Sunday, 12 May 2013
This weekend Pakistanis voted for their national government. The last government was the first in the country's history to serve a full electoral term. The election and campaigning were marred with violence, but this did not deter a high turnout at the polls. Insh'Allah a new government will be formed quickly and will be able to deliver stable democracy for the next five years.
Beyond cricket and curry, Pakistan is not a country I would ever have expected to have much connection with. Yet two weeks ago I returned from my fourth visit. I first travelled to Pakistan in 1997 to visit a friend who was working as a volunteer in the remote Northern Areas. Since 2008 I have been working with colleagues at Lahore College for Women University on a couple of British Council funded projects. Our current project is working to develop curriculum and professional development courses about climate change.
Much has changed in Pakistan and in my life since my first visit. In 1997 I travelled alone on public transport, stayed in tumbledown hotels, hiked up mountains and wandered around local markets. In 1997 the major cities had reliable electricity supply. In 2008 I stayed in a five star hotel with armed guards on the gate, and the city was subject to load shedding power cuts. In 2013 the power cuts are worse than ever, but Lahore shows signs of investment in roads and construction, with new retail and housing developments springing up within and around the city.
When I travel to Lahore people always ask if I am worried about security. Having made the decision to participate in the project for good academic reasons, and signed the daunting risk assessment form, the answer is no, I don't worry. In fact, going to Lahore is relaxing. While I am there everything is taken care of, and I simply do as I am told. This is a very nice break from life in London. I stay in very comfortable local accommodation, a driver and security guard pick me up and take me to and from the college, and my hosts are very cautious about where we eat, shop and socialise. There are many more useful targets for terrorists than me, and beyond the militant extremists, Pakistanis are welcoming and respectful.
Lahore is a beautiful city with a rich culture and history. The weather in April is warm and sunny. The food is delicious. Colleagues and students at the university are hard working and enthusiastic to build stronger international links. Spending time in an almost exclusively female workplace is another welcome break from life in London. I always enjoy my visits and the work I do when I am there.
The new government will have a lot to do. The energy crisis will be one of their immediate concerns, but the list is long - security, corruption, taxation, the military, education, health care, regional and international relations... These are all complex issues for any government to deal with, but perhaps the most significant result of this weekend's election is the resounding affirmation of the Pakistani people's faith in democracy as the only way to deliver the changes that they so urgently need.