By Dr. Haider Mehdi
“We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
– Martin Luther King, in his 1963 speech “I Have a Dream”
“The need for jobs and shared economic prosperity remains as urgent and compelling as it was forty-seven years ago.”
– Martin Luther King III, 2010
When Muntadar Al-Zaidi, an Iraqi journalist, threw his shoes at George W. Bush on December 14, 2008, it was an expression of anger, discontent, frustration, helplessness, and resentment against the injustice and hypocrisy meted out to oppressed people. But above that, it was a pedagogy of the oppressed – a lesson in an ultimate expressive method to vent human suffering and draw attention to the perpetrators of the hideous crimes against humanity and a nation.
Throwing shoes at someone is the ultimate insult, the conclusive judgment of mistrust and dishonor – the message that one’s integrity and credibility has suffered irreparable losses and that one is held in absolute disrespect beyond possible redemption. The act is a manner of protest – in Bush’s case a political protest. Protestors have also found many other ways in venting their anger; recently demonstrators threw eggs and tomatoes at Tony Blair in Dublin and London during his book signing ceremony, and carried placards demanding Blair’s trial as a war criminal. The protestors chanted, “Blair lied, millions died!” and, “Lock him up for genocide!” Shoes were also hurled in his direction, according to media reports. Oppressed people all over the world are protesting against social and economic injustice and demanding retribution for the crimes of political managers responsible for the continued saga of atrocities against the masses.
The point is: What about Pakistan? Why aren’t the masses protesting more? Why aren’t the demonstrators hurling shoes, eggs and tomatoes at the dysfunctional leadership? Why aren’t the people demanding the punishment of the ruling elite that has messed up the country time and again? Why is this ongoing oppression being tolerated? Isn’t there enough social-economic injustice to warrant people’s wrath? Isn’t there plenty of corruption, political mismanagement, economic disparity, deceit, and symbolic-emotional manipulation against the nation that should draw a massive reaction of people’s discontent?
Why aren’t the people throwing shoes, rotten eggs and tomatoes at their political managers and leadership that has betrayed them and brought the nation to an edge of ultimate disaster?
Whereas the entire world is moving towards sustainable democratic principles and ethics, the Pakistani political leadership is heading in the opposite direction. For example, a number of Japanese prime ministers have resigned in the wake of charges of corruption, mismanagement and inefficiency. Only last week the South Korean prime minister-designate and two other ministerial nominees stepped down because of allegations of corruption, and the country’s serving foreign minister resigned amid a nepotism row. But in Pakistan, the failed political administration is hell-bent on clinging onto power and to violate each and every norm of parliamentary democracy.
The problem in Pakistan is of a fundamental political nature. The traditional ruling elite and the incumbent political managers are from a different time and age, and are incapable of understanding or appreciating people’s aspirations, their needs and demands or the basic norms and principles of democratic governance. They fail to comprehend that “democracy” is simply not only the process of voting – that an essential element in a democratic structure is to construct a viable and just system of economic and social parity. Without social-economic justice, a democracy becomes a meaningless slogan – a symbol of manipulative opacity to exclusively serve an oligarchy against the overall legitimate and democratic rights of the common people.
Con Coughlin of The Telegraph of London in a recent column said that “[Pakistan’s] government’s handling of the crisis [flood devastation] has revived perceptions that the country’s political elite is interested only in taking care of its own interests.” Farhan Bokhari, a Pakistan- based commentator, wrote recently, “Time and time again, the target of benefit from policies in key areas has essentially been well-endowed interest groups.” That sums up the truth and the problematic of the democratic transition in Pakistan.
But how long can this trend go on? How long can this politically oppressive, reactionary, and colonial mindset and its destructive impacts be tolerated? We are already at the abyss of total political annihilation.
Why aren’t the people hurling shoes at their political leadership? Where are our Muntadar Al-Zaidis?
Pakistan’s entire traditional ruling elite and present political leadership, including PPP, PML(N) and the majority of opposition party leaders, are time-stuck in a capsule of morbid, uninspiring, un-visionary, diseased, unwholesome and out-of-date political thinking. They are not “transformational” politicians, nor do they understand the need for “transformational” politics. They prefer the “political status-quo” – they are intellectually and politically incapable of handling “change”, and they do not believe in the need for a “change” or in the dynamics of change. They are temperamentally brain-dead to the awareness that without a fundamental change in Pakistan’s present political culture and its devastating manifestations, this nation faces certain political demise. They are immune to the consequences of their political actions – they are not capable of assessing the enormity of damage they are causing to national interests and to the welfare of the country’s masses.
Pakistan’s ruling elite and political leadership’s preferred approach to politics is essentially of a manipulative, coercive and symbolic democratic rhetoric: non-substantive and targeted to spreading fear of political change in the minds and hearts of people. The present political leadership and ruling elite is apprehensive that should a discourse of fundamental political change set in, their traditional hold on economic, social and political power will erode. Consequently, they are uninterested in, and in fact, opposed to a fundamental restructuring of socio-economic national policies.
I wonder why people aren’t throwing shoes at their so-called elected representatives in the wake of the current flood devastation and the incumbent government’s lukewarm insufficient and deadly slow response to the needs, safety and security of the affected population.
Let’s be very clear; this ruling elite and the present political structure and system is incapable of delivering needs to the people of Pakistan; it is backward, inefficient, corrupt, politically moribund, and essentially inoperable in the present-day ground realities in the country.
What we need is a revolutionary change in Pakistan’s political culture and a renaissance in political thinking. There is an imperative need to take several U-turns in almost every sphere of national politics. Without a dramatic change in the conduct of national politics, we stand a doomed nation. For the present political leadership, this task of nation-building and enacting a fundamental systemic “change” in political culture and its structure is insurmountable. In fact, it is beyond the realm of their political integrity and vision. We have already arrived at the dead-end.
In this envisioned process of “change,” Pakistan must disassociate itself from the US-West’s “war” on Islamic people and the so-called “war on terrorism” in Afghanistan and unleashed on the people of Pakistan by drone attacks and covert destabilizing activities. Peace and stability cannot come to this country without such disengagement.
Pakistan must enact a systemic structure promoting self-reliance, a resilient economy, fair and equitable socio-economic distribution, a healthy attitude towards democratic ethics and an acknowledgement that national unity requires equal treatment, fair sharing and democratic rights to every citizen in all four provinces. It is a tall order.
In my mind’s eye, I imagine a leadership that is totally dedicated to the welfare of the Pakistani masses – beyond their self-interests and above their personal egos. I imagine a leadership that does not even have the time to shave or put on make-up, or press their “shalwar khamis,” or indulge in any extravagant socialization. They live and die for the nation’s welfare.
I also imagine, not in the far off future, people throwing “shoes” at their elected political representatives.
That’s where the revolution for change will start in Pakistan!
The writer is an academic, political analyst and conflict-resolution expert. He is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.