August 19th, 2008
02:08 PM ET

What the people of Pakistan want

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/08/19/art.pakistan.jpg]

S. Asif Alam
President and Founder of Association of Pakistani Professionals

There are no easy answers to the current chaos in Pakistan. Being a country in crisis, it now demands the application of principles rather than just politics.

The principles are these: The promotion of democracy, the independence of the judiciary, the freedom of the press. They are the ideals upon which great nations are made.

Images of Pakistani's fighting for these principles in their country leaves us without a doubt as to what the people of Pakistan want. Democratic ideals are indigenous to the people of Pakistan. After all, this was a nation founded upon the ideals of democracy by a lawyer, Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

Today, polls have consistently shown very little support for extremism and terrorism by the Pakistani people. A recent poll from the International Republican Institute finds 74% of Pakistani's being concerned about extremism. Much like the United States, economic issues are the first priority in Pakistan.

Pakistan still stands at one of the most critical junctures of her history. Down one path is a progressive and developed Islamic country that delivers on being a "promised land" for 170 million Pakistanis. Down another path is the unfortunate fate of becoming a failed state – Pakistan is not only among the countries with the highest incidence of terrorism but it also tops the list of suicide bombings, even more than Afghanistan and Iraq during the first three months of 2008.

The U.S. and world powers must clearly define their expectations and objectives from an alliance with Pakistan. The Pakistani government needs to support these objectives and remain engaged in the war against terrorism.

Pakistan has consistently proven itself to be a friend of the United States, from the Cold War to the War on Terror. But there is a perception on the ground that the U.S. is a friend of the Pakistani Army but has little engagement with the Pakistani people. It is time for the U.S. to engage with the People of Pakistan.

Pakistan's strategic location is important for U.S. interests. Pakistan is located between Iran, Afghanistan, China and India – a vast region experiencing rapid change. A stable Pakistan, a moderate Muslim country with strong institutions and a promising economy, would help stabilize this potentially volatile region. Turmoil and lawlessness, on the other hand, can send shock waves through the whole region.

Let’s move forward with a hope: A hope that the change in Pakistan brings a better and stable tomorrow.

Filed under: Global 360°
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Saad, Ramsey, NJ

    With all due respect SK, you also seem to be out of touch of the realities on the ground in Pakistan. You and Asif are so right and on the money when you write what Pakistanis' want because that's exactly what Pakistanis' want, just like what Americans want and citizens of all the countries want but realistically, Pakistan is far away from attaining all that. It will take a lot of smaller steps and many years to get to the environment you speak of.

    The question was ‘what do Pakistanis’ want? Generally speaking, Pakistanis' are very smart and realistic too. I think they want one step at a time. As the first step of what Pakistanis' want is an end to corruption and better transparency at all levels of public office. Especially an end to corruption at the highest levels so 'THAT' money can float in the market and help the economy versus staying in one bank account. ‘That’ money can be used to open up another school, to open up another free clinic for the poor, to pay a few garbage collection companies so they pick the garbage up on timely basis versus let it sit in places and give borth to diseases in the air, or the money can be given to the police department to raise a few hundred rupees of many constables' salaries etc etc etc..... But then again, people elected Asif Zardari as the top man which narrates all the above and prevents it from ever happening. But then again, it were the circumstances that led to him becoming the top man. But then again, what was the other option? That's why I said a curse. I know there is no curse, I just wrote that for lack of better expression to describe the mind boggling on ground situation in beloved Pakistan.

    World powers should support democracy, Independent Judiciary, and free Press but it has to also come from within. And at the moment Pakistanis, I think do see it happening. But how can it if the leader of the country and the decision taker for the most part happens to be the person we have right now. But eventually, and God willing sooner than later, the elected and designated will officials start thinking of the people as their own children, things will start improving.

    August 20, 2008 at 12:47 pm |
  2. Patrick

    Well written Asif and as Anne Katie said above; a thought provoking article. Especially this sentence:

    'But there is a perception on the ground that the U.S. is a friend of the Pakistani Army but has little engagement with the Pakistani people. It is time for the U.S. to engage with the People of Pakistan.'

    In order for long-term stability in the region to become reality, the U.S. should extend their foreign policy beyond military and economic interests. The Bush administrations' policy of military intervention only to defend these U.S. interests abroad creates not only resentment under the local population as the real reasons for these interventions are thinly veiled, but also create an instable political environment in which extremists find fertile grounds to spread their destructive message. I am afraid that It will need a regime change in Washinghton to invoke a new U.S. foreign policy based on mutual respect, genuine interest and a long term commitment to democracy in the region.

    Until that time, I truly hope the moderate voices in Pakistan will prevail and will be able to spread the message that the road to prosperity and stability for the country is a democratic one, not one that leads to the extremist fringes.

    August 20, 2008 at 9:44 am |
  3. Annie Kate

    I think Cindy said it best as well – look at what we want as human beings and that is probably what all people want – a free society where they can work and worship as they please, a safe country where they can go to the store without fear of being blown up, a good economy where the people get paid a living wage for what they trained to do, and a country at peace with the world so their sons and daughters do not grow up to be cannon fodder for some demented politician's who likes to wage war. I hope all countries can offer that to their citizens one day.

    Thank you for a wonderfully written thought provoking article. Perhaps if the US engages more country at the level of the people rather than their military think of how enriching both countries would be.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 19, 2008 at 9:55 pm |
  4. lampe

    The DNC, appears to be only to happy to throw away,it's Democratic Party, maybe they would be willing to give it to The Pakistanis.

    August 19, 2008 at 7:48 pm |
  5. SK

    Saad, all Asif is saying is that it is clear that Pakistanis want democracy, an independent judiciary and a free press (as evidenced by the massive protests) and that the world powers must instead nurture that progress by supporting institutions necessary for a democracy rather than stymying it by supporting military rule. That is far more realistic than this curse you speak of.

    August 19, 2008 at 5:48 pm |
  6. Saad, Ramsey, NJ

    in ONE word, Revolution! A revolution where the people who would come on top and in power would think of the nation as their own children. Impossible, no. Improbable, yes! Life has become so busy in fighting for daily survival that the people who can bring this revolution do not have time to get out on the streets and fight for it.

    Cindy, you said in a 4 lines a whole lot better than the entire article by Asif Aslam who has laid out a beautiful but the most unrealistic and most out of touch theory with the conditions on the ground. It is more of wishful unpractical thinking than any of it being a reality. Sad but true for anyone who is aware of what happens to the people when they come into power.

    That said, what do people of Pakistan really want? As Senator Biden has stated time and again, Pakistan is a nation of moderates and thus a moderate society as a whole. So what do moderates want? What do we, Americans want? Education for our children, health care, clean environment, be able to pay the bills and be able to have the necessities and maybe some amount of luxury in our lives. So do teh Pakistanis.

    Pakistan is 6th largest nation in the world, behind China, India, U.S., Brazil, Indonesia. She is gifted with tremendous amount of human and natural resources. So all of the above that I stated is doable. But the problem is that it has to come from the top. And whoever comes to top in Pakistan, treats the country like the executives of Enron treated Enron. Asif Zardari took that to a different level but is in power again. To sum it up, I think Pakistan has a curse on it. But one day, God willing it will be removed. That's what people of Pakistan want.

    August 19, 2008 at 3:58 pm |
  7. Martina Ilstad

    i think you think right.pakistan poeple wants to life in freedom and peace.

    August 19, 2008 at 3:40 pm |
  8. Wain

    Asif great job on writing this. Thanks to CNN for putting it on the website.

    Yes, US can play a major role in stabalizing Pakistan. The idea again is to do grass root aid operations helping people on the ground. Not writing checks to Pakistani Government and send more combat troops to the region. As both Obama and McCain suggest.

    American aid to Pakistani government primarily for military causes has filled the governemtn's filthy rich pockets and made far less impact on a common name. Thus the allienation toward USA which should not have existed given the long records of her aid to Pakistan.

    There needs to be a more authentic effort to build institutes, educate the 60 – 70 % of illetrate population, protection for independent and fearless judiciary / press, honest political leaders, confronting radicals with stronger intelligence and tough negotiations. No bombs please.

    Its about time Pakistanis come together and say NO to the establishment and rise for the common goal; a prosperous and peaceful Pakistan. I hope Musharraf's resignation was the start to a new and hopefull era in Pakistan history.

    August 19, 2008 at 3:38 pm |
  9. Meredith, SLC Utah

    Asif, thank you for the informative and heartfelt blog. My prayers and hopes are with the Pakistani people as they strive to realize their dreams of justice and democracy.

    August 19, 2008 at 2:50 pm |
  10. Cindy

    I think that the Pakistani people want everything that every other human being wants. They want to be able to live in a free society where they can do as they please, live with no fear, and have a great economy that can sustain them. Nothing new there. Let's hope that they keep moving in that direction.


    August 19, 2008 at 2:16 pm |