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A revolution in Pakistan?

Published Apr 16, 2013 10:05am


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There is a general consensus in Pakistan that the country is heading in the wrong direction. The same perception exists outside Pakistan with the term “failed state” raising its ugly head more frequently in the international media. How does the country get out of the precarious situation it finds itself in today?

The solution offered by mainstream political parties and the civil society is that the continuation of the democratic process affords the best chance to the country. However, pose the same question to a man on the street and the answer could range from bringing back the army to lining up all the corrupt politicians and putting a bullet in them. Some other would maintain that the root of the all the trouble is economy, poor law and order and the scourge of terrorism.

Given that both military dictators and civilian rulers have betrayed the people of Pakistan time and again, it is surprising that there is not much talk of a mass uprising to destroy the prevalent power structure and replacing it with a system that is responsive to the needs of the populace.  On the national level there is only one political party, the Awami Workers Party (AWP) that endorses bringing about a revolution in Pakistan. However, even this coalition of the fragments of the left-wing political groups has admitted that this is not the right time for revolutionary politics, and has thus, decided to participate in the election process by fielding a few candidates.

So, why is there no revolutionary movement in Pakistan?

The answers may be found in the history of anti-colonial movements in the subcontinent. There were only two major armed struggles in the undivided India against the British rule. First, the war of independence of 1857 that, some historians claim, was more of a mutiny than an organised and protracted struggle. After putting down the peril of the 1857 uprising, the British ruled in peace for nearly eight decades. This period of peace ended in 1942 when the Indian National Army led by Subhash Chander Bose, a communist intellectual, fought against the British rule with the support of the Axis powers. Another revolt took place in 1946 when the sailors of the Royal Indian Navy mutinied against their British officers.

Other anti colonial efforts like the “Quit India” movement were non-violent civil disobedience movements and not revolutionary struggles.

The Pakistan Movement itself was mainly a legal and constitutional battle. Mr. Jinnah was the ideal leader to spearhead this movement because of his expertise in constitutional law.

While these struggles did hasten the departure of the British from India, the primary reason was that in the aftermath of the Second World War, Britain was in no position to maintain its rule and had already accepted that quitting India was its best option.

Compared to the other movements of national liberation like Algeria, Nicaragua and Mozambique, the independence struggle in India was predominantly legal and constitutional with non-violent means used to put pressure on the coloniser. Also, there was little participation of the working class in the struggle. In contrast, the Algerian war of liberation that was fought from 1954 to 1962 was lead by FLN – a socialist organisation formed by the merger of smaller groups. While estimates vary, anywhere between a million and 1.5 million Algerians were killed in the eight years of the struggle. The population of Algeria was just 10 million in 1960 and it lost a staggering 10 per cent of its population in achieving independence.

Thus, when Pakistan was created it did not have any historical experience in revolutionary struggles. In Pakistan the only time there was a serious attempt at mobilising the working class to bring about a radical change was between 1968 and 1972 during the anti Ayub Khan movement led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). A number of left groups that were influential in the working class became energised and played an important role in bringing PPP into power. This is where the left in Pakistan made a bad judgement and instead of continuing the struggle with the factory workers as vanguard, it stopped and pinned their hopes on PPP to bring about radical changes. It soon faced a rude awakening when PPP abandoned its socialist agenda, dismissed left-wing provincial governments in NWFP and Balochistan, arrested the left-leaning leaders and then slapped some with charges of treason. The left in Pakistan never recovered from this debacle.

Another malaise also crippled the left – its derivative nature resulted in uncritically following the dictates of direction taken by the two main communist centres of power – China and Russia.  In 1971, when it should have condemned the military action in East Pakistan it supported the massacre simply because China (for its own strategic interests) was supporting the Pakistan army. Wars have historically provided the best opportunity for leftist revolutions. Russia is a case in point. The West Pakistani left missed an opportunity again and instead of gaining advantage from the weakness of the state alienated the left in East Pakistan.

Whatever juice remained in the left movement was squeezed out by the draconian policies of the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, and the demoralisation that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Currently, Pakistan’s left is the weakest it has been since 1947.

Today, the only struggle that can be remotely called revolutionary is the nationalist struggle of the Baloch. No national organisation of the left in the country has the ability to mobilise the downtrodden classes.

To prevent Pakistan’s headlong fall into an abyss, changes are needed at the grassroots level through a revolutionary movement. This is the responsibility of the left in Pakistan. The left must muster up its resources, organise itself, do a fresh analysis of what needs to be done and get ready to pick up the pieces again and rebuild a better country.


The author is an engineer turned part-time journalist who likes to hang out at unfashionable places like shrines, railway stations and bus stops.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Author Image

Vaqar Ahmed is an engineer turned part-time journalist who likes to hang out at unfashionable places like shrines, railway stations and bus stops.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (32) Closed

BRR Apr 16, 2013 05:19am
The writer is totally wrong when he claims, without any justification - "Also, there was little participation of the working class in the struggle. " Thousands of peasents struggled aginst the British rulers in Champaran. Thousands went to jail with Gandhi. Thousands marched against the salt tax arranged by Gandhi. Thousands of villagers and students marched up and down the nation, went to jails when arrested, and organized locally aginst the British. Perhaps in some parts of Pakistan they did not, but the writer is clearly wrong.
Krishna Apr 16, 2013 06:40am
I think Pakistanis got Pakistan easily without much of struggle.. When the whole of India was fighting for Independence against British, the Muslim League was busy demanding Pakistan and least concerned about Independence..In the history of man-kind, any nation is born through sacrifices, but Pakistan was born through tactical negotiations like 'Direct Action Day'..I am in no way saying that the demand of Pakistan was not justified...It was justified for the simple reason that 'muslims in united India' were in such a large number that they cannot live as a minority..But because Pakistanis got Pakistan easily, they don't really understand and appreciate the value of democracy and freedom..Ofcourse falling into the hands of wrong leaders is also one of the cause of the present scenario...
khanm Apr 16, 2013 06:48am
So, why is there no revolutionary movement in Pakistan? You are beating the head horse. You are barking at the wrong tree
Asad Apr 16, 2013 09:48am
My grand father, lost two of his 3 and 5 year old sisters while on his train to Pakistan. He never ever complained about anything in this country. He left his Land and Home in United India to come to this country. Lived in abject poverty, became a Linesman and gave my father an education. Never complained or doubted why he left everything and lost everything for the country he loved. And their are millions like him who left everything for this country. And you tell me we got freedom easy. If their ever was price for freedom we paid it. Aur Jaisa bhi hai yay mulk, hai tu apna. Aik hazar jaan sai zyada pyara hai yay Pakistan. So please dont give me a bashan on freedom. No country has shown the risilience we pakistanis have shown since our inception
SUNIL Apr 16, 2013 10:02am
Only rationlly thinking men/women can be revolutionaries. Such bold men accept any thought after applying the acid test of sheer logic. Is there an atmosphere conducive for such developement ?
Mohammad Ali Khan Apr 16, 2013 12:36pm
Pakistanis do need a grassroots movement to embrace discipline,honesty,freedom,tolerance,respect,hard work.When corrupt people will be displaced from the political parties,honest people will change the political environment. Pakistanis need a paradigm shift from grassroots.Empower themselves with organization and action.
pakistani Apr 16, 2013 02:28pm
well said. Actually these myths have been told to Indian youth to justify their forefather's wrong doings which resulted in the partition at the end.
tabankhamosh Apr 16, 2013 03:40pm
There is no "Left" left in Pakistan.
ghazi Apr 16, 2013 04:57pm
Asad.... in times of chaos these things happen. Lots of Sikhs and hindus also lost their loved ones in Punjab and Bengal. It was not for the cause of India . Likewise , lots of muslims lost loved ones due to the madness that engulfed the religious communities. It was bad British policies that lead to such level of violence. These communities lived together for a 1000 years and lived in harmony. Their collective enemy was illiteracy , ignorance , poverty and disease.And not to mention the greatest demon was the British policy. The beasts that killed your grand fathers siblings where criminals and need to be condemned. But it was not for Pakistan but due to Pakistan. The same happened to the Hindu and Sikh people to the Pakistani Sikh and hindu. And again it was due to Pakistan and not for the cause of Pakistan. Those were bad times.Should have never happened
Naveen Kumar Apr 16, 2013 05:44pm
You are talking about the price paid by ordinary folks in the mass slaughter & forced migrations, after the partition had been agreed upon. I am sorry but I don't see any Nationalist struggle for Independence in that.
Seetharam Apr 16, 2013 06:36pm
For an Engineer the naivite Mr. Vaqar Ahmed exhibits in this article is incredible. Though he does not say it, it is obvious he is a communist from the solution he proposes for Pakistan. Let us look at what he says in this article: 1.
A Pakistani Apr 16, 2013 07:13pm
The extreme right (Maulvies and Barelvies) have destroyed Pakistan
Agha Ata (USA) Apr 16, 2013 07:14pm
You said, ". . .continuation of the democratic process affords the best chance to the country. . . and the next thing I noticed was that ". . . changes are needed at the grassroots level through a revolutionary movement." People who say the first thing, continuation of democracy blah blah are those who want the statuesque to continue, they say it without suggesting anything new. But, I do agree with the second thought, though, I do have a question about that also. the question is that where does the grass root lie? I think it is in the minds of our religious leaders who build the mindset of the people, but mostly it is nothing but weeds.
Indian Apr 16, 2013 07:34pm
I think you did not get his point. He is talking about freedom fight against british rule and not the post freedom riots
Parvez Apr 16, 2013 08:36pm
If you feed the people religion you can not have a revolution, you will land up with a crusade with no one to crusade against but what is happening now. What is needed is efficient management with a strong dose of moral rectitude gently injected directly into the blood stream from the pulpit, under strict supervision. It will work.
Prakash Apr 16, 2013 10:00pm
Not a single Muslim League Leader went to jail fighting against British Rule instead they got country on platter by partitioning India, .Muslims of UP & Bihar wanted partition and migrated to Pakistan but Hindu & Sikh who do not want partition has to leave thier home in present day Pakistandid and migrated -so they were the worst sufferer.
Ozz777 Apr 16, 2013 10:20pm
The truth is, we Pakistanis don't need a revolution. We need evolution (both individually and collectively!)
Satyameva Jayate Apr 17, 2013 01:05am
I do empathise with your personal loss. But all that happened AFTER the independence.
Honest Babe Apr 17, 2013 02:15am
Your family's suffering is really heart rendering. Millions from both side suffered in the aftermath of partition. My heart goes out to all those who lost family and property. Having said that all this happened AFTER Pakistan was formed. Mass migration was not part of the struggle to create Pakistan, it was a result of creating Pakistan. So Krishna's comment may be insensitive but not inaccurate.
Pramod Apr 17, 2013 05:49am
Hindu and Sikh in Pakistan are living the partition time today as well. Look at the their population declined in Pakistan. They are being attacked by mobs very frequently. Their daughters are being kidnapped and forcefully converted. As per the book written by Jinnah's Physician Dr, Ilahi Baksh. Jinnah told him that creation of Pakistan was biggest blunder of his life and condition of minorities in Pakistan proves that.
P.Mishra Apr 17, 2013 11:01am
Mr Ghazi, I appreciate your understsnding.. Unfortunately few people have the patience to read History. Minorities in both the side of were line killed by the majority community with equal madness , which has no precedence in the history of India( I mean un divided India). If the Britishers could have carved out the countries in a more orderly way ,millions of precious life could have saved. They some how wanted to leave this country , since they have nothing much to exploit. AND WE KEEP FIGHTING AND BLAMEING EACH OTHER.
Sinn Sal Apr 17, 2013 12:44pm
Revolution ? in Pakistan? BRRRRRRR.... AH.. Pakistan revolution over.
vjjjjjjjjj Apr 17, 2013 01:34pm
Small countries have the potential to become developed countries in just 1 or 2 decade time. Take for example Japan after world war or Singapore or Malaysia etc. Even with so much of natural resources and man power, Pakistan is a failed state because of misplaced priorities right from the citizen to govt level.
Jalaluddin S. Hussain Apr 17, 2013 03:51pm
As a Canadian-Pakistani I agree with you. For your information our mainstream progressive party the New Democratic Party recently dropped the term "socialist" . Their justification: they wanted to position themselves in the Centre of the Canadian political spectrum!
marjan lucas Apr 17, 2013 11:06pm
Vaqar Ahmed Sir, where will you be on the moment that wonderful violent revolution you dream about will finally take place? Will you be in the frontlines in the mud or on a sofa in your residence, observing from behind a window the drama outside and coming out of the safe home bastion when silence returned in streets and meadows? Will you then tell the people: 'there was blood but that's part of the game' and go back home to open a glass of champagne? This is 2013, violence is not the mother of democracy and peace, justice and prosperity anymore, if at all it has been at anytime in the past.
Great Thinker Apr 18, 2013 12:32am
As per the author, the Left is right for the future of pakistan, but does not realize that the only thing left now in Pakistan is the Right. So Pakistan can only go down now and not up.
Muz Apr 18, 2013 01:16am
So my Indian friends are trying to re write history.Pakistan was created because of a lot of sacrifices and most of our older generation can relate directly to that.No need to defend or explain that.What we r seeing in Pakistan now is the result of our lack of social justice,poor education and apathy of the populace to democracy and the political process.The positive thing is that a lot of the Pakistanis have started realizing this in spite of the darkness around them and hopefully we will start improving.India on the other hand although stronger on the economic front seems to be sliding into the abyss of intolerance and lack of social justice.Kindly learn from the mistakes of your neighbor.
ayub Apr 18, 2013 02:19am
If you analyze the current scenario in Pakistan, the country is passing through a revolution. This is phase-wise struggle initiated by the exploited class against the exploiters.
Mohabbat Apr 18, 2013 03:16am
Just close down madrassas. Hire neutral experts to review and rewrite Pakistani text books. Amend Pakistan's constitution, play down all references to religion, accord justice and equality to all citizens. Invite Hindus, Sikhs, etc who left their hearth and home for India. A pluralism of ideas and faiths is what Pakistan needs most. Pakistan otherwise is clearly in the abyss of their own digging.
Mohabbat Apr 18, 2013 03:23am
The white portion of the Pakistan flag represents the religious minority. Pretty symbolic as the flag pole goes right through it!
KayT Apr 18, 2013 03:59am
You are right. But I guess the author was brought up in the current education system in Pakistan where they are taught fake history. Look at the ignorance of the author when he says Pakistanis don't have experience of revolution. If they taught their history right, and remembered there ancestors, who were pagans and who went through so many revolutions, Pakistanis would know what they should do and what they should stay away from. But yeah, when you bring islam into the picture which denounces every other religion, you most definitely want to delete those pages in history which you should be ashamed of!
Shahpur Apr 18, 2013 04:24am
Something for sure is going to happen to Pakistan. It is boiling like a soup pot on the stove.