“A great democracy has got to be progressive or it will soon cease to be great or a democracy.”
— Theodore Roosevelt
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) may not have done well in these elections but it is the only national party that is considered ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’.
So when it let go of some of its liberal values and ideals in order to appease the Right while it was in power during the last five years, many of its supporters felt betrayed. From abandoning the cause of Shaheed Salmaan Taseer to celebrating ‘Youm-e-Ishq-e-Rasool’ — a day on which more than 20 people lost their lives due to the violent hooliganism of right-wingers who were protesting against a blasphemous film — the PPP disappointed its liberal supporters on many an occasion. This is why some PPP critics mocked progressive PPP voters: they were voting for a party that abandoned its liberal ideology when that could have been its only saving grace in the face of a crushing defeat due to bad governance. President Asif Ali Zardari was asked the same question, at least by three different people, during an interaction with a SAFMA (South Asian Free Media Association) delegation soon after the May 11 elections. He did not give a satisfactory answer at that time but in his address to the joint session of parliament earlier this month, President Zardari said all the right things. Though the local media did not give too much attention to the president’s speech and its content, it turned out to be one of his best speeches.
While congratulating the newly elected members of the National Assembly, the president specially welcomed the women and non-Muslim members of parliament. “Women and minorities are the most vulnerable groups. Efforts to protect and empower them need to be kept up. We need to take measures to prevent the misuse of the blasphemy law for settling personal and political scores,” said President Zardari. He raised the issue of terrorism, extremism and Baloch missing persons. He also talked about upholding the freedom of the media. On this count, the PPP government remains unmatched.
Despite severe (and in some cases uncalled-for) criticism of the government and the persons of the president and two PPP prime ministers, there were no curbs on the media in the last five years of democratic rule. Even the PPP’s critics would agree that this party has set an example of unprecedented media freedom. No other political party or state institution has shown such restraint in the face of extreme provocation. It is hoped that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) would follow in its predecessor’s footsteps and take criticism without resorting to any bullying tactics.
The PML-N government has many challenges ahead, religious extremism being one of the biggest ones. Banned terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) is operating with impunity and has massacred thousands of Shias across the country, especially in Balochistan. The recent twin attacks in Quetta carried out by the LeJ took the lives of 25 innocent people, 14 of them students of a women’s university, which led Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to openly criticise the intelligence and security agencies: “The intelligence agents are deployed at every important area in Quetta. But even then the terrorists carry out attacks wherever they want.”
This is the sad reality of a state that has harboured hatemongering clerics and jihadists to further its vested interests. It is time to take action and rid us of these monsters so that Pakistan can become a tolerant, pluralistic and progressive society.