Sialkot – The Trigger for Revolution?

VIEW: Sialkot and the writing on the wall — I —Naeem Tahir

There are also whispers that efforts are afoot to save the guilty. This may become an invitation to be lynched. Has anyone tried to understand the consequences? Do we understand the cause of mob anger and its desperation to take revenge without recourse to law?

A TV news channel was showing the gruesome killing of two young boys by a mob in Sialkot last week. It was so disturbing that I did not have the heart to watch it. I moved away, shocked. The channel was doing public service, but one wished that it were not true. Unfortunately, it was a horrible reality. Two young brothers, aged 19 and 15, returning from a playground, were beaten to death by an angry crowd. They were beaten by sticks in full view of the camera, in front of policemen. Their bodies were hung on 1122 signboards. Nobody tried to stop it. Video footage broadcast by the media clearly show that eight police officials behaved like silent spectators watching the two young brothers being tortured to death. Even some of the spectators were cheering and chanting slogans and encouraging the killers.

Nobody tried to find out if at all they were accomplices in a dacoity or not and, above all, the police let it happen. It was a violent expression of the mob and its contempt for the law and its administration. Some of the government representatives have vouched that legal action will be taken swiftly. A statement of zero credibility.

The two Mian Sahibs also landed in Sialkot at an MNA’s house and sent for the grieved parents to offer sympathies. How rude, and high and mighty can they be? The attitude is as shocking as the murder. Instead of going to the shattered parents and begging forgiveness, they chose to ‘send for’ the parents. How could anyone behave so obnoxiously? Did the ‘lions’ chicken out because of fear of the public? Did they assess the intensity of anger? Did the khadim-e-ala realise what khidmat his governance had done?

Then there are also whispers that efforts are afoot to save the guilty. This may become an invitation to be lynched. Has anyone tried to understand the consequences? Do we understand the cause of mob anger and its desperation to take revenge without recourse to law? The fact is that people have lost faith in institutions; they have lost faith in the people they are said to have voted for, and they find the justice system ineffective.

It is too alarming a reality. This is not an isolated incident. Similar mob revenge has been taken at other places. The targeted killings in Karachi are such an expression. Even the suicide bombings and the unrest in Swat and Waziristan are rooted in the failure of the justice system and the administration.

Are these warning signs of a bloody revolution waiting in the wings?

In the last 100 years, the world has seen the Russian, Chinese, Cuban and Iranian revolutions. A look at the causes of these revolutions and the crumbling of law enforcement systems shows that none of the conditions match our situation in entirety. However, this should be no consolation. No revolution is exactly the same. There are only some common elements. And the writing on the wall says that the common elements are on the increase in Pakistan.

In Iran, the regime that the revolution overthrew was thought to be heavily protected by a lavishly financed army and security services. As one observer put it: “Few expected the regime of the Shah, which had international support and a modern army of 400,000, to crumble in the face of unarmed demonstrators within a matter of months.” The difference in Pakistan is that it is ‘police’ in the protective mode, not the army.

Let us have a look at the analysis of the causes of ‘revolutions’ by historians.

First, the Iranian Revolution. The Shah’s strong policy of westernisation and close identification with a western power resulted in a clash with Iran’s Shia Muslim identity. This included the use of large numbers of US military advisers and technicians and granting of diplomatic immunity from prosecution to them, all of which led nationalistic Iranians, both religious and secular, to consider him a puppet of the West.

Does this appear familiar to our situation in some degree?

Add to this extravagance, corruption and elitism (both real and perceived) of the Shah’s policies and of his royal court; bottlenecks, shortages and inflation and Shah’s overconfident neglect of governance; failure to prepare and train security forces for dealing with protests and demonstrations, and failure to use crowd control without excessive violence. The personalised nature of the Shah’s government necessitated the concentration of all powers in very few hands.

In Pakistan’s context, the local governance has been disbanded and no government functionary can exercise his usual powers without reference to some big boss. There exists a personalised style of use of power by big bosses, like dictators.

Let us now look at Cuba’s revolution. It is summed up very adequately in the words of John F Kennedy in an interview with Jean Daniel on October 24, 1963: “I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonisation, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime. I approved the proclamation, which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.”

Almost a perfect parallel to the conditions and historical perspective of Pakistan.

Also note what Castro said.

(To be continued)

Naeem Tahir is a culture and media management specialist, a researcher, author, director and actor

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