Revolution, non-revolution and Transformation by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

Human nature is such that if a person does not get an opportunity to freely express than emotions gets bottled up. These emotions can be related to love, anger, talent, envy or injustice. In heightened state a person can act in an irrational manner to let out these bottled emotions. Depending on the state of mind these actions could be damaging public property, murder, self-inflicted injury, street fight or suicide among many others.

Societies which are a collection of individuals also exhibit some of these emotional characteristics. Revolutions and protests are social behaviors in which members of a society express their anger against status quo or people of authority. A protest is usually to express dissatisfaction against a government policy like increase in school fees, taxes or demolishing a public park as recently happened in Turkey. Revolutions, on the other hand, are more extensive it tries to destroy the existing political structures to build new ones. Transformations on the other hand try to redesign existing structures to accommodate a changed social condition. For instance rising income levels in China is creating stress on the existing political structures to reform. Philosophers and social reformers try to use this heightened state to further their agenda for the betterment of a society.

Anthropologists over the centuries have worked hard to quantify various aspects of social behaviors. It is for this reason many feel that enough advancement has been made that social engineering can be classified as a science rather than an art. There are no reliable scientific calculations about how much time it takes for emotions in a society to reach a breaking point. My own observation is that in an oppressive society or dictatorship it takes a generation (roughly 30-40 years) for a society to burst out on the street seeking redress for their grievances. In the absence of an ideology the protests only achieve changing of faces rather than break the status quo. Arab Spring was one such event in which pent-up emotions were allowed to let out without any significant changes in the underlying system of government. We can call this phenomena non-revolution as it had the potential but because of absence of a coherent ideological agenda the opportunity was lost.

Once a society goes through prolonged street protests it gets exhausted and wants normalcy to return even at the cost of broken dreams and families. The cycle repeats itself again after a generation. Pakistan has had its own non-revolution in 1971 when its Eastern part was separated from it after a civil war. Pakistan could have started a new beginning by developing a social contract that promoted one Pakistani identity rather than maintain racial or sectarian identities of her citizen. It could have created administrative units (provinces) that provided better social services rather allow nations within a nation. The new constitution could have required all citizens to contribute their fair share towards the nation by reforming land holdings, providing economic level playing field to all and develop an equitable sharing of natural resources. But we failed to achieve all this and the result was ensuing of next cycle of superficial normalcy.

Now we are approaching another opportunity to have a revolution, non-revolution or reformation. I don’t think we are ready for a revolution as basic ingredients are absent i.e. a large majority that agrees on a common agenda, an ideology that offers terms of a new social contract and a group of people who are spread out across the country firmly believing in the ideology to prepare people. In this situation a nationwide protest has the chances of becoming a non-revolution maintaining status quo or at worst break the country into pieces. So what are our options? In my view the most practical thing to happen in Pakistan is transformation. It can be more peaceful than a revolution but still achieve the objectives of prosperity, equality and stability by rewriting the terms of the social contract.

Conditions are quite suitable for a transformation. For first time in our history we have had peaceful transfer of political power; we have a vibrant media that has gained experience in public debate; organized and resourceful armed forces that can protect our borders against foreign aggression and a bureaucracy that still has some capacity to run the country. Japan, South Korea and post-Mao China are good examples for us to look at. The only missing element in this equation is a political party that is not a cult, an inheritance or an organize crime bureau. To achieve transformation we need a political party that is an institution with sufficient intellectual capital to finish the task.

After carefully looking at all political parties over last five years in my view only two political parties has the potential to become institutions i.e. Pakistan Tehrike Insaf (PTI) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Both these parties have short comings that need to be fixed before they can lead the reform efforts for the nation. MQM has successfully demonstrated that educated middle class can provide political leadership with grass-roots penetration. But MQM has to overcome its fascist tendencies and ethnic biases. It has to develop a national agenda and grow slowly in constituencies that have similar characteristics. For instance, instead of contesting nationwide MQM can focus on larger cities like Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, and Faisalabad to win some seats for symbolic significance.

Pakistan Tehrike Insaf (PTI) has a better chance than MQM to become a front-runner for reforms. It is the first political party in the history of Pakistan that was developed and funded by the educated middle class of Pakistan. The biggest obstacle for PTI is to convert from being a cult of a personality in to an institution. PTI Chairman Imran Khan has to realize that as a founder of PTI his name will be remembered as long as the party survives. At the moment its top leadership is damaging the prospects of the party by taking it to extreme right and violating party’s constitution on regular basis. PTI needs to also develop an ideology that appeals to its base of educated urban middle class, labor class and small farmer class.

If PTI and MQM fail to reform their structures then the only other option left for the nation will be bloody civil war that could produce number of consequences. But none of these outcomes will be pretty and could change the landscape.

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