How A Poor Child With A Dead Rooster Exposes The Centers Of Power

A video went viral on social media a few days ago in which a young boy of Sindhi origin can be seen raging at the creators of 'new Pakistan'. He is standing in a pool of dirty water with a dead rooster in his hands and speaking in Sindhi at the top of his lungs, “We don’t want this new Pakistan….we don’t want this dirty water…give us clean drinking water…my rooster has died after drinking this dirty water…..we were happy in old Pakistan”.

No matter how you respond to this young boy’s furious assertions – be it “this or that party is to blame” or “it’s a provincial/central government’s failure” or “the ones on top don’t care about the common people” – his outburst speaks of intense suffering and of being a victim of somebody’s serious neglect.

Providing clean drinking water to the people is a promise that every mainstream party in Pakistan —PPP, PML-N and PTI — makes to the electorate during general elections. In fact, these parties promise decent living standards to every Pakistani (without, by the way, pausing to inform the public about the resources that they will utilise to provide basic amenities to such a large population).

Our mainstream parties are all centrist, that is, moderate parties, which don’t propose radical solutions to the problems faced by the people. They all share certain characteristics. They are all complacent in the face of the overarching control exercised by the religious and security heavyweights that have the society in a total grip.

Moreover, they don’t challenge the current structures of distribution of resources and wealth in the society. Instead, they all seek to make the best of any opportunity offered to them to gain patronage from any of these three power centers – the religious, the wealthy and the military.

Incessant squabbling for a key place in this deeply entrenched structure makes it almost too certain that a child with a dead rooster in a pool of putrefied water would not have anyone listen to him any time soon. Instead, he may at best be offered a patriotic song to sing, with a promise that this would finally allay his poverty-stricken and relentless grievances. The 'how' of the process would be for the relevant authorities to explain. It may or may not involve voting for the right centrist party into the government at the time of elections.

All this may suggest that the world of centrist parties is ultimately tranquil and peaceful, but the truth (as we know) is far from it. The mainstream parties frequently fall out of favour with the power bearers, and their leaders are sent to jail or forced into exile. The state machinery is then employed to chase them and their associates, forcing them to adopt a radical position in the process. Thus, time and again, we get the impression that the centrists have become radicalised and that this time they would really attempt to change the structure of state politics and governance itself. We find social justice, economic equality and accountability entering mainstream discourse, while military high-handedness, anti-India rhetoric and religious intolerance are mellowed down for a short time. All of this has happened quite frequently following Zia’s time in Pakistan’s political context.

Yet, each time, we have failed to see that the centrists’ taking a radical position or entering agitation mode is, in truth, only a reflection of some internal power struggle within the institutions of the state. They enter agitation mode following encouragement from within the power circles, to put pressure on this or the other state actor, and to steer the national discourse where they (are instructed to) see fit.

The enormous state machinery follows wherever it is veered by those whose opinion really matters. Meanwhile, centrist political parties align themselves as best they can to interpret the forthcoming turn and be placed somewhere close to the command center. And the inconsolable boy with the dead rooster? Well, he may simply have to continue to wade through the putrid water that killed his rooster, for the foreseeable future.

Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.