‘Pakistani Youth’ at Oxford conference
By Barrister Amjad Malik
I had the opportunity to listen to Pakistani students from UK universities who gathered over the weekend from 3-5 February 12 at an event hosted by Pakistan Society at the Oxford University. The venue was prestigious. Participants including some senior politicians tried to sweet talk through their fine oratory was countered by youth resilience. Students after three committee deliberations of 3 hours each after 2 days came up with their probing questions which were interesting, and were put before political parties in govt or opposition for answers.
Sardar Asif Ali former foreign Minister representing tsunami, Dr Farooq Sattar a current Minister for ending feudal system, and stalwart Asma Jehangir for human rights and civic superiority were the key note speakers on respective days. They could not put solution on the board for the ‘dirt’ country is facing for last sixty three years but put up and fought tooth and nail to justify their bit. Why extortion in ‘gun’ ruled target killing of Karachi, or feudal lords suppressing the ‘haris’ in rural sindh by keeping their acres of land uncultivated?. Why monopoly ad tax evasion by traders and land registration fiasco paving way for ‘qabza mafia’? Or Tribal lords dictating for the royalties restricting the ‘juice’ to benefit its own people or finally the ‘mullah’ decreeing the women not to cast votes in election(s) even if women are wearing ‘burqa’ were a few questions posed which were quite relevant to devolution. Anxiety over Army’s land acquisition, misuse or outsourcing natural resources, lack of revenue generating land reforms, and devolution where power from centre goes to province to regulate and later tasked to local bodies to implement were amongst interesting proposals.
The committees showed willingness to talk on thorny issues and proposed to withdraw from war on terror coupled with a dialogue with ‘Taliban’ and ‘development’ at the affected areas. It condemned drones considering it a violation of intl law as well as state integrity and sovereignty. It suggested ‘No war’ pact with its neighbours including India and clear thinking to build bridges than ‘national security’ status quo through ‘curriculum change’ and ‘mindset.’ Police reforms and political settlement Baluchistan were also proposed considering it a key to return to unity calling separatist to the drawing board. Unified education policy where minimum syllabus and policy is settled trickling down to Provinces and units (LG) to implement, and training of teachers was considered vital. Trade not aid, and review of blasphemy law was what younger minds critically posed to the older generation(s) on the other side of the spectrum who were failing to end status quo and years ‘master slave relationship between its rulers & commoners.
I must say, the passion and ideas were fresh and free of compulsion and barriers though at some stage understandably carefully managed to promote free thinking and keeping within limits. Young boys and girls were coming up with the passionate view to end status quo and pave way for the progress, a tolerant society that Pakistan have a potential, capacity and human resource to make. The emphasis rested on glorifying Nobel prize winner Abdul Salam and Faiz Ahmed Faiz than sticking missiles at the centres of busy bazaars paving fodder for radicalisation of mind and heart.
I sat throughout the proceedings of ‘power devolution’ committee and tried to gauge the mood. I think majority was in favour of democracy, the very principle on which Pakistan was built (one man one vote) and having democracy power devolution was considered a by-product and an ‘inevitable’ way forward. But anxiety remained amongst young minds looking at the mixed heritage with civil-military thorny cohabitation whether centre is free of ‘military invasions’ once for all and or other multiple choices of dictatorship, shariah, or presidential form of Govt like USA. But consensus was developed on Parliamentary form of Govt where centre is trouble free or fear free and trickle down power down to province and local bodies freeing oppression of decades, fostering freedom of mind, politics, economy and revenue generation emancipating masses whether at the hands of a gun holding mafia, feudal tribal lord, trader, soldier, and or a mullah.
I had a single anxiety that as the centre remained unstable in Pakistan, what sort of power it will devolve, if it is not properly secured through political reforms in parties and around, robust election commission, independent judiciary, and free media which flourish informed decision making by voters and an army which submit to that centre of civil power. On the other hand too strong or weaker centre if devolves most of the powers at the bottom may lead to separatist movements and or independence drive as annoyance or too much power translates its own destiny.
In any event, Pakistan needs a collective wisdom of all segment of society to save the federation by ending red tape between ruling elite and masses, a stabilised centre that could devolve power to province(s) as many as administratively convenient including FATA areas and Local Governments implement those aspirations of people by taking local matters in their own hands. That is the way forward and conference was successful in preaching that message.
Barrister Amjad Malik, is a chair of the Association of Pakistani Lawyers (UK) and participated as an expert in Power devolution committee of the Young Leaders conference 2012 at Oxford University.
06 February 2012