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Can Pakistan have a successful uprising?

By Kinza Khan, Communications Intern

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The chaos and crime rate in Pakistan are increasing rapidly. Imran Khan, Pakistan’s former cricket captain and now politician, states, “Never in our history have we had such levels of corruption and such bad governance.” Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has been accused of multiple corruption charges, but he is protected due to the amnesty granted to him from the courts. Pakistan’s leading newspaper Dawn shares a US assessment of Zardari’s first year in office, stating that “[Zardari’s] and the government’s approval ratings consistently remain below 25 percent. Zardari’s reputation for corruption, which was with him when he took office, has yet to dissipate.” According to a 2009 report by the British Council, “only 1 in 10 of Pakistan’s youth (defined as those between ages 18 and 29) has confidence in the government. Half fear they will not find jobs. Nearly four-fifths believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction.”

The Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions inspired many other Arab countries’ populations to revolt against their governments. Did they inspire Pakistani citizens too? Given the dissatisfaction with the president, let us assume that it inspired at least some Pakistanis. But the real question is, is Pakistan capable of having a successful revolution like Egypt or Tunisia?

If we were to look at the conditions in Egypt that contributed to that nation’s successful revolution and then compared them to conditions in Pakistan, we would find some similarities and some fundamental differences.

They are both developing countries with a growing profile on the international political scene. Both countries also have strong militaries and a large, discontented youth population with median ages in the 20s.

However, there are more differences than similarities and each difference is very significant. For one, Egypt is united by a sense of nationalism rooted in a common “Egyptian identity.” This Egyptian identity is formed largely due to the fact that 99 percent of Egyptians share the common language of Arabic. Even though Pakistan’s official language is Urdu, only about 8 percent of Pakistan’s population speaks Urdu. The largest language is Punjabi and that is still only spoken by 44 percent, so clearly there is no one major language. While the existence of a common language serves as a uniting factor for Egyptians, the different languages, ethnicities and political views creates division among Pakistanis.

It is difficult for a country that is divided to this level to become united against a particular cause unless there is extreme motivation by people of all of the different “groups.” This raises another question about whether people in each socioeconomic, political, and language group are motivated to participate in an uprising against the government.

In general, Pakistan has a lower literacy rate than Egypt and this correlates with a smaller middle class, a lower level of political knowledge, and decreased political participation. According to the CIA World Factbook, Egypt’s literacy rate is 71.4 percent; 83 percent among males and 59.4 percent among females. Pakistan’s literacy rate is 49.9 percent; 63 percent among males and only 36 percent among females.

The majority of Pakistanis, about 60 percent, live on less than $2 a day. In some rural areas where literacy is low and poverty is high, the population would be more concerned with basic needs such as food and water than the country’s political scene from which they feel detached. The large middle class in Egypt contributed heavily to its success. Tufts University author and professor, Vali Nasr, expresses in an interview on NPR that the Egyptian middle class played a large role in Egypt’s uprising. He stated that Egypt has a very large middle class and that they were “very prominent in actually instigating it, in mobilizing it, and then defining the way in which it asked for its political demands.” In Pakistan, however, only 20 million out of 180 million make up the middle class, which is approximately 10 percent. This further suggests that if this revolution were organized over social media such as Facebook and twitter as it was in Egypt, it would only reach a small sect of Pakistan’s population.

If Pakistan were to start an uprising, it is possible that violence could break out among some different groups because of the dividing factors. Due to the presence of terrorist and ideological extremist groups in Pakistan, there is also a risk of increased danger and violence in certain areas.

These factors suggest that Pakistan is not yet cut out for a successful revolution.  If the youth are determined to revolt, however, it is possible that they may be able to overcome these difficulties and improve their homeland.

Sources:

Haider, Zeeshan. “Pakistani Court Throws out Amnesty for Zardari, Allies| Reuters.” Reuters, 16 Dec. 2009. Web. 15 June 2011

Nasr, Vali. “Muslim Middle Class Plays Role In Egypt Uprising : NPR.” Interview by Steve Inskeep. NPR. 18 Feb. 2011. Web. 22 June 2011. <http://www.npr.org/2011/02/18/133860407/The-Middle-Easts-Middle-Class>.

“Population by Mother Tongue.” Population Census Organization. Government of Pakistan. Web. 22 June 2011. <http://www.census.gov.pk/MotherTongue.htm>.

Waraich, Omar. “Imran Khan: Youthful Pakistan Could Revolt Against Zardari.” Editorial. TIME.com. 20 Feb. 2011. Web. 22 June 2011. <http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2049747,00.html>.

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One Response to “Can Pakistan have a successful uprising?”

  1. Arshad Hameed says:

    The tendency to compare Pakistan’s state of affairs with the Arab revolt is incorrect, if viewed with rationality. In Pakistan no monarchy is in power. People carrying a political mandate are sitting in parliament; our civil society is mobilized while the media is enjoying its relative freedom. Despite suffering from the wounds of the war on terror and natural calamities, our institutions are recovering, though at medium pace. If we keep these aspects in mind, we cannot compare it with the Arab counties, which neither enjoy specific geo-political complexities nor have quite a certain say in regional affairs like Pakistan. Thus, analyzing Pakistan’s state of affairs in the prism of rationality and impartiality is important. The only problem that we suffering is religious extremism whose seed is arguably been sown way before General Zia came to power but it cannot be denied that his bigoted legacy is something that we have not been able to undo for the last three decades. No one can say for sure how long it will be before we can get rid of Zia’s legacy, but there is no doubt in my mind that Pakistan cannot survive if we continue with it.

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