Pakistanis speak of future hopes: BBC Debate in Islamabad
Pakistanis speak of future hopes
By Syed Shoaib Hasan: BBC News, Islamabad: August 8, 2007
Pakistan has a bright future, but poverty and military involvement in politics remain causes for concern, audience members have said at a debate in Islamabad hosted by the BBC News website.
As Pakistan prepares to mark 60 years since independence, a panel of eight prominent people took part in a forum entitled The Battle for Pakistan: What is the Future?
One of the panel members, Hina Rabbani Khar, state minister for economic affairs, was critical of the title of the debate.
"The word 'battle' leads to a misrepresentation of the situation in the country," she said.
"This country has improved dramatically over the past few years and shown great resilience in adverse circumstances," she said.
Imran Khan, leader of the opposition Tehreek-e-Insaf party, said: "The people of Pakistan have definitely shown great resilience.
"An independent judiciary and an assembly elected by them are their greatest hope."
Flak for ministers
PANELLISTS: Hina Rabbani Khar, Omar Ayub Khan, Imran Khan, Asif Luqman Qazi, Zaffar Abbas, Ali Dayan Hasan, Talat Hussain, Omar Ali Khan
Mr Khan and Ms Khar, along with state minister Omar Ayub Khan, and Asif Luqman Qazi of the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami party, made up the political half of the panel.
The others included film historian Omar Ali Khan, Zaffar Abbas of Dawn newspaper, Ali Dayan Hasan from Human Rights Watch, and Talat Hussain of AAJ TV.
The debate was lively, with the government ministers coming in for a lot of flak.
The topics discussed included the economy, political problems, and the insurgencies in North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan.
Audience members were worried about growing disparities in income, lack of health and education facilities, and general poverty.
The military's increased role in Pakistan's politics was also a cause of concern.
The audience was vociferous in its declamation of the minister's insistence that all was fine with the country.
The ministers, however, were adamant that economic conditions had markedly improved.
The government's figures are wrong and doctored
Ali Dayan Hasan
Human Rights Watch
"Go to the rural areas... you will see new dynamism," said Omar Ayub Khan.
"We have a long way to go but we are on our way and going there."
Ms Khar said: "Pakistan's budget deficit has gone from 60% of GDP to 20% [of] GDP.
"The gap is being bridged and poverty figures have also declined."
But other panellists disagreed, saying the government's views did not represent the reality on the ground.
"The government's figures are wrong and doctored," said Ali Dayan Hasan.
'Confused by figures'
Audience members were also vocal in their views on the economy.
One member wanted to know why defence expenditure was not questioned in the assemblies.
"The government always tries to confuse us with figures," said another.
We will have a future the day the politicians realise the power lies in the people, not the military
A young female student asked the ministers why there are two separate forms of education - one for the elite and one for the masses, while Fahd Bukhari, an engineer, said young people had had no heroes to look up to since the death of Pakistan's founder, Muhammed Ali Jinnah.
In a straw poll, the audience - perhaps moved by patriotism - decided that Pakistan had a bright future.
But there were voices of caution if not pessimism.
"We will have a future the day the politicians realise the power lies in the people, not the military," said Zaffar Abbas.
"We are not learning from history - unless that is done, we will continue to repeat our mistakes."
The debate, moderated by the BBC'S Mishal Hussain, was held on 8 August in the capital Islamabad.