Safia, a twelve year old girl, has written to the Kaptaan, Imran Khan, warning him to deliver on his promises or face her protest. Political awakening has taken root in the country. While this is a good sign for the nation, it should send shivers to the misguided leadership to wake up. The romance with the country is back. We started off with this nationalistic spirit but got derailed in the process.

In the late 60s, while the first usurper was celebrating his decade in power, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) was rekindling this romance. There was mass awakening of the youth. As young comrades of change, we marched against the dictator. After pitched battles we prevailed and forced free and fair elections in 1970. In 1977, we were hijacked again by another khaki usurper. ZAB was hanged, the romance was over. Progressive individuals were weeded out or they left for survival.

Pakistan was born out of romance. It was a child of love. Despite teething problems we survived mainly because of the grit of our founding fathers. Institution building was the top priority for the new nation, individuals came later. Only national institutions can sustain nations. Individuals do play a role but institutional frameworks are absolutely vital. Priorities were nation-building followed by institutional strengthening and then individual growth. Instead of serving the nation, the colonial institutions that we inherited decided to reverse their priorities. Baboos were the first to cross the line followed by the Khakis and the judiciary, and true nation building was compromised by these institutions. Unfortunately, the quality of leadership in Pakistan has been steadily declining, and very few leaders stand out. The father of the nation was selfless, able and honest. ZAB was sharp but intellectually dishonest. Perhaps he will always be remembered as the architect of the 1973 Constitution.

Political leadership makes promises to win elections but is then unable to meet them. Both the Sharif brothers have not been able to live up to their voters’ expectations. In India, Modi got elected by raising the hopes of the masses, and now it is time for him too, to deliver. While the quality of leadership is dwindling, voter expectations are rising with patience running low. In Pakistan too, the Kaptaan’s leadership is being tested. Expectations are rising; like young Safia, the eyes of the nation are focused on him.

The first challenge being faced by the nation is free and fair elections. Once the country pulls out of the mess of terrorism after Zarb-e-Azab is over, Pakistan will be able to emerge as a progressive 21st century nation. Establishment of a democratic framework will be the Kaptaan’s biggest achievement. An honest ballot is the basic ingredient of democracy. The will of the people can only prevail if the process is not manipulated.

The future of Pakistan is now in the hands of first time voters, but their vote must be counted. Safia has not voted yet but at 18 years of age she will. If the elections are rigged as they were in 2013 there will be no change. All promises will remain unfulfilled. The focus has to be on electoral reforms followed by an honest ballot. Rural voters face different challenges that have to be addressed. The influence of Sardars and Waderas has to be neutralized. Unfortunately, the status quo is entrenched and powerful while the forces of change are scattered.

The first time voters of the 2013 elections, whose mandate was stolen, are unwilling to wait until 2018 to vote again. The Kaptaan is leading the charge for them. Unless the perpetrators are identified and punished, the charade of elections will continue. ‘Naya Pakistan’ is in fact the ‘Asli Pakistan;’ a constitutional democracy as designed by the Quaid.

By some estimates, the population of Pakistan is close to 200 million with a youth component of about 100 million. The country is young and brimming with hope. With proper guidance, training and nourishment, it can be a win-win situation. We have to put them to work by making them productive members of society. The focus has to be on education, health and employment which have been ignored by successive governments.

On the Kaptaan’s call on November 30th, 2014 to march on the capital of Pakistan, the response has been encouraging. Over 100 days of a record dharna has cornered the forces of the status quo. All they need is one solid push by the comrades of change, both young and old united under the leadership of the only untainted political leader of our times.

The romance with the motherland is alive and kicking. At least our dreams are now being realized. We want to vote in another free and fair election before our innings are over. For the sake of a ‘Naya Pakistan,’ for the glory of our nation, let us all be there to support the Kaptaan. See you in Islamabad Safia. IK is on a mission to hand over Quaid’s Pakistan to the youth. Are you ready to take over from where we leave off?

The writer is Ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be contacted at fmaliks@hotmail.com