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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Pakistanis Share Their Views on Election Day

Women line up to enter a polling station on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, on Saturday.Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press Women line up to enter a polling station on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, on Saturday.

Pakistanis are voting in a historic election today that promises for the first time in the country’s history that one elected civilian government completes its term and hands over power to another elected government.

Earlier this week, we asked readers who live in Pakistan or have family members there to share their views on democracy and what issues are most important to them. We have heard from more than 200 readers around the world on our Web site, Twitter and Facebook. Following is a selection of comments of the main themes raised by readers, edited for brevity and clarity.

Elections and Democracy

An overwhelming majority of readers felt pride in the elections, which offered the prospect of a maturing Pakistani democracy, where the powerful military has regularly ousted civilian governments. Many said they would be voting for Imran Khan, a cricket star turned politician, who is popular among young Pakistanis. The youth make up approximately 40 percent of the country’s registered voters.

“An election held on time according to the Constitution, in a free, just and transparent manner leading to a change in government, reflecting people’s aspirations for the first time in a short but event-ridden history of our nation can change the paradigm.” â€" Arsalan Khan, Karachi, Pakistan.

“This election means everything to us. Our country is at such a critical juncture â€" decisions made now can make or break us. The Taliban are trying their hardest to block the election. But everywhere in Pakistan, you see people are excited (and nervous) about the election. I have never seen Pakistanis so politically engaged.” â€" Unidentified reader from Karachi and London.

“The people this time around are well-informed. The army interference is at a minimum. New political parties are participating including the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf [Imran Khan's party], which i am voting for. It’s now or never. Either we are part of rising Asia, or we can never change.” â€" Fahad Rafiq, a student in Lahore, Pakistan

“I am going to vote for the first time. Democracy means a kind of government where common people are heard. I hope my vote is going to bring change.” â€" Ismail Khan, 30, from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan.

But some people were skeptical that there would be tangible dividends from the elections.

“I find it incredibly worrying that a lot of Pakistanis have pinned their hopes on one man, Imran Khan, to ‘fix’ things for them.” â€" Ramsha Qazi, Lago and Karachi.

“The elections are based on placing false hopes and not concrete steps based on ground realities. As I see it, most of the winning candidates will be the same old faces under new labels. There may not be any positive change, as no single party may win.” â€" Gulzar Khan, Islamabad, Pakistan.

“I don’t expect the problems of Pakistan to end after the elections, but I dream of a leader who would work his heart and soul and through his example the people will be inspired to follow.” â€" Afaq Ahmed.

“The vast majority of good people are apathetic and do not vote. They do not believe their vote makes a difference and do not want to be inconvenienced and possibly threatened by standing for hours in a queue.” â€" Unidentified reader from Geneva.

Security and Extremism

During the election season, the Pakistani Taliban and other extremist groups have relentlessly been targeting campaign rallies, particularly of secular parties. Many readers felt that the threat from militancy, which has cost tens of thousands of civilian lives, was the main issue that needed to be addressed by the winning party.

“The most important near-term issue for the people of Pakistan is security. Unfortunately, everything else takes a back seat. People have to be able to live their lives without fear of being kidnapped, shot or bombed.” â€" Hira Nafees Shah, New York.

“Pakistan has so far failed miserably in evolving a comprehensive strategy to combat the rising tide of extremism. Part of the reason probably lies in the fact that many, perhaps even most, Pakistanis believe the militancy and terrorism to be the work of a foreign hand: the C.I.A., Israel, RAW (India’s Research and Analysis Wing). It will take a leader of great conviction, political acumen and, yes, courage, to convince us that the fight is nobody else’s but our own.” â€" Rahim Yar Khan, Portland, Ore.

“None of the parties have any leaders who can actually lead the people and explain to them that the threat comes from the Islamist terrorists who seek to take control of the entire country and that the American occupation of Afghanistan has got nothing to do with that.” â€" Shahzad, Karachi.

“The biggest threat to Pakistan are the religio-political parties â€" those who have held the country hostage in the name of Islam. Overindulgence in religion has distracted the politicians from these core issues that require immediate reckoning.” â€" Mansura Minhas, Miami

One reader emphasized the role of local and international media in shaping perceptions of the country’s battles with extremists.

Things may not be perfect in Pakistan, but they sure aren’t as dark, murky, and ugly as portrayed by the media. My sincere hope is that the next government will look into this issue and will focus on rebuilding the ‘soft image’ of Pakistan - an image it enjoyed pre 9/11. - Unidentified reader from Saudi Arabia.


According to the World Economic Forum, as many as 40 percent of Pakistani children do not attend primary school and among those who attend school, the dropout rate is high. Many Pakistanis who said militancy was the main issue plaguing the country also said that a lack of education was a reason for it. Some were hopeful, though, that the winning party would focus on providing young Pakistanis, especially those in rural areas, with access to education.

“Almost all the policy makers untill this day had their priorities other than the right ones. They could never realize that by educating the nation, they can make every individual independent, self-sufficient and a national asset; and as a result, can reduce many of their own governing problems with ease.” - Atif Saqi, Pakistan.


Corruption pervades Pakistani society, including President Asif Ali Zardari himself, who has had to bat away accusations of corruption that have dogged him for the last 20 to 25 years. Several readers blamed corruption for the country’s weak economy.

“I think corruption is Pakistan’s most important issue, as the country is very rich in resources yet its ordinary citizens don’t get to benefit from them.” â€" Hira Nafees Shah, New York.

“For us Pakistanis, the 2013 elections are about challenging the status quo. They are about ousting illiterate politicians, dethroning the mighty feudal lords, and denouncing the corrupt ruling elite.” â€" Unidentified reader from Saudi Arabia.


Pakistan has faced a crippling economy and chronic electricity shortages. In a country where two-thirds of the population is under 30, there is a huge economic potential. Several readers said job creation would thwart the rise of extremism and restore investment confidence in the country.

“The top priority we want from this the coming government is to increase the production electricity at minimum cost and lower the fuel prices, rest is the job of private sector to create more jobs.” â€" Unidentified reader from Islamabad.

“I dream of taking my children to a New Pakistan where there is law and order, peace, water, electricity, schools, jobs and health. Imran Khan will deliver this because he is honest, fearless, determined and has a plan. I am so hopeful. These are exciting times!” â€" Hamid Akram, Brooklyn.

“Politicians should work hard on putting an end to the extreme energy shortage in the country and should provide people with jobs and education.” â€" Hira Nafees Shah, New York.

“The way to a ‘new Pakistan’ is by improving the literacy rate, sorting out the energy crisis, and restoring investor confidence. Everything else will fall in place automatically. Terrorism is just a byproduct of financial impoverishment, which in turn is a product of illiteracy.” â€" Unidentified reader from Saudi Arabia.

“We can hope that the coming governments will emphasize education to lead the nation on the road to its real destination. Education is the most important problem because by educating the masses, we can solve all our problems like poverty, extremism, all sorts of corruption, economy, illiteracy, unemployment etc.” â€" Atif Saqi, Pakistan.