Calm down, Pakistan – there is no revolution coming!

Published: December 5, 2014

The idea of revolution, as tempting as it is, is being misattributed. There is no such thing as a peaceful revolution.

Imran Khan has repeatedly insisted that the revolution he is advocating will be peaceful. Maybe, that is why it has not materialised as a revolution. Peaceful revolution is an oxymoron; a contradiction unto itself.

Hans Kelsen theorises in The Pure Theory of Law that societies are built around a Grundnorm, a basic norm, that all of the society’s customs derive out of. A revolution simply changes this Grundnorm. The French Revolution replaced the absolute rule of the monarchy with democratic ideas of citizenship. The Iranian Revolution replaced monarchy with an Islamic republic. The Cuban revolution replaced a dictator with a communist regime. The Bolshevik revolution in Russia led to the creation of the Soviet Union. None of these revolutions were peaceful.

All the countries that we now look towards as being civilised and orderly have reached the equilibrium they find themselves in after years of infighting and violence. America was created after going to war with the British. A century later, the country nearly tore itself apart with a bloody civil war and another century later, the country went through a mass uprising and unrest with the civil rights movement.

Last week, streets all over America were shut down by people protesting against systematic racism in the country. The protests were sparked by two separate incidents. The first was the decision of a grand jury not to send the case of a white police officer shooting an unarmed black teenager to court. The second was the decision of a grand jury in New York not to send the case of a white police officer choking an unarmed black man to death in Staten Island to trial.

The locations for people to gather were announced online. The hashtag #ShutItDown started trending, and people did the rest. There was no politicisation of the affair; the leaders emerging from these protests are concerned citizens with no political aspirations or ulterior motives. Similar to the Arab Spring, the protestors have deliberately distanced themselves from any particular personality. Nobody is sure how these protests will play out. There are no plans A, B and C.

In Pakistan, Imran is not leading a revolution; arguably, he is the only thing standing between Pakistan and a revolution. Imran has provided an outlet within the system to allow people to blow off steam without revolting against the system. His movement is now serving as an exit valve in the system itself.

In Ancient Rome, on one of the days at the festival of Saturnalia, slaves were treated well and they were allowed to make fun of the aristocracy by putting up satire plays. The day allowed the slaves to release all their anger towards their masters. Shouting ‘GoNawazGo’ achieves the same purpose for many people in Pakistan.

Hope is the opium of the masses in Pakistan. In every new saviour they are promised better days. It is the promise that keeps them believing. It is the hope that precludes absolute anarchy. The illusion of chaos keeps actual chaos at bay. Newspapers are riddled with news about people committing suicide and/or killing their entire families because they could not afford to feed them. I wonder, what is stopping these people from doing the same to other people?

The mass movement against the status quo was not Imran’s initial intention when he set out for Islamabad. The emergence of the movement has left Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI) leadership confused as well. Enamoured by the support, they overplayed their hand leaving them with no bargaining chips.

Despite all the talk of revolution, the incongruity in PTI’s position is that they want to work within the current system. Their problems are with the personalities in the system, not the system itself. They are not seeking a revolution at all, they just want a change of faces. Their ‘revolution’ has been reduced to a clash of personalities and egos. Nobody is even attempting to argue for a change in the Grundnorm itself.

What is the Grundnorm of Pakistan?

Now that is a Pandora’s Box one should stay clear of. Whatever ideas people had about it, they built a system around it. There is a constitution and a system of governance based on the trichotomy of powers of the judiciary, the legislature and the executive. PTI not only accepts the Grundnorm but also all that is built around it.

The idea of revolution, as tempting as it is, is being misattributed. This is no revolution. There is no such thing as a peaceful revolution. For every Mandela, there was the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). For every Gandhi, there was a Bhaghat Singh. For every Jinnah, there were Maulana Muhammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali Jauhars.

Pakistan has never seen a revolution. For everyone advocating going back to the Pakistan of 1947, we are pretty much still in the Pakistan of 1947. Nobody wants a revolution, most people want a change that would suit them; both the politicians and the people. We want to keep the pyramid, just turn it on its head.

If the dharnas could cause a revolution, the real status quo of Pakistan would have never allowed them to happen.


Shehzad Ghias

A graduate from the LUMS Law School and is running his own theatre production company, Cogito Productions.He works as a theatre teacher at various schools. He tweets @Shehzad89 (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Nzaar

    Shehzad, Pakistan did see a revolution. It was very bloody and bangladesh was created.Recommend

  • arslan

    totally agree with u imran has finish own an his party carrerRecommend

  • Racer

    He doesn’t call it a revolution. He calls is “change” and “freedom” (from the current rulers). I think you got this horribly wrong. TuQ was the one calling it a revolution, not ImranRecommend

  • Rahul

    Imran is the ultimate establishment stooge. Acceptable to the Army, Taliban and the feudal landowners. Nawaz occupied that position before him but Nawaz turned out to be incompetent even by their standards.Recommend

  • Mohsin Ahmad

    Wow, Shehzad. This was the best analysis I have read about the ongoing political drama. You have put across your ideas succinctly.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I don’t get it. I am pretty sure that by revolution Imran Khan means a dramatic change. Tbh the days of revolutions like those which killed mary antionette are far gone. No one is going to drag out the Sharifs and hang/guillotine them. However, I would like to see them stand trail for the hideous and unabashed looting which they have done.Recommend

  • Akmal

    Agreed, but when the author tries to justify that Imran is only interested in changing faces. I believe at this point the argument fails.

    This isn’t about NawaZardari, the problem is the SYSTEM. Police being stuffed with political appointees/criminals, the Judiciary showing favoritism, the Patwaris, the lack of budget for Education and Health but billions for Highways and Buses. This culture/system will only change once the electoral reforms are carried out, which will allow educated/qualified ppl to join politics.Recommend

  • Xman

    @Author, there are many models out there, that essentially reach the same conclusions. And to all PTI trolls harping as nauseam against status -quo, euphemizing revolution for “change” should also have a look at Virginia Satir’s change model. Notwithstanding some financial loses, ironically dharnas have actually been a great strategic boost to status quo. The whole media has been focusing on this quasi revolution theatrics, while the army is quietly decimating terrorists, and government can pin their bad performance on PTI anarchists . Without these dharnas you would have seen IK rolling in the streets of KPK in favour of TTP, and throwing in a spanner to all key initiatives, thankfully who now is only confined to his container.Recommend

  • Napier Mole

    Excellent analysis. Very well written.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Today what exists in Pakistan is…democracy for the few, by the few, in the name of the many.
    What the people want is…..democracy for the people, by the people and in the name of the people. To think they don’t want this would be shortsighted.
    This what is happening is a major awareness programme in which the people realise that it’s them against not only the politicians, the bureaucracy, the judiciary but all the beneficiaries of what you call ‘the grundnorm ‘ or status quo ….. and those are formidable odds.Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad

    Excellent article. Hope PTI kids would understand it.Recommend

  • Indian Muslmi

    Ghias Dude – ever heard of Gandhi? pick up a history book and you will also understand the difference between founding philosophies of Pakistan and India.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    The writer is blissfully unaware (like too many “elite” Pakistanis including Imran Khan) of the elephant in the room – the fact that the current government was elected to power. Imran Khan, who started believing his own rhetoric of a “tsunami” of support for him in the naiton factored this out of his “Plans” thereby rendering them unrealistic and doomed to fail due to lack of widesread support. This is why the government did not even have to use force to stop Imran Khan and Qadri’s “revolution”. It simply stepped aside and let Imran Khan make a fool out of himself on D-Chowk, dancing on a container tryng to drum up support he does not have. Recommend

  • Shehzad Ghias

    *Present day Pakistan has never seen a revolution. Bangladesh definitely saw one in 1971.Recommend

  • Ghulam Lone

    Yea, Gandhi was a religious socialist, and Jinnah was a secular capitalist.

    One quixotically believed the divide between Hindu and Muslim was surmountable and the other rationally realized a Hindu dominated India would also have the upper hand against Muslims in a one-man-one-vote state.

    Pakistan was born out of a fear of “tyranny of the majority” and the tyrannies of socialism. Islam and intolerance actually had very little to do with it – the fundamentalists knew this, which is why they actually were against the ideology of Pakistan in the 1940s. Pakistan ironically Islamized.

    India was born out of a theory that minorities would have the same status in a new socialist agrarian society. Instead, India deviated from its liberal path and had embarked on a path of “Hindu Rashtra” run by a “Ramzada.” I’m sorry, but the “Indian Muslims” on this board either are fake, or are in denial – Muslims are the scapegoats in India, and are the bottom of the social ladder. Im a Kashmiri myself, and when I look at Muslims in India, I don’t see a situation I would want to be part of.

    Ironically, both countries were born of Liberal and secular ideas. As orthodox Islam took hold in the 70s and 80s, Pakistan became intolerant. India is entering into this phase too, as Orthodox Hinduism has been rising for the past 15-25 years. Intolerance in Indian society is where Pakistans was in 1975.

    Modi is India’s Zia – your religious nationalist love them and the economy is good – but once they die and economy sours, things get very bad very fast. And then the man it seemed everyone loved is hated by future generations (Have you noticed no one ever says positive things about Zia anymore even though he was extremely popular in the 80s outside of elite or political circles?_ Learn from pakistan’s mistakes – you’re heading down a bad social path.

    Religious nationalism is only peaceful when the economy is good – like Pakistans was in the 80s. When the economy turns sour, religious nationalists have always tended towards violence. And to think Saffron Terror is a myth is the same mentality Pakistanis had in 1979 when they though the words “Muslim terrorist” were a joke. Already your Sandhvis blow up Pakistan bound trains – you are at risk unless you turn back towards liberal social ideas.Recommend

  • Aamir

    The punch line is:
    If the dharnas could cause a revolution, the real status quo of Pakistan would have never allowed them to happen.Recommend

  • Hassan Akhter

    Such a superficial understanding of French, Iranian & Bolshevik revolution. Did you even read about these beyond wikipedia?


    French Revolution didn’t bring in democratic ideas – it brought the monarchy of Napolean.

    Iranian Revolution didn’t bring in the Islamic Republic – it ended Shah’s royal rule to create Khomeni’s royal rule.

    Bolshevik created another brand of TSAR’s (Stalin etc)

    Cuban revolution replaced one dictatorship with another.Recommend

  • Queen

    That is a great well writen analysis Shahzad. BravoRecommend

  • Nzaar

    Hmmmm. So if there is a revolution in balochistan and it breaks away, your logic will say with regards to the remaining provinces, “present day Pakistan has not seen a revolution.”

    Bangladesh was created. The revolution happened in Pakistan. Let’s acknowledge history and the fact that there was a very minor oversight in your article.Recommend

  • Ram

    Dude use your commonsense instead of reading so many books, Muslims in India who adopted mainstream which is getting educated and be part of India are successful in all walks of life, pick a topic and I will name a successful muslim it could be education, bollywood, music, business etc., Having said that there are large number of Muslims like many other backward Indians who did not observe modern education and still lingering poverty, however a poor muslim boy selling chai in streets has a hope according to Indian constitution he will not be discriminated comparing to well educated ahamid boy who can not dream about reaching highest position in Pakistan.

    Why do you call Indian Muslim a fake because it suits your theory, success of Indian muslim is slap on the face of two nation theory and pakistan all at once. Indian muslim does not need your crocodile tears and they made it very clear

    creation of pakistan divided Indian muslims not just once but twice you now have three nations and you want to create another kashmir and then do what Pakistan is still confused if it is secular or Islamic country and you want to create another confused state.

    If you use your common sense Jinnah’s family itself is in India which he helped to create for few Jagirdars who still rule pakistan and take turns with Punjabi army, education is to think from a brain wash history books, think and think hard and answer your own questionsRecommend

  • Gul Zaman Gorgasht

    Agree with you 100% ‘..Muslims on this board are fake’
    Comments are not by Indian Muslims. Not at all.
    See, Muslims ,…they are busy just surviving, in India.
    Trying to prove to every Geet, Rahul, Gopal and Schruti
    that they are loyal patriotic Indians. 3 times a day. Survival.
    They do not have time for trivial pursuits of commenting/blogs.
    The so called Muslim comments are really hindus under Muslim

  • Prashant

    “The so called Muslim comments are really hindus under Muslim names.”

    A very big conspiracy indeed, the Muslims of India are so helpless that they cannot even comment on blogs. Shame on Hindus from India to Germany, Japan to Timbuktu and Earth to Mars.

    “Trying to prove to every Geet, Rahul, Gopal and Schrutithat they are loyal patriotic Indians. 3 times a day.”

    Talking about daily diet? btw it is not Schruti, it is Shruti, why distort her name just because you do not like her faith?Recommend

  • Prashant

    ” I’m sorry, but the “Indian Muslims” on this board either are fake, or are in denial – Muslims are the scapegoats in India, and are the bottom of the social ladder. ”

    They have to be fake bro, how can a Muslim live in a non Muslim country and still be proud of the idea the country stands for, it is not the nationhood, it is the umma which comes first, Is not it? Don’t be sorry, you are the true Muslim as those Muslims who take pride in being Indians are the ones who should feel sorry.

    “Muslims are the scapegoats in India, and are the bottom of the social ladder.”

    Agreed that they are lagging behind others socio economically.

    “Im a Kashmiri myself, and when I look at Muslims in India, I don’t see a situation I would want to be part of.”

    Let us assume that Muslims were doing well in India in all fields, would you have been a proud Indian then?

    “you are at risk unless you turn back towards liberal social ideas.”

    Thanks for the concern, in short, Pakistan should be proud of Jinnah and India should be ashamed of Modi, being a hypocrite is fine but expecting others to be hypocrites is not.Recommend

  • Inception

    What are you trying to prove from your this Half-Baked article ?Recommend

  • Abdullah

    It was not a revolution, rather a well placed time bomb, which exploded in 1971 and split “then Pakistan” into two; namely, present Pakistan and Bangladesh. By the way, both countries are suffering from similar things by different faces.Recommend

  • Abdullah

    Hit the nail on its head. A very well written article.Recommend

  • Anwaar

    who decides what is revolution ?Recommend

  • Anum Gulraze Mir

    An interesting read though I don’t agree with the idea that a bloodless revolution is no revolution (case in point, The Glorious Revolution of England which changed the very dynamics of its politics)

  • Gaad

    Very interesting points regarding the ‘GRUNDNORM’ theory. I never
    knew about it. thank you very much for sharing it. I am going to read
    about it just now.

    I agree with one commenter below that we should
    not look for a guillotine revolution. However, the grundnorm as i have
    understood from your article would be to empower people so that they can
    actually take powerful people to task by legal and democratic means. Am
    I right or wrong here?

    My mother recently made a comment that
    profoundly affected me. “INQUILAB ZAHNON MAIN ATAY HAIN, GARDANAIN
    MARNAY SE NAHIN”. In this regard, I think PTI has been successful to
    kindle the first spark in the people. It is certainly not adequate or
    final but people do seem to realize that things must be changed and that
    is a change in itself.

    Can’t this be called a grundnorm?Recommend