Gnothi Seauton

Gnothi Seauton (“Know Thyself”) – We lose hope far too easily

15th of July, 2017, marks the anniversary of the victory of Turkish people. Exactly one year ago, on that day, a section of the armed forces of Turkey staged a coup. It was an attempt to overthrow the government of President Erdogan. The people of Turkey, on one single call of their President, came out on the streets, to oppose this murder of democracy. The people of Turkey won. Democracy prevailed.

Almost everyone in Pakistan knows of this event. Everyone saw the solid resolute of the Turkish people, their unyielding determination, and their uncompromising trust in their democratic process. But while this event is embedded in all our memories, an exactly opposite event has been forgotten.

A week before the failed Turkish coup, banners were put up in all the major cities in Punjab, which read, “Ab aa jao Raheel Shareef”. These banners were a call to the then Chief of Army Staff to overthrow the incumbent government, and impose martial law.

Remembering that time, today, posed very crucial questions before me. Questions that should be in the minds of the entire populace of Pakistan: what would we, as a people do, if such an attempt to overthrow the democratic (flawed?) government of Pakistan was made by the armed forces? Would we rise up to oppose such a brutal assault on our sacred democracy? Or would we accept it as an ‘easy way out’ of our socio-political issues?

Democracy is slow. Democracy is imperfect. Democracy is laborious. All these flaws exist in the concept itself, perhaps more so in Pakistan than anywhere else. But democracy is (pardon the cliché), a pronunciation of the will of the people. What such banners signify is not the inherent issues in the principle of democracy, rather they signify the frail confidence the people of Pakistan hold towards their system.

The issue is not whether Nawaz Sharif is corrupt, or whether Imran Khan is too immature a leader. The issue is whether we, the people of Pakistan, are willing to strive towards the improvement of our system. It would be very easy to ask the armed forces to come and ‘save’ the nation, from the burden of choice, in blatant disregard of the Quaid-e-Azam’s vision for Pakistan. But it would also be immensely detrimental to the system of government in Pakistan.

It is very easy to assume that the army would come, overthrow the government, construct an electoral system that would rid us of these ‘imperfect’ leaders, and gift us a system of government perfect and pure. But as Dagh stated so impeccably,

“Tere waade par sitamgar abhi or sabr karte,

Agar apni zindagi ka humain aitbar hota.”

Such a red-caped-superman-sign-on-the-chest vision of the army errs in assuming that the army would ever step in without its own vested interests at heart. A person is incapable of making decisions that go against his or her vested interests. Such is also the case where the institution of the army is concerned. Every time the army has jumped into the political arena, it has left after having ensured the entrenchment of its own interests. Such interests may (or may not) include the strengthening of the armed forces’ ‘behind-the-curtain’ involvement in the political system.

I admire the army a lot. The sleepless nights of the soldiers on our borders help us dream peacefully throughout the night. This admiration is similar to that of a doctor that helps patients fight illnesses. But just as I would oppose the idea of a doctor to become the Chief Executive of my country, I am opposed to the idea of the head of the armed forces (or any other member) to become the same. It is not their job. They have not been given the people’s mandate through a democratic process. And it is against the very essence of Pakistan.

We lose hope in our democracy too quickly, and willingly. At any point, if a bit of struggle is required, the people will rid themselves of the cause, and choose something else, even though it is harmful. The problem is that we have set the opportunity cost of our democratic process too low.

It is true that most of the members of our politics are corrupt. But it is upon us, as a nation, to fix this problem through the electoral process. We have the power to make or to break. Vox populi, vox Dei (the voice of the people (is) the voice of God). One roar of protest from the people of this nation can overturn the mightiest of thrones. But we would rather whisper to our ‘uncle with the rifle’ to come and save us from the plight of the struggle for our rights.

Hopelessness towards our own strength has perhaps become a character of this nation. We forget our own strength and cower behind those who we think are stronger than us. 15th of July, 2016, should be a lesson for us. That the power we hold as a people, united, is bigger than any power on this earth. We have forgotten the strength in our unity. Instead, we bicker, fight and divide. We forget that it was through our unity that we were able to emancipate ourselves from the clutches of the Indian subcontinent and create a nation for ourselves. We forget that if we have the power to create a nation, we have the power to ameliorate it.


An earlier version of this article appeared in Pakistan Today. Republished here with permission.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or any other organization with which he might be associated.

Faiz Ullah Khan Niazi

Author: Faiz Ullah Khan Niazi

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He can be contacted at [email protected].