Historically, Pakistan (or at least ‘West Pakistan’) has been a politically inert nation. It has been a collection of people that have shied away from aggressively pursuing their dreams, or taking control of their (political) destiny.

A dispassionate and empirical gaze across history would reveal that the people of this region have, since time immemorial, lived, reverentially, in the shackles of an archaic caste-system that draws bright lines between the ‘masters’ and the ‘servants’; the rulers and the ruled; the privileged and the unfortunate. Our regional ancestors lived under the British colonial rule, rather contently, for the better part of a hundred years, only lending their voice to the ‘freedom movement’ in the last twenty years before independence.

After the creation of Pakistan, we became a people who (for the most part) quietly sat through 35 years of martial law. We endured Zia’s public flogging and Musharraf’s constitutional excesses, without ever seriously challenging the powers of status quo. Excepting the few romantic years that brought Zulfi Bhutto to power, even during the proudest of our political moments – those checkered years of a perverted and petty democracy – we voted along our bradari lines to entrench political dynasties. We helped nourish a culture of pedigree politics. A culture of ‘democracy’ where the seat of power passes from one person to his or her brother, husband, son, or nephew. And finally, at the turn of the century, almost as the last act of ignominious surrender, we – all of us – surrendered our dominion over faith and religion, to a tainted ideology of hatred, spread through the barrel of a gun. The few who spoke up against this monstrosity were quickly silenced. And the rest of us, in fidelity to our legacy of ideological and political apathy, made peace with the rot in our destiny.

No one agitated. No one resisted. No one dared to light a candle in the face of the wind. Despondency and apathy became the new norm. The circumference of our freedoms shrunk tighter. The hope in our future got bleaker. And the faith in our stars got dimmer.

If this were the final chapter in our national story, there would be no point in stating these dismal self-evident truths. There would be no point for me to write, or you to read, this scroll

But, amidst the darkness, if we pause for a moment and peer into the distant sky, we would notice that there are signs of a new dawn breaking at the horizon. Uncharacteristically, somewhere over the past decade, the tide has started to turn on this culture of apathy. Quietly but surely, while nobody was watching, something fundamental has changed in Pakistani society. Propelled, perhaps on the wings of a ‘free’ media – which exploded into existence some ten years back, and earned its purple heart during the Lawyer’s Movement – a new generation, a new culture was born. One that is not bound by the shackles of our despotic past, or the memory of a submissive heritage.

Just as the world was not looking, as our politicians were still squabbling over the latest dharna strategy, as the judiciary was still grappling with reclaiming its past glory, and as our establishment was busy striking a balance between civil and military relations, something transformational has started to take place in our people. A generational, intellectual, even moral, shift; one that, for the first time, ‘boos’ Hamza Shehbaz in public gatherings; chants ‘Go Nawaz Go’ slogans to the face of the Prime Minister; turns Gullu Butt into a punch-line, overnight; questions the ‘nativity’ of firangi Bilawal; holds Imran Khan’s feet to the fire in answering the claims of Javed Hashmi; demands judges to prove their independence, and politicians to declare their assets.

In this silent cultural upheaval, the myth of bureaucratic power, for the most part, has been broken. Gone are the days when a police constable could manhandle a citizen in city-center, or some secretariat officer could dole out money and favors, without fear of consequences. Not that these activities have stopped altogether, but we now live in a culture where a perpetual sword of the media and the public, hangs over our civil servants. One misstep, caught on some mobile video that makes it to the 9’o clock news, could end bureaucratic careers.

Throughout human history, each time this kind of cultural shift, a turning of the proverbial tide, has occurred in the life of a nation, it has gone almost entirely unnoticed. Except, years later, in the annals of history.

This shift in political culture converses in whispers – often unnoticed in the hue and cry of chaos. Unlike our customary ‘breaking news’, it does not announce itself in the siren of an ambulance, or the voices of children crying. It does not manifest itself in our living rooms as the absence of electricity, nor can it be seen on the streets as a long queue around the petrol pump. But every once in a while, it is visible at the fringes, just as crowds gather and chant slogans around the local traffic policeman, who is holding them back in anticipation of some ‘VIP’ movement. Or, more tangibly, when a group of passengers force Rehman Malik to disembark the flight if he is late.

These evolutions in our society are irreversible. Because once you have come out of the cave, crossed the field and seen fire… there is no way to go back into the cave again. Our politicians, bureaucrats, judges, and the military establishment would do well to recognize this fact. And mend their ways to be compatible with the turning of this wonderful tide.

    The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has

    a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard

    Law School.