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Is Pakistan on the cusp of a revolution?

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The open revolt of the top brass of the Sindh police accentuated by the massive opposition protests against the army & Imran Khan’s government points to a new societal and institutional upheaval in Pakistan.

It has almost been 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 the cosmopolitan society of the subcontinent which has wider ramifications for the Pakistani polity and its unity. The army of Pakistan whose objective was to protect the ‘dar al Islam’ region from all threats both external and internal have ultimately resulted in this institution calling the shots for majority of Pakistan’s ‘democratic’ existence, but recent events point to a real ‘naya’ Pakistan in the making, a revolution appears certain.

Democracy at last?

The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) is leading from the front, a coalition of eleven of Pakistan’s leading parties headed by firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlur Rahman 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 has showed 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 movement 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 of the defender of the country and not meddle in constitutional and political issues. What has compounded Khan’s difficulties is the supportive leadership provided by PMLN vice president Maryam Nawaz and Pakistan’s People’s party(PPP) president Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in questioning the government’s track record on development and its incompetent handling of the coronavirus pandemic which has wrecked Pakistan’s already beleaguered economy. Is the country finally going to experience genuine democracy? only time can say.

Fears of a larger unrest

Pakistan’s fragile unity is on the verge of collapsing, the recent incident where the Sindh IG 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, a larger unrest can not 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 central government and army threatens to tear asunder the fragile religious and societal fabric of Pakistan which can also open old religious and sectarian fault lines thereby allowing the jihadist groups to have a free run in the country.

Reasons behind the unrest

Delving deeper into the causes and reasons behind the unrest in Pakistan points to a history of discrimination, inter provincial rivalry and mindless exploitation of natural resources. Punjab which is Pakistan’s biggest and politically sensitive province has controlled the narrative & has called the shots when it came to economy, civil services and military etc. Punjab has been responsible for controlling the lion’s share of resources and political importance. Tilak Devasher, former bureaucrat and a Pakistan expert has in his seminal book “Pakistan-Courting the Abyss” has highlighted that more than 2/3rd of the 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 Panktunkhwa, Sindh, Balochistan etc.

China which has invested to $60 billion in the 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 US has sought complete independence from Islamabad for Balochistan.

Former Pakistani diplomat and journalist Hussein Haqqani in his book “Pakistan between Mosque and the Military” has highlighted that the sectarian tensions within the Pakistani society is also one of the reasons for this sorry state of affairs for the country, he has went on to note 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.

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, the dragon has significant economic and defence stake in Pakistan, Gwadar port is the heart of the massive China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China has provided billions of dollars of loans to Pakistan and has been providing Pakistan with unflinching diplomatic and military support to help its iron brother 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, it is suffering from a serious financial crisis, it is clearly evident that China is in deep trouble, countries which are and were a part of the famed Belt and Road Initiative(BRI) have started a thorough scrutiny of the projects which is leading to anti China product boycotts in different countries, further the pandemic has damaged China’s political legitimacy & reputation as  a result of which companies are slowly relocating to other nation states.

The shifting of supply chains especially in the form of a new supply chain alliance of three Quad countries known as the Resilient Supply Chain Initiative (RSCI) and the trade war with US is taking a heavy toll on China’s economy, all these factors combine to make life more difficult for China with large scale implications for its foreign policy & economy. The turmoil within Pakistan can prove to be China’s fait accompli vis-à-vis its overall influence in South Asia providing India the opportunity to become the new superpower.

Conclusion

It now appears that the unrest in Pakistan is not going to end any time soon. Pakistan is a failed state to put it bluntly, if the situation continues to deteriorate then a civil war may appear imminent, the unrest in Pakistan may soon draw world powers resulting in the resurrection of the great game for South Asia, but at a time when the world is busy fighting the menace of a raging pandemic which shows no signs of abetting, it is imperative for the world to take notice and ensure that through dialogue and reconciliation, the situation in Pakistan is brought under control. At the same time the army must listen to what the ‘awam’ of Pakistan is- asking 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.

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