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#4648, 8 September 2014

Dateline Islamabad

Of Inquilab and the Inquilabis
Salma Malik
Assistant professor, Defence and Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University

Now-a-days, revolutions, like popular reality shows, have begun to appear in all fonts and colors. From the once classic connotation of Mao’s Long March, bloody revolutions such as the Bolshevik or Iranian that left deep imprints on global politics to the modern soft-paddled revolutions, stage-managed by the US, supporting colorful names such as velvets or springs, the choices are unlimited. But is it fair to term every popular uprising or civic unrest as a revolution? Is a revolution possible anywhere and everywhere?

The answer is no and this simplistic take of a very multifarious socio-political occurrence has made the “revolution” game all the more problematic and difficult to explain. When selling the concept of revolution or inqilab to an eager audience, often omitted is the fact that revolution in its pure and classic sense sought ultimate sacrifice and bloodshed. There never was a promise that a revolutionary change would occur without claiming is fair share of collateral.

Pakistan – after months of fascinating sneak peeks and good marketing strategy that really kept the public engaged and interested – has been experiencing its own political reality show for nearly the third marathon week. The plot was simple but convincing: two public figures with ample public support hold onto a convincing agenda and march onto the capital city. If things were to tamper down, a bit of real-time entertainment with media going ballistic with 24/7 coverage and breaking-news tickers do damage-control. But what makes such “revolutionaries” successful? First, a public that is more than willing to give chance to new people who empathise with the latter and/or understand their daily woes and are willing to offer an alternative. Second, the ruling party that after making tall promises while electioneering, very typically severs its connection with the same public that votes it to power.

If, as South Asians, we look around the neighborhood, we find similar symptoms. There is democracy, but used and abused at will by the democrats. The process of electioneering and the various attached institutions have been abused and corrupted and this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Tahirul Qadri-Imran Khan double-march into Islamabad came with a lot of hype. Supporting complimentary agendas, both the inqilabis had their loyal supporters. 20 days on, the siege stands strong, but so does the government. One demand put forth by Qadri regarding an FIR against the prime minister, the chief minister and many Punjab assembly influentials for the killing of 14 Minhaj workers was finally lodged after much delay – exposing the biases and laxities of the justice system. Demands for electoral and legislative reforms, though being given substantial lip-service, haven’t yet been given serious consideration by concerned quarters.

30 August-1 September proved to be the most happening, as not only were attempts made to clear the constitution avenue off the inqilabis who were egged-on by their imaginative leadership to march onto the parliament house – with the prime minister’s residence as the next stop – which resulted in tear-gas and rubber bullet shelling by an equally bored police force brought in great numbers from all over Punjab. Islamabad, which already sported a haunted look courtesy the umpteenth confiscated containers strategically blocking one third of the city’s main arteries (notwithstanding the other quarter dug-up for a mega transport project) became a battleground. Speculations of a “soft” military takeover facilitating an interim setup as well as alternate names for a new chief minister became rife. Adding spice to this political curry, alleged supporters of the two protesting parties staged a token takeover of the state television channel.

What happened next? Unfortunately for those seeking a repeat of distributing sweets when Pervez Musharraf staged a takeover, the military firmly exercised restraint, though correcting the political government, if ever it tried to entangle the former in the mess, or misquote it. For the government, with open support from its allies and opposition in the parliament, it stands strong and seems to have regained the confidence it lacked before 30 August. As aptly stated by opposition leader Aitzaz Ahsan that one good outcome of this crisis was that the prime minister finally made an appearance in the national assembly. For Khan and Qadri, the longer the siege maintains, the lesser the chances for salvaging their parties and political ideals – unless the various interlocutors facilitate a win-win situation for all parties concerned.

Does this mean the government won? A timely battle yes, but the Sharifs who were famously voted in for their better governance and financial prowess today stand severely criticised by their one-time loyal constituents for not living up to their promises. 

Investing in projects that have failed to bring short to long-term relief for the common man and the entire N-League maintaining an arrogant attitude towards everything only made them more unpopular. The general public, although not fully supportive of Khan and Qadri, are unhappy with the ruling class. Unfortunately, the siege has set a precedent for any political actor to garner sufficient support and camp in front of the parliament. The demands put forth by the protestors and their leaders are not unjust; but the interlocutors must facilitate a passage for genuine reforms and changes in the legislative and electoral process to check and prevent malpractices to ensure greater transparency as a necessary first step towards genuine democratic rule.

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