Does Pakistan really need a revolution?

Published: April 4, 2012

The writer works on a USAID-funded economic project and holds a master’s degree from the University of Warwick. The views expressed in the article are his own

We as a nation are obsessed with the concept of messiahs and revolutions. The very fact that we are fixated on such things suggests how deep the rot is. It allows us to think of the misfortune that has befallen us as something which cannot be cured, and which can only be fixed by something like a revolution.

Add to this the religious bigotry that has crept into our society and what you get is the mindset that inhabits the minds of many Pakistanis: indoctrinated, paranoia-stricken, and ready to blame the west for all ills — real and imagined. This kind of mindset is also the reason why so many of us leave matters to fate, as it were, and seem to think that God will help us (obviously those who think this way have not heard of the wise saying: ‘God helps those who help themselves’).

There are many among the educated lot, who consider themselves intellectuals, who feel that the country is ripe for a revolution. They should know that revolutions happen usually in autocratic or dictatorial regimes. Why should a revolution take place in a country with an elected civilian government and which was installed in office in a democratic election? Unless, of course, the idea is to overthrow democracy and install a monarchy in its place.

If we take a close look at the history of modern revolutions, we will find that most revolutions, with a few exceptions, actually end up reinforcing the same dynamics/forces they initially sought to dislodge. For all the charm and romance associated with them, revolutions actually never lighten the burden of tyranny but simply shift it to another power centre. Take the examples of some of the most-studied revolutions in modern history: the English revolution and civil wars starting 1642, the French revolution of 1789, the Russian revolution of 1917 and the Chinese revolution of 1949. A close look at any of these would suggest that revolutions almost always follow a set pattern.

They begin with the economically-discontent and frustrated segments of society organising themselves and making revolutionary demands. This is followed by use of force by the government in power to discourage the revolutionaries, the failure of this approach and followed by the acquisition of power by the revolutionaries. The sad part is that this is where the romance of our intelligentsia on revolutions ends because they ignore what history tells us regarding what happens next in the revolutionary, so to speak, cycle.

In a revolution, like in a novel, the most difficult part is to invent the end; all the above-mentioned cases demonstrate that after the fall of the government as a result of a revolution, a brief honeymoon period ensues. But that period of celebration soon ends as elements among the revolutionaries — who were united to overthrow the government but who may have different opinions/ideas once that goal is achieved — start asserting themselves.

In the ensuing power struggle, violence often is a consequence. Power starts with moderates, flows towards the centre, and eventually slips into the hands of the radicals and, as happened in all the above-mentioned cases, the final result is a dictatorship: Cromwell in England, Napoleon in France, Stalin in Russia and Mao in China.

So is Pakistan ripe for a revolution? Again, for the benefit of our educated class, let me point out that history tells us that revolutions are not brought by the downtrodden and crushed and, moreover, they are not a reaction to the sheer hopelessness that reigns supreme at that time. They happen when people actually start to live a little better — as in under the same regime that they may later go on to overthrow — and thus realise how much better a life they could live if they appropriated power to themselves.

But the main issue remains that in the presence of a democratic set-up, howsoever crippled it may be, any uprising in Pakistan will only end up bringing a change in government and nothing more. Furthermore, the reality is that the elected civilian government has little actual power, which lies with the establishment since it controls all the levers of power. Hence, a rebellion against the government could well end up reinforcing the hands of the establishment which already has all the power. Quite clearly, a revolution for Pakistan is not a worthy goal because it is likely to make institutions that already have most of the power, even more powerful. And that is hardly akin to bringing about real change.

Of course, there are many among us who would like a revolution inspired by religion, and in this they usually cite the example of Iran. But here, too, the problem lies with whose interpretation of religion will hold sway? In Pakistan, we have a virulent strain of sectarianism and where even different schools of thought within the Sunni community often don’t see eye to eye on theological and related issue. Have we forgotten the results of the Munir Commission which was formed to arrive at a definition of a Muslim?

More dangerously, given the tendency following a revolution of power shifting from the hands of moderates to radicals (Egypt right now is a good example of this), one shouldn’t dare imagine the consequences of a revolution which starts in the hands of the radicals — as in how much further radicalisation will such a campaign give birth to?

Those who support a revolution should know that revolution is simply transfer of power. Those who support reforms should know that a reform is correction of abuses. Numerous revolutions all over history have caused more damage and in return brought about far less social change than that brought about by overarching reforms. One can see the example of people like Kemal Ataturk in Turkey or Park Chung-Hee in South Korea and study in detail the impact they made on their nations and decide for themselves that does Pakistan really need a revolution at this point in time.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2012.

Reader Comments (61)

  • pakistanicitzen
    Apr 4, 2012 - 12:44AM

    Does Pakistan really need a revolution?

    islam doesn’t allow revolution ,please stick to the laws of Allah(swt),his Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the three generations after him .

    if we can implement shari’ah (and surely we will) correctly as Prophet did at his time we can change pakistan to a pak-stan.Recommend

  • PakiKaka
    Apr 4, 2012 - 12:50AM

    Brilliant analysis… we don’t want to learn the truth, we just want to hear about things which makes us feel good… even if it’s a lie… thank you for this myth busting

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  • ASHOK
    Apr 4, 2012 - 12:51AM

    What is happening in Pakistan is in itself is no less than a revolution.

    Pakistan of today is like a tilting wall almost ready to collapse and screaming loudly “stay away from me or else I will take you down as well”

    Pakistan does not need revolution. Pakistanis need evolution from Jehadi ideology.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Apr 4, 2012 - 1:01AM

    Then what is the answer of this question pakistan??????
    are we gonna get better or still rot as beggers to world institutions?????
    Isnot we have indirect dictatorships and with these fauli asheerbath civilions dictators we have
    seen most recentlly what happend when one memogate surface……

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  • Mirza
    Apr 4, 2012 - 1:03AM

    The author analyzed the situation perfectly and correctly. It is the only rightwing extremists who do not want any democratic set up to complete its term. We have had a similar “revolution” against the govt of PPP/ZAB, and we were blessed with Gen Zia, who has hurt the country more than anybody in its entire history. The remnants of dictatorship are again looking for the revival of fundamentalism and their rule.
    The good thing about democracy is that it is a sieving process and people have a chance to change or improve it. Once there are several elections, the better elements would prevail and electorates cannot be fooled for so long. India was not much better than Pakistan and started at the same time. The reason they have become an economic power is due to its not so perfect democracy and peaceful power transfer. That kept its huge army in its barracks and under civilian control.

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  • Hashmat Ch.
    Apr 4, 2012 - 1:09AM

    Farhan, that was simply brilliant. I have read your other two articles and i guess it’s safe to say that i am a fan

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  • Falcon
    Apr 4, 2012 - 1:31AM

    Few things for you to consider:
    Firstly, would Europe, China, South Korea, and Turkey be where they are if there was no French Revolution, Chinese Revolution, Park-Chung Hee, or Kemal Ataturk…the answer is a resounding no! The reason is simply, you are looking at too narrow of a time frame (immediately after revolution) to calculate its impact. Revolution is the beginning of a journey and not an end by itself. Secondly, people sitting under the shelter and having food on the table always make for the ‘wisest’ critics of revolution. Please feel free to spend a day hungry and feel the pain of the boy in Pakistan who recently burnt himself (for not having enough money to buy uniform) and you will understand why people become so desperate that the only way out for them is revolution.

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  • Apr 4, 2012 - 1:33AM

    I do agree with you to a great extent. there is a difference between needing a revolution and wanting one. If we overthrow the current government, then what? Revolution does seem ideological when faced with these facts. However you cannot blame people for writing long articles about wanting change and a ‘revolution’. People need something to latch on to, so I guess they latch on to hope.

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  • wahab
    Apr 4, 2012 - 1:41AM

    excellent article!! cant agree more with every word

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  • Jahaz
    Apr 4, 2012 - 2:12AM

    @pakistanicitzen:
    LOL my friend..seems like you’ve read the article but unfortunately you’ve missed the whole point!!
    A very realistic analysis Farhan!

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  • Ali q
    Apr 4, 2012 - 2:33AM

    I believe the use of the term “revolution” is relative. Imran Khan’s use of the word (given he is the only major force sitting outside of the current system indicating a revolution is coming to Pakistan) calls for a revolution at the ballot box. If he is elected, for the first time in the history of a Pakistan, a self-made political force with a clean reputation, and a strong resume with proven results, will be elected the prime minister of Pakistan…& corrupt & co. will be left in the dust for the first time…& what a revolution it will be!

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  • Syme
    Apr 4, 2012 - 2:34AM

    You nailed it…bravo

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  • Tayub
    Apr 4, 2012 - 3:30AM

    Bravo! Thumbs up Fanoo. We as a nation are evolving organically

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  • Hafeez
    Apr 4, 2012 - 4:07AM

    Brilliant piece. We really do not need revolution. What we need is reform. Everybody talks of inqilab, but nobody talks of inqilab against whom? If it is to change the system, then what system do we want? And that, can it not be achieved by introducing reforms? For instance, the litigation system: wouldn’t reforms improve the judicial system? Or do we first need to overthrow the whole system and invent another one? Revolution is a word that we misuse a lot.

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  • Umar
    Apr 4, 2012 - 4:23AM

    U can call it whatever u want “reform” or “revolution”, but Pakistan needs change for the better. The American Revolution gave birth to what became the greatest superpower on earth with the strongest military ever known to mankind. U can call what happened in China a “revolution”. U could call the rise of Japan and South Korea “the miracle on the Han River” or a revolution or as u say “reforms”… whatever…. it was change and it IS needed in Pakistan. U could even call the European renaissance a “revolution”. It doesn’t necessarily mean a bloobath, if thats what ur getting at….

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  • Salim Ansari
    Apr 4, 2012 - 4:41AM

    According to Hassan Nisar, most people in Pakistan are low caste hindu to muslim converts and are not revolution matter.

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  • Komal
    Apr 4, 2012 - 5:40AM

    Good post. This is an important message for a country like Pakistan. It seems to me that given all of Pakistan’s problems, there is this wish that has developed in many people that everything will be fixed in one decisive action. But it doesn’t work that way of course.

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  • ther
    Apr 4, 2012 - 7:33AM

    pakistan ungently want a revolution but cannot do that

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  • Shad
    Apr 4, 2012 - 7:59AM

    “The aim of constitutional government is to preserve the Republic; that of revolutionary government is to lay its foundation.”

    - http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Maximilien_RobespierreRecommend

  • Umar
    Apr 4, 2012 - 8:02AM

    What would you call the American Revolution then? Looking at what America became, would you not call that a resounding success? Revolution could simply mean change of the system, and several countries have changed for the better in recent times. Pakistan does need change, or reform as you call it, and it needs it at the political level.

    By the way, I wrote a more detailed and fair response. Why are my replies getting censored??

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  • Mr T
    Apr 4, 2012 - 8:11AM

    Excellent analysis, we are always looking for shortcuts, thus the need and cries for a revolution nobody wants to concentrate on real issues. Thank you for yet another insightful post

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  • Nawaz M.
    Apr 4, 2012 - 8:17AM

    To the author,
    Bravo for this realistic and myth busting article. We need more people like you to keep ourselves grounded

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  • zalim singh
    Apr 4, 2012 - 8:19AM

    Pakistanis are too much Indians. No revolutons please.

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  • Hafeez
    Apr 4, 2012 - 9:32AM

    @Salim Ansari:
    Hasan Nisar is the prime example of this matter :)

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  • Mr T
    Apr 4, 2012 - 9:45AM

    @Ali q:
    I don’t think the article is aimed at Imran Khan anyway, IK uses the term revolutions figuratively. He is a part of the democratic system and talks about change through the ballot process. I think the author is referring to so called intellectuals who come on tv shows and glorify revolutions. I came across one where orya maqbool and another person, i think dr. farrukh, were talking in support of revolution while hasan nisar was opposing it. This article is a great rebuttal to such so called intellectualsRecommend

  • BlackJack
    Apr 4, 2012 - 9:46AM

    The article is really well-written. However, the assumption that the path beyond the revolution is circular (you end up where you started) is simplistic; in actuality, while I agree that progress is not a straight line, the revolution sets the nation on a different orbit with drastically different results in the medium-term; a comparison of Chinese, Russian and French societies and their values before and 50 years after the revolution would underscore this point – in fact an interesting theory would be to posit that one revolution begets many more (China, Iran, even Russia are still part of that loop.)

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  • Apr 4, 2012 - 10:11AM

    There are several silent revolutions taking place in Pakistan ranging from rising social activism by a growing middle class to increasing number of women in the workplaces.

    Over the last two decades, Pakistan has continued to offer much greater upward economic and social mobility to its citizens than neighboring India. Since 1990, Pakistan’s middle class had expanded by 36.5% and India’s by only 12.8%, according to an ADB report on Asia’s rising middle class released in 2010.

    Both the public and private sectors are recruiting women in Pakistan’s workplaces ranging from Pakistani military, civil service, schools, hospitals, media, advertising, retail, fashion industry, publicly traded companies, banks, technology companies, multinational corporations and NGOs, etc.

    http://www.riazhaq.com/2011/09/working-women-seeding-silent-social.html

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  • Mr T
    Apr 4, 2012 - 10:15AM

    @Umar:
    America was a resounding success due the reforms they implemented after they threw out the British. And as such to implement reforms we do not need a revolution. And as mentioned in the article, revolutions means overthrowing of the system. All the cases mentioned by the author and by you were monarchies. In Pakistan which is a democracy, revolution to change the system would mean putting back monarchy. Why do you people miss the point.

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  • Amanzeb Khan
    Apr 4, 2012 - 10:20AM

    The revolution we are asking for and need desperately is a revolution at the ballot box. The emergence of IK as a force is in itself a revolution as it has made the traditional forces more accountable to the people. The awakening of the silent majority and their participation in the politics of the country is another big positive which will change the face of politics in the country.

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  • Rafi Ka Deewana
    Apr 4, 2012 - 10:22AM

    Revolution happens only during extreme times under extreme circumstances. Pakistan has already gone through a few – the most important being its breaking into two parts. Nothing happened. In fact, things have gotten much worse.

    The only revolution it can boast of is of the military taking over. The public – probably the most vociferous in the world – has been so brainwashed that instead of looking forward, it looks back to 500 or 1000 AD. Instead of looking at secular progressive countries, it adores the Arab world.

    Good luck!

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  • Apr 4, 2012 - 10:52AM

    “Those who support a revolution should know that revolution is simply transfer of power. Those who support reforms should know that a reform is correction of abuses”

    Excellent work pal! Excellent work! No twitter, no email?

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  • HSK
    Apr 4, 2012 - 11:03AM

    Couldn’t agree more to what you have said in Para 3. I wonder no talk show host/self-calimed-analyst/ ever bothered or to view it in the same perspective. You want to bring revolution to what? 180M people voted for them to rule their country. What revolution are you talking about?

    However, yes it seems to you that Pakistanis sound insane blaming every ill happening in PK to the west. Nevertheless, aren’t you aware of anti-Pakistan elements? Can you name any 3? (of-course other than people of PK) or Can you answer if US is a friend or enemy#1? How can a USAID employee ever utter a word like this in a column? Wouldn’t he be looking for a job the next day whilst bearing consequences?

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  • Alaa Qiadat
    Apr 4, 2012 - 11:16AM

    Exactly my point. These are fancy words, Revolution, change, khilafat, sharia.. What Pakistan needs is a simple continued process for which constitution has already been made. Its an Islamic republic of Pakistan run by a well written constitution and where ever a change in that written book is required a process in given. We definitely need a better governance but that has nothing to do with revolution. It will and can only come through a continuous process driven institutions, be it parliament, judiciary or military.

    Pakistan is ready for ripe for a good governed democratic government not a revolution. In present scenario any change or revolution will bring more anarchy and again we will fall victim to one the three main organs of the state i.e. military. There is no short cut to our problems. Its like 64 years of constant bad hammering to be fixed by 1 go? Never!

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  • Rehan Khan
    Apr 4, 2012 - 11:52AM

    Well done, I am impressed with your clarity of thought and eloquence. We need such writers who can change the mindset of our masses. We need to reach out with this message before its to late.

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  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Apr 4, 2012 - 12:29PM

    @Farhan Ahmed Shah,

    Thanks for the three wonderful articles.
    Do you write/post else where?

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  • Revolutionary
    Apr 4, 2012 - 12:59PM

    The article is the best example of selecting the facts of your choice. I don’t know why the author skipped to mentioned the revolution brought by Muhammad (PBUH) who changed the society radically and the revolution grew to en-campus the whole world known at that time in the period of less than 50 years. The affects of the revolution can still be seen when a VAST majority is calling for an Islamic revolution. There are always powers of status quo who doesn’t want the revolution and resist it. Although I agree with the author that often changes resulted in removal of civilian governments and leaving the corrupt military intact and thereby strengthening it. So the real revolution in Pakistan will be changing both civilian and military leadership and implement the alternative system of Islam. Thank you.

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  • Samir
    Apr 4, 2012 - 1:54PM

    I agree! A classic case in point is what ensued after the fall of Zia-ul-Haq and the rise of Benzair Bhutto …….. she promised to ‘revolutionize’ through restoring democracy! but can we call Pakistan a shining example of a thriving nation????

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  • Alaa Qiadat
    Apr 4, 2012 - 2:42PM

    Revolutionary definetely belongs to Hizb and as ususal talking stupid!

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  • mrk
    Apr 4, 2012 - 4:13PM

    @author: Check the meaning of literal speech vs. figurative;

    Second, how do you substantiate that so called democracy (I consider judiciary’s orders not implemented and no accountability for the officials as teranical btw), evolve itself over time? Couldn’t it head towards chaos overtime? Recommend

  • Mr T
    Apr 4, 2012 - 4:21PM

    @HSK:
    Bro, let me answer this question for you. Our own Army is one which has lost 4 wars but is very successful in mounting coups against it’s own citizens. Let me also say that Saudi Arabia is a much bigger enemy of Pakistan than US. Firstly, they are American stooges who dont even wipe their backsides without their permission and secondly they actively fund your low level madrassas which are sanctuaries of the taliban by indoctrinating them with their version of Islam. That’s two for you. Need more?

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  • PakiKaka
    Apr 4, 2012 - 4:25PM

    @Revolutionary:
    Please understand in what context is the author referring to the revolutions. He is referring to them as an uprising or a revolt against the system of governance not the religion individuals follow. What has the Holy Prophet (PBUH) got to do with such revolutions. Please don’t equate Islam with this violent process of revolution.

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  • ASHOK
    Apr 4, 2012 - 4:53PM

    @ Riaz Haq

    Every thing has an end except your desire to put down India. Remove your hate-India glasses and visit India and see for yourself the lies you have been perpetuating to bolster Pakistanis.

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  • MAD
    Apr 4, 2012 - 5:00PM

    @Alaa Qiadat: Maybe but he didnt mention the caliphate. Hizb can get though two sentences without talking about its restoration.

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  • Iqbal73
    Apr 4, 2012 - 5:28PM

    A peaceful revolution that Pakistanis would do well to emulate is the “Quiet Revolution” that took place in French Canada 5 decades ago and which led to the “rapid and effective secularization of society”.Recommend

  • s shah
    Apr 4, 2012 - 5:33PM

    Insightful article with great analysis. Great job Farhan

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  • Ahtsham
    Apr 4, 2012 - 5:35PM

    You read articles like these and realize how the truth is so simple yet we are unable to see it. Luckily, we have people like the author to show the other side. Great article sir

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  • kiterunner
    Apr 4, 2012 - 6:16PM

    @ASHOK:
    Lies have been told on both the sides. But your point is well taken. You only need to reach out to the other side to see how your perceptions were misplaced. And it applies to both India and Pakistan. Hopefully good sense will prevail and we won’t require a revolution to make such a thing possible.

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  • Apr 4, 2012 - 6:17PM

    @Revolutionary: Check your colored glasses and get regular one and you will see why the columnist wrote what he wrote.Good day.

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  • sabina
    Apr 4, 2012 - 6:20PM

    @Falcon:
    If you think looking at the period immediately after the revolution is too narrow a window, then do you suggest that we should overthrow the government and then wait for another hundred years before we start seeing fruits of the so called revolution? Is that mature thinking? Pakistani governments have been overthrown so many times, why aren’t things improving then? I totally second Farhan when he says we need over arching meaningful reforms like ataturk and mahatir mohammed. Wonderful article Farhan, please keep em coming.

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  • Apr 4, 2012 - 6:20PM

    Yeah correct. Pakistan really needs a revolution or i would say it is the most important thing it needs at the moment!

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  • Prince Harry
    Apr 4, 2012 - 6:25PM

    Good one…

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  • PakiKaka
    Apr 4, 2012 - 6:26PM

    @Rimsha:
    I seriously hope you are joking.

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  • ayesha
    Apr 4, 2012 - 7:52PM

    @Farhan
    Another excellent article, though after a long time. You should write more such original ideas and thinking are hard to find.

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  • Mawali
    Apr 4, 2012 - 8:22PM

    Your premise is false. You are mixing revolutions with civil wars. Then, you are asking the reader to accept that a radical movement like a revolution will bring instant results?

    Revolutions, civill wars and as you call then reforms are not one a panacea and second, they evolve and serve a s catalyst for change. Free societies aside most of the world is shackled by totalitarian, despotic, feudal and sham democracies. Pakistan, is and has experienced all of the above and suffers through a feudal sham demagoguery even as we pontificate.

    So, then you ask your self; how do I bring in the reforms in this forsaken land? As a good starting point you may wish to ask yourself will the convicts who sit running the asylum bring about the much needed reforms like eliminating the feudal system, instituting land reforms etc? Perhaps you may wish to wonder out loud if what you so unashamedly refer to as a “elected government” fits you ideals of democracy?

    Look Democracy is NOT a top down system. It is a bottom up system; thus a process that is People led. Call it what you may.Recommend

  • anticorruption
    Apr 4, 2012 - 9:18PM

    @Sabina:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. A revolution is not what we need. That said, we do need serious reforms as you also note in your post. And such reforms are not going to come about just by giving the likes of Zardari and NS time in the name of ‘giving democracy a chance.’ Whether it is local govts, accountability for corruption, governance reforms involving the bureaucracy, police and lower judiciary, or building other institutions necessary for economic development, the PPP and PML-N are not going to do it. Nor is at least the PPP going to bring its corruption down to a level where the country can prosper despite it.

    Can Imran Khan and his PTI deliver? They at least have one ingredient, that being honesty and good inintensions. However, the other necessary ingredient is that they must come up with well thought out plans and make adequate preparation. Poorly thought out policies can end up doing more harm than good as did ZAB’s policy of nationalization.

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  • ayesha
    Apr 4, 2012 - 9:35PM

    @Mawali:
    When exactly did the author support democracy??? Has he passed any judgement on democracy. You just wanted to use fancy words in your post and started off with your rant against the article. The point is simple in article. The aim of revolutions all over history was to overthrow monarchy and have democracy in its place. So if a country already has democracy then what revolution are you bringing a revolution for. You have read the article but missed the point.

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  • concerenedpakistani
    Apr 4, 2012 - 10:47PM

    @Ali q: First of all, I think this is a great analysis Farhan. You make some good points, but I think the situation is a little less black and white than just revolution or no revolution. Like Ali Q said, revolution can also mean a change in the ballot boxes and the ruling party, or a reform of the system, which is what most people want I hope. However, in response to Ali Q’s comments on the proven resume bit…how/where exactly has Imran Khan displayed his political prowess? He may have a proven resume on the field and in the philanthropic world, and I believe he may be best option out there for us, but I am skeptical only because he does not have a resume with proven results. Unless, of course, we count the two large rallies / concerts that his party organized.

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  • Mr T
    Apr 5, 2012 - 12:25AM

    @Mawali:
    Sir, the four revolutions mentioned in the article are revolutions which are subject to most intense debate by academics all over the world as they fit all definitions of a revolution by different commentators. It’s not a case of randomly selection of what one deems a revolutions.

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  • Rizvi
    Apr 6, 2012 - 6:02AM

    I feel emotionally shattered. When will we get out this morass. Emotionally I want a revolution but intellectually I agree with the author it most like will fail. But the status quo is a nightmare.

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  • Shah
    Apr 6, 2012 - 9:44AM

    I think the most important message is in the beginning of the piece. The fact that we leave everything to Allah. The idea of revolution or maseeha completely robs us of any motivation to correct things ourselves. Reforms are definitely the way to go. We have to do our bit. It’s as they say, bad leaders are chosen by good people who do not vote.

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  • Shakeel A.Bhatti
    May 9, 2012 - 10:38AM

    Great work by Farhan Ahmed Shah. going to have a debate over this at UMT.

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