Arab Spring and Pakistan
July 29, 2011
The public uprising against dictatorial regimes in some of the Arab countries is meanwhile known as the Arab Spring. It has become synonymous with protests against regimes in the Arabian Peninsula. The protests began in Tunisia in December 2010, and have since spread to Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco and Oman. The movement was successful in Tunisia and Egypt, where both President Bin Ali and President Mubarak were ousted amid growing pressure from the masses. The movement also consists of civil war in Libya coupled with civil uprisings in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen. Many minor protests have also been witnessed in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Sudan. As masses began thronging the Tahrir Square in Cairo late January, many people around the world also began asking whether Pakistan could also face a spring of its own.
It has long been in debate that a revolt or revolution in Pakistan is imminent, an argument that has remained a rhetoric rather than a practical phenomenon. Many argue that Pakistan, amid all crisis and problems, cannot afford an Arab-like revolution. These debates and statements, many from world leaders, lead us to a single question: Will these revolts reach Pakistan? US Vice President Jo Biden’s statement of “revolts like these may reach countries like Pakistan” has further fuelled this debate of a future possibility in the country. Thus, a comparison of antecedent conditions in Pakistan and the Arab States is necessary. A tentative answer to this comparison would state that both, if compared, would be found on opposite paradigms. The aforementioned Arab states have had political suffocation over the years where freedom of speech was at a minimal level and political suffocation at its peak. Egypt for decades has been witnessing autocracy, where Hosni Mubarik, ruling since 1981, being an extension to previous autocratic regimes. Tunisia also had the same situation, where the country has been ruled by two autocrats, HabibBourguiba followed by Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, since its independence in 1956. Most of the other Arab countries also follow the same pattern of rulers. Pakistan, on the other hand, has witnessed a mixed bag of governments including democracies, pseudo- democracy, religious parties rule (in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan during Musharraf regime), and most of all dictatorships.
Almost all forms of governments and all prominent leaders have been tested, with no revolutionary leader in the making. Since its inception in 1947, Pakistan has had a strong influence from military establishment in State affairs. Any voice against the establishment in the past has been dealt with severe means. This scenario provides a very small window for a revolt in a country where most of the people fear for their lives as well as of their families. Media freedom is another trait that differentiates Pakistan from the Arab world. The freedom of media in Pakistan cannot be compared to situation and constraints in Arab States. Media has recently proved to be a watchdog and source of letting out the frustration, for the masses in Pakistan. It is a tool of expression for public anger and sentiments. A country like Pakistan, where countless factions with vested interests have divided supporters, can hardly see a united revolution like protest. The regional diversity in Pakistan is unlike Tunisia and Egypt, where majority of the population belongs to single race and ethnicity.
A story published on Asian Correspondent, posted by “Pakistan Voice”, elaborates an ironic yet tragic account regarding a possibility of an Arab Spring in Pakistan. An event where leaders and fighters from the Arab revolution were invited to Lahore by “Khudi Pakistan” was scheduled to be arranged at the office of South Asia Free Media Association. Just a day before the event, the participants received a message for the organizers that the event had to be postponed due to security threats in the area. That is why, an intriguing title was given to the article; Arab Spring Postponed in Pakistan. Although signs of change don’t seem to be ominous yet protests could be expected on issues such as increasing poverty and unemployment level, though these protests would transform in to riots, anarchy and disasters, with no popular leaders to lead and direct the angry mobs. Analysts around the world fear that with Al-Qaida is slipping into irrelevance after the Arab Spring and will look to deepen its roots in volatile countries like Pakistan. Albrecht Metzger, an expert on Islam, also fears that after failure in the Gulf, Al-Qaida’s next target could be Pakistan, which has weak institutional structures. He quotes, "It's a very important country for Jihad because radical Taliban there are taking over power or at least dominating the social and political structures in the country. I think that will be an important battlefield for al-Qaeda. Not the Arab world, at least not for the moment.”
The plight of the common masses has reached a limit that people have started talking about a revolution against the ruling elite in the country. The Arab revolution wave can take its toll even in Pakistan if the government continues to operate on the same pattern as that of the Arab autocracies, going against the public will. Furthermore, the Arab Spring certainly stands out as a strong message to all the extremist organizations that change could effectively be brought through non-violent movements, a message that needs to be realized by the people of Pakistan.