Pakistan will not go Tunisia or Egypt’s way

Published: February 2, 2011
Email
The writer is a defence analyst and retired as air-vice marshal in the Pakistan 
Air Force

The writer is a defence analyst and retired as air-vice marshal in the Pakistan Air Force

Look at both Tunisa and Egypt: Modern and fairly secular in social outlook; educated societies more developed in their worldview than many of their Muslim brethren in other countries. Also, both have retained remnant effects of the composite culture of their colonising powers, while the structures of systems of governance and statecraft were Arabised to suit their needs. Egypt, which acts as a leader amongst the Muslim nations, has a peace treaty with Israel — a first for any Muslim country — and is considered politically progressive when the majority sentiment in the Middle East remains strongly anti-Israel. The intellectual tradition in Egypt is well-founded and continues to provide the underpinnings of a discourse parallel to that of the Ikhwan alMuslimeen which, in its own right, has strong intellectual foundations with views contrarian to those of the extremist Salafi bent. Al Azhar remains a paragon of Islamic learning far different than any extremist strain that is doing the rounds of the Middle East. Such informed sensitivity at the social level, founded on a strong intellectual tradition, raises the bar of consciousness in  society, giving it a purpose and the options to make informed choices.

The negatives that these two nations have carried were Zine El Abidine, the Tunisian ruler of 23 years, and the omnipresent Hosni Mubarak, who has now ruled Egypt as a single-option kleptocrat for the last 31 years. Pakistan has had its share of kleptocrats, but they were saved from their omnipresence. Egypt boasts of a strong military and though all Egyptian rulers in modern history have emerged from the military it continues to retain the respect of its people. Pakistan, too, has a strong military but with a serious image deficiency; while it may be generally popular at the common level, there are always serious aspersions cast on it by the combined elite of the politicians, intelligentsia, the media and civil society. This keeps the military embroiled in a constant struggle for its public image. Perhaps that is why whenever it needs to intervene in national affairs, similar to what is happening in Egypt now, it does not restrict itself to the role of an arbiter only. It extends itself to a complete takeover to make up for insecurity stemming from partial public support.

Since the leadership of both Tunisia and Egypt is authoritarian, carefully nurtured around imposed personality cults, the leaders tend to retain a central core of loyalists. A single political party in Egypt ensures that there is never any opposition to the perpetual government of the man on top. In Tunisia, for a significant level of prosperity, El Abidine sought exclusive political power and this was accompanied by massive corruption.

In comparison, while Pakistan’s political and socio-economic condition is equally precarious, there are critical disabilities that do not enable coalescing forces that can generate a revolutionary momentum. To begin with, and as a rare positive, Pakistan’s political power is widely distributed, but in a negative twist, amongst the political elites only, who retain a stranglehold on all channels of national power, including politics, businesses, media and most societal organs.

A major gaping hole that stares Pakistani society in its face is the ideological space that lies bare and impoverished for want of any significant intellectual tradition. Pakistanis today are, therefore, not making informed choices, rather they base their choices on reactionary sloganeering. Intellectual discourse, which forms the single source of ideological underpinning, remains absent. The possibility, thus, of a secular nationalist movement as in Tunisia or Egypt is faint.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 2nd, 2011.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (17)

  • Nadir El-Edroos
    Feb 2, 2011 - 2:00AM

    So you are actually offering excuses for military interventions in Pakistan, because it doesnt do a good job at PR? Recommend

  • Arindom
    Feb 2, 2011 - 3:16AM

    Pakistani society as a whole is gradually moving towards the “religious right”, with the fringe at extreme constituted by the likes of the Taliban and like minded organisations.
    Gradually centrist parties will be marginalised unless they also start moving to the religious right to – this has already starting to happen – observe how PPP is not opposing the religious right.

    Over next 5-10 years following this trend, I see a “revolution” – not like the one in Egypt, but more resembling Khomeini’s revolution – but Sunni in character.

    When this happens, where will the army stand? My guess is since the army would have also been well and truly infiltrated and indoctrinated by then, they will simply stand by or encourage and allow this takeover. Recommend

  • Feb 2, 2011 - 8:49AM

    Beside all your intellectual arguments it is a fact that Pakistan society mobilized in case of chief justice case. In Egypt there is no leader at least in appearance. People have to motive and aims just to remove Mubarak. However in fact there is a Tahreek known as National change. Who is running it. Akhwan ul muslamin? Politicians? No they are run by special trained fellows who are so called social reformers. Once the Mubarak is out there will be serious struggle for power grabbing. In return country will go bankrupt and beggar. Goal will be achieved. Pakistan also has such social reformers in the country and also sitting outside.Recommend

  • Adi
    Feb 2, 2011 - 10:16AM

    Anything even close to what we have seen in North Africa will bring in complete anarcy in pakistan, much worse than what we saw post 27th Dec 2007. Looting and rampage all around…Recommend

  • Vivek
    Feb 2, 2011 - 10:40AM

    Pakistan, too, has a strong military but with a serious image deficiency….here are always serious aspersions cast on it by the combined elite of the politicians, intelligentsia, the media and civil society

    An ‘image deficiency’!!!, the author makes it sound as if there might be no conceivable reason why the army has this ‘image deficiency’. It may just have to do with the 4 ruinous spells of military dictatorship, the fact that it eats up a major slice of the budget, the fact that it seems to be involved in a variety of businesses, the fact that it appears to view itself as above the law and accountability, the fact that …. you get the idea I am sure.

    The author’s clever way of casting aspersions on those who would rightly prefer the army to keep to its role of defence and not interfere in the political sphere by calling them the elite should also be noted. In other words, the elite have created this image deficiency and are anti-army.

    It is obvious the author given his background is projecting the army’s perceptions. Further down in the article it comes out:

    Perhaps that is why whenever it (meaning the army) needs to intervene in national affairs

    Needs to??? Needs to ???? Hmmm.

    And then

    Perhaps that is why whenever it needs to intervene in national affairs, similar to what is happening in Egypt now, it does not restrict itself to the role of an arbiter only. It extends itself to a complete takeover to make up for insecurity stemming from partial public support.

    Oh, it takes over because of it’s insecurity!!! This is an amazing spin. One thought the army did it because they felt they were any day better than the bloody civvies and in general (pun unintended) could do what they pleased.

    And in the closing stages:

    Pakistan’s political power is widely distributed, but in a negative twist, amongst the political elites only, who retain a stranglehold on all channels of national power, including politics, businesses, media and most societal organs.

    Do only the political classes wield power. The mastodon in the room, viz., the army and its elites corps of officers past and present, is completely missing from this narrative.

    A deeply disturbing article.Recommend

  • Probyn
    Feb 2, 2011 - 10:45AM

    @ Nadir El-Edroos…

    dear boy there is a difference between an excuse and an analysis/opinion as to why something might be happening.

    Please note he is a PAF man and not part of the PA and therefore has very different psyche and decision making calculus. Dont you civvies keep these nuances in mind when reading where one is coming from?

    Please read the article again. I didnt see a single excuse anywhere. Just an explanation/opinion.Recommend

  • Hassan
    Feb 2, 2011 - 11:50AM

    @ Nadir, did you read the same article? I think its an opinion and an informed one, one that you may disagree with but surely cannot be labeled as an excuse for military intervention in this country.Recommend

  • Fida Shah
    Feb 2, 2011 - 1:03PM

    Agree. Another reason why Pakistan can not be compared to Egypt and Tunisia is that in our countries political parties are really very strong who in one way or another provide an opportunity for the common people to ventilate their feelings. Then we have a very active, expanding and vibrant midia and also people are free to express their opinions and some times their angers.
    If one govt goes then another govt replaces it though sometime using non trditional methods.Recommend

  • arshad
    Feb 2, 2011 - 1:43PM

    I think standing in front of sun and hide your eyes with your on hands and said there is no sun in front of me,, is all rubbish or you are afraid that you too have to bear the circumstances.Recommend

  • Kamran A.
    Feb 2, 2011 - 1:52PM

    @el-edroos
    You read the entire article and that’s what you got out of it? Really?

    @ Mr Chaudhry
    “there are critical disabilities that do not enable coalescing forces that can generate revolutionary momentum”.
    You mean besides the absence of an underlying shared vision or ideology, if so, do tell please.
    Which forces and what disabilities?Recommend

  • Hamza Rathore
    Feb 2, 2011 - 2:03PM

    I dont think we should be comparing ourselves to Egypt. Instead, we should be preparing for a revolution ourselves. We desperately need to stop all the corruption in our nation(which would be quite impossible). Our forefathers didnt sacrifice their lives for us to live like kings and see our brothers die with hunger! For God’s sake, people are selling their livers, and even their own children just to get some money for food! The rich keep getting richer and the poor are dying.
    We need a change now, before conditions get worse. Recommend

  • Usama Zafar
    Feb 2, 2011 - 6:30PM

    @Nadir

    Man i used to be a fan of yours but now recently your posts and comments have just started to dissappoint me!!Recommend

  • Probyn
    Feb 2, 2011 - 6:57PM

    @Vivek:

    Good Lord!..dont Indians have news papers and web zines of your own?

    Must you come here..flaunt your lack of knowledge about who we are and what nuances make up our predicament? Must you make everything about you?Recommend

  • The American
    Feb 2, 2011 - 10:54PM

    The article presents an intellectual analysis of the revolutions of both Tunisia and Egypt. I wonder why the author did not see any parallels between what is happening in Egypt to what happened in France in the 18th Century – namely, the French revolution. The revolution in Egypt may take a few days, perhaps months, maybe years. But it does not mean it will be successful. Napoleon took the throne in France as soon as the revolution there ended, and military elements can intervene again in Egypt, too, which sounds a lot like Pakistan.Recommend

  • G.Din
    Feb 3, 2011 - 3:00AM

    @Probyn to Vivek
    “Good Lord!..dont Indians have news papers and web zines of your own?”
    Tch! Tch! Temper, temper. The best way to stop Indians from invading your “news papers and web zine” is not to tear your hair but to force moderators to filter them out. They are doing a fairly good job of that even now, considering how many of my posts have not been allowed through. Next best thing for you – don’t read those comments. After all, their names should expose them as Indians. No one is forcing you to read any comment(s) you don’t want to. It is clear that you want to wallow in your ignorance and are extremely intolerant of opinions other than your own. Indians are a free society and celebrate their diversity in all sorts of ways including insufferable opinions of others. It makes us stronger!.Recommend

  • Ani
    Feb 3, 2011 - 9:11AM

    The author is an ex military man who served in the highest offices. His views must be respected since he reveals much about the military’s thinking in national affairs. Image of the Army! Since Ayub Khan took over in the late 1950s the Army either rules directly or manipulates all matters of state indirectly but effectively. It has taken the country to war repeatedly on contrived facts and “muslim” machismo that failed the test. It single handedly led in the brutalization of its fellow citizens in East Pakistan and subsequent breakup. It refused to accept its own dead in war! It hanged a bonafide and popular PM and exiled two. It created a monster for its own people in its ‘strategic’ terrorist outfits. And without the consent of the people decided to tow the US line in Afghanistan not once but twice. The results are for all to see except the military. Till today there is not a single apology for any of these and many other misdeeds. This is what passes of as leadership by military men from whom leadership is expected. So what image is the honorable Air Marshal talking about.
    Last distribution of political power: he blames everyone except the organization that answers to no one, interferes in everything, owns major portions of the economy and allocates the choicest of privilieges on itself – his own darling military. And then the audacity to pointificate that Pakistani people don’t respect the military like the Egyptians! No it is the other way around: its is the military that does not respect its own people. And the people of Pakistan despite the brazen and spurious flauntings of their leaders – civilian and military, will not accept injustice, intolerance and indignity forever. You can hear the sounds of the train that left Tunisia. It will be uniquely Pakistan’s when it arrives. Recommend

  • Jehangir Jamali
    Feb 9, 2011 - 9:26AM

    A more well thought out, and I believe, agreeable article on the same issue:
    http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/02/08/repeataftermepakistanisnotegyptRecommend

More in Opinion