Pakistan and Tunisia

Published: January 17, 2011

The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman's War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban

The ongoing debacle in Tunisia will, no doubt, encourage those with a bent towards mobocracy here in Pakistan; serving to present them with more than a little fuel for thought. Taken at face value, it is easy to understand why: The self-immolation of an unemployed 26-year-old male graduate, Mohamed Bouazizi, who had been abused by the police, sparked the conflagration that brought down the government in a matter of 28 short days, sending now former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fleeing to exile in Saudi Arabia after 23 years of dictatorship.

Tunisians, long bowed down beneath the combined weights of high unemployment, rampaging food inflation and blatant corruption, decided that enough was enough and promptly set about drastically altering the intolerable status quo, taking to the streets in often violent protests, as they wholeheartedly ‘enforced’ change. Fears that this ‘People’s Revolution’ could be emulated in other Arab countries, particularly in neighbouring Algeria, have already been expressed but…what of Pakistan, where the situation has long been ripe for action?

The requisite ingredients have been intensifying for some time: Rising unemployment, runaway inflation on all fronts, unprecedented gas and electricity loadshedding, staggering levels of corruption and general mismanagement, attacks by suicide bombers and other terrorist actions, targeted killing, inter-ethnic and religion linked strife, massive displacement of people through military action, devastating floods and a so-called ‘elite’ segment which appears to be increasing its wealth in leaps and bounds as the poor get poorer. Discontent has become the daily fair of the majority while politicians, of all ilks, fiddle the books as the economy crash-dives towards an oblivion which threatens to decimate the country as it currently exists.  Perhaps Pakistanis, more ethnically diverse than the population of Tunisia, have been ground into the very dust of the land for so many generations that they do not know how to unite and take the kind of comprehensive action necessary to invoke change. Or, and perhaps more likely, they are simply sitting back in the vain hope that someone, or some ‘thing’, will do it for them, thus saving the population at large from this dirty task or, and one likes to think that this is the correct reason, we have more sense.

Revolutions, by all accounts, have a tendency to be distinctly bloody affairs, carrying an astronomical price tag for the rank and file of necessary cannon fodder who, historically speaking, rarely accrue all of the ‘juicy’ benefits they expect to reap from the process although there are, of course, exceptions to this rule, as the French will testify. Dreams of bringing the incumbent government crashing down, through fair means or foul, have been doing the rounds ever since they gained power, yet, as the majority seem to be of the opinion that it will collapse from within, minus assistance from ‘without’, they bide their time waiting for the ‘inevitable’, which may or may not happen. Now though, with Tunisia as an example, the mob is already whispering, most treasonably, but whispering is as far as it is liable to get, as the nitty-gritty details of the Tunisian state of emergency are beamed directly into their living rooms, making their hair stand on end. Fear of the unknown is one of the things acting to keep Pakistanis on a tight rein and this ‘unknown’, liable to be quantified if a revolution does ever get off the ground by army intervention, is what has, so far at least, kept unruliness down to a minimum. If, as a number of political commentators indicate, the deadly Tunisian power vacuum is filled by a hard-line military dictator, the possibly sad fate of that nation may well act to circumvent what could, quite conceivably, be a repeat performance here.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Raqib Ali
    Jan 18, 2011 - 1:21AM

    You get what you deserve. People of Tunisia deserved dictatorship for 50 years. They changed their mind and changed the government. Now they’ll deserve whatever they put up with.

    Situation in Pakistan is like this: We welcomed dictators and got rid of them when they went beyond a certain point. We flirted with democracy and got indifferent or caused chaos when we thought we didn’t deserve that.

    We deserve current set up. We chose these people and will continue with them till we had enough. No one can enslave someone for a long time against their wish. Remember: we deserve our rulers. Our by elections are a living proof. Recommend

  • faraz
    Jan 18, 2011 - 1:54AM

    Our corrupt elite has concocted this clever narrative of an “ideological state”. Whoever rebels against the state will also rebel against its ideology and our ideology is our religion! So a revolution will automatically become an anti-islam conspiracy. Good luck to the revolutionaries!Recommend

  • saad
    Jan 18, 2011 - 1:17PM

    islam and democracy/secularism is not compatible . this is already a highly debated topic. sharia laws and islam is the only compatibility.Recommend

  • Nahyan Mirza
    Jan 18, 2011 - 5:52PM

    I would be ready to take to the streets to overthrow the government and system if there was an alternate set up available. The sad part of Pakistan is that alll national leaders are of the same cloth. One is worse than the other. Future is indeed bleak…Recommend

  • Jan 18, 2011 - 7:51PM

    Revolutions come in those countries where a certain class is corrupt and the moral sense in masses in general is there.

    I am not even sorry to say that in a country like Pakistan where corruption is infested in the grass root level and where voters are bought in 500rs, even the relatives of revolution are hard to comeby.Recommend

  • AHR
    Jan 19, 2011 - 11:51AM

    No matter how romantic a revolution sounds, disllusionment starts setting in after some time when the promised goals are not met. That is the sad truth behind most revolutionsRecommend

  • Naeem Siddiqui,Australia
    Jan 19, 2011 - 12:07PM

    I don’t understand why our Liberal intellectuals start comparing every tom and harry with Pakistan!!

    What’s the comparison of Tunis and Pakistan, unemployment, corruption and low and order situation is not the main cause of Tunis revolt, it has its own dynamics, there was an idiot who was sitting since last 25 years and with no performance and no alternate option for people. This is not the case in Pakistan; Pakistan is a democracy no ruler could stay for such a long time, there were election which did brought change; sometimes it worked sometimes it did not worked.
    Pakistan has totally different ethnic, political and economic dynamics as compare to Tunis.

    Being realistic is good but now a day I found our liberal intellectuals are increasingly becoming hopeless cynic which is more dangerous then being religious fanatic Recommend

  • Babloo
    Jan 19, 2011 - 4:47PM

    I wish we were more like the TunisiansRecommend

  • Ani
    Jan 29, 2011 - 4:26AM

    I am an Indian and read with avid interest the developments in Pakistan. I feel the energy and anxiety in these articles and posts. You can keep whatever the issues with India, USA and all alive. But at a people level, we want to see you make a successful, tolerant and secular civil society that respects life and all. By the way we Indians or even Americans are not perfect.
    There may not be a leader and “so many” problems today but remember something: nothing is forever. To make that despondent ‘nothing’ of today into ‘something’ hopeful for forever needs courage. It is your country not Tunisia – find your own unique solutions. You cannot loose hope. You care. You can make a difference. It is your Pakistan. Recommend

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