“Riders on the storm/Into this house we’re born/Into this world we’re thrown/Like a dog without a bone/An actor out on loan/Riders on the storm.”
— The Doors
Jim Morrison did not have the people of Pakistan in mind when he recorded his last song, “Riders on the Storm”, the cult classic synonymous with the American rock band, The Doors. The song evolved out of a jam session and mirrored his personal torment at the fragility of existence, the unpredictability of life in a violent, tempestuous world. Jim died at 27 consumed by his own psychosis, failing to ride the storm. Most Pakistanis feel no different, fearful and helpless, struggling for the last 67 years to ride the fickle storm. The tempest shows no sign of weariness and yet in the devastation that has been wrought, in the bellows of misery, there are portents of calm, of tranquillity. Pakistan is in a state of transition, the rot, the inertia, the apathy notwithstanding. The signs are many and the optimists must shout loud and clear.
The emergence of an unfettered media has been, in my opinion, the mother of all developments in the last decade. Unleashed, it has been rapidly evolving and played a game-changing role in two monumental developments. First, it brought to the fore the struggle for a free judiciary — the long march — right into our living rooms. It practically nursed and nurtured the movement. Second, its relentless coverage of the PTI rallied the urban youth, transforming political minnows into messiahs, ready to eyeball the political duopoly of the PPP and the PML-N. The media is shaping public opinion, bringing accountability to the rulers and most importantly, morphing an amorphous nation into one with distinct contours and edges. Yes, it is also stricken with sensationalism, greed for ratings and money, and the self-righteousness of an omniscient entity. But for all its faults, it remains a beacon of hope trying to unravel the darkness.
Karl Marx believed that the middle class held the seeds of revolution in its bowels. He proved prophetic as middle class activism became ubiquitous, causing upheavals, toppling regimes the world over. An inspiring manifestation of this activism was seen in Pakistan when educated urbanites, physically joined the long march for the restoration of judges. The PTI support base is another authentic case of the urban middle class itching to wrest back its rightful political space. Galvanising a traditionally inert segment into a political force of reckoning, the fence-sitters were driven to embrace the political process, strengthening democracy. That Pakistan is presently experiencing its largest youth bulge is just the icing on the cake. Harvesting this bulge will take a special effort on the part of the state to tame the seething young and channel their energy into nation-building. A boon if harnessed, the youth bulge can be an incubator of disaffection otherwise.
An increasingly independent judiciary, liberated from the shackles of history, is restoring the balance of power among the power centres. Claiming their legitimate space in the national discourse will not happen overnight. There will be a lot of turbulence before we hit land. We can endlessly savage the stasis plaguing the lower judiciary and there is indeed a lot of truth to it. The Chinese say, fish rot in the head first. Once the head, the higher judiciary, starts recuperating, a healthier body is an inevitable consequence. The judiciary is in the process of redefining its role in modern Pakistan.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb is revisiting the ghosts of the past, banishing them with guns and unequivocal conviction. General Raheel Sharif, the architect of the operation to save Pakistan, is writing history or perhaps, correcting history. Taking the battle decisively to the terrorists, he looks forward to civilian support in checking extremism in urban centres and the dissemination of a counter-narrative glorifying coexistence, tolerance and diversity. Lastly, the Chinese Silk Road promises to drive Pakistan to a future minus power outages, trade deficits, terrorism and isolation.
Pakistan is fortunately staring at a striking confluence of events that threatens to topple the existing order and herald a new era. The economic corridor on the horizon, Operation Zarb-e Azb bludgeoning terrorism, an unchained media, middle class shaking off political slumber and a freer judiciary, all indicate convalescence. How these developments interact with one another and other power centres over the next few years will craft the future of Pakistan. Yes, chaos too will hitch a ride on this bumpy odyssey. And yes, cynics will have a lot to whine about. But I remain hopeful. This will be a spectacle worth our wait. We will ride the storm.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2015.
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