By Rabia Khalid Rathore and Dr. Theodore Karasik
Talks about a revolution and reformation in Pakistan surfaced months before the “Arab Revolt” especially after the Pakistan Floods 2010 as the effects of the devastating blow were being felt countrywide. Altaf Hussain, the leader of the political party Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), announced publicly that it was time to take “martial law-like steps” to reverse the prevailing situation in Pakistan and Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of the leading political party, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, commented that he foresaw a “bloody revolution” in Pakistan. Pakistan seemed ripe for an uprising at that time. But no “Spring” occurred. In 2011, the Middle East and the world saw the ‘power of people’ challenging their respective governments. Meanwhile, in Pakistan the economy along with the political and social instability further deteriorated. However, some analysts began to question whether or not the effects of the “Arab Revolt” will inspire Pakistanis to follow their neighbors to the West.
Are the Socio-Economic Structural Similarities of Pakistan and the Arab States Enough for an Uprising?
Where on one hand there has been an increase in food prices in Egypt as they spent 40 percent of their monthly income on food, which is amongst the highest global rates compared to the Chinese and Saudi Arabian who spent 20 percent, on the other hand Pakistan spends about 46 percent on the total income on food compared to its bigger neighbor India with 35 percent. Not only are there about 40 percent of Egyptians living on less than $2 a day in comparison to 60 percent of Pakistanis who live on less than $2 a day but Pakistan is also ranked 127th on the 2010 Human Development Index which is below Egypt as it is ranked 103rd out of a total of 169 countries. According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook statistics on unemployment rates, Syria ranks 94, Egypt 107 and Pakistan 152 from 200 countries as published in 2010. In 2010 alone there were about 119 suicides in Pakistan similar to that of the Mohammed Bouzizi in Tunsia. The people of the Arab states overthrew their rulers in the hopes to get a democratic system free of social problems such as corruption, poverty, high inflation and high unemployment. While the same social issues persist in Pakistan as the Pakistanis face the same relative deprivation as the Arab countries and in fact Pakistan is significantly poorer, it still has not caught on to the frenzy.
Although it may not be easy or fair to compare Pakistan to the Middle Eastern countries their ostensible similarities such as corruption cannot be ignored. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2010 Bahrain ranks 48, Tunisia 59, Egypt 98, Syria 127, Pakistan 143, Libya and Yemen 146 out of 180 countries. The former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak along with his sons Alaa and Gamal were reported to have abused their power status to seize assets belonging to the Egyptian people estimated to be more than $700 billion. On the other hand, before spending eight years in prison Asif Ali Zardari, the current president of Pakistan, along with his wife Benazir Bhutto, former leader of Pakistan, were accused of appropriating of $1.5 billion from the Pakistani government during Benazir Bhutto’s two terms. However, General Pervez Musharraf, former President of Pakistan, issued the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) in 2007, which granted amnesty to politicians and bureaucrats who were previously charged with corruption in order to assist Bhutto’s return to Pakistan from exile. In turn, the NRO helped Musharraf to gain the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) support through the presidential election while he held on to his position as army chief.
Political Regimes in Pakistan and the Arab States
Pakistanis have had various political experiences since its independence which also includes the rule of a religious political party in one of its provinces, Kyber Pakhtunkhwa. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ruled in Tunisia for 24 years, Hosni Mubarak ruled for 30 years in Egypt, Col. Muammar Gaddafi stayed in power for 42 years in Libya which had become a cause of “political suffocation” for the people. However, as UK interlocutor states Pakistan has had a functional democracy and held elections three years ago. In Pakistan’s history there has been martial law, rule of a political autocrat as well as democratically elected representatives from the many existing political parties such as Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Awami National Party (ANP), Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and etc. These parties can and have also formed coalition government with one another like the currently existing coalition between PPP, MQM and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal. Clearly Pakistan lacks a singular “power point” or a single authority to unanimously revolt against. Moreover, unlike Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, Bahrain and Syria, the Pakistanis have seen changes of many governments because of the power play between the prevailing different “power points.”
Pakistan a Nation-State?
Even though Pakistan’s situation economically and socially is a lot worse than the Arab States, it is also more diverse on its ethnic and cultural grounds compared to the Arab countries. Therefore their cultural interests may conflict with one another along with their support for a political party in particular. For the Arab states, even though the dialects differ, the uniting factor or link is the Modern Standard Arabic that is commonly used because of Twitter, Facebook, and regional networks such al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera. Whereas within Pakistan there are approximately 23 different languages spoken representing the different cultures. These differences amongst the Pakistanis have become more salient over the years due to the policies implemented by the successive governments which oppressed the people of smaller provinces and seized their provincial resources. Pakistan, a feudalistic society, has about 68.3 percent of the total Pakistani population residing in rural areas. According to a Pakistan interlocutor, the feudal lord has control over the municipality and the power to lead a revolution; the people are only concerned with their feudal leader, their tribe and their land. Furthermore, he says that in Pakistan revolutions do not come to main cities where the common man would come out to protest and demand for a change and so we see the lack of consistency that the Arab countries have. Therefore in terms of politics, each political party dominates an ethnic group in Pakistan regardless of the socio-economic classes that exist within these groups. For example the PPP dominates the poor as well as the rich Sindhis of Pakistan whereas ANP dominates all the Pashtuns. Due to diverging interests and different “power points” the Pakistanis will not have a coherent revolt. Moreover, this inconsistency exists not just amongst different ethnic groups but also within them. A good example is of the decades old rivalry between the Bugti and Marri tribes of Balochistan.
Ethnic differences and tribalism is another reason that the ongoing insurgency in Balochistan cannot destabilize Pakistan. Other than being a localized conflict, there are differences in agenda amongst the key nationalistic Baloch groups including Bugtis, Marris and Mengals. One instance is the rivalry that escalated between the Mengal and Marri tribes after the meeting of Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani with Sardar Attahullah Mengal in 2010. The Baloch nationalist are not united in their own cause which goes on to reflect the flaws in the Baloch nationalist movement. In addition, the Baloch insurgency is not widespread mainly because the Baloch insurgents do not have control over most of their territory. Overall, there will be no broad-based movement as most do not share the identity affiliation with the Balochi population or a direct concern with their cause.
Despite the superficial similarities between Pakistan and the Arab States, Pakistan is not likely to follow the Arab Revolts. Unlike the Arab countries that experienced the uprisings Pakistan has had its fair share of different leaders along with different styles of government. The loyalties of the people towards the different political parties are just as diverse as their ethnicities and so Pakistan’s government is not comprised of a singular political faction that the people could overthrow. Moreover, Pakistan is predominantly a feudalistic society where the masses identify with their ethnicities more than their Pakistani identity which has led to years of mistrust and internal conflict. The conflict is amongst and within the different ethnic groups as seen in the case of Baloch. Therefore, Pakistan lacks the unanimity amongst its people to bring about a coherent revolution.
The Arab Spring will not spread into Pakistani territory but the question then becomes: Can the spread in the GCC of a revolt have any affect on Pakistan given Islamabad’s close mil-mil relations with the monarchies? The GCC have been paying the Pakistani soldiers in their armed forces for their services. Due to the uprising in Bahrain additional Pakistani soldiers were sent to the GCC states. However, Pakistani soldiers do not share the “revolt ideology” as their only incentive is money and thus any revolt in the GCC or their removal from the GCC armed forces will have no or little impact on them. Yet, the core of Pakistan’s Middle East policy lies in the heart of the GCC where Pakistan extends its “strategic depth.” If the revolt spreads in the other GCC countries especially Saudi Arabia or the UAE then one must ask if Pakistan’s security objective is endangered.
Rabia Khalid Rathore, INEGMA Summer Intern 2011, INEGMA, Dr. Theodore Karasik, Director, R&D, INEGMA