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Political awakening

It was Victor Hugo who said “No force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come”. It seems that the time for new political awakening has arrived in Pakistan, even if it is limited to certain cross-sections of society.

It needs to be seen whether this new political awakening/movement will consolidate itself further and spread more broadly.

The history of resistance is not new in Pakistan. However, there are certain moments when all the elements of resistance come together as a strong force. The year 1968 was such moment.

When there is repression, there is also the fight-back, exemplified by a civil rights movement led by the Pashtuns. For too long, inhabitants of their areas were voiceless; such movements have given a voice to their grievances.

However, the movement has been criticized from all quarters: statist elements calling it part of the fifth generation warfare against Pakistan and established Pashtun parties alleging them to be part of an effort to destabilize the old Pashtun nationalist guard. Whichever way one views it, the movement has been successful in consolidating its popularity in the electoral field too.

The huge turnout at Aurat March 2019 shook the patriarchy. The ground for women rights’ consciousness was built with the labour of love of activists like Asma Jahangir, Shehla Zia, and other members of the old guard. The active and overwhelming participation of young women showed that the time for the idea of challenging patriarchy in the public has come in Pakistan.

It generated a huge debate post March 8, 2019 where ironically even someone from the old guard of women’s movement found the liberating slogans of Aurat March a bit too daring. The overwhelming positive and negative response to Aurat March shows that it succeeded in raising issues related to women’s rights in the public domain at least.

The recent countrywide Students Solidarity March has again showed that there is a wave of new political awakening. Students are protesting to restore students union, against cuts in the education budget and fees hike, against sexual harassment on campuses, against high-handedness, against the spread of hate, amongst other demands.

Again the groundwork for this progressive political awakening might be attributed to Left politics in Pakistan and the role of leftist academics on Pakistani campuses in the past two decades or so. Yet, this energy of the youth for progressive politics is fresh and is a ray of hope for Pakistan.

One factor that underlines such movements is that they are largely driven by the youth. At present, 64 percent of Pakistan’s population is less than 30 years of age. The voice of the majority cannot be suppressed for too long.

Another important factor is the exposure of Pakistan’s literate youth to both national and international progressive politics due to their ability to use digital media. There is lots of negativity and hate on social media. However, if you are looking for progressive ideas, there is also lots to learn online. This digital awareness was not available to earlier generations. It reflects that progressive consciousness can be spread in a sustainable manner by utilizing digital platforms.

There is an urgent need to consolidate the gains of progressive mobilizations into sustained movements by organizing at the grassroots level. Structural change is not possible unless backed by organizational and institutional consolidation.

Some say that the mainstreaming of (former) Fata might not have happened had it not been for effective mobilization. There is still a long way to go to achieve legal, political, economic, and social justice for the marginalized Pashtuns.

It might also be relatively easy for the Students Solidarity March to consolidate its mobilization gains as it has educational institutions as its base and students as a receptive constituency. It might be relatively difficult for Aurat March to turn its mobilization into organizational grassroots structures. There are many women rights organizations already. Aurat March needs to institutionalize the huge response it elicited on the International Women’s Day into structural change.

This new way of doing politics is tantamount to deepening democracy in Pakistan. This is the new and true face of civil society. Civil society does not mean just NGOs. There is a need for journalists/media persons and lawyers to mobilize to fight oppression — both in their specific sectors and also more broadly in the country. There is also a need for new political movements to build alliances with farmers and peasants in the rural areas.

Foqia Sadiq Khan, "Political awakening," The news. 2019-12-17.
Keywords: Political science , Human rights , Public domain , Education sector , Sexual harassment , Progressive politics , Digital media , Structural changes , Social justice , Economic justice