A few days ago, one of my colleagues at my university asked me a question that eventually got me thinking. In the often childlike curiosity that is typical of someone who has never visited Pakistan, he asked, once he was done gauging his tone for political correctness: “What is the politics in Pakistan like?” You see, for someone whose only visions of the country primarily come from second-hand accounts from western media outlets, Pakistan is a complex and dangerous place. Perhaps more dangerous than mysterious. The country is in the international news for all the wrong reasons. It is supposed to be like Afghanistan — rugged, desolate, and dangerous; a land that is wrought with conflict and run by scary bearded men to whom savagery is a way of life. As one of my classmates once commented in his naivety: “Pakistan is like Mordor” (‘Mordor’ is the scary, dark part of Middle-Earth in the Lord of the Rings — a place that is inhabited by malevolent creatures and is best left unvisited).
Yet Pakistan is also a mystery. For instance, some of the most impressively talented students that I have met in the US are either Pakistani or of Pakistani origin. The country has a widespread diaspora in many Western countries, including the US; who despite their own shortcomings and varied cultural and religious outlooks continue to excel and innovate in the new world that they inhabit. In this perplexing sense, Pakistan is a mystery. And it is because from that sense of mystery that I felt my colleague asked me that question. At first, I felt that the answer to the question would be simple and would take much stirring of my mental capacities. However, as I have never been fond of simplicity, I decided to play around with my colleague’s head.
I replied, lowering my voice, and enunciating as clearly as I could so he couldn’t possibly miss my words, “Politics in Pakistan? It is just like Game of Thrones.” Yes, you guessed right — I am a very complicated person. For those readers who don’t know what Game of Thrones (GoT) is, it is a famous drama that has kept its viewers captivated for quite some time. The story is set in a fictional medieval fantasy reality, in which various powerful families are involved in a tug of war for political power over a fictional kingdom. The world of GoT is not a typically Hobbesian world in which “life is short, brutish and nasty…”, although the frequent descriptions of violence and bloodshed throughout the series might suggest otherwise. Instead, it is a world characterised by kinships and oaths; or perhaps as one of the main protagonists in the series himself puts it, “Family is everything!”
You see, in this sense, Pakistani politics is very much like GoT. Despite being a parliamentary democracy with a Constitution; the Pakistani political realm is often a brutal place — one that is ruled by family dynasties, and defection and hypocrisy is the modus operandi, one which only family ties can survive. Politics often get dirty and office aspirants lower themselves to the vilest levels possible to undercut their political adversaries. There is often violence and loss of life; where a ‘common’ person’s life is most definitely less valuable than those of the aristocrat-bourgeois class who rule with an iron fist. This game of political musical chairs takes place as the real enemy lurks in the background.
Despite the striking similarities between GoT and Pakistani politics, there are indeed crucial differences that hold lessons for us Pakistanis. I will get into these in a bit. But one thing is for certain about what Pakistan is not. It is not like ‘Mordor’ (the scary place in the Lord of the Rings). Far from it, the country is a vibrant, growing country of over 200 million people. These people are mostly young and have a passion and fire that needs to be redirected in the right direction. The brightness and the undeniable talent of Pakistani students who have reached western educational institutions on merit are testaments to this very fact.
However, politics in most of the developing world is often nasty, dynastic, and exploitative. Given the existential post-colonial predicament of most of the developing world, new and innovative approaches to government need to be explored. Approaches that don’t necessarily need to discredit the very important role that the realities of lordship and dynastic rule play in forging a society that ultimately leads to more representative forms of government. The concept of constitutional democracy is uniquely western, which despite its undeniable advantages needs both philosophical and practical adjustments when applied in most developing countries. Having said that, we indeed live in a world where human rights at an individual level are starting to become an issue of international concern.
Considering this, it is important for those lucky enough to be vested with wealth and power to realise that all people have inherent value and should not be exploited for political supremacy.