I am ecstatic with joy these days at the emails my readers post on my column. I am grateful to those who have expressed their appreciation at what I write, but I am more grateful to the many that do the opposite. I have been accused by this latter category of adverse criticism against the nation. I fully understand these outbursts for after all it is patriotism that drives these sentiments, but I too have a difficult duty to fulfil which centres round my obligation as a journalist to expose the truth however unsavoury it may be and show a mirror to the errant. In doing so, I always use the pronoun we, as I share the strengths and the faults of the national collective and cannot be absolved of any blame.

We have over a period of time assumed a narcissistic outlook with the result that we avoid introspection and display resentment when others make an attempt to show us our ugly side. In doing so, we (and this is a human tendency) conceal ourselves behind self-created ramparts of delusion. Unfortunately, nations seldom go anywhere by adopting this path, for they are a collective reflection of each single citizen. Unless we muster courage to face the flip side of our character, we will never be able to apply the correction needed to restore ourselves as a respected and credible member of the global community.

We are fortunate that deep inside, the nation has the wherewithal to be what Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah intended it to become, but sadly enough, he left us prematurely to be poorly led and misgoverned by a clique of good-for-nothings, who abetted an evil culture laced with corruption. Resultantly, a very large segment of our society began to think that means, howsoever wrong, justified ends.

Nowhere does this trend manifest itself more than in the common citizen’s interaction with government public service departments. If one was to carry out an exercise of listing the most inept and corrupt of these entities, one would be hard put to decide a descending order, as a large number of contenders would vie for top slots.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with public service providers is the political elite, who appear to have taken a solemn vow to practice with impunity, what was anathema to our Founding Father. Nepotism and accumulation of wealth, no matter what the means, appears to be their creed. They are role models for friends, family and anyone else naïve enough to emulate them. The only democratic way to rid ourselves from their kind is through general elections. These too, in historical perspective, have become hostage to a public that is prone to choosing its representatives on the basis of kinship, ‘biradri’, money and even fear. Nonetheless, this is the only constitutional way that a synthesis can take place and change instituted.

Mercifully, this window of change is once more in sight, offering us an opportunity for salvation. Even now, horses are changing stables and those with means and the tools are vying to seduce the people by regularising contractual employees and doling out funds through income support schemes. Political pundits are predicting a 40 percent to 45 percent turnout in the forthcoming polls, but what will surely bring change is when the rest of the nation speaks its mind and those shy of walking across to the polling stations, cast their vote. Change will come when the youth turns out to exercise their right of adult franchise and change will surely come when the women of Pakistan put their mark on ballot papers.

The vital question here is: if those that have been tried, tested and found wanting can turn our national fortunes around or is it time to yoke a pair of fresh bullocks to the grind stones? This will remain a pipedream till the time that the silent majority speaks and speak it must, for time is swiftly running out in favour of those who want to see Pakistan undone.

If the change does come, then whosoever assumes charge at the end of the polls will have the task of excising the cancer out of our system without mercy, however painful it may be. The person at the helm along with his team will have to rebuild the economy, restore law and order, reorder foreign policy and institute good governance. It is during this period of healing that the nation will be sorely tested for patience because change put into motion may not manifest much result in five years. What we must then ensure is the continuation of policies. A tall and utopian task, considering the fact that we have proved to be an impatient people and our political leadership is historically inclined to condemn everything connected with predecessors, but this will have to be done, for our survival may depend on it.

We must, however, be prepared for the eventuality, where one or the other ruling dynasty returns to power singly or in a coalition mode. The frustrated millions that inhabit Pakistan and whose lives have been turned upside down during the last five years by power failures, gas shortages, target killings, joblessness, out of reach prices and flight of investment would then (perhaps) wait in hushed silence to see if they had used their ballot wisely or committed ‘harakiri’ by re-electing these entities once again.

The writer is a freelance columnist.