Talkin' Bout A Revolution

Talkin' Bout A Revolution
Nobody really remembers ambassadors of foreign countries. Especially when they are stationed in Pakistan, because, on the world stage, Pakistan really isn’t a big deal (regardless of what we are told). But some names do stick, not because of what they may have achieved, but because of ‘when’ they served.

Cameron Munter is one such name. A career diplomat who served in a variety of countries, he was stationed in Islamabad when the US operation that took out Osama bin Laden went down. At the same time, his ambassadorship coincided with the peak of the US drone war above Pakistani skies, and this was something that Munter found ‘unacceptable’, complaining to his colleagues that ‘he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people.’

If you remember the aftermath of the Abbottabad raid, there were widespread protests across Pakistan, not because Osama bin Laden had been killed, but because Pakistan’s ‘sovereignty’ had been disregarded. But to be fair, that’s what the drone strikes were also doing, the only difference being that Pakistan was largely complicit in that.

The reason I’m going into all this backstory is this: Mr. Munter knows Pakistan. So, when he says something about our country, it would make sense to listen. While talking to Time magazine recently, he said that ‘if they default, and they can’t get oil, companies go bust, and people don’t have jobs, you would say this is a country ripe for a Bolshevik revolution.’

Cue Tracy Chapman’s hit single.

Can there be a revolution in Pakistan? If so, what similarities, if any, would it have with what went down in Mother Russia over a hundred years ago.

Let’s first quickly examine the reasons underlined by Mr. Munter for the possibility of a revolution. Default? Nearly there. If not today, then three to six months down the line. If that happens, no oil. And that brings the economy to an immediate standstill. Companies going bust? Already underway. Lack of jobs? Self-explanatory.

The reasons are all there, unfortunately. However, if a revolution were to happen (we’ll get into the historical precedents at the end), it will have more similarities to a revolution that happened to our west in Iran than up in Russia. Here’s why.

To the best of my understanding, Marxist ideology was largely secular, with the Bolsheviks rejecting religion as a form of oppression and an obstacle to social progress. There was widespread confiscation of church property, closure of religious institutions, and the persecution of clergy and believers who opposed the new regime. To be fair, the church did support the Tsars and helped maintain the power of the ruling class.

In the Iranian Revolution, the reasons were altogether different. Again, summarizing massively here, but economic inequality, an intense tilt towards westernization and secularization (away from religion), and a preference for more inclusive exercise of power over the dynastic, iron-fisted rule of the Pahlavi dynasty. Once in power however, the new regime implemented a range of policies aimed at promoting Islamic values and traditions, including restrictions on women’s rights, western styled education, strict (and swift) censorship and dress codes.

This already sounds like a government we recently had.

The fact remains, that Islamic conservatism is on the rise in Pakistan. In the days just before 9/11, a visiting US intelligence official was told by one of the top sleuths in the country that Pakistan has been becoming orthodox and conservative, and that this was a well thought out and agreed upon trajectory, which had been put in place since the mid-seventies.

What? Pakistan had been put on the path of becoming a theocratic state ages ago? Why hasn’t it happened already then? Did democracy get in the way? I digress.

Still, there are many similarities between the religion and socialism as well, including but not limited to emphasis on equality, social justice, critique of capitalism, and community values. There are of course, significant differences as well, particularly about the role of religion and their approach to governance.

However, one can assume that if ever there was a revolution in Pakistan, it would be tainted bright with religious colors. This poses a lot of further questions, considering of course, how fractured religion is in Pakistan. But that is a conversation for another time.

History, however, shows that revolutions, especially by a large group of people, in South Asia, are rare, if not, non-existent. Yes, there have been attempts by smaller groups, like the insurgency and reign of terror mounted by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in our neck of the woods, or by the rebellion waged by Naxalites in central and eastern India, but these have been viciously crushed. But large-scale revolutions? Not something in our DNA unfortunately. As Bob Marley put it most eloquently:

‘Them bellyful, but we hungry

A hungry mob is an angry mob’

Revolutions don’t happen on a full stomach. And for the longest time, South Asia, with its fertile lands has never wanted for food. But, here in Pakistan, things are changing. Climate change, a tanking economy, and insane inflation have made basic necessities so expensive that people are beginning to get hungry. That is never a good sign.

As always, there are more questions than answers. But a couple of years ago, Gallup Pakistan conducted a nationwide survey on the following question: ‘Do you want the kind of Islamic government that the Taliban have brought to Afghanistan in Pakistan as well?

55% said yes.