Sharmeen Or Politicians? Pakistan’s Stark Choice As Democracy Falters



Two women dominated Pakistani news headlines over the weekend. And both provided some answers in their own ways to a perennial question: Why our democratic system will never work without major changes that close the gap between a talented hardworking people and their failed politicians.


Director Sharmeen Chinoy won an Oscar and international recognition for Pakistan through sheer talent and hard work. Politician Syeda Waheeda Shah Bukhari viciously slapped two female election staffers in the full glare of television cameras at a voting center in a rural district and walked away free.

Sharmeen knew her work will be appreciated outside Pakistan because our Zardaris and Sharifs don’t have time to celebrate Pakistani talent at home. [Plunder and kickbacks is the only talent recognized at that level.]

And Syeda Waheeda knew she is a feudal lord of her area and the State will never confront her because it never did in seventy years. And, really, just what is the Pakistani State at present but a collection of failed, feudal politicians who will protect one of their own in any case?

We produced the world’s youngest Microsoft-certified professional. Think about it: Could we know a genius was rising in our midst had someone from outside Pakistan not tell us? Do we have any mechanism to identify talent inside the country? How many politicians and feudal lords like Ms. Bukhari sponsor talent in the districts they dominate?

Could we have heard of Mohammad Ali Jawad, the British-Pakistani plastic surgeon, a central character of Ms. Chinoy’s Oscar winning documentary, and his charity work to restore the acid-burned faces of unknown Pakistani women, had his work and Ms. Chinoy’s and her co-director’s was not recognized outside Pakistan?

Is there any government department in Pakistan that would recognize and promote ordinary Pakistanis working out their talent and excelling? Unfortunately, there isn’t.

Is it any wonder that a talented 40-year-old Pakistani village girl and a mill worker’s daughter, Sayeeda Warsi, can become the chairman of Conservative party in Britain but never dream of rising through the ranks to head a major Pakistani political party? In fact, had she tried to mount such a challenge in Pakistan, she would have been cut down to size by the ‘Syeda Waheedas’ of our version of violent democracy.

Warsi did it the only way it was possible: by migrating to another country where a Pakistani can excel. Our politicians have created a system where a talented Pakistani has to escape abroad to do something good. Sure, amazing exceptions exist. But ask them how many of them have honestly considered migration in the last five years?

Why should talented Pakistanis escape abroad and leave the country in the hands of recycled politicians who are only good at dividing Pakistanis in the name of language and sect, strikes, and violence?

Our NGOs that collect foreign money to promote our democracy and ‘build the capacity’ of politicians like Syeda Waheeda will never say this, so let me have the honor: Pakistani democracy is a failure. It was a failure in 2008 and will be a failure in 2013 and will continue to be a failure until we have a system in place that can allow Sharmeen to contest elections if she wishes without letting Waheeda use her clout, armed bodyguards and private underground jails to intimidate challengers.

This democracy will continue to breed division, turmoil and instability until someone enforces  change imposing rotation of power inside political parties and force these parties to produce fresh blood, outlaw divisive and violent politics, and compartmentalize and reduce our national politicking into district-level, town-level and village-level politics focused on improving a Pakistani’s quality of life.

Only by having less of Syeda Waheedas of Pakistan and more of Sharmeens and Warsis of Pakistan can we take our homeland forward.

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