Finding a revolutionary solution - Kamila Hyat - Thursday, April 21, 2011

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

Like a contagious disease, revolution catches fast, spreading from person to person and quickly becoming a kind of battle cry echoed by almost everyone.

While the MQM’s Altaf Hussain has been regularly speaking of revolution and the need for it, as have other politicians, a call for revolution came recently from a rather unexpected direction.

During a talk on disaster management in Karachi, the gentle humanitarian and social worker Abdul Sattar Edhi suggested a ‘bloody revolution’ was needed.

The idea of Edhi espousing events that could result in bloodshed of the worst kind and even more chaos than we witness at present, is something of an anomaly.

Although Edhi later stressed that he believes that the government should complete its term in office, the fact that even Edhi sees the situation as desperate enough to seek revolution is not insignificant. Clearly, the degree of frustration with the present state of affairs is growing rapidly and affecting even those known for the gentleness of nature and of extraordinary patience typical only of saints.

These startling words from Edhi are obviously not motivated by politics of any kind or other such factors that lead to the heads of parties making provocative remarks at specific times.

The now aging philanthropist obviously believes that there is need for overwhelming change which can quickly rescue people from their pitiful plight, and possibly also from a government which has so far done little to try and ease their many miseries or address their most pressing concerns.

The view is one shared by many. Quite obviously, events in the Middle East have influenced thinking and brought before so many of us the more idealistic notions attached to revolution and all that it means. Television images from Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and even Libya – where events have been complicated by external intervention naturally act as a source of inspiration even if the factors behind them, and the consequences that arise from them, have not been fully explored and have barely been discussed as far as the media go.

There can be no criticism of Edhi’s words. He has no need to prove that, perhaps more than any other individual in the country, he cares passionately about the people of Pakistan and their well-being. But others talking of revolution need to be just a little more cautious.

The fact that we need dramatic change is beyond the scope of doubt. Many complain that the government is doing ‘nothing at all’ and failing on every front. There may be some truth in this bleak assessment.

But the problem also is that the scale of change required is so great that the little bits of tinkering we see here and there simply do not make a difference that can really alter the way people live, locked constantly in a desperate struggle for survival that is both exhausting and demeaning.

The political will to bring about change is undoubtedly lacking. But there are also other hurdles such as the manner in which the budget is allocated and a continued feudal mentality which refuses to allow space for the development we desperately need.

As things stand now, only a massive budgetary shuffle combined with measures such as meaningful land reforms, dividing the vast holdings spread across huge areas, can really bring about the kind of change we need.

This would be nothing less than a revolution. But perhaps we also need to think just a little more carefully about all that a revolution could involve.

We are waging at present a battle against a well-armed force of militants, in the form of the Taliban, who also seek revolution. A considerable portion of the kind of change they envisage of course involves specific dress codes and brutal punishments for what they see as ‘immoral’ behaviour of all kinds. The list of all that encompasses is a long one.

The danger is that the kind of chaos any major civic unrest would involve could allow the militants to seize control of larger tracts of territory and whip up even greater ideological confusion than that which exists at present.

While there is every reason to celebrate the removal of Hosni Mubarak and his cronies in Egypt, it is wise also to take a look at the events that occurred immediately after their removal.

While women took an active part in the vibrant movement that led to his ouster, they have since been pushed to the sidelines of events, and, on several occasions including on March 8, they have been humiliated at Tahrir Square by groups of men that included soldiers. The women were ordered to return to their homes and in some cases shoved, groped or abused.

There can be no doubt that the situation in our country calls out, in a voice of increased desperation, for change. The misery of people grows by the day and many – indeed most citizens – would do all they could to bring it about. It is this bitter reality that has resulted in the cry for revolution catching on so rapidly and being made by more and more people.

For obvious reasons, it is a call that carries with it enormous appeal. But the questions of what could happen, who would lead such a revolution – or hijack it along the way – or what the aftermath could potentially be, need also to be considered very carefully.

The assumption of greater power by people who are poorly represented by those who sit in parliament as their representatives would of course be something to be welcomed and warmly embraced. Perhaps we need to focus a little more on ways to achieve this.

A more active role must be played by our people in pushing the government to do the right thing. We are all stakeholders in our democracy. The tactics of peaceful protest are many; they range from sit-ins to poster and handbill campaigns.

Other strategies have been used at other times, in other places. We need more focused discussion on how we can push government in the right direction and make a sincere attempt to correct all that has gone wrong.


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