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.

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: