Protests seem to be the order of day. Everyone is at it. If it is not the tea party activists in the United States railing against healthcare reform and President Obama’s supposed efforts to turn the country into a communist dictatorship, it is students in the UK demonstrating against government proposals to raise tuition fees. Even the usually docile Arabs have joined the party and decided that they have had enough of living in servitude under oppressive autocratic regimes. Popular uprisings have toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, while Colonel Gaddaffi in Libya seems likely to be the next one to fall.
Scenes of jubilation across the Middle East have flashed across our television screens and kindled talk of revolution amongst many Pakistanis sick and tired of successive military dictatorships and corrupt governments that have brought the nation to the brink of ruin. With the country ravaged by terrorism, frequent power outages, hyper-inflation and a broken judicial system it is to see why so many are agitating for change.
But, before we take to the streets and start burning tyres, it would be wise to exercise a little caution. In their spirit and essence, revolutionary struggles are one of the highest expressions of human liberty and freedom; however they are not without their perils.
Revolutions often promise the dawning of a new age, but many times, the future that is ushered in, is as bleak as, or worse than what passed before. During the days of the liberation movement in Zimbabwe against white-minority rule, Robert Mugabe rose to prominence as the Secretary General of the Zimbabwe African National Union and served ten years in prison in Rhodesia for the sake of the cause. After the war of independence he emerged as a hero for many Africans and was elected the President of the country in 1980. However decades of brutal land reforms, economic mismanagement and a curtailing of civil liberties have in the eyes of many made Mugabe’s Zimbabwe a failed state and left it an international pariah. Elsewhere, the green movement in Iran that was born after the disputed elections of 2009, seeks to overthrow a theocratic system that was greeted with a wave of optimism during the 1979 revolution. In the days following the collapse of the Shah’s regime, millions surged onto the streets and shouted slogans of ‘Independence, freedom, Islamic Republic.’ How times have changed – many Iranians these days would like to see an end to the oppressive regime the revolution ushered in and wish to see the return of a secular Iran governed by democratic principles.
At home, the lawyer’s movement of recent times may have won the struggle to re-instate Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry as the Chief Justice of Pakistan, but has justice for the masses and the rule of law been revived as a result? Far from it. If the suicide of the 18-year old bride of one of the men killed by Raymond Davis from fear that her husband’s killer would be released without trial and the high-profile blasphemy case against Asiah Bibi have taught us anything, it is that we are no nearer to creating a fairer and more equitable society than we were before.
It would also be a mistake to liken the case of Pakistan to that of Middle Eastern countries who have lived under the rule of despotic dictators for decades. Pakistanis have experienced both dictatorship and democracy and been worse the wear for both. The danger of any popular uprising in this country is that one group of incompetent and corrupt bureaucrats would be swapped for another, or worse still, the intervening power vacuum will provide a window of opportunity for the religious right to claim power. The is of course also the omnipresent spectre of the Pakistani army which looms large over the political processes of the country not to mention geographical and ethnic divides which stand in the way of any organic and cohesive uprising.
That Pakistan is a nation in dire need of reformation is unquestionable. However, whether this is achieved via a popular liberation struggle is open for debate. The ugly truth is that every aspect of our lives has been penetrated by corruption, foul play, deceit and self-interest. The lessons of history suggest that regime change will not herald a better tomorrow and life will go on as the same. Our grievances first need to be the catalyst for our own betterment. Rather, than a shift in mood we require a shift in attitude and approach. The Egyptian protests were sparked by the brutal murder of a young businessman at the hands of the police. The horrific pictures of his mangled face shocked the nation into rising against the government. While in Pakistan, even the most brutal murders and assassinations barely raise an eyebrow. Until we reform our thought and our ways our revolutionary slogans will ring hollow.