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.