Unsuited for an Uprising
The recent revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, initiated by a passionate youth, have sparked protests in countries like Bahrain, Libya and Yemen. Many have begun seeking freedom, and rightfully so. But further east there is another country on the verge of a revolution that won’t go as unscathed as Egypt seems to have gone: Pakistan. And, as a native Pakistani, I’m deeply concerned.
According to the February issue of the Economist, countries like Jordan and Bahrain are experiencing civil uprisings because their youth has “inherited a world of immensely greater possibilities than the one inhabited by their parents.” Such countries have the tools to successfully emerge from a political revolution: developed cities, an abundance of oil, a huge multi-national presence and a largely educated population. Such is not the case in Pakistan.
A recent article in the Guardian titled “Will the revolution spread to Pakistan?” discussed the frustrations of the Pakistani majority. “Pakistan certainly seems ripe for revolt. It is perpetually on a knife edge — extremists plot and explode bombs, senior politicians are assassinated, society seethes with discontent.” This made me wonder, if it did spread, what are the odds of it ending victoriously?
In the past two months, two very high-ranking political officials, Salmaan Taseer and Shabaz Bhatti, were assassinated, causing the political climate in the country to escalate. Taseer was the governor of Punjab and an avid supporter of Assia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of violating the blasphemy law, which calls for the execution of anyone who speaks out against Islam. His assassination was celebrated and his assassinator called a martyr. This didn’t do much to help Pakistan’s international reputation as an extremist state, and caused major discord and violent uprisings within the country.
With 24 percent poverty, low levels of education and impoverished living conditions for people in rural areas, there’s a common tendency to adopt a misconstrued version of Islam. Religion gives them hope. So when foreign troops, domestic political figures or locals attack or challenge Islam, they feel the need to protect it.
On top of that, the lack of education also makes people more likely to follow an extremist form of Islam. Although the Ministry of Education of the Government of Pakistan states that the literacy rate is rising 10 percent with every generation, now having reached an all-time high of 58 percent nationwide, the statistics also show a disparity within the country. On average, the literacy rate ranges from 87 percent in big cities to 20 percent in rural areas, and a large majority of the 170 million people live in rural areas. (For the record, literacy in Pakistan is defined as the ability to read and write on a fifth grade level.)
Animosity was once contained in rural areas but is now felt in cities where people are largely liberal. After the 2010 floods that affected 13.8 million people, there was an influx of impoverished rural people searching for jobs in cities.
Largely conservative and extremely poor, the rural people look down on prosperous liberals. And it’s hard to blame them — particularly when photos of select members of the upper crust drinking, smoking, wearing designer clothing and dancing on tables are frequently published in magazines sold on the street beside boys who barely make $10 a month.
The government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, doesn’t represent the wealthy or safeguard their economic aspirations, nor do they represent the lower-class masses or promote growth by providing basic infrastructure.
Weekly bombings, assassinations and violent protests are becoming the norm, and it’s apparent that the opportunity for non-violent tactics, like the ones that attributed to the relative success of the Egyptian revolution, have long passed. If there were a revolution, it would achieve nothing except turning Pakistan into a massive graveyard.
A revolution wouldn’t achieve anything but prompt the educated minority to leave. The country would be socially torn and financially stagnant with no further prospects for growth and development.
However, the government can control this if they satisfy people’s short-term needs by providing basic necessities, like food and housing, and then develop a long term plan to educate and promote social development the masses. If these needs are satisfied, I truly believe that Pakistan will make a comeback. I can only hope that one day it’s not referred to an extremist state, but a moderate Islamic country characterized by growth and actual prosperity.