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You say you want a revolution?

There are few things as drearily predictable as Pakistani hacks watching revolutions in progress in other countries and wistfully wishing we could have one ourselves. The overthrow of the Tunisian government swiftly followed by the likely removal of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt has provided lovers of facile arguments a bonanza.

Beyond puerile platitudes extolling the virtues of spirited street power and pleading with the masses to storm the capital, no one seems interested in explaining exactly who the revolt should be directed against or even who will be directing it. Unenlightening tirades against the ‘establishment’ do not count as an explanation since they are about as specific as a stoned teenager railing against The Man.

Pakistan right now has a flawed, nascent democratic system in place, one that is incrementally becoming less imperfect and more secure. From the holding of elections that were as free as any have been in the country to the passage of the 18th amendment, we have made undoubted progress after the Musharraf blight. Sure, we are all unhappy at the rapid rise of religious extremism and the government’s cowardice in tackling the blasphemy issue. Endemic corruption and a growing economic crisis please no one. But using that as bait in calling for mass upheaval is extremely childish. Democratisation is better achieved through a slow process of elections, bitter political debates and give-and-take between transient governments and the permanent military.

Since the revolutionary brigade have not progressed beyond the “let’s occupy Constitution Avenue” stage, I’ll be charitable and assume they want to revolt against army control. A nice sentiment but one that does not hold up to scrutiny when you try to figure out the composition of the would-be freedom fighters.

There is only one force (with an important exception I will get to later) capable of rousing enough people to action: the political parties. As they’re the ones in charge right now, it would be odd, to say the least, for them to march against their own inability to rein in the army. “Remove the men in khaki/I am only their lackey” is not a particularly stirring slogan.

Any large-scale, street-level protests against the current government by opposition parties will serve only to strengthen the military, which will use civil unrest as an excuse to assume overt control. If there is one lesson to be learned from the Pakistan National Alliance and its anti-Bhutto protests of 1977, it is that the army is only to eager to take advantage of a divided body politic. At the height of the protests in ’77, Begum Wali Khan of the ANP told Maulana Mufti Mahmud of the JUI, “Let martial law be imposed because only such a step would guarantee holding of elections within 90 days.” People writing in support of revolutionary fervour are exhibiting similar naivety.

The word-processor warriors are also deluded in their belief that there are sufficient numbers to launch a liberal movement. Outside of the political parties, the only people with the numbers and will to take to the streets are those who feel Pakistani is insufficiently Islamic. Just consider the attendance at pro- and anti-blasphemy law rallies. Such an arithmetical gulf is usually only seen in the difference between our politicians’ bank balances and tax returns.

The second-hand fumes of the revolutionary fervour in Tunisia and Egypt has so intoxicated normally level-headed people that, like the drunkard who will hit on the first human being to cross his or her path, they want any revolution no matter how much they might regret it the next morning. If they get their way we will be left with the hangover of a lifetime.

Nadir Hassan is a journalist based in Karachi and can be found on Twitter.



This article was published on the dawn blog


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