Opinion

The Great Debate

Why is there no revolt in Pakistan?

By Farhana Qazi
May 11, 2011

By Farhana Qazi
The opinions expressed are her own.

A week after Bin Laden’s death, Pakistanis are restless. An overall atmosphere of instability and insecurity looms over the country. Islamabad is trying to respond to daily accusations and admonitions from abroad and from its own citizens. Record fuel and food prices leave millions starving. The government in power lacks the respect of most citizens.  The country’s spy agency has links with militants it will not acknowledge. The country’s politics is punctuated by political assassinations and periodic truces with ethnic and tribal-based groups that often fail. One might conclude that Pakistan is a country ready for revolution.

And yet, there is no revolt, nothing akin to the street power that is witnessed on the streets of Tunis and in Tahir Square. Why not? Why are the people in Pakistan not revolting against a government that is corrupt, conniving and clearly confused on how to handle the Bin Laden operation? Where is Pakistan’s youth, the essential drivers of change? Where are the university students, doctors, engineers, rickshaw drivers, musicians and more?

The answer is simple. Pakistan is a divided country that lacks the tools to organize a mass protest, much less a full-fledged, well-organized revolution. The vision for a united Pakistan espoused by the Western-educated, secular founder of the country, Muhammah Ali Jinnah, evaporated when he died on September 11, 1948. Pakistan is torn by ethnic, tribal, and religious loyalties. Add terrorists and troublemakers to the mix. Include the mafia and mystics. Suddenly, Pakistan becomes what most refer to as a “complex” state and society.

As a lecturer on Pakistani topics, I subscribe to the famed axiom that is used to describe the nation: Pakistan is a country of contradictions. I have tried to resist this slogan. But in December 2007, when the respected diva of the Pakistan People’s Party Benazir Bhutto was killed during a campaign rally, I repeated on CNN what I have learned from Pakistanis themselves. Benazir herself, and the hundreds of Pakistanis who mourned her demise, could not change the political climate. Instead of opting for reform, Pakistanis voted for her widower, the current do-nothing President Asif Zardari, who has become a household joke. Or an American stooge.

To be fair, even within this stifled climate, I have seen extraordinarily devoted Pakistanis fight for human rights, gender equality, individual freedoms, legal transparency, and basic social services, such as roti, kapra aur makan—food, clothing and shelter, the slogan of the current party in power.

Surprisingly, Pakistanis do take to the streets at selective times of crisis. The lawyer’s movement in 2007 is the most telling example. When the Chief of the Supreme Court Justice Muhammad Iftikar Chaudury was ousted by then-General President Pervez Musharraf, the men in black united to restore their leader. Coupled with intense media coverage, the revolt arguably forced Musharraf’s resignation months later. The return of Chaudury was for many Pakistanis a historic and sea-change event that symbolized the return of democracy.

On other occasions, people chant in unison against domestic policies and international incidents, such as inflation and the Danish cartoon controversy. But these revolutionary-like Pakistanis do not represent the interests of the masses. They belong to a select non-profit organization, represent a specific ethnic group, identify with a particular religious doctrine, and choose a political affiliation tied to an ethnic brand. Given this incredibly complex web of identities, Pakistanis revolt as collectives, not as a unified movement.

This explains why small-scale protests have not altered the business of the state nor yielded long-term tangible results for millions of Pakistanis—many of whose lives are directly affected by the political, economic and social realities of the country.

The political storm that we witness in Pakistan today over the Bin Laden fiasco is not enough for a snowballing protest movement. Alas, there is no new Jinnah. There is no savior to chant the we-are-all-Pakistanis mantra. Clearly, a leaderless revolution cannot stage a “day of rage.”

In the current post-Bin-Laden crisis, it would seem like an opportune time for the Pakistani youth to capitalize on anti-state rhetoric. An agitated population could demand an overhaul of the elites who have little to no accountability or authenticity. This is the time for Pakistanis to seize the momentum and ally with longtime opposition leaders and groups to stage a revolution. And yet, Pakistanis lack the imagination and intuition to join together for a common cause. If Pakistan’s citizens miss their chance to transform the country, then their crowning moment may never come.

Farhana Qazi is a Pakistani-American and a former counter-terrorism analyst in the U.S. government. She currently lectures on Islam and Pakistan to the international community. (She can be reached at farhana331@gmail.com.

Comments
5 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Time for religion to take the back seat and let secularism thrive. Fundamentalist propaganda and poverty are a dangerous mix in any ethnic background.

Posted by balancedcitizen | Report as abusive
 

Pakistan should not complain about America violating its sovereignty because Pakistan gave various kind of access to Americans like bases for logistics, emergency; surgical strikes with drones. Under the circumstance, Pakistan should instead appreciate Americans helped them out to do the job without collateral damage, which they could not detect & do it despite all the effort.

I agree with Farhana that the nation is divided.
And, this is the reason there is no sense of unity & united platform for revolution to kick in.
Pakistanis only unite when there is a threat from India, and forget about all their differences, and the military gets 100 percent support.
When Pakistan responded to India’s nuclear testing with its own testing, the entire country cheered, and stood together.
Also, Being Muslim is different from other religions.
And, this impacts the unity, if one is hypocritical about it.
The problem is hypocrisy (contradiction) is rampant among Pakistanis at all levels starting from the top, whoever is able to get their hands on, though exceptions are always there.
Being Muslim is different from other faiths, because being Muslim is not just top down label (TDMs), and Pakistanis are generally top down Muslims, label focused Muslims (LFMs), and the top down model makes Muslim disunited.
Because of the top down model, it is common to see Muslims groups dismissing other Muslim groups, and hating each other.
What makes a Muslim is not the label, bowing down to the will of the creator against all impulses, transgression, whims, illegal desires, anger, greed, lies, backbiting, deceit, jealousy, devils whispering, arrogance and for the love of Allah.
The right order is first bow down, and then you become Muslim, not other way, which is call yourself with all kind of labels and then take about the religion what your family says or your heart says.
This reverse order of being Muslim will keep Muslims confused and divided. And, there being Muslim will remain counterproductive, and leave them behind.
This is the reason, only those Pakistanis who got the opportunity, and not so religious are more successful.

Posted by Bob_Andersen | Report as abusive
 

Ms Qazi, you raise a valid Q but provide no answer and you seem surprised by the response of Pakistani youth. The answer is self-evident, Youth are far too steeped in religion which teaches them that they are born to their lot, ordained by Allah, which the Mullahs repeatedly drive home. As for the “Lawyers revolt”, it was stage managed by the only institution keeping Pakistan together, the feared ISI, else Balochistan would spring free just like Bangladesh did in 1971. It yet may, once the Americans start to wind down in Afghanistan and the ISI shifts attention full scale to Kabul. Just an anecdote. I was a dinner guest at the Presidential palace as an un-official civilian govt consultant in April 2009 when Obama emissaries Mullen-Holbrooke unveiled their Af-Pak strategy. In the privacy of his library within the palace (which has several secret exits engineered by its prior occuopant Musharraf) the president often joked about not being around “next week” should Shuja Pasha decide to “take him out”..

Posted by Bludde | Report as abusive
 

I think people everywhere in the world are too busy trying to provide for their families d3v. Add to that the world’s most potent military (U.S.) is running roughshod over the region as a whole, for largely duplicitous reasons, which has in turn caused a series of humanitarian crisis’.

Interestingly, were it not for religious and patriotic fervor(Imperial hubris?) here in the U.S., it is unlikely there would have been popular support for all of our military actions throughout the Middle East. In fact many were afraid to speak out against such action for fear of retribution. Now these wars have become very unpopular here. Further more the U.S. presence merely complicates the political differences between nations and cultures as we try to impose our political-economic ideals.

In the 1960s actuaries for the big oil corporations predicted the U.S. would have to start importing oil by the early 1970s. those men were dismissed. In the absence of any substantive energy policy since, the U.S. has relied on the use of military force to keep oil and natural gas flowing to the west.

Perhaps Bob_Anderson, the observations you have made of Pakistani society have relevance here at home as well?

Posted by coyotle | Report as abusive
 

Commendable work by Farhana Qazi and I absolutely agree with her views and I would like to add some points that is family pattern, lack of quality education, some misinterpreted religious concepts, missing true and visionary leadership, politics a profession for rogue in Pakistan, unwilling to change the statusquo, centuries old habit of living like slaves. These are some other elements besides which also hindering the path of revolt.

Posted by Dropscene | Report as abusive
 

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