace efforts that started after the formation of the new provisional government in Balochistan. After years of conflict, the democratic process has finally brought together a government that includes a range of nationalist parties including the National Party, the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and the Balochistan National Party (Mengal). Despite this opportunity for dialogue and cooperation between the various elected representatives of Balochistan, the attackers seem to have no interest in or patience for securing the peace and stability of the region in the long term, but seem only to want to take a short cut and assert power now – an act that can only perpetuate the violent extremism in Balochistan.

Indeed, the philosophy of revenge is strange – All it seems to do is to perpetuate conflicts, bring down more scrutiny, and push peaceful dialogue and solidarity further away. Worse, it does not even let us discriminate between our friends and enemies. The so-called Baloch nationalists, who claim to be fighting for the rights of Baloch people, destroyed the historic residence of a person who, for the first time in the history of Indian subcontinent, had strongly advocated for reforms benefitting Balochistan on the same level as other provinces of India in his famous Fourteen Points in 1929.

Rehman Anwer

Thursday 6 June 2013

Finding Sustainable Peace in Karachi

2012 has been one of the deadliest years in Karachi for a long time, with more than 2,000 people killed in violent attacks. These have mainly been connected with ethnic and political tensions, carried out in order to create fear before the recent general elections.i Not much seems to have changed in 2013 with regard to this sort of violence, either - in the present year, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, 735 people have been killed and 622 injured so far in the on-going incidents of violence in Karachi.ii

This kind of violence in Karachi has a particularly serious impact on Pakistan’s national security situation, and on its economy. Because Karachi is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in Pakistan - home to Pashtun, Mohajirs (Urdu Speaking), Punjabis, Baloch and Sindhi - any unrest in the city is likely to have a significant knock-on effect on the other parts of the country. On the economic front, Karachi contributes 25% of the total GDP in Pakistan, and any disruption, interruption, or cessation of its economic functioning risks destabilising the country’s economy.

As well as being culturally and ethnically diverse, Karachi is, unfortunately, one of the most diverse cities in terms of the range of extremism and terrorism to be found in the city. This terrorism is mainly ethnic and political in nature, although the significance of the sectarian and Taliban elements present in the city should not be understated, especially when taking into consideration the fact that Faisal Shahzad, the person who tried to blow up New York’s Times Square in 2010, was connected to the terror network of Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Karachi.

On top of this general threat of violence, power struggles between the major political players in Karachi including MQM, ANP and PPP have made the city a battleground. All of these major political parties have their own militant wings, and these groups have been fighting with each other to gain control of the city’s resources. The urban violence primarily takes place between between MQM (who represent mainly the Mahajirs) and ANP (who primarily represent Pashtuns). Reports suggest that both of these parties have very well-equipped armed wings and they have created an environment of enormous fear for the residents of Karachi. Not only does this sort of armed violence represent a direct threat to the lives of people in the city, but it also makes their lives much more uncertain and precarious generally – it’s difficult to live a normal life with the constant threat of violence hanging over your entire community.

The elections in Pakistan are over now, and the new government is being formed. What the leaders of Pakistan need now is to learn from the brutal and harsh incidents of violence that have wracked Karachi in recent years, and work towards making the city a more peaceful place that is safer for its residents. It’s important that this is not a short-lived or fleeting end to political violence, either – what can be done to make sure that peace is sustainable in Karachi?

Based on the complexities of the ethno-political dimensions of the violence in Karachi, one of the first steps for the local politicians to take should be the recognition of the effect that their conflicts have on both Pakistani people, and on Pakistan as a country; the violence, the suffering, and the self-perpetuating division that this creates. A strong political will is required to address these issues, but it’s important to confront the serious threat that these issues pose to the integrity of Pakistan, and to grapple seriously with this issue.

One of the most important and immediate actions should be the dismantlement of the armed wings of the various political parties. This, of course, is a difficult first step – who would be the first to lay down arms? – but a collaborative and mutual process of disarmament, if handled carefully by a neutral arbiter, is very possible, and would be very effective. Once this is done, and armed criminal groups are detached from the mainstream political process in the city, then real change can take place.

Beyond these necessary political steps, however, it’s also important to look at the underlying social and cultural causes of the violence, that enable extremism and division, and allow it to continue. A culture of promoting diversity and encouraging understanding among the communities living in Karachi is essential to combating this; while economic and political factors play a part in perpetuating the violence, undermining mutual hostility, suspicion, and misunderstanding in Karachi society will go a long way towards resolving the problems. Vulnerable segments of the society including minorities, young people and women should be involved in the social programmes and decision-making processes, as well; not only are they often excluded from many of these debates and processes, but they can also offer new and important perspectives on these issues based on their own perspectives and experiences. In addition to this, the government needs to promote initiatives to promote peace, national cohesion, and solidarity among the residents of Karachi to deal with the challenges of terrorism and extremism facing both the city and Pakistan as a whole.

Peace in Karachi would certainly be a good thing, but by showing the way for these conflicts to be resolved, it could pave the way for so much more. Indeed, peace in Karachi could mean peace in Pakistan.

Rehman Anwer


Monday 20 May 2013

Democracy rising in Pakistan

The recent election in Pakistan represented a particularly historic event in the annals of recent Pakistani political life: the democratic transition from one elected government to another. Like all the previous elections in the country, this election has led to certain doubts around transparency, and results in some constituencies are expected to be re-evaluated by the Election Commission of Pakistan. Nonetheless, one of the most interesting facets of the election was the overwhelming participation of the Pakistani public in the democratic process of their country, despite the serious threats from a raft of extremist groups who openly declared a war against democracy, while attacking the political parties’ candidates and terrorising local people into to not casting their votes.

According to the International Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), out of around 190 million of population, 86,189,802 people were registered voters. The Election Commission of Pakistan has confirmed that voter turnout has been around 60% - a significant increase on the result in the previous election in 2008, which was only 44.55%. This enthusiastic electoral participation suggests that the majority of the people of Pakistan still believe that democracy is the only solution to the issues they are facing right now, and sharply contradicts the many gloomy reports and surveys suggesting that majority in Pakistan are pessimistic, or lost hope in the democratic system of the country. This is, therefore, a very discouraging message indeed for all the anti-democratic forces working to undermine Pakistan’s current political system.

The most significant lesson to learn from the present election is that the people of Pakistan are, by and large, still pro-democracy. This fact is, in itself, somewhat surprising; the last five years of democratic government have not been a glowing example of democratic success and have disappointed a lot of the ordinary people of Pakistan, who were expecting a lot from the civilian government after a long dictatorial regime. Corruption and bad governance are serious problems for Pakistan at present, and have permeated throughout Pakistani political life to its highest levels. This has, unsurprisingly, disheartened many, and paved way for many anti-democratic forces to convince people that perhaps democracy could never work in Pakistan, or that it is a foreign, unworkable ideal. It was also revealed in a recent survey by the British Council that ‘Pakistan’s burgeoning population of young people is highly conservative, overwhelmingly pessimistic about the future and has a very low opinion of democracy’1 – hardly an encouraging prospect for the future of Pakistan as a democratic, pluralistic state. Nonetheless, a huge number of young people, from all over the country, not only participated in the electoral process, but are still protesting to ensure the transparency of the electoral process in certain places. Various surveys suggest that around 30% of the voters were under the age of 30, and that vast numbers of young people were casting their first ever vote in this election. This political participation on the part of the young people of Pakistan suggest that they still believe in the democratic norms and values in their society, and also that – even with the flawed democratic governments in the past, young people are still interested in the revival and sustainability of democracy in Pakistan. If anything, the recent post-election protests surrounding recounts and the transparency of the electoral protests suggest that enthusiasm for democracy is still strong – people are clearly willing to take to the streets in order to defend it!

The overwhelming participation of youth in the present election is a particularly positive sign of the strengthening democratic culture in Pakistan. Today, young people across Pakistan are much more politically aware than their parents were, with a number of young people actually standing for elected positions. This is a new phenomenon in Pakistan, and something that suggests that - in spite of the grave economic and security challenges that Pakistan is facing at the moment - the society is actually going in the right direction. The rise of democracy is central to the ongoing process of building the Pakistani nation. Indeed, this focus on the role of young people across the country in forging Pakistani political identity was prefigured decades ago, by none other than the founder of Pakistan (and our blog’s favourite source of quotes!), Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah:

“We need our youth to be politically aware and sensitized towards the Nation building. They are the future and the future needs to be bright for Pakistan.”

Rehman Anwer