Have the Islamabad sit-ins induced a soft revolution?
It always starts with an idea. A vague, superfluous, far-fetched idea that aims at changing set, ingrained notions. An idea which challenges the legitimacy of the status-quo. The idea then goes through the mill, fails, succeeds, rises and sinks time and again before it is finally ripe. The journey is never easy but an idea whose time has come becomes a deluge that can hardly be stopped short of becoming a reality.
For more than sixty years, Pakistani people lived by the idea that someday power will actually come to the masses. That the politicians will stop being plunderers and rulers will stop being emperors. The idea that one day people will be able to hold their elected representatives accountable for the infractions they have committed for so long. This idea, it seems now, is starting to become a reality.
The incident of Rehman Malik’s offloading from the PIA plane the other day cannot fairly be considered in isolation. It indicated something way more than a superficial analysis may lead one to believe. It was the practice of an idea that has always been considered alien to Pakistan. For the first time people stood up like that for their right and decided to exercise their collective power in face of a figure who represents the ‘untouchables’ of this land in every way.
Not only did the passengers of that flight stop the former minister from entering the plane but they also threw out a sitting MNA, who was easily sitting on his seat, of PML-N as well. That much celebrated incident actually marked the beginning of a new culture in Pakistan. It was an example of ordinary citizens taking a stand in front of authoritative politicians. Indeed it was a blow to the corrupted political system of Pakistan that operates on the principle of ‘might is right’.
That incident sent the message that if people decide to take a stand, politicians can no longer evade the answers and accountability like they always have.
The incident of Rehman Malik’s offloading from the PIA plane the other day cannot fairly be considered in isolation. It indicated something way more than a superficial analysis may lead one to believe.
But that incident did not happen in isolation either. Coincidentally, the change in the attitude of people nationwide is actually being inspired by a major ongoing political happening in the capital. The sit-ins of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek, which have now entered their second month, are posing a continuous challenge to the idea of abuse of power, which is deep-rooted in our political culture.
In one of PTI’s election campaign advertisements last year, ordinary citizens were shown blocking a VIP cavalcade consisting of a number of black Mercedes, which had blocked the traffic. That scene was something which could hardly be taken seriously back then simply because people standing up to the powerful elite was an idea far beyond the bounds of realism in the Pakistani culture. More than one year later, the idea that the PTI advertisement projected does not seem impossible.
The sit-ins in Islamabad have a great symbolic value as well. While traditional politicians, who benefit the most from the prevailing system, continue to deride and belittle PTI and PAT, the protests continue to pose a significant threat to their monopoly over the power structure.
“The sit-ins have provided the common people the confidence that they can stand up for their rights”, said Moeed Pirza, a senior political analyst.
It is the masses who are supposed to be the centre of power in any democracy. “We are finally seeing people protesting against the privileges that their rulers enjoy”, Prizada continued, “and this is the essence of democracy.”
Imran Khan, his many political fumbles notwithstanding, in particular represents the kind of change that the Rehman Malik incident hinted at. Since the start of his political career, Khan has directly challenged the corrupt political elite that is known for its misuse of power. Imran Khan has often been criticised for his lack of conventional political acumen and the shrewdness required to excel at the top ranks of power.
In one of PTI’s election campaign advertisements last year, ordinary citizens were shown blocking a VIP cavalcade consisting of a number of black Mercedes, which had blocked the traffic.
But many consider this a plus point as well. He is still largely respected as a national hero. Even his worst enemies shy away from calling him corrupt. He has not let any of his party member misuse power in KPK. Hence, for better or for worse, Imran Khan represents the change that many of Pakistanis want. He has made some serious mistakes on the way too, but his party’s sit-in in Islamabad is actually starting to change mindsets across the nation. Even if it ends in a political defeat for him, it will have a moral victory written all over it.
More than strengthening Imran Khan or of his allies, the Islamabad sit-ins have weakened the PML-N government and the traditional power elite. The common people of Pakistan, who have been exploited socially and economically for so long, are desperate to find a messiah and even if it is somebody other than Imran Khan or Tahirul Qadri, they would rally behind him because the current system has failed them time and again. The PTI sit-in symbolises the people taking a stand against the theft of their basic right to vote. It was again a message to the rulers that they cannot escape answers if the people are up against them. And that message is now starting to reverberate throughout the country.
“All kinds of social forces are now getting mobilised”, said Muhammad Waseem, a political scientist and professor at LUMS.
“Media has played a crucial role in making the masses aware”, he continued, adding that “now we are looking at examples of rulers criticised and made answerable in public courts”.
While the sit-ins continue, the fiery, rhetorical speeches of the same old politicians have become recurrent in the parliament as well. While Nawaz Sharif, who sits at the top of this political order, apparently looks safe, the elephant in the room for him is too big to be overlooked. The public discontent towards the government keeps escalating every day and for the first time people are looking at a possible alternative that Imran Khan promises them every night in his speeches.
Whatever the conclusion of Islamabad sit-ins, they have spurred a ‘soft revolution’ that, if successful, can bury the traditional political system in which ordinary citizens have always been treated like the children of a lesser god.