Pakistan is on the verge of making history. For the first time, a democratically-elected government is going to transfer power in the forthcoming elections. This is, indeed, a landmark achievement for a country ridden with military interventions since its independence. However, one critical factor remains unanswered: how will the largely uneducated populace of Pakistan choose its future in the upcoming elections?
According to recent estimates, only 58 per cent of 180 million Pakistanis can read or write. Nearby Sri Lanka, despite surviving a violent civil war, has managed to educate 98 per cent of its population, whereas India, despite being the second most populated country in the world, has an impressive 74 per cent literacy rate.
In Pakistan, however, the few that are educated seem to be divided on the basis of gender, ethnicity and influence. For instance, Balochistan stands as the least educated province and women, who form more than half of our total population, are largely illiterate, especially in the rural areas of the country.
The emphasis on education is important because illiteracy plays into the hands of corrupt politicians who try to win votes on the basis of affiliations and biradari systems, rather than on their contributions to the nation.
Lessons are to be learned from history. During the Dark Ages of Europe, the Church purposely kept the people uneducated so as to continue its influence without facing any accountability. One dreads that the pattern in Pakistan is similar, where the ruling elite keeps the people uneducated in order to exploit them for their selfish motives. A glimpse of the budget allocation on the education sector is reflective of this fact.
Closely linked to education is public awareness. The mass media in Pakistan has made remarkable progress in recent years. It has played a pivotal role in keeping the public informed and bringing the ruling elite under the umbrella of accountability and scrutiny. However, the achievements have been far from ideal. There are still certain sections of the media that cater to the demands of a select few, thus influencing people to formulate biased opinions. With the elections looming, the media’s role is of utmost importance. Considering the fact that the majority of our population is uneducated, the votes cast will be largely influenced by the mass media. It is imperative that the media portrays an unbiased opinion through print and television programmes so that the public can make an informed decision.
Otherwise, the next elected government may continue to push the country towards an abyss of turmoil and underdevelopment through self-serving policies that continue to enslave the people. For the right people to be elected, our people need to be informed and educated. This is where the real challenge lies for the country. Let us hope that come May 11, 2013, votes are cast not on the basis of sects, castes, biradaries and political affiliations but on the basis of a thorough, logical and comparative analysis of the contesting politicians.
This article was originally published at: The Express Tribune
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.