As the Arabs busy themselves with throwing off repressive and despotic regimes I inevitably bump into friends and colleagues who express a desire for similar here in the Land of the Pure. They point to a crumbling economy and a state that seems to earn its international living these days by begging – bringing a whole new dimension to the phrase ‘professional beggar’. They tick off the usual checkpoints: - terrorism and internal instability, a galloping demographic, a layer-cake of incompetence at every level of government, institutionalised corruption and dynastic political systems. Where, they wonder are the future leaders, the Jinnahs who may come to save us all from fundamentalism before it eats us up? With the educated middle class having abdicated the political role in favour of being a kaffee-klatch that pelts the Establishment with finely-tuned witticisms from the safety of its Facebook page – is not revolution the only route left to us?
Well...no. Despite appearances to the contrary ours is not a particularly despotic regime. It is a bumbling quasi-democracy held together by the military, and all beneath the democratic fig leaf of something vaguely resembling a parliament. There is mass participation in political activity and currently there is a cautious experiment around the idea of letting a government run its course. The politicians who are this day dancing the lobster gavotte in Punjab may be kidding themselves that they are pushing us towards a mid-term election, but it’s all theatre and we will happily and passively watch a performance that has run for at least fifty years and seems to show no sign of flagging.
There are ‘disappearances’ and intimidation, there are concerted attempts to stifle the media from time to time and a regular butchery of innocent civilians by assorted groups who have no interest in anything beyond bombing us back to the stone age. Any signs of popular protest against any of this? Beyond a loyal band of brave souls who demonstrate outside press clubs, blog with the utmost earnestness and seem to number in the few thousands and not the millions that would be needed to bring real change - no. Honour killing is elevated to being a grisly national spectator sport ritually decried for the regulation two days and then put back on the shelf. We even have politicians of national stature defending it in parliament. Mass protests against honour killing? Child rape and murder? Lack of provision of schools and health services? Absolutely not. No sign of mass food riots either despite over 30% of the population being food insecure – which is a polite way of saying they are half-starved. You’d think a few million hungry people might be able to kick a bit of a revolution into life wouldn’t you? Apparently not.
Our rulers can watch events elsewhere safe in the knowledge that their positions are secure and most unlikely to be challenged. And why might this be, Dear Reader? Because we are united in our dis-unitedness. Because you would never see a group of Christians linking arms around a group of praying Muslims to protect them as they did in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Nor all march under a single flag. Nor tolerate – nor even contemplate - a move across political, cultural and ethnic boundaries in such a way as to present a united front. Grumble and fulminate we may, but there is no unifying issue beyond blasphemy that is going to coalesce ‘the masses’ and provide a real and credible challenge to the status quo. So no revolt here, now or in the foreseeable future. Sorry to have disturbed you, you can go back to sleep now.
The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: [email protected]