By Andleeb Abbas
In Pakistan, the cry for change has never been stronger. The reason is all the reasons put together for change in the Middle East, Europe and Asia
Last year, it was a spring of change in the Middle East and later, we saw it enter Asia; now Europe is experiencing this restive movement. All across the world, people are increasingly intolerant of leaders unwilling to understand the pulse of the public. The Middle East uprising was heralded as the reversal of the suppression of the masses by autocratic tyrants who had gone overboard with their desire to rule forever. Rulers in Tunisia and Yemen had been there forever and had created fiefdoms where people were treated like keyboards of computers. Give a command and you could delete any opposition; push a button and you could create copy paste of any individual; deprive it of a charger and the battery and the person would cease to exist. Such was the complete control of the few over the many. Egypt followed and rebelled in a more organized manner to make the world take the clamor of change in the Middle East more seriously. Libya took longer and Syria is still a work-in-progress.
The Middle East phenomenon was supposed to be a trigger reaction across a region that shared similar political subjugation histories. There were understandable reasons for it to be so viral geographically. The spread of the uprising was considered as the completion of a cycle where suppression does lead to a revolt eventually, which then causes chaos before order sets in. However, if people expected this to be a regionally localized virus, they were wrong. Soon enough, we saw Europe stirring uneasily and we saw Asians not sitting easy either in India or in Pakistan.
Europe has surprised itself by being taken unaware by a stubborn recession that has only changed for the worse. The first to crack was Greece and despite all efforts by its political colleagues to bring it back to some economic respectability, it remains a case of deep-rooted economic rot. The fact that it now wants to opt out of the EU is reflective of the onset of a new world disorder. Portugal followed and so did Spain. Governments have announced austerity drives and people have come out on the streets, rejecting the belt tightening economic diets being dished out by the economic wiseguys of the IMF and World Bank. Italy went a few steps further as Prime Minister Berlusconi finally had to leave days after the Greek president George Papandreou went. Both countries were stuck under unbearable debt and failing to either convince the European Union to bail them out without putting in austerity measures and failing to convince a revolting public to become more cautious consumers. With a $ 2.6 trillion public debt, Mr Berlusconi had run out of all measures of his 17 years of spicy in and out politics and thus had to exit from the back door, avoiding a vociferous public calling for change. France looked a safer bet against any change as Sarkozy dealt with public pressure complacently. His main rival, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the ex-head of the IMF, was embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal with a hotel housekeeper in New York. As the man was removed from the IMF and politics, the French demand for change looked like it was subsiding into nothing. But that was not to be. France was the unquestioned joint head of the European Union along with Germany and Sarkozy’s relationship with Angela Merkel, termed ‘Markozy’, over a period of time, became a victim of debt and bad economics, forcing France to cede power to Germany. Francoise Hollande, who finally defeated Sarkozy in the recent elections accused him of favoring the rich and not caring for the poor. He stunned the world by taking 52 percent votes.
If dictatorship was the reason for change in the Arab world, economics was the instigation in Europe. The US itself has seen a sharp drop in the popularity of Mr Obama in the last couple of years due to its economy’s slow response to the policies of the Democrat government. Mitt Romney, his opponent, who was not considered stiff opposition, is now giving Mr Obama a run for his money as the disillusioned public looks for an alternative.
India, which had been categorized with China as a sterling example of a nation being stable and strong amidst turmoil in the world, was rocked with corruption scandals, first in the infamous Commonwealth Games and then the $ 40 billion corruption charges in awarding telecom licenses. The Anna Hazare protest attracted international attention and reflected the weakening stance of Manmohan Singh to take decisive action. However, the result in the elections in Uttar Pardesh was still stunning. The Samajwadi Party, 224 to 37 seats placing them lower than the BJP and other parties, routed the Congress Party. This is reflective of a global intolerance of governments who are unwilling to listen seriously to the concerns of the public.
In Pakistan, the cry for change has never been stronger. The reason is all the reasons put together for change in the Middle East, Europe and Asia. We have a sham democracy where leaders pretend that parliament is supreme but on all major issues, the will of the two men in charge supersedes the will of parliament. We have an economy that is so deep in debt that we have run out of all options except to print notes to keep our economy barely afloat. There is corruption that has broken all previous records and is now so rampant that most people are almost fatigued to talk about it. Thus, Pakistan is a basket case for change with everything that can go wrong going wrong. With so much unrest and protests, change should be inevitable. However, the biggest barrier to this change is the public’s disbelief in its ability to break a corrupt feudal system and an illiterate, largely rural society that is still not out of the clutches of landlords who mortgage the rural populace mentally and economically to a point of total subjugation. While this may be true to some extent, change has also trickled down due to penetration of the media at all levels. What is unanimous in all classes and levels is that if we do not change ourselves, we will be changed by other forces. The evidence of change all around the world has stirred the feeling that if each one exercises the right to vote, it is inevitable that the collective will of the nation will override the hurdles imposed by the opposer of change.
The writer is a leadership coach, columnist and an ex Info Secretary of PTI Punjab and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
( This article was written in 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring. The situation at that time coincided with the ascending popularity of Imran Khan who was perceived as the symbol of change in Pakistani politics- Akhtar Malik)