This is a partial transcription of my interview with Zaheer who was quite active in his years at his University based in Karachi with activities in support of PPP (Pakistan People's Party). We conducted the interview in Goettingen, at his dorm during last year's Ramadan. The dorm is known as the student village (Studentendorf) and is usually free of political discussions about Pakistan. Zahir frowns on these discussions, which in his experience often led to discordance among friends. He was also fasting for Ramadan at the time of the interview. Therefore I am very grateful that this interview took place. The interview was initially conducted for my thesis on Pakistani nationalism; it was a difficult topic and I later changed it. The first half of the interview transcription with Zaheer was lost due to a computer problem. But the following transcription is also quite illuminating on current Pakistani politics and civil society.
Founder of PTI former cricketer Imran Khan
Has your family voted?
Zaheer: Yeah, they do. In Pakistan, it doesn't matter if it's a non-party or party basis election. In Pakistan, especially villages (90-95%) voting is done on [an] individual basis, not on party [basis]. If there are 10 candidates in one constituency, we will vote for 1 person. It doesn't matter if he stays in PPP, Noon league or any other Party. This is one reason for the bad democratic system in Pakistan, it's not a real democracy. It's the case in most developing countries. In developing countries, most parties do not continue for the next term. In developing countries, people won't satisfy. In developing countries, people are educated and they know, if they want to see results, they have to give a person 8-10 years. Because 4 years is nothing, especially for major projects. But in developing countries, they don't [give that much time]. So one time one party wins, next time it's a clean sweep. Next time, again that party comes. So in Pakistan, there was a two party system. Now the paradigm has changed, there is a new party that has gained a lot of attention and votes. In voting, () is the most popular party. But for the last 50-60 years it has been a swinging from one side to another side thing.
How does your family vote?
Zaheer: Mostly personal or on caste, religious lines. In my family, the females mostly are not interested in politics, they are just told 'ok we are going to vote for them,' and they say "ok. fine." One of the males say vote for them, and that's it. But now, my younger sister is educated and has a pretty good knowledge of politics and she's into it. So this time she was there, she has started discussions with the family members and others. "Ok we have to think." It's getting changed.
In your family who usually decides (which way the vote goes)?
Zaheer: The educated ones decide. Most of the educated people [of my family] are out of the village. Half of them are in Karachi, I am here [in Germany], some guys are in Islamabad.
They don't go home to vote?
Zaheer: No. Some family members vote in Karachi. But in village, my uncle, he participates and he decides "we are voting them." It's not forcefully, but they ask, "we will vote for them." In our societies people have respect for them, so they don't oppose.
Which candidate is supported from your village?
Zaheer: In the national level, mostly people vote for the People's Party. Those who think on party lines they vote for People's Party. There is also a member of national assembly and member of the provincial assembly. So these guys swing and don't have a fixed party. They participated in 3 different parties.
Our village used to vote for these two people. But now the younger generation stood and said "we are not going to vote for this person. We are voting for him, his father and grandfather, so we didn't get anything. He just came in election time and doesn't show up again" and so on.
You can say the elders are on one side and the younger (generation) are on another side. The young generation won in the last 3 elections. They stood against the panchayat system and the main decision makers of the village, they got the vote and they won. So this is the indication that the elders have to think "what I have suggested in the last elections," about their policies and loyalties.
Which party does your Karachi part of your family support?
Zaheer: The People's party. Why? I am very interested in politics so I have views on all of the parties. For example, the MQM (Muttahida Quami Movement). I vote 10/10 for party organization. They have good control on party and good party infrastructure. They give chance to the middle class or lower class to lead. But there is a problem. There is a terror wing, which is a big question mark. The MQM is a very liberal pary, open-minded, so you can say it's a left party. I like them but they support terror. There are some people who are there (in the terror wing).
The next party I like is the Awami National Party in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which is pretty much liberal. But it's very limited, it's only in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, their leaders are more pro-Afghanistan than Pakistan, but still they are a liberal party. So I think it's a good party.
"The Awami National Party's holds much support in Pashtun-dominated areas of Karachi. They have decked this bridge with their traditional red, and slogans supporting the party's Karachi leadership." - Asad Hashim, Al Jazeera
I like and support People's Party, because it's the Party of most educated people, and they are more liberal, they have real democratic attitudes, so such kind of parties we need in Pakistan. Other parties, for example PTI, PTI is good, their slogan ["Justice, Humanity and Self Esteem"] is good. They are demanding good things, but their way of proceeding is not very good. Unfortunately, I don't agree with their ways most of the time.
What do you mean? In terms of the execution?
Zaheer: Not the execution. For example, the [PTI's] wish is: "within a day something happens and the things would change." Big change doesn't happen. Big change only happens when there is a war. You have to give a lot to get big change. For example, last year or the year before, there was demonstration against election rigging and so on. The PTI boycotted the elections. There was a good chance to get a big change. In Pakistan, elections are always rigged. So they were demanding to investigate and demanding to change the constitution and electoral votings. They were demanding everything that was good for the election system. But suddenly, Imran Khan said, "ok, we are not accepting anything unless Nawaz Sharif (our Prime Minister) resigns." Which was not the point. (The PTI) demanded 6 demands. There was a time when the government was almost ready to accept 6 out of 6 demands. In politics it doesn't happen. In politics, you cannot get 100%. If you get 50%, it's your win. And then, all logical and right demands (the government) was going to accept, then Imran Khan said "we need the resignation of Nawaz Sharif." Once he saw that "I have a big crowd, I have a big force, let's demolish it," that was the point when all other parties stood with Nawaz Sharif, because (Imran Khan) was almost against the parliament system. They stood with him, and by the time the whole pressure was gone.
So the government that was ready to agree the 6 demands, at the end (Imram Khan) got nothing. There isn't any change in the electoral system, and he hasn't got any single thing. It was the individual decision. One person has wasted 3 months of the nation. He has wasted energies of the people. I would say 200,000 or even more people were sitting in Islamabad, that was wasted. So I wouldn't go behind that leader. The leader who cannot judge or who cannot bargain the right thing is not right. This is one reason. Another reason is that he is pro-Taliban. He was saying "we have to talk we have to talk," but it seems like he did a little chorus. He repeatedly said "we have to talk we have to talk." Ok, we have to talk. But it's not like we are begging to talk. We are a sovereign country, we have to take action so we have to bring them on the table on our terms. So Imran Khan is very famous among the young generation, he is our national hero, and I respect him as my hero. But he is my hero in cricket, not in politics. But most of the Pakistanis consider him as a hero in politics as well. Yes, his demands are right. But he has changed the game , he was pro-Taliban and everyone was giving justification "yes he's saying right" and that was a big question mark for me.
But otherwise yes I support most of the things (represented by) PTI.
The final party Muslim League, they don't have a democratic attitude, they are ruling like a dictator, so i don't like them. Every time they come in power, they created mess. Every time they messed up with the army, and then the army took over, and then the army messed up the country, and then every time they have given the country to the People's Party to regain the strength and reestablish the institutions. We had coup 3 times. After all 3 times, the People's Party came into power.
So you think the army intrudes in civil society. Do you think the civil society is stronger now?
|Raheel Sharif, center right, with prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, center left.|
Zaheer: Yes, I think so. Civil society has become and is becoming stronger. I wish we are not going to have another coup or another army dictatorship. I don't think it's going to happen. For example, there were serious conflicts between the government and the general head quarters (GHQ) of he Army. But the army didn't dare to coup. One can say that was a time when the Army could have took over but didn't. Media has played a large role there. There is more awareness, people are more vibrant now. They are taking part in politics. Our army chief, general Raheel Sharif, he belongs to a family who has served since long. some of his family members has got the highest Nishan [i-Pakistan] award in the army (*Wikipedia: The Nishan [i-Pakistan] "is the highest of civil awards and decorations given by the Government of Pakistan for the highest degree of service to the country and nation of Pakistan"). He kept his family tradition and stayed away from politics. he could have taken over in recent years if he wanted to. People were ready, political parties were ready, everyone was ready.
If there was a coup, there wouldn't have been a lot of resistance. You can see on the media. The government was almost gone. There wasn't a lot of control on institutions. right now, there are Panama leaks, the PM (Prime Minister) was listed.
There were some people calling for a "military coup and save the country" and so on. In developing countries, the memory is short. They don't think about the past but focus on the present.
I don't think it's going to happen again. In the past, the army was on one side, the otehr side political parties wanted to take over and fabricating reasons to take over. Nawaz Sharif has dismissed our army chief when he was on an official trip in Sri Lanka. Sharif dismissed him. That was something very vague. You are the supreme leader, you can do it, but you have to do it in a proper way. They created a mess and was the reason for the army to take over.
Recently, when Imran Khan was in the demonstration, there was a peak time and everything was settle for a [military] takeover. But the parties such as PPP stood with the government. They said, we also want change, within parliament or within our system. Not extra.
In the past, there was a fight between PPP and Muslim League Noon. They were always blaming each other until the army takeover. Now there were tensions between parties, but they didn't get to the point so the army takeover. There is maturity in political parties. The reason was provided by political parties (for an army takover)
They stood by Nawaz Sharif and against Imran Khan and all those who wanted to demolish and wrap up the system. They stood against that thing. We don't support to wrap up the system, we don't support to demolish our parliament. if you want to change something, let's talk get into the Parliament, let's talk and decide here we will support you.
Some unanswered question from my side: Even though Imran Khan's movement was a mass movement, it could also harbor antidemocratic tendencies and might pose a threat to civil society.