August Issue 2014
Nida Kirmani: If I Were Prime Minister
If I were Prime Minister of Pakistan, my agenda would be to focus on fixing the very foundation of the country. There are some basic steps that we have skipped over in our development as a nation because of which we are continuously suffering.
Put very simply, the majority of the country’s citizens have not been enabled to take part in the democratic process, and it is because of this that we are facing increasing frustration and violence across the country in a variety of forms. We have forgotten that certain facilities are not privileges to be purchased, rather rights that should be provided freely to all citizens. This includes education, health and security. Therefore, I would significantly reduce military spending, which is a massive drain on public resources, and channel that money into public services. In most research on low-income communities, this is what is found again and again: government schools exist but are functioning poorly; government hospitals exist, but the facilities are lacking. It is a convenient myth that we cannot afford to provide basic services. If a progressive tax system was put in place and respected, and the country’s elite actually paid their taxes rather than hoarding their money overseas, this would be possible.
The second area I would tackle would be the law. There are several pieces of legislation in our books that exist only on paper, including laws related to women’s rights among others. I would ensure that these laws are actually respected by citizens but particularly by the state itself. This would mean that no one would be above the law, including elected representatives, the military and law enforcement agencies themselves, who are often the ones guilty of flouting the law the most. At the same time, there are some laws that are contrary to the fundamentals of basic human rights and are continuously misused as a means of targeting certain groups, of which the amendments introduced under the Zia regime related to blasphemy are the most blatant example. Such laws would immediately be removed in order to prevent further abuse.
Finally, perhaps the most difficult but most important step I would take would be to confront the confusion that exists about the idea of Pakistan itself because of which the country faces a perpetual identity crisis. Jinnah had a particular vision of Pakistan as a country created in order to protect Muslims against majoritarianism and as a safe haven for other religious minorities — a place where everyone’s rights would be respected equally. However, this vision was forgotten soon after the country was formed, and gradually the definition of a Pakistani citizen has become narrower and narrower, creating a new kind of majoritarianism based on a Sunni, Muslim identity. Increasingly then, the definition of a Pakistani citizen is based on exclusion and hatred both of other countries as well as of minorities within this country. An identity based on negativity will only lead to division and further negativity. Therefore, I would focus on fostering a positive Pakistani identity based on equality and respect for all of the country’s diverse citizens. This would be a difficult task indeed, but one that is necessary if we are ever going to progress as a united nation.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s August 2014 issue.