Is Pakistan on the cusp of a revolution?

Is Pakistan on the cusp of a revolution

Pranay Kumar Shome

It has been almost seventy years since Pakistan ‘land of the pure’ was carved out of India with the ostensible aim of becoming a homeland for Muslims but the creation has ignored the inclusive multicultural and multiracial nature of cosmopolitan Indian society at the time of creation which will have wider ramifications for the future of the Pakistani polity and unity. The army of Pakistan whose objective was to protect  ‘Dar al Islam’ (abode of Islam) the region from all threats both external and internal have resulted in calling the shots for the majority of Pakistan’s ‘democratic’ existence; but recent events point to a real ‘Naya (new) Pakistan’ as a revolution appears imminent.

Democracy at last?

The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), a coalition of eleven of Pakistan’s leading parties headed by firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman, is leading from the front, and is proving to be a nightmare for the incumbent Pakistan premier and the all-powerful army chief. Although the army has called on the movement to desist from bringing the name of the army in politics and has defended the army’s role of ‘upholding the constitution,’ the opposition is taking none of it. And for the first time in Pakistan’s nascent democratic history, politicians have shown the ability to speak out against the military establishment, which is most evident in former Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif calling on the army to stay out of politics and respect the constitution.

The PDM has taken out massive rallies across the country with the aim of bringing down the Imran Khan government as well as to ensure that the army performs its role as the defender of the country and not meddle in constitutional and political issues. What has compounded Khan’s difficulties is the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice President Maryam Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) President Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is questioning the government’s track record on development and its incompetent handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Fears of a larger unrest

Pakistan’s fragile unity is on the verge of collapsing. The recent incident where the Sindh Inspector General of Police, Mushtaq Mahar was abducted by Pakistani army rangers and forced to issue arrest warrants against Maryam Nawaz and her husband Captain (retired) Safdar Awan has galvanized the opposition ranks which appeared to have shaken earlier. The Sindh police have openly revolted against the Pakistani army, multiple ‘forced holiday’ of senior officers of the Sindh police has rattled the Imran Khan government, which has swung in damage control mode.

If the situation persists then there is a fear that other provinces may soon rise in rebellion against Punjab and Rawalpindi, putting the very social and economic fabric of Pakistan under a mortal threat. Larger unrest cannot only jeopardize Pakistan’s fight against the coronavirus but also undermine the fight against terrorism albeit its own creation. The likelihood of more rebellions against the Imran Khan government and army threatens to tear asunder the fragile religious and societal fabric of Pakistan.

Reasons for the unrest

Delving deeper into the causes and reasons behind the unrest in Pakistan points to a history of discrimination, interprovincial rivalry and mindless exploitation of natural resources. Punjab, which is Pakistan’s biggest and politically sensitive province has controlled the narrative and has called the shots when it comes to the economy, civil services, and military, etc. Punjab has been responsible for controlling the lion’s share of resources and political importance. 

Tilak Devasher, former Special Secretary in the Indian government and an acknowledged Pakistan expert, has in his seminal book “Pakistan – Courting the Abyss” highlighted that more than two-thirds of army recruits come from Punjab.

Devasher further went on to highlight that both Rawalpindi and Punjab call the shots when it comes to determining the budget for the different provinces, Punjab and Rawalpindi have been also responsible for routine extra-judicial killings and abductions of innocent Pashtuns, Balochis with the aim of changing the demography of the ‘recalcitrant’ provinces such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, and Balochistan, etc.

China, which has invested $60 billion in China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, is also hand in gloves with the Pakistani regime in exploiting and devouring the resources of Balochistan, Sindh, etc., which is fuelling discontent among the people of these provinces. The Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), an insurgent group designated as a terrorist group in both Pakistan and the US, has sought complete independence from Islamabad for Balochistan.

Former Pakistani diplomat and journalist Hussain Haqqani in his book “Pakistan between Mosque and the Military” has highlighted that the sectarian tensions within Pakistani society are also one of the reasons for this sorry state of affairs of the country. He notes that the Justice Munir committee report (1954) has exposed the highly dangerous and intolerant religious outlook of Pakistani society. The committee noted that the various Islamic sects within Pakistan fought amongst themselves and disagreed with the correct interpretation of Islam.

Unrest is a headache for China

As if the global opprobrium against China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t enough, the unrest in Pakistan is proving to be a major headache for China as the dragon has a significant economic and defense stake in Pakistan. The Gwadar port is the heart of the massive CPEC. China has provided billions of dollars of loans to Pakistan and has been providing Islamabad with unflinching diplomatic and military support to help it achieve parity with India.

But not all appears fine. China is sitting on a time-ticking bomb. Chinese banks have more than $940 billion worth of debt and are suffering from a serious financial crisis.  The countries which are and were a part of the famed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has started thorough scrutiny of the projects, which is leading to anti-China product boycotts in different countries. Further the pandemic has damaged China’s reputation as a result of which companies are slowly relocating to other countries.

The shifting of supply chains especially in the form of a new supply chain alliance of three Quad countries – India, Japan, and Australia – known as the Resilient Supply Chain Initiative (RSCI) and the trade war with the US is taking a heavy toll on China’s economy.

It now appears that the unrest in Pakistan is not going to end any time soon. The Army must listen to what the ‘awam’ (people) of Pakistan is asking and they are saying ‘enough is enough.’ It is time that the armed forces stay out of politics otherwise ‘revolution’ in Pakistan against the establishment is going to continue with horrific consequences for the Pakistani citizens. South Asia Monitor

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