By Anjum Altaf
In Pakistan, revolution is confused with revolt. A revolution sweeps away the old order; a revolt just replaces the faces at the top. As we have discovered, a revolt is not enough. No matter how often the system is restarted by new saviors, it converges to the same outcome that is compatible with the attributes of the old order.
The principal attribute of the old order is stark social inequality in which the majority is dependent on a tiny minority for access to services and basic rights. This kind of hierarchical order is compatible with patron-client forms of governance which is really what we have had in the guise of democracy. Everything we observe confirms that our rulers consider themselves monarchs while the ruled think of themselves as subjects.
Years ago I asked a peasant why they did not elect an honest representative instead of the incumbent criminal. He took about a second to pose a counter question: Would the honest person be able to get his son out of the police lockup or employed in public service? People are not stupid; they understand well the distribution of power in which they have to survive.
A revolution would transform subjects into sovereign citizens; monarchs into accountable representatives. This kind of revolution has yet to occur in Pakistan. The political order has not changed; the departing British left the reins in the hands of the same social class that held power under it.
Is a revolution a la the French Revolution possible in Pakistan? No, because there is no intellectual ferment that accompanies and energizes systemic change. Adrift between faith in divine providence and charismatic saviors, Pakistan seems set to follow its pied pipers into anarchy and oblivion.
This comment appeared in the September issue of Herald Magazine and is reproduced here with the author’s permission. At the time Anjum Altaf was dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.
For more on this subject, see What Kind of Revolution Do We Need in South Asia?