Attempting to divine the national mood when there is a potential sample of over 180 million souls is a tricky business. There are thus no claims of scientific accuracy in what follows, and rather than try and make any kind of sense of events in Islamabad I instead will have a stab at making sense of how those around me think and feel.
Firstly and perhaps, most importantly, nobody of my acquaintance from the domestic staff to local businessmen and a few landowners I know — has revolution at the forefront of their minds, at least not in the conventional sense of a mass popular uprising followed by the overthrow of the government.
Viewing the media over the last week, particularly the electronic media, it would not be difficult to convince oneself that Pakistan is gripped by revolutionary fervour. It is not. Something less than 60,000 people are currently camped on Constitution Avenue with who-knows-what in mind beyond a set of increasingly unlikely demands from their leaders. That is not a revolution. It is undoubtedly an expression of discontent, and the protesters may be voicing what many think or feel, but a revolution it aint. Nor is a revolution likely in the foreseeable future.
Whilst I have detected no sign of imminent revolt around me, there is a pervading sense of weariness, and it is very specifically focused. To a man and woman, all those I spoke to in preparation for this column were weary, fed up to the back teeth — with politicians. And that is all politicians everywhere no matter what party.
There was a real sense of hope when I joined with other members of my family to go and vote last year. A feeling that this was the ‘make a difference’ election. There as an upheaval and two parties trounced the incumbents and just for a while it looked in the month after the election that dreams, some of them, might come true.
It quickly became apparent as the summer of 2013 advanced that this was not so. The promises of the campaign trail in many cases came to naught. And then the pols fell to squabbling among themselves and then there was an invisible prime minister and then there was the red herring of ballot rigging that has led us up the garden path to the point at which we are currently marooned.
People are weary of being lied to, deceived time and again, cheated, bullied, robbed in some cases especially those who pay their taxes yet see little by way of recompense for them, and they blame, almost universally, those they voted for a little over a year ago.
When asked what could be done different there is a smile and a shrug and the eternally crippling ‘This is Pakistan’ statement that is the single greatest impediment to getting anything changed, anywhere, anytime, by anybody.
When asked again if they would vote for the same people if offered an opportunity in the coming few months, there was that shrug again and the other half of a crippling binary — ‘What to do…’ And round in circles it goes.
There is no emerging — and clean — political class that is going to drag Pakistan kicking and screaming into the early 20th century (the 21st century being a jump too far). There are no leaders in the wings awaiting the call on to the stage. The one that is currently demanding our attention is not The One, that is now clear enough, and the rest of the motley crew of cardboard cutouts waving dodgy degrees and having more skeletons in the cupboard than the average graveyard — are only going to offer more of the same in perpetuity.
They will carefully nurture the national weariness because it is in their interests to do so. A bone weary populace cloaked in ennui can in small and noisy part be stirred into action, but mostly there is a crushing torpor. The very last thing that our leaders want is a vibrant and energetic people with ideas above their station, particularly if those ideas amount to anything like real change. Revolution? Not today thanks. (Shrugs and wanders off.)
Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2014.
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