This week, Pakistan finds itself in the unusual position of being in between two giant elections in a most shady neighborhood. Last week both India and Afghanistan (she, the town cray-zay of democracy, is now regularly voting – whoda thunk it?) have taken to the polls in a show of the democratic way of life that is making everyone very emotional. Western liberal op-eds have wept happy tears over images of Afghan women voting next to pics of wrinkled Indian villagers with “I-just-voted” lines on their fingers, and there is a lovely sense of accomplishment all round. As a Pakistani, I’m feeling quite left out; it’s like mine’s the only house on the road that isn’t decorated for Halloween.
The other day I awoke to a picture of Bollywood’s First Family, The Bachchans, smiling as all four raised their middle fingers to a large gaggle of photographers. I imagined the Indian celebs had finally had enough of the paparazzi and decided to flip everyone off with a smile while exiting a restaurant (as we have all wanted to do). Turns out they had voted and were showing off the blue lines on their fingers indicating as much. That the Indians make it so that you can raise your middle finger with pride is just one of the reasons I am obsessed with this year’s elections.
[quote]It’s like mine’s the only house on the road that isn’t decorated for Halloween[/quote]
The elections were the backdrop of most every conversation that I had when I was in Bombay last month. The roads are bad? Congress has dug them up to appear to be doing something even in its last months in power. Things are expensive? Modi will bring inflation down. Slums are smelly? Every person in there can vote, so the larger the slum, paradoxically, the more powerful its inhabitants. There was a clear sense from most people I met that the Congress Party (House of Gandhi) won’t win this election outright. Many people were frustrated by the party’s last few terms, and unsure that the unwilling Rahul Gandhi could lead a billion people (or even wanted to, though they were pleased as punch that he was fair-skinned).
[quote]Karzai’s fabulous cape will no longer be making public appearances[/quote]
Then there’s Narendra Modi (which should be the title to any piece on the elections), a Hindu nationalist from Gujarat who is all kinds of scary. His PR across India has been as magnificent as it has been comprehensive. There was hardly a mention in the papers of the Gujarat riots of 2002 or his alleged role in it, concentrating instead on how efficient the state has become, how rich, how economically “viable”. He has gone from a man on several No-Fly Lists to the frontrunner for the Prime Minister-ship. I don’t pretend to understand how that works; every time I asked someone about this in Bombay they would get momentarily uncomfortable and insist I move on. When we argued, they mostly just promised me he’s unlikely to repeat any of those alleged crimes while in office because, you know, who would do that?
Over in Afghanistan the coverage was much more predictable. A single image of a line of blue burka-clad women (one can only assume) waiting to vote became the main picture of the elections. It’s Afghanistan’s third election, and incumbent Karzai can no longer run because of term limits. Sadly, this means his fabulous cape will no longer be making public appearances.
In the Western media’s feel-good narratives, Afghanistan has “rescued” itself and India is a complicated multi-everything land where the fact the elections happen is a modern miracle. Both are true. It’s also true that Rakhi Sawant – the Indian Kim Kardashian, if you will – is running for election, there is a party called the “nail cutter party” and one right wing politician is calling for laws that make it so that a Muslim can only run if they prove Hindu ancestry.
Meanwhile in Pakistan, though we are not in the middle of an election, we are still giving the finger to anyone who’s looking. Last week, for example, we released over 19 Taliban prisoners in an Act of Good Will as part of our ongoing “talks”. (We talk, they stalk.) I hope this has something to do with the release of prisoners from the other side but I have stopped hoping these negotiations are two-way channels. Still more promisingly, we debated the nuances of pedophilia and child marriage, officially charged a 9-month old baby with murder, and later, just because we haven’t done it in a while, sentenced an impoverished Christian couple to death for blasphemy.
Welcome to the world’s shadiest neighborhood.
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