Why Pakistan has not caught the Middle East's revolution fever

By Reza Sayah
Few countries today are facing as many crippling crises as Pakistan. Some are identical to the problems that sparked revolutions and uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa: government corruption, unemployment, poverty and a floundering economy. But Pakistan has not caught the Middle East’s revolution fever.
Here are four reasons why:
1. Pakistan had its own version of a revolution in 2007. That’s when a largely middle-class movement, fed up with former President Pervez Musharraf’s military rule and failure to crack down on extremists, led an uprising against the regime. A civilian government came into power after the 2008 parliamentary elections that were widely viewed as free and fair. A few months later, Musharraf resigned as president and left the country.
2. Pakistanis have ample opportunities to let off steam and voice dissent through a remarkably free and vibrant press and political system. In Pakistan, trashing politicians is national sport that plays out daily on nearly two dozen 24-hour news channels. The only institution that is clearly immune to public criticism is the military and Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agencies. The relative freedom of expression in Pakistan is rare for an Islamic state, and it allows the public and opposition factions to vent their fury through public dissent instead of resorting to anti-government uprisings.
3. Pakistani culture is made up of at least six different ethnicities: Punjabi, Pashtun, Sindhi, Baluch, Muhajir and Kashmiri. Each has its own distinct culture and language. This diverse mix of ethnicities makes it difficult for Pakistanis to unite behind a single cause.
4. Pakistanis have many perceived enemies, so it’s often hard to decide whom to rise up against. Yes, the government in Islamabad is perceived as weak and corrupt, but many Pakistanis also view the U.S., Islamist extremists and India as its enemies, too. On any given week in Pakistan, you can find public protests against any one of these perceived enemies. Having too many foes reduces the intensity and focus of dissent, which are often prerequisites for an uprising.
There’s no sign of revolution coming to Pakistan, but this is still a country in a crucial region that desperately needs help and reform to address the most basic needs of its people. Change could come with the democratic mechanisms that are already in place there, but that will take a commitment from all institutions – including the powerful military – along with support from the international community and lots of patience.

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