What is the likelihood of a mass-level movement in Pakistan, of the kind we have seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Libya?
I would have said ‘very little’, if in the near past there wasn’t the notable example of the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of judiciary and democracy. Even then, there are many who would reject the possibility of another movement in the near future, because they think that the situation of Pakistan is entirely different from states that have either recently experienced a people’s revolution or are still going through that.
For instance, it is said that the people of Pakistan have avenues to express their views against the government, such as free media. This is true, that free media and thus freedom of speech is a blessing for Pakistanis. But there is no doubt that free media cannot give people jobs, electricity, natural gas, petrol or many other everyday necessities. And there is no doubt that the current government in Pakistan has failed to meet the needs of its people.
Nevertheless, people do realise the costs of no democracy in the country, and it is very likely that another revolution could bring back the military from their barracks. Such a scenario would be much worse for the country, both domestically and internationally.
Perhaps the situation in Pakistan would have been different, had the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government needed no allies to form a government in the centre. However, this is not the case. The PPP sustains a federal government thanks to alliances with other political parties. In addition, there is virtually no say of the PPP in the Punjab provincial government, as the PPP’s ministers have been removed. This means that in the biggest province (population-wise) of Pakistan, the central government of the PPP cannot do much – or, I will say, anything - considering the fact that the government of Punjab is ruled by a PPP rival party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
The country, faced with multiple challenges, cannot avoid developments at the global level. A recent example is the roughly 24 per cent increase in international petrol prices since November 2010, and accordingly the increase in domestic petrol prices in Pakistan. This is faced with a strong opposition – not only from the masses but also from a coalition party, Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). Although the country’s economy is in a terrible state, the price of petrol had to be increased, which the government has recently done by around 10 per cent. This development is likely to spread a wave of anger among the people, against the weak central government. It has already to some extent, with strikes by transport unions in different parts of the country - and we all know in the end common people suffer due to all this.
Another issue, which has been viewed in relation to a civic movement in Pakistan, is the case of Raymond Davis. In January 2011, Davis shot dead two Pakistani men in Lahore. At that point Davis was not a declared diplomat in Pakistan, but later his name was included in the list of American diplomats submitted by the US Embassy to the Pakistani Foreign Office. However, now it is clear that he is a CIA contractor and that the two people he killed belonged to Pakistan’s military intelligence, ISI. The US has been offering many solutions to obtain immunity for Davis, including the release of Aafia Siddique, a Pakistani woman in the USA who is serving 86 years in prison for a terror plot. None of the proposed solutions has worked so far, and we need to know why.
The government of Zardari, the current President, would have done anything to please their American friends. But in the beginning the central government could not do much, because Davis committed the heinous crime in Lahore, the capital of Punjab. As mentioned before, in Punjab the government is led by PML-N, and they had refused to offer immunity or any diplomatic protocol to Davis.
In the end Davis was released after the families of the victims were paid $2.4 million in diyya - a form of monetary compensation or blood money as per Islamic law. Consequently, as warned, the Tehreek-e-Insaf of Imran Khan and several other groups launched nation-wide protests against the central government.
Even though Davis has been deported back to the US, his case has dented the Islamabad-Washington relations and perhaps much to the liking of the people of Pakistan. There has been a strong anti-US sentiment growing among Pakistanis, particularly due to frequent drone attacks in the country’s tribal areas. It seems the people will be delighted that its leadership, such as the president, is issuing strong statements now against the war on terrorism – unlike what was done in the past. There has also been a demand from Pakistan to reduce the number of CIA staff in the country.
There is a strong desire to foster democracy in the country even if it has come with greater challenges in the form of lack of good governance, terrorism and even mismanagement in disaster rehabilitation affairs. Therefore, the likelihood of a mass movement in Pakistan is uncertain because some institutions are doing their job, in particular the judiciary.