Arab Spring in Pakistan? No, Thanks

In an interesting and slightly misguided article about the possibilities of an Arab Spring in Pakistan, Michael Kugelman, (a senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC) begins his opinion piece with the following profound assertions:

Will Pakistan experience an Arab Spring? The question has been on many minds since revolution swept across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 – and especially since a major anti-government rally took place in Islamabad this month. . . .

It’s easy to understand why. Pakistan, like the Arab Spring nations, boasts a young and mobile communications savvy population. Its masses are victims of the same indignities that incited revolt in the Middle East: corruption, oppression, and injustice.

However, the similarities end there. Let’s stop talking about a revolution in Pakistan, because it’s not going to happen. (http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/30/the-myth-of-an-arab-spring-in-pakistan/?hpt=hp_bn2)

That Mr. Kugleman’s entire argument relies on false analogies is obvious:

  •  The Arab spring has happened.
  • It was mostly a revolutionary attempt led by the tech savvy youth of several “Arab” countries.
  • Pakistan shares the same kind of material conditions with the Arab countries.
  •  Should the so-called “Arab Spring” happen in Pakistan? Yes.
  •  It has not happened.
  •  Conclusion: There must be something wrong with Pakistan.

Mr. Kugelmen then mobilizes the most hackneyed list to prove his point: corrupt leaders, Pakistani propensity for the cult-of-personality politics, and ethnic and cultural divisions. In this argument, revolution is offered as a progressive narrative that cannot be sustained in Pakistan because, we are to believe, Pakistan has not crossed a certain threshold of mass mobilization to join the other lauded revolutions that have happened and are happening in the Arab world.

The first problem with this framing of an argument is that it relies on a simplified understanding of revolution: it uses the spontaneous rise of the youth against their oppressors in Tunisia, Egypt, and other nations of the Islamic world as an ideal type. Thus, anything that cannot be posited as a universal popular response, somehow, fails to be of value.

What Mr. Kugleman and others like him fail to account for is the very complexity of Pakistan, a complexity that they posit as a detriment to the chances of any mass political mobilization.

Let us account for this complexity: Pakistan is a diverse nation, which has a written constitution, a defined system of government, a trained bureaucracy, and a viable educational system. Yes, in terms of political consciousness and political origination, Pakistan is far ahead of its Arab counterparts. Pakistanis have strong party affiliations and have several organized national parties and numerous regional political parties with very strong following. This is a great recipe for a democracy: organized political parties and their base is an absolute precondition for any viable democratic system.

Is there corruption? Yes, certainly. But all democracies have a set of illegalities that exist at legal and quasi-legal levels. The US political system is corrupt to the core: all politicians in the US system are paid for and bought by contributions. Now, of course, these contributions are legal, but if they purchase influence for the contributors, then that is a refined form of corruption.

So, yes Pakistani politicians are equally as corrupt as their US counterparts. But does Pakistan have the necessary scaffolding to structure and sustain a viable political system? Yes, absolutely.

Mr. Kugleman also forgets to mention that the so-called “Arab Spring” did happen in Pakistan and, in fact, it preceded the now valorized Arab Spring. In 2007 the lawyers movement supported by all major factions of Pakistani political spectrum was successful in not only restoring the sacked chief justice, but was also instrumental in the eventual ouster of Mr. Pervez Musharraf, the US-sponsored dictator of Pakistan.

Furthermore, given the particularities of Pakistan’s political climate, a mass revolution is the last thing needed in Pakistan. The current government, ineffectual as it may be, is the first government in decades that is almost there, almost about to finish its five-year term. The best path forward for Pakistan, reformative as it might be, is not to ask and hope for a mass revolution but the continuation of the process in the form of timely held general elections. Only this continuity will enable Pakistan to strengthen its institutions and build its political and public sphere.

So, not only has the “Arab Spring” already happened in Pakistan, it is also no longer necessary. Thus, it is the democratic future of Pakistan that we should be concerned about instead of hoping for a revolution that we absolutely do not need.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *