Pakistan’s Pseudo-Revolution Marches on..

Pakistan is at an interesting (and dangerous) juncture today; in 2018 the military used the many levers it has at its disposal to get Imran Khan elected as Prime Minister and GHQ continues to strengthen its grip on power, but that is not the interesting part. That is just the normal Pakistani cycle of semi-civilian rule followed by a phase of more direct military rule, followed by another attempt at civilian government; what is interesting is that a significant section of the emerging Pakistani middle class (“Mehran Man”) has managed to convince themselves that this time there will be a revolution: the violent overthrow of one social order and its replacement by a very different order.

GHQ probably had no such revolution in mind when they promoted Imran Khan and made him prime minister. Some civilian leaders were to be sidelined and some military leaders planned to acquire more direct power, and in order to do this they activated their vast public relations apparatus and talked of revolution and grand transformations, as one does, but no Bolshevik or Chinese revolution was actually in the works. There was probably some fear that the “war on terror” dividend is over and hard times lie ahead, so the state should be prepared for a period of harsher authoritarian rule (i.e. the opposite of a revolution; not a desire to change things but a desire to harden the existing order to meet anticipated challenges). Of course every time GHQ think tanks notice that Pakistan is facing a crisis, they tend to revert to the old “Chakwal solution” paradigm all officers apparently learn during basic training. This PMA version of “how to fix Pakistan” has not changed since the 1950s and includes ideas such as :

  1. Pakistan needs a firm hand (“shoot 5000 people and the country will become an Asian Tiger”)
  2. Presidential system
  3. 22 provinces (to break up existing pre-Pakistani identities such as Pakhtoon, Sindhi, Baloch etc)
  4. Get rid of corrupt politicians (ALL politicians are corrupt, but some join military regimes and are therefore excused)
  5. Technocrat government, etc

So I do not doubt that some of the planners at GHQ did have such “reforms” in mind and just as the cart follows the horse, new policy disasters will no doubt flow from the naive implementation of such “reforms”, but even so, no real revolution was intended, just some “tweaking” of the system.

But while the planners at the top may not have intended more than that, their propaganda seems to have created a number of excited middle class social media warriors who sincerely believe a revolution is in progress. They are cheering every extra-legal step, every fake drug bust and every suppression of dissent. And because the geniuses at GHQ are also human, some of this excitement is filtering back to the bosses and even they may get carried away and imagine they are leading the 1949 Communist revolution in China and not some Sisi-level military coup.  Which will be a tragedy because this is not a revolutionary party, this cannot BE a revolutionary regime; the same elite that was ruling the country yesterday is ruling it today. The social media warriors screaming for a revolution and “across the board” cleanup are not interested in seeing Uncle Jimmy or cousin Mithoo go to prison; they expect the revolution to hit other people (preferably “corrupt politicians”, i.e. politicians who have not thrown in their lot with GHQ), they do not expect their own friends and family to face some revolutionary tribunal in D-chowk. The status quo is meant to be improved, not replaced.

But humans can get carried away and this lot may have misunderstood their own position rather comprehensively. They may imagine they really ARE carrying out a revolution: the violent overthrow of one class by another. Some of them are surely sane enough to know this is just one more round of military rule and after it fails (as it inevitably must) they will have to compromise again with “dirty politicians” and restart the merry go round at 1988 or 2008, if not at 1970 (i.e. controlled democracy, with continued military domination of the heights of the state), but some of them do seem to be getting carried away. We may end up with the worst of both worlds.. The viciousness and disruptive destruction of an attempted revolution, without the creative energy and opportunities created by any genuine overthrow of an ossified ruling elite..
And if that is the case, then the corrupt status quo will evolve into something even worse: a corrupt narrowly based authoritarian regime that has destroyed existing politics (corruption ridden, but still somewhat responsive to public pressures) and replaced it with naked military rule over an unhappy population with no political safety valves and a worsening economic crisis.  They may then find themselves facing an attempt at real revolution.. and that will not be good for anyone.

There is still time. They can step back and let politics take its course and maybe a slightly more competent regime can come into power once PTI crashes and burns. But just writing this sentence is enough to make one realize that they are not going to allow any such soft landing. This time, we will get the full Monty, the chakwal solution in all its glory. It will fail amidst much pain and suffering; you know this, I know this.. but they don’t know this and they will not learn until things fall apart.
Sad.

Image result for rana sanaullah
Rana Sanaullah, PMLN Punjab Chief, in prison

By the way, here is Brigadier Ijaz Shah, GHQs main enforcer in the Imran Khan regime, giving his side of the story.

And here is the full ISPR version of recent events:

12 Replies to “Pakistan’s Pseudo-Revolution Marches on..”

  1. Well, never mind all that. The true liberals of Pakistan will wage their last-ditch battle in defense of democracy in Kashmir. What goes on inside Pakistan is an “internal matter”. 🙂

  2. ” They are cheering every extra-legal step, every fake drug bust and every suppression of dissent.”

    To me the best part of this fake busts is politicians getting caught with liquor and then saying it is just a bottle of honey 😛

  3. “But while the planners at the top may not have intended more than that, their propaganda seems to have created a number of excited middle class social media warriors who sincerely believe a revolution is in progress. They are cheering every extra-legal step, every fake drug bust and every suppression of dissent. And because the geniuses at GHQ are also human, some of this excitement is filtering back to the bosses and even they may get carried away and imagine they are leading the 1949 Communist revolution in China and not some Sisi-level military coup.”

    I couldn’t help but read this and be reminded of the QAnon phenomenon which has gripped a disconcertingly significant portion of Trump’s base….

  4. Great column, Omar! Everything you say about Pakistanis I think applies to Indians too, though the situation is less dire here.

  5. It is a pretty bad situation. There doesn’t appear to be anyone with brains near the top. Very grateful the Pulwama incident did not blow up into something much worse.

  6. Are there no major factions in the army?
    Strongly communist or pro-market types, who might have an ideological agenda beyond just the continuation of military dominance.

    Btw in that interview, I found the anchor’s accent very jarring. The brigadier seemed much more cultured in comparison.

  7. Is there an example of a country with an English speaking elite going full authoritarian like Egypt, Syria etc ?

    The closest I can think of is South Africa, but the circumstances there were very different.

  8. Omar’s pain is expressed eloquently. So what does the future hold for Pakistan?? Is it continued rule by the Pakistan Army, this time acting as a proxy of China?

    After all, the reason that the EIC was able to establish hegemony in the subcontinent was that they paid their soldiers and affiliates on time. The EIC brought governance where the precipitous decline of the Mughals and the internecine struggles of the Marathas and other successor powers had brought chaos.

    Can China’s OBOR succeed where Pakistani elites have failed? And this then becomes the vehicle for de-facto colonization of Pakistan?

  9. The real problem is money/budget, etc, the pak army sees there is a bit of a money crunch. On the other hand, Imran Khan might be a bit too zealous for them, i think, but nevertheless imran khan shall be given full rope to bring in the loans and dollars – with his charm and charisma – persuade the native population to endure more hardship – all that is fine so long as the upper brass does not go through (a lot of) pain. And of course, Gen Bajwa might get extended tenure, so its worth the pain.
    So its too early to tell, but i don’t think the pak army will disrupt the civil govt for the next few years at least – or maybe longer. They know they can’t fix the economy or bring in loans and they know they can’t – or won’t – fix the terror financing issue fatf is demanding – all very inconvenient issues, especially when there’s no sugar daddy to pass the money around – and this is important, because there has been a sugar dad since the 1950’s for a rentier state – and now that’s not possible, so a shift from rentier is under way, the pak army is likely to sit on its hands for as long as it may take – and of course they don’t want to get involved in any experiment involving religion being made temperate, etc.

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