It is not every day in Pakistan that we see people with non-political or dynastic backgrounds attempt to create political parties. The last time we witnessed this was in 1996 when cricketing super-star Imran Khan announced he was going to form the Pakistan Tehreek-e-insaf. Despite Khan’s cricketing fame and hero status, it still took 22 years for PTI to see a major victory in the Pakistani parliament and the National Assembly.
It has now been a decade for Mustaqbil Pakistan, a political party founded by Nadeem Qureshi, a man with an M.A. in Arabic Literature, former Engineering Graduate from MIT and Harvard University. After spending 25 years as an entrepreneur in the Middle East, Nadeem returned to Pakistan with a vision for change. However, despite his Ivy league education and good intentions MP has been struggling to gain prominence in a country where evidence has shown that most political anchors are known for taking bribes, and yellow journalism sadly rules the day.
The News Tribe interviewed Nadeem Qureshi exclusively to talk about his political journey this far, his observations, and his learnings.
TNT: What was your inspiration and objective to form a political party?
NQ: There was too much drawing room talk and very little action. It seemed to me that those of us who were unhappy with the way the nation is being run had to do more than just talk. This led eventually to the idea of a political party that would be based on merit, that would seek to bring educated, decent, competent, honest and sincere people into politics.
Our objective was and remains, to bring the best of Pakistan’s people into our assemblies and in doing so displace the worst and least qualified, who now sit there, and who do not have a clue about what needs to be done to bring progress and development to the country.
TNT: What is MP’s manifesto?
NQ: Our manifesto rests on 3 basic principles: Merit, equality and respect for life – all life.
TNT: Who are the people that fund and support MP?
NQ: So far, the people who have supported the party are a close circle of friends who believe that change is possible. This very narrow funding base has impeded our ability to take on the established political parties. We had hoped, when we set up the party, that we would find broad support especially from the educated middle class. This did not happen. Sadly, people have become inured to the status quo. Anyone who says or believes that ‘things can be changed if only we try’ becomes the target of cynicism or ridicule. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If no one believes that change is possible. Then it indeed becomes impossible.
Funding remains one of the most critical ingredients for success for MP. We know what we have in mind can be achieved, but it can only happen if there are enough well-meaning people out there willing to take a chance and to put their money where their mouths are. If you want good, clean, honest, decent politics, you must pay for it. It’s the adage about a free lunch.
TNT: MP has been around for almost a decade now, what have you learnt about the Pakistani political process? Are your learnings what you had originally pre-empted?
NQ: I could write a book on what I have learned about our political process. We expected some of what we encountered. However, there were many surprises. For me the single most shocking revelation was that the majority of our people living in Wadera (feudal land lord) controlled rural areas it’s not the poverty that oppresses them, rather the state of constant fear in which they live. Fear that they can be picked up by the police at any time, that their lands can be taken from them, that their animals will be taken from them in the dead of night, and that their already impoverished homes can be robbed with impunity. All of this at the behest of the local land lord, who is also usually a member of parliament, and has the local police station at his disposal to humour his whims and fancies.
TNT: What is Mustaqbil Pakistan’s point of difference to other political parties?
NQ: We operate purely on merit. We have a policy that forbids us to give party tickets to anyone who has ever been elected before to any assembly. We will never ‘sell’ our party tickets. We do not pay anyone to attend our jalsas (rallies). We do not defend and protect any of our workers who do wrong.
TNT: Were you ever approached by any other party to join them?
NQ: We were approached several times but we’ve politely declined. Our objective is to change the game not to play it. If we were to join any political party operating in Pakistan today it would be tantamount to a full surrender of the all the principles and values that we hold dear.
TNT: Do you think Imran Khan has the right team and policies in place to help him to deliver his promise of a Naya (new) Pakistan?
NQ: I was delighted that Imran Khan won, as I think were most Pakistanis. We are waiting for them to deliver the promised Naya Pakistan. The reality so far has been disappointing. There seems to be a lot of confusion in his government. It’s as if a group of bus drivers suddenly find themselves in the cockpit of a Boeing 777 and are told to fly it.
The PTI government’s unpreparedness is surprising because they’ve been waiting a long time for this win. One would have thought that they would have not just a strategy but also detailed plans and policies in place so that they could hit the ground running. Instead they’ve just hit the ground.
The team is clearly a problem. Surprisingly, for someone who stood for merit, Imran Khan seems to have caved to nepotism. Key ministers have been appointed not because of competence but because they are friends of the boss. Similarly, it is disappointing to see that the same old faces who served the previous governments of the PPP and PML (N) are back again. Pakistan is a place where there are many brilliant, talented and experienced people who can be called in to run the country. But they are not being included. You cannot expect that those who have spent their lives profiting from the status quo will suddenly change their mind set and start to think out of the box for new innovative and daring solutions that Pakistan now needs, to make up for lost time.
TNT: It is popularly speculated that PTI has the military’s favour. How important is it for MP to get military endorsement?
NQ: I think it would be naive to believe that any political party in Pakistan can succeed without the military’s blessing. Whatever people accuse the military of, they cannot be accused of a lack of patriotism. And this is not something that you can say about our politicians. The military’s interest in politics stems from a desire for self-preservation. The military knows, as do many Pakistanis, that left to their own whims our politicians would sell Pakistan for a song.
TNT: What has MP been busy with over the last decade?
NQ: We’ve been very busy the last decade. Personally, I’ve traveled to every corner of the country – from FATA to Sindh, and from Quetta to Bahawalpur. The objective has been to raise awareness about our cause and to invite people to join us.
TNT: Unlike other political party’s MP has focused on education in a big way. Why?
NQ: Pakistan’s education programs need a radical remake. Focus and resources must shift to primary education. Only 25 out of 50 million school aged children go to school. This is a crime.
MP has tried to make a difference wherever we can, given our modest resources. In my constituency in Atharan Hazari we run a free school for children. In addition to this we pay the salaries of teachers at other schools who otherwise would not be able to afford them.
The story of the Atharan Hazari school is instructive. We built and set up the school in the middle of the Thal desert, West of the Jhelum river. This is a desperately poor area where people live in mud hut villages and eke out a living working on the mainly barren desert. The children in the tributary areas did not have a school and worked in the fields with their parents.
The school was set up and we announced to the local communities that they can send their children for free. To our surprise, not even one child showed up. We discovered that people did not send their children because they needed them to earn money in the fields. So we said “Ok we’ll give the parents Rs 200 per month for every child that they send to the school, we’ll give them books, uniforms and shoes, and we’ll send a tractor (since there are no metalled roads in the desert) with a trolley to pick and drop them to their villages.” Lo and behold the school filled up. It has been running now for 10 years and some of our graduates are now in colleges.
There is also a serious imbalance in education after school. Almost all those who come out of our school’s head to university. And once they get their degrees there are no jobs. Employers want technicians and factory workers not BA’s and MA’s. This hamstrings the development of our economy and results in unemployment and dismay amongst the youth.
TNT: Do you think China through the loan and CPEC will solve our economic woes?
NQ: The hype that is surrounding CPEC is especially unhealthy and possibly dangerous. It lulls us into believing that CPEC will transform Pakistan into another China. Nothing could be further from the truth. China seek their self-interest. CPEC will certainly benefit them more than it will us. What we will get is a road, a pipeline and possibly a rail link between Gawadar and Kashgar. We will be paid modestly for the transit of goods along this corridor, but this will pale compared to the benefits that China will get. Eastern China will get access to a port that will shorten shipping and transit times to the West and the Gulf by several weeks, giving them cost benefits as well as a huge competitive advantage in international markets.
Pakistan, if it is to develop and succeed, must work along multiple dimensions to build its own capacity in all areas of economic activity.
China’s economic aid is meant to serve China’s interests not ours. Such is the nature, despite appearances, of all aid. We should work towards a day when we do not need anyone’s aid and do not need to go, begging bowl in hand, to some of our rich neighbours.
TNT: What do you think is the solution to end corruption in Pakistan? Is this even possible anymore as it seems to have seeped into every level of society including law enforcement agencies and the media.
NQ: There are two types of corruption. One is where lowly paid government employees such as police and low-level office workers are almost forced to resort to bribery to pay their bills and send their children to schools. The other and more pernicious type is in higher levels of government where the motive is greed.
For low level workers, the only solution is to pay them enough so that they do not need to resort to corruption. This can take the form of increased salaries, free schooling for their children and subsidised housing and health care.
For higher level corruption MP has argued that a death sentence be written into the law for any senior government functionary who is found guilty of corruption.
Regarding both types, it is very important to appreciate that corruption begins from the top. If your boss is corrupt you are more likely to indulge as well. So, if we can get top level leadership that are incorruptible the results will trickle down.
TNT: What do you think, should be the penalty for past politicians like Sharif’s, Zardari and members of their governments, who have unashamedly emptied the national treasury?
NQ: All their assets held by them or their family or associates need to be expropriated and they certainly need to spend the rest of their lives in jail.
TNT: What do you think is the solution to turn Pakistan into a progressive nation?
NQ: It starts with leadership right at the top with vision, courage and commitment. Once you have this in place, which, sadly we do not, then everything falls into place. It becomes only a matter of time for things to change. There have been nations before us with fewer resources who have been transformed by leadership. Think Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, and Park Chung-hee in South Korea.
TNT: What do readers need to know about MP that would change the way they cast their votes in future?
NQ: If you allow me to be blunt, the votes of these readers are a drop in the ocean. The people who really need convincing are the tens of millions who live under the tyranny of the wadera. Getting the message to these people is much harder, and more importantly, requires resources. So, the power of your readers comes not from their votes but from their pockets. If they would like to support MP and what we stand for then the best way to do it is to support us financially so we can do the things we need to do to bring real change to Pakistan’s politics.
TNT: What has been MP’s standing in the last two elections? Did you win any seats in the National or Provincial assemblies?
NQ: Unfortunately, we did not do well in these elections and were not able to get any seats in the national or provincial assemblies. Our candidates are ordinary, decent, simple people operating on shoestring budgets against the usual illicitly financed, political regulars known for their dishonesty and ruthlessness.
TNT: With so much illiteracy amongst the masses, does Democracy really suit Pakistan?
NQ: I strongly believe that the democracy we have in Pakistan is not suited to our situation. We have blindly copied the Whitehall model and transposed it to Pakistan without regard for the radically different environment in which the model was formed and developed. What would suit us much better is a presidential system of government. I have written about this in some detail at this link.