What is Tabdeeli?

What is Tabdeeli?


This word ‘Tabdeeli’ (change) has been flaunted quite a lot in the Pakistani press, with politicians and political parties, such as the PAT and PTI talking of ‘Tabdeeli’ in Pakistan but the question is what does ‘Tabdeeli’ mean? Does it refer to a comprehensive overhauling or to cosmetic changes in structures and processes? This is important to answer to ascertain whether those who are talking of ‘Tabdeeli’ will bring any real change or perpetuate the existing structures and processes that have led to much degeneration in Pakistan.

If one was to look at the word ‘Tabdeeli’ from an linguistic perspective, it infers going from one state to another and this is proven by looking at the roots letters ‘Badal’ which indicates a change of state. So when one hears the word ‘Tabdeeli’ one naturally assumes a change of state or condition in which transformation has taken place. This is similar to a cube of Ice which goes from being solid to a liquid when it dissolves. Anything less than this would not be classed as ‘Tabdeeli’ but could be referred to as ‘Islah’ i.e. reformation in which the core structures and processes are kept in place but peripheral changes take place to update or modernize something.  Clearly the language we hear from political parties in Pakistan is that of ‘Tabdeeli’ not ‘Islah’, meaning that these political parties have set for themselves an objective of overturning the post colonial structures and processes inherited by the Pakistani state post 1947.

If we were to examine history, the enlightenment period in Europe can be seen as ushering in ‘Tabdeeli’ with structures and processes overturned and new structures and processes taking their place that were couched on fundamentals such as secularism, freedom, liberalism and rationalism. Likewise, the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 resulted in a ‘Tabdeeli’ in which new structures and processes were institutionalized. Even if we were to look to Islamic history, and analyze Medina before and after the Hijra, one will realize ‘Tabdeeli’ had taken place with structures and processes stemming from polytheism being replaced with new monotheistic structures and processes. None of these ‘Tabdeeli’ scenarios resulted in existing structures and processes co-existing or merging with new structures and processes but with the new taking over and uprooting the old. This was because ‘Tabdeeli’ was clearly understood and there was no confusion over what it meant.

Now if we were to look to the manifestos of existing political parties that shout for ‘Tabdeeli’ do they really have an understanding of what ‘Tabdeeli’ actually means or is it a case of political pragmatism with political parties exploiting public demands for political objectives?

Having glanced through many of the manifestos of Pakistani political parties, the impression is much the same and focus on improving education, health services, the judiciary, elections, agriculture and taxation, this is all good but the fundamental structures and processes are not touched upon but reinforced through the manifestos. For example, structures and processes do not emerge in a vacuum but are established on values, which shape, determine and trigger structures and processes. To demonstrate this point, let’s look at existing economic structures and processes, are they deconstructed from values? The answer is a clear no, with values underpinning existing economic structures and processes, such as freedom of ownership, property rights, patents, utilitarianism and free markets, all of which play a crucial role in capitalistic economic structures and processes.

Post modernists have played a key role here in criticizing the concepts and ideas related to existing structures and processes since the 1960s, leading to the formation of critical theory. However, this cannot be said of political parties in Pakistan, as they have accepted and worked to embed the values on which the post colonial structures and processes are built on in Pakistan.

So what is real ‘Tabdeeli’? This would be a process in which the fundamental structures and processes are addressed, in particular the values which are integral to such structures and processes. If one was to observe the post colonial Pakistan state, values such as secularism, freedom of ownership, liberalism, nationalism, free markets and patriotism would need to be deconstructed and addressed, with a new set of values presented on which to re-construct new structures and processes that would form the bedrock of a new society. It is only through this way ‘Tabdeeli’ can be brought bout. Otherwise, calls of ‘Tabdeeli’ will continue to resonate with the people but be artificial on behalf of the advocates.

Another crucial aspect to ‘Tabdeeli’ is to ensure that the new values resonate with the people, in that they are fully embraced, therefore giving legitimacy to the new structures and processes that will come into being. This naturally means that the new values must have some intrinsic relation to the people whether to their religion, culture or history. When looking at this in the context of Pakistan, with Pakistani society becoming more conservative, any ‘Tabdeeli’ would have to take this trend into consideration. Otherwise, one risks presenting new values which have no resonance or impact amongst the people. This would lead them to have an unsustainable system which would fall apart in no time.

This has been the case so far, with ‘Tabdeeli’ proponents having no clarity on what ‘Tabdeeli’ actually is and secondly presenting values which not only reinforce existing paradigms but also are aloof from what the people want and feel.

It is a huge challenge to first understand what ‘Tabdeeli’ really means. Then comes the struggle to translate it into values, which will lead to the reconstruction of society. But, this reconstruction must enjoy acceptance of the society, because, otherwise we would only risk building a spider’s cobweb, which can be blown over rather quickly.

Dr Mohammed Zahid

Assistant Professor in Political Science LUMS.

  • M.Saeed

    The perennially diseased nation needs a surgical operation by a genuine hand who knows the depth of the inflicts. Mere wishing cannot stop and cure the ills. And, our politicians are the debilitating viruses and a virus cannot be its own preventive or curing vaccine.