By Raza Habib Raja
The television is a powerful media; in fact live transmission makes an impact which transcends almost everything else in its potency. If televised, the impact of burgeoning public revolution on the viewers is high even when they are in a far off country, and can also create desire or at least expectation of duplication of the similar kind of events in their own homeland. This longing is intensified if you see an autocrat being humbled by the courage of people. The first thing which comes to mind is: If such a thing can happen there, it can also occur here.
Right now the continuing public protest in Egypt is being televised and evoking emotions across the globe. The power of people defying tanks is surely making several “revolutionaries” teary eyed in Pakistan. The revolutionary fervor is being further fanned by several anchors as well as journalists who are trying to draw analogies between the root causes of public unrest in Egypt and ground realities in Pakistan. Apparently the similarities exist. Both countries have high income disparities coupled with high rate of inflation as well unemployment. Apparently the situation is also “ripe” in Pakistan, at least in the eyes of all teary eyed romantic revolutionaries.
Yes I support Egyptians and in my eyes there is nothing more fantastic than people rising up and challenging autocracy. Yes there is nothing more emotionally inspiring than the sight of people confronting tanks and soldiers actually joining them for the protests. But I have serious doubts whether such thing is possible in Pakistan or even if happens, can be a better thing for Pakistan. For that matter even in Egypt, there are growing concerns from some elements (whether justified or not is a separate debate) that eventually the Islamists may emerge as victorious.
What happened in Tunisia and is happening in Egypt is a revolt against autocracy which over the years has become intertwined with the destiny of these countries. When you completely stifle pluralism, curb opposition and not allow change through legitimate means then you end up being blamed for literally everything when things start going wrong in the society. People can only blame in one direction and justifiably. The image and the persona of an autocrat becomes the natural target when things go beyond the tipping point.
An authority which is just based on establishment institutions without any concomitant engagement with the public will crumble quickly under such circumstances. The state during the rule of the autocrat gradually becomes an insensitive organ and cannot change or sense the changing moods. Autocrats can seldom even understand the buildup of despair and when it ultimately expresses itself in widespread anger they keep themselves in denial mode until the anger manifests in violent and sustained protests forcing them out of power.
In such countries the change can only come through a revolution and at times a violent revolution. Most of the times, due to the evolution of state and society in a particular pattern which is not consistent with the people’s aspirations, the status quo cannot be shaken without completely overthrowing the regime and its foundations. Since regime cannot be changed through any electoral process therefore prolonged protests and bloodshed is the only way out. This is what gives rise to such revolutions. This is what happened in communist regimes in the late 1980s and is unfolding in front of our eyes in Egypt. And yes to some extent this sort of movement has already happened in Pakistan in late 1960s which forced Ayub Khan out of power.
The current scenario in Pakistan though extremely dismal is not the sort of scenario where such revolutions can take place. PPP and PML (N) are the largest and most popular parties and right now in power in Centre and Punjab respectively. Do you really think there will be a revolution against them? Yes in the minds of some media anchors who are divorced from the ground realities and who have some sort of romantic fascination with the word revolution. But in reality this is not going to happen because there is no “blame” worthy target here against which people of ALL walks of life can gather and bring a revolution.
This is not to suggest that people are happy here. Pakistanis right now are feeling miserable. But the dynamics which bring a revolution of Egyptian nature are not there. Yes people will be protesting and pressurizing the government along with the media but a revolutionary overthrow in even a dysfunctional type of democracy is generally not likely.
If anything such protests EVEN if they somehow or the other materialize would only bring in army once again. And that is something which we have experienced before also and let me assure you that it was not revolutionary.
I keep on hearing about so called revolution of the left where peasants will rise and challenge the status quo. Frankly this scenario, though romantically appealing, IS NOT LIKELY TO TAKE PLACE. I am just being realistic here. And unfortunately the only people who can actually overthrow regime are not leftists (who in reality perhaps do not even exist in Pakistan) but hardcore Islamic militants.
I agree with Pervaiz Hoodbhoy when he wrote the following lines in his excellent article titled as” Can the Left become relevant to Islamic Pakistan”:
“Let me state the bald truth: Pakistan needs reform not revolution. The Left needs to know that there is not a chance in a million of capturing state power in the foreseeable future. In fact, the only ones who can even conceivably bring about a revolution are the Islamists. And their revolution is to be dreaded because they will wipe out every little gain made in sixty years. Therefore the Left must pick its fights, and not try to fight everyone at the same time.”
Whatever their weaknesses, democratic governments continue to negotiate and renegotiate with the opposition and also try to focus on people. Yes in our cynicism we have often overlooked it but democracy if given a chance to evolve will bring reforms. It will change the status quo as the pressure from the electorate and from the opposition grows. Yes it will be at times frustrating and at times not successful but that is how a complex multi ethnic polity changes.
Moreover despite their conservatism, the fact is that Media and Judiciary are relatively free. Unfortunately they are conservative but even then their relative freedom can play a constructive role. Any democratic regime needs multifaceted accountability which comes from electorate, media, judiciary and civil society. These institutions are developing in Pakistan. Although a few ‘liberals’ frown at Judiciary and media, I think that despite conservatism these institution can improve the governance provided they do not go overboard.
Despite extremism and severe gloom, there have been achievements through consensus like 18th amendment and an improved NFC award. Even in governance, the federal government is showing signs to improve and yes even listening to Supreme Court.
For all those who want a revolution or think that violent chaos will some or the other sow the seeds of a stable and egalitarian future, I would like to remind them again that such violent change in Pakistan will not be brought by some kind of Maoist rebels but by the hardcore Islamic militants. And if that happens, it will be catastrophic. Let’s support democracy and reform rather than a misplaced and frankly unlikely revolution.