Aima Agha, working on a research project on Pakistan, has sent us the following statement/ set of preliminary questions. She would be grateful if you could
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take a few moments to respond using the comment form.
Moment or Movement?
The big question for those of us who follow Pakistani news – every now and then, every here and there – is whether a wind of change is blowing through Pakistan? We say ‘we are not revolutionary people’ as we watch with sheer admiration the Arab Spring sweep through parts of Africa and the Middle East but we cannot deny that we are human and we are evolving, constantly, for that is what it means to be living and to be alive.
As a Pakistani, for the first time in my life, I believe that the Pakistani society is socially and politically mobilized like never before. Perhaps, we are inspired by the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street protesters as we empathize with their grievances, or perhaps, we have simply had enough already with a system of governance that is not working for anyone, anymore. To a large extent, we share the same problems as others west of us – soaring unemployment rates, an ever-widening income gap between the rich and the poor, the social imbalance that is a curse of our times, corruption and lack of transparency and accountability, and the list goes on – but then, there are problem endogenous to the Pakistani society itself such as the ethnic and religious lines that divide us, lack of political leadership, homegrown terrorism, educational and other government policies from the 1980s, power shortages that hamper economic progress and this list too seems endless.
This past decade has witnessed civil society getting stronger by the year and stepping in to create awareness, mobilize people to protest or simply to push the government to adopt better policies, to provide basic services in the aftermath of natural disasters, and now the rallies organized by PTI are a testament to a society willing to affect change.
The question could be framed as follows:
Are we witnessing a social movement in Pakistan or is it just a moment in time which too shall pass, soon to be forgotten and never to be spoken of again? Are we a society ripe to bring change – a new system of governance?
Are we willing to carve out a new Pakistani identity for ourselves irrespective of our ethnic backgrounds?
Are we Muslims before we are Sunnis, Shia, Deobandies, Qadiri, Baralevis? (Does it all really truly matter?)
Can we be Muslims yet tolerant in our views and practices?
More importantly, can we come together despite our differences to create a state that serves the needs of the larger society?
Can collective contentious politics effect political and sociological change in Pakistan?
Please feel free to share any thoughts you may have.