Observations, deductions and feelings fueled by tequila, tea and tobacco

A rebellion against change

In International Geo-Politics, Nation, Politics on March 15, 2009 at 21:42

All this time I thought current political disturbances in Pakistan were a conflict between two individuals and between two political parties. Guess I was wrong.

This seems to be a revolt against change. This seems to be a Punjab versus the rest-of-Pakistan battle, thought its largely being seen as a Punjab versus Sindh one.

Pakistan has long been about Punjabis ruling the rest. They did share some power with the Sindhis and Pashtuns but even when the Bhuttos ruled, key power rested with the Army chiefs who’ve been strong Punjabi supporters. However, recent years have seen the Punjabi, not Pakistani, pride take hits from all quarters.

Pashtuns, who had for long made bulks of lower-middle levels in the army and been used for state missions – both legit and clandestine – refused the Punjabi commands. And then they turned around and gave rest of the army a bloody nose before throwing the army out of almost a whole province.

The Baloch, who’d almost never mattered, too rose in rebellion and gave the Punjabi army a hard time. To make it worse, their province also hosts the most important strategic assets of Pakistan – important oil & gas sources, nuclear weapon assets and the Gwadar deep sea port, amongst others.

As if this was not enough, a traditionally Sindhi led party got the political power and its Baluch leader became the very powerful, even if inept, President. This has resulted in key actions that have been detrimental to Punjabi status within the Islamic republic – banning the Sharifs from elected positions, a large PPP+PML(Q) majority in Punjab assembly, appointment of new apathetic judges to courts in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. The Punjabis see this as a change from the decades of status quo where the Punjabi landed elite and army commanders ruled the country, together or alternately.

What we are seeing now in Lahore, and across Punjab, is a revolution against this change – against a dilution of power away from the old Punjabi elite.

How strongly the Punjabi populace (or at least the elite) believes in their right to rule, and feel offended on being beaten back on so many fronts, is evident from the revolt. Its key leaders are all closely linked to power – lawyers, politicians, police chiefs and the bureaucracy. Even though Gen. Kiyani is against involvement, key Punjabi commanders in the army and secret services too would be largely involved in the action.

Interesting to note is the realisation emerging from the PML(N) leadership regarding the new scenario. Nawaz Sharif has been come out and said even at the peak of today’s demonstrations that he is willing to rule with Zardari. Even though they are, for the moment, prime gainers from these protests, Nawaz Sharif also realises the same crowds could also turn against him in future. Also there is the realisation that a complete takeover of power could provoke a similarly strong reaction from Sindh compounding the situation with Baluchistan and NWFP already on fire.

So what’s the future?

The army is still too powerful and too organised to let the country go to the point of breakup yet. It also knows that if it takes power for itself, these popular protests could easily turn against it as well. Most importantly, it’s smart enough to realise that the international community would not accept it and is waiting and watch the politicians discredit themselves on all grounds – economic, security, political and stability.

Short term – the way to near-term stability would be an army and US brokered peace between PPP and PML(N). It would be a combined Punjabi-Sindhi leadership in truce with the Pushtuns, exploiting the Baluch, and those from Gilgit and Baltistan like ever before.

Long term? Unka khuda hi jaanta hoga, I have no clue!

Till next time.

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  1. […] to see someone seeing the disturbances across the border with the same angle as me. It may be prompted by their solely sensationalist outlook but I was surprised by the coverage of […]

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