Wednesday, April 11, 2007

On the other side of the fence

Haroon Ihsan Piracha; MP, Pakistan Muslim League
‘Below-40 MPs don’t have to deal with the past... People themselves will become change agents’

A few days ago, Haroon Ihsan Piracha, a young MP of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League was in New Delhi for a conference organised by PILDAT (Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency) to observe the parliamentary process in India and meet fellow young MPs here. He spoke to Mahima Kaul about the young parliamentarians in Pakistan and how they could re-imagine its political and economic landscape.

• You met our young MPs, and talked about thinking outside the box on India and Pakistan, the fact that young people don’t carry excess baggage...

One of the points Navin Jindal made was that the below-40 parliamentarians don’t have to deal with the past as much as the older politicians. I believe that measures like the removal of visa restrictions will help. People themselves will become change-agents. Student exchange programmes — today’s students are the policy makers of tomorrow — will also help us. Another suggestion I made was that we should work towards a joint youth parliamentary forum so that our channels of communication become more formal.

• Also, the added benefits of trade.

India is a very, very big market. Pakistan is a thriving economy. If trade opens up between India and Pakistan there might be losses in certain sectors but in the long run it will become more efficient. We don’t just have to look at industrial output; there are added benefits in terms of new markets opening up, and revenue to the governments.
Movies are another area. I noticed in India that theatres are a big source of revenue for your government. Our theatres could play your movies. In my parents’ time, they tell me, they used to go to the theatres. Now people can start going back to them. Movies are available on DVD and on cable in Pakistan, but the theatres are a different experience.

• In India, did you notice a buzz around the ‘young MPs’?

There are more young MPs in Pakistan, we have 60 — you have about 40 — and over 90 per cent of them are foreign educated. They are businessmen, bankers, lawyers... Our government has done a very good thing — our federal ministers are experienced politicians, but the ministers for state and parliamentary secretaries are young. It’s a very good combination. You can see the change in parliament.

• But the tickets go only to the educated, political families.

Many do, but at the end of the day the criteria is — is this guy winnable? Many of them have never been in politics before. But yes, the majority are foreign educated.

• Do you think it can also bring about a disconnect? You may think on macro issues, but the common man is still wondering about his sadak, paani, etc

Yes, at the end of the day it is about electricity and roads. It’s easy to say, so what if we produce one million cars today instead of 10,000? But you forget, these cars are being produced in a factory. So if they were hiring 1,000 labourers, now they are hiring 10,000. The service industry, the automobile industry, who works there? MNCs have come to Pakistan. I am happy to find young people, good in English, from lower middle class families, finding employment with them.

• The novelist, Mohsin Hamid, wrote in a recent article that he also voted for Musharraf, and felt he got freedoms, but now it’s changed. He talks of Geo TV offices being broken into.

Please distinguish that that was something that the state did not order. This was not in a remote village — this was in the capital. This was not ordered; there was a local scuffle. Our information minister reached right then, the president condemned it and there is an inquiry going on. Unfortunately you will find incidents like this anywhere. There will always be opposition.

• And what about the unrelenting reports of extremism? Do they worry you?

I’ll tell you, it’s only perception. There are some cases, especially near the border with Afghanistan. But generally the madrassas are just teaching Islam. It does worry one, but it’s not so prominent.

• What are the key issues for the youth in Pakistan?

Number one is jobs. What everyone has to understand is that if you have a simple degree it’s not enough. But if you can repair a phone or a computer, you can find a job. We have also started internships in government departments that pay Rs10,000 per month. Pick up a paper in Pakistan and you see that in the IT and engineering sections, there is a shortage of people. There is a huge requirement in the cellular industry. It’s hard to find skilled workmen in the construction industry.

• So let’s end with cricket. What’s your Woolmer theory?

It’s very unfortunate. It’s hard to believe that the team lost to Ireland. Obviously something very bad happened, but we will have to wait and see.

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