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.