The mask of anarchy

Published August 25, 2014
The writer is a lawyer.
The writer is a lawyer.

Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many — they are few

Shelley is believed to have introduced the idea of nonviolent resistance in his poem The Mask of Anarchy, which celebrated the power of ordinary people to defeat violence with pacifism. Thoreau in his essay Civil Disobedience advocated listening to one’s conscience and rising up against injustice and slavery. Gandhi’s doctrine of Satyagraha, inspired in part by Shelley, aimed at freeing India from colonial shackles and seeking self-rule. Nelson Mandela suffered penalties of law to fight apartheid.

In transformational revolutions (eg French, American, Chinese, Iranian) the key idea has been to liberate the many from the oppression of the few. And civil rights movements (such as that of Martin Luther King) resonated with people when they sought equality and justice for those oppressed due to vile prejudice or tyranny of the majority. What is the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s great revolutionary idea that will fix our broken homeland? Replacement of Nawaz Sharif with Imran Khan? Is the PTI fighting for a goal larger than the political aggrandisement of Imran Khan?

If this movement ensures that the mandate to rule in our democracy must be beyond suspicion, it will benefit ordinary Pakistanis. But if its sole purpose is to fix a perceived unproven wrong inflicted on the PTI voter in 2013, this movement by definition is a narrow partisan struggle not aimed at empowering ordinary citizens but a means to snatch power from the PML-N and hand it to the PTI.


If we did not have a history of military interventions, would anyone believe that the PTI and PAT posed a threat?


There appears to be a shared overwhelming sense amongst Pakistanis that we, as a state and nation, need to hit the reset button. Why then are the PTI and Pakistan Awami Tehreek ‘revolutions’ attracting such suspicion? Is it because focused on their core support base, PTI and PAT have alienated all others and painted themselves in a lonely corner? Or is it because PTI and PAT are neither addressing the causes that have led Pakistan astray nor proposing meaningful solutions through constructive means capable of implementation?

Rhetoric if backed by principles, ideals and charisma can stir peoples’ conscience. But when employed to promote selfish interest, it attracts derision. Anna Hazare successfully forced his Lokpal Bill on an unwilling political elite (despite widespread criticism that his ways were anti-democratic) because he spoke from outside the system and sought reform not power. Arvind Kejriwal ousted Sheila Dikshit but fell out of favour with Delhi as people realised that he could only critique the system from outside, not reform it from within.

Leaving aside some new faces, will the menagerie of tried and tested politicos (Chaudhrys, Sheikh Rasheeds, Khars etc) who have been all around and are permanent fixtures in the ‘system’ be able to convince anyone (other than unconditionally committed PTI/PAT devotees) of being harbingers of revolution against the very system that keeps them relevant? With a government in KP and otherwise comprised largely of those who have been in power corridors for over three decades, is PTI a system insider or outsider?

And what is the new revolutionary understanding of the ‘system’? Is Nawaz Sharif in trouble because he is the system that people have rebelled against or because he has fallen out with the system? Who has been the nemesis of the PPP since the 70s? Did the PML-N and PPP play musical chairs in the ’90s because every two years people of Pakistan revolted against the system? If Pakistan is to be built afresh have we heard our firebrand revolutionaries pontificate about the desirable role for the khakis — the most potent players in our system?

Did the Anna Hazare movement threaten the ‘system’ in India when he spoke of unacceptable corruption? Did the Indian parliament have to pass resolutions in favour of continuity of the constitutional order? Did its Supreme Court have to pass a restraining order against unconstitutional moves? If Pakistan did not have an unfortunate history of military interventions, would any rational observer even consider that these PTI/PAT revolutionaries pose a threat to the PML-N government?

Today, Pakistan has two systems: the feeble and struggling de jure system backed by the Constitution; and the all-powerful yet invisible de facto system backed by the khakis. While there remains a constant tug-of-war between these two, the history of Pakistan so far is a history of the de facto system being in effective overall control. None of this is meant to suggest that the de jure system is a well-oiled machine only malfunctioning due to disruptions caused by the de facto system.

But doesn’t the de facto system feed off the de jure system? If the de jure system worked, would there be room for the de facto system? Only someone interested in reforming the de jure system and rendering the de facto system subservient to it can set Pakistan in a new direction. This is what made the possibility of a principled reform-driven PTI emerging from within to fix the de jure system a breath of fresh air. The PTI’s latest moves disappoint, as this ‘revolution’ in its existing form can only succeed with the de facto system’s sponsorship.

Khan and Qadri both believed Musharraf would make them prime minister back in 2001. Khan acknowledged his mistake and has come a long way since: he is now a popular leader with a genuine political base. His position today is heartbreaking as standing alongside Qadri and delegitimising the ‘system’ without proposing an agenda for reform, Khan is deliberately or unwittingly entrenching the rhetoric about uncouth politicos, broken constitutional order, skies caving in and mighty saviours that is staple diet for our de facto system.

Many standing with the existing constitutional order and against the ‘revolutionaries’ are not inspired by love for Sharif. In a choice between the de jure system and the de facto system, they are standing with the former. But if the choice were between a status quo de jure system and a reformed de jure system, they would stand with the latter.

The writer is a lawyer.

sattar@post.harvard.edu

Twitter: @babar_sattar

Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2014

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