President Barrack Obama once said in an interview: “You have got to faith”. In addition to ideology, political conviction, plans, strategies, programmes, projects, and more, the leaders and the people must believe in what they are doing, indeed have a vision and picture of the final destination. True, some of it will be dreams and hopes, it will be wishing for a land ‘where roses never fade’, yet, but without being religious about it - because political faith and development actions are different from religious faith.
In politics it is all about hard work and small steps, about the right decisions that will lead towards the final goal. In politics and development actions, the process, what we do every day, is also important. It is hard work and right decisions; it is debates and engagement; it is disagreement and compromise; yet, it is never to waver about purpose and destination. It is about making life better for those who need to be uplifted.
When Muhammad Ali Jinnah was getting old, having all he required to live comfortably, he said he was certainly not going to fend for those who were rich and wealthy; he was going to work for those who needed help and support.
We celebrated Pakistan’s 71st Independence Day on Tuesday 14 August. I would like to offer my congratulations, slightly belatedly.
In Norway, my home country, with a large community of Norwegian citizens of Pakistani descent, the celebrations started two days early, on Sunday 12 August. In Oslo, the main event was held at Alna, with the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg as chief guest. She awarded the Bridge Builder Prize 2018 (‘Brobyggerprisen 2018’) to Iman Meskini, a Norwegian actress, and Tony Isaksen of Norway Cup, claimed to be the world’s largest football tournament for youth.
The winners have both contributed to creating tolerance and understanding across local and international borders, said the PM in her speech. The event was attended by senior diplomats and I assume also the Norwegian ambassador-designate to Pakistan, Kjell-Gunnar Eriksen, who will arrive in Islamabad in a couple of weeks.
Later, on Monday and Tuesday, there were more events in Oslo to mark the Pakistani Independence Day by one the most successful communities of New Norwegians, and I also hope that many indigenous Norwegians and immigrants from other countries participated in the events. On such a day, all have hope and faith for success in their new homeland – and in the land they, or their parents or grandparents came from. I am sure that this year, there was a particularly optimistic atmosphere for ‘Naya Pakistan’, the new Pakistan.
Today, I will attend the celebrations of Pakistan’s National Day in Islamabad. No, I am not mixing up days and dates; I am not that old, not yet 71; that is Pakistan’s age! Besides, we still say that Pakistan is a young nation, with a lot yet to achieve and sort out – and with more than half of its people being below 25 years of age. I will reflect more on that when I attend today’s event with young students, teachers and parents from Grammar School Rawalpindi (GRS), OPF Girls College Islamabad, and Foundation University. Even City Traffic Police Rawalpindi will participate, yes, maybe to help us figuring out the roadmap to reach the ‘promised land’, how to cross rivers, lakes, hills, valleys and plains, perhaps even snow capped mountains. On the way, we have got to have faith; but most of all, we just have to work hard and do our best in negotiating corners, debating what roads we should take that will lead us in the right direction, and so on.
Nasreen Iqbal, the founding director of GRS, has in her work for about three decades know where to take her students, focusing on a ‘culture of peace’, with all those underlying aspects of knowledge, skills and values that includes. And she has focused on high quality education, mostly for lower middle-class students, but also some poorer students and some from the upper strata.
Often, when I write my articles, I advocate that schools, colleges and universities should be government run, and I also believe that the government should regulate private schools, among other things, to have a mix of students from different class backgrounds. Yet, when I see a school like GRS, and I have attended many of their events and sessions over the years, I am always impressed by what the school focuses on, and how confident and clever their students are. I have faith in confident students; they will be the country’s leaders of tomorrow – and we must show them that we have faith in them already today and give them opportunities to grow and learn.
PTI and Pakistan’s PM-designate has in his election campaign emphasised the importance of education, health and other social services, and has shown some good results in the KP province, where PTI was in majority over the last five years. Pakistan must shape its education system right, both for quality and quantity, with universal primary education (UPE) of all children, including at (lower) secondary level – as the country’s Constitution states, but has still not implemented.
I have faith in the new leaders wanting to do the right thing in this field. But I still wonder if the foreign donors will do what they should do, provide major initial help immediately. In the long run, though, Pakistan’s UPE, and further and higher education, must be funded by the country itself, mainly through taxation. The same goes for health and other social services. Let me again, as I have done several times in earlier articles, stress the importance of the civil society, labour unions and civil society organisations to advocate for change and improvement, keep control over implementation and results, and indeed have a watchful eye on corruption and misuse of power.
This leads me to commenting on the role of the opposition in the new elected federal parliament and the provincial assemblies. The politicians at the provincial levels will form majority governments, usually made up of several parties in a coalition. At national levels, there will be a strong coalition government led by PTI and independents, joining the largest party. Yet, it is also essential that there is a constructive opposition, which plays its role of keeping the government on its toes, expressing support when that is due, and questioning decisions when that is due. Also, it is important that there is public debate about issues so that political parties, civil society organisations, professional and interest organisations, and others can take part in the shaping of policies and plans, and keep a watchful eye on implementation. Over time, wrong practices can so easily grow roots.
True, this time around, when Pakistan in many ways has a special anti-establishment renewal, it is important not only to support the new leaders for change; it is especially important to let the opposition play its role in a constructive way, and through that the opposition, too, will actually contribute to the work of the government in power. Furthermore, it is important that the different political parties keep alive their own visions and thinking – because in some years time, they, or other new parties, would win elections. That is how democracies work.
But today, at this very special juncture, we all have got to have faith in the new leaders and their policies, making concrete the change that is in the air. It is something entirely new, also for the opposition. All parties would like to find ways out of the old political culture, which included corruption and authoritarian ways, based on class, wealth, and gender, and other undemocratic traditions.
Let me conclude my article today by again quoting President Obama, who in an interview cited this proverb: “We have not inherited this land from our forbearers; we have borrowed it from our children.”
In Pakistan, new and alternative ideas must be given prominence – to be shaped and implemented by young and old, indeed by young people. Often we refer to the founding fathers of Pakistan, often rightly, but at other times without real reason, and also without analysing what the founding fathers really wanted the land to be. Later in Pakistan’s short history, there have been many good policies implemented, but also many wrong policies. At this juncture in the country’s history, people’s new ideas must be given room. It is a matter of being modern, with a future vision that is in the interest of our children, of the majority of the Pakistanis of today and tomorrow: poor people, rural dwellers, people in the big cities and small towns, women, youth, working people, industrialists, academics, inventors – everyone. We know so much good can be done. There is a golden opportunity now. You have got to have faith in the new era, and we all have do contribute the best we can.
As I attend Grammar School Rawalpindi’s Independence Day celebrations today, see performances by students, listen to speeches by teachers and the chief guest, and reflect on all that goes on – even give a thought to what Obama said – I may wipe a tear and dream more of the new Pakistan that is in the making, with the youth symbolising and being the carriers of the future. After all, it is their land, which they must shape, drawing on advice from older people, so it becomes a land that is good and prosperous for all. “You have got to have faith”, only then it can come true.
The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.