As in a quote by Hazrat Ali (A.S.) which goes, ‘don’t engage your heart in grief over the past or it won’t be ready for what is coming’, there is a most important suggestion put forward by writer and activist Naeem Sadiq. He is suggesting that we put our best brains to use now - to start developing the electronic voting machines for 2018 to eliminate the angst, fraud and confusion that is inextricably linked with our democratic procedures and which enables a free and fair electoral process.

Even though the EC of Pakistan says it is developing the machines I do not think we should just sit back and wake up in 2018 when there may be some excuse or the other as to why they could not be ready in time. Pakistan, with its proven capability of bundles of talent should get to work now, with a passion, to make it happen. Just as the Shell company provides a chance to all the Engineering Universities here to get its students to compete in the annual Shell Eco-marathon and present their fuel-efficient vehicles to the world, we should, somehow, engage the same universities for this project. We just need to decide how the funding and modalities are to be arranged. As compared to other countries of the world which usually send out 2 or 3 teams at most to the Eco-marathon, Pakistan has the highest number of teams who want to compete in this event, which again points to the keenness of our minds, given an opportunity.

If this came to pass Naeem Sadiq visualizes it thus, ‘a customized electronic voting machine in every booth; a simple tablet-based touch-screen device (possibly an I pad), with a camera, integrated with a chip card reader and biometric finger print device. All one would need to do is insert the chip CNIC and provide finger prints to prove identity (no network connectivity needed to NADRA systems and real-time authentication). The system software will recognize the person as a citizen of Pakistan and a registered voter of a defined constituency. He/she will be presented with an option to touch and select from a few party symbols while the camera takes a picture to prove that the voter is alone and not under any coercion. Once someone has voted, the system will not allow them to vote from any other polling booth. It also eliminates the need for personnel, paper and manual counting. Results are available the moment voting stops. The solution will also intelligently give a person the option of voting from another city so that the need for travelling long distances is done away with and it can be extended to people living outside of Pakistan as well’.

This exercise may put a damper on our excitability and the love of arguments and such like, (perhaps, the hundreds of news channels may even start packing up for lack of issues), but how wonderful it will be for the mental peace of those who voted. Just to know that the results, whatever they are, are authentic! Governments that come in to force will start focusing on governance immediately instead of having their important representatives embroiled in controversies of rigging and fraudulent behavior. I do hope what looks to us like a distant, almost undoable, dream in 2013 will be the practiced reality of the 2018 general elections.

The common citizens of Pakistan have gotten in to the habit of stepping in wherever there is a visible void to egg those in power on to do and side with the right thing. A case in point is the ‘Pakistan for all’ movement started by just four likeminded individuals after the bomb blast in the church in Peshawar. Mohammad Jibran Nasir, Sabeen Mehmood, Tairmur Rehman and Arieb Azhar. Their movement has gone from strength to strength in a span of only 3 weeks. For three consecutive Sundays they and others inspired by them have formed a human shield at churches in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and today in Peshawar. It is an inclusive movement to express solidarity with all religious minorities that reside in Pakistan. This is the real Pakistan that refuses to succumb to bigotry. Taimur Rehman, with his LaaL Band and music of resistance and Arieb Azhar who personifies all the sagacity of our Sufis, indeed are just wonderful. The young politician Jibran Nasir and culture activist Sabeen make idealism possible and believable.

Last Sunday they had a music concert in the evening after the human shield activity in the morning in Islamabad. It was thoroughly enjoyable barring one ugly incident which was a display of the intolerance that has seeped into our society and mindsets at all levels. Asad Umar the MNA elected from Islamabad had been invited by the organizers to the event to lend support to the cause. As soon as he was asked to say a few words before the concert, a group of well educated people started hurling loud abuses at him – for the political stand of his party. It was the wrong place and wrong reasons and showed that intolerance and aggressiveness are not just practiced by the extremists. This too was a naked, unnecessary and ugly display of intolerance and completely out of place at an event titled ‘Pakistan for all’.

Post Script: The Eid break has been fairly long. I just have one observation about it. While it is fine to do whatever one pleases in the break I think it is cruel and gruesome to continuously show on the media how the slaughtering of the sacrificial animals is carried out. There is too much importance given to the act and the gorging of food while the spirit of sacrifice and its actual meaning is ignored. 

The writer is a public relations and event management professional based in Islamabad.