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Monday, June 10, 2024

A smart agitation in Pakistan

The smart agitation is gaining ground in the wake of the political, social, and economic crises that gripped the country after the recent regime change operation in Pakistan. The concept of smart agitation has evolved as a counter to the ham-handedness with which the sitting government tried to crush the PTI "Long March" on 25 May 2022.

During the Covid 19 Pandemic, while the countries around the world were clamping complete lockdowns in their cities, the Imran Khan government refused to do so and introduced the concept of smart lockdown. His government did it by sealing the areas of the infected cluster population only while easing restrictions on economic activities under the safety guidelines. Facing vehement opposition from Imran Khan’s political opponents, the concept gradually gained recognition as the best option for controlling the pandemic while securing the businesses and peoples’ livelihoods.

A similar concept – the smart agitation – is gaining ground in the wake of the political, social, and economic crises that gripped the country after the recent regime change operation in Pakistan. The concept of smart agitation has evolved as a counter to the ham-handedness with which the sitting government tried to crush the PTI “Long March” on 25 May 2022. Moving through the barrage of rubber bullets and tear gas shells, the PTI activists reached Islamabad’s Red Zone, only to be constrained afterward by Imran Khan, fearing a blood bath if he didn’t call off the march.

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Such agitations in the past mobilized the masses to some extent but failed to remove the sitting governments. In the end, the military bureaucracy benefitted by delivering the coup de grace – the final blow or shot that kills a wounded person or animal. The agitations, therefore, always resulted in the imposition of martial law. In the end, the agitators melted away into the thin air, as if they had never existed.

Soon, the masses forgot why they had been agitating in the first place

This pattern repeated itself in the cloudburst agitation that started in October 1968 against Ayub Khan’s eleven-year rule.  This agitation ended in Yahya Khan’s martial law. As the subsequent events proved, Yahya Khan was an instrument of the US strategy in South Asia. He facilitated Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to China. According to Kissinger, Yahya promised him to give independence to East Pakistan in March 1972.

In truncated Pakistan, general elections were held by Bhutto on 7 March 1977. Before the elections, a nine-party electoral alliance was formed by the opposition to unseat Bhutto. The elections were thoroughly rigged, prompting another countrywide agitation, which lingered on for five months after which martial law was declared. The nine-party alliance fizzled out in the air. Addressing the parliament, Bhutto had accused the US of financially supporting the agitation. General Zia, who replaced Bhutto, was to lead Pakistan in fighting the US-sponsored Jihad when the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Zia was terminated after he had outlived his utility for the US. Enter the Bhutto-Zardaris and  Sharifs.

General Pervez Musharraf overthrew Nawaz Sharif on 12 October 1999 and clamped martial law. Musharraf’s ascent to power was made possible due to Nawaz Sharif’s propensity to shoot himself in the foot. Perhaps, for the first time, the US didn’t play any role in the overthrow of a civilian government in Pakistan. Musharraf ruled for almost eleven years and facilitated the US invasion of Afghanistan. He was replaced by bringing in the Bhutto-Zardaris and Sharifs again in the corridors of power. The recycled pawns had to fulfill the US global agenda in South Asia, where Musharraf had left it, by 1) Keeping Afghanistan destabilized to fulfill the US plans in the Eurasian landmass;2) Promoting India as the dominant power in the region;3) Checkmate China.

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The regime change in Pakistan

We need not repeat how much the US disliked Imran Khan and how a US-sponsored regime-change operation was enacted to forever remove him from power. Imran Khan is facing a difficult situation. In the baseball language, all the bases are loaded against him. Imran Khan will have to fight not only his political opponents, but also the civil and military bureaucracy, and a segment of the judiciary into which the Sharif dynasty has planted its sympathizers. He has to decide between the old patterns of slogging agitations, which always ended in martial law, or mobilizing the public opinion to the extent that the sitting government crumbles.

Though they claimed to be the most powerful political force in Tsarist Russia, the Bolsheviks were a relatively small but very well-organized political party. The massive agitation against the Tsarist rule was the result of disorganized public protests which gradually gained momentum, making space for the Bolsheviks to seize power.

Similarly, when the mass protests against Shah of Iran’s regime, including his army, started, Khomeini was in exile in Paris from where he directed the campaign against Reza Shah Pahlavi. The Iranian revolution, like the Bolshevik revolution before it, was anarchy that created a vacuum, and the forces opposed to the Shah ultimately filled this vacuum. The Islamists, being the most organized force, seized power. This is also why the military bureaucracy, the most organized force in Pakistan, had always seized power at the end of every political agitation.

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This is the challenge facing Imran Khan – how to synchronize the disorganized public wrath into an organized force that outsmarts his political opponents, their beneficiaries in the civil and military bureaucracy (including the election commission), and the sponsored media? It needs organizing and training of the political cadres. This will be a long, drawn-out struggle.


Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.