It is an oft-repeated cliché, but like a broken clock, which is right, twice a day, we can safely say that we are in the throes of a crisis in Pakistan today. For all their invocations of democracy, representation and the sanctity of the vote, we have an elite incapable of delivering the same. Contrary to the basis for even a semblance of stable hegemonic order, the ruling class of this country cannot even decide among themselves who is going to rule. Incapable of providing even the basic liberties and provisions guaranteed in their Constitution, it is incapable of constituting itself as a class. We have an elite which is congenitally, structurally incapable of providing the material concessions needed in Pakistan’s multi-national context to become a truly national-popular class. In fact, the ruling class is more akin to a caste with a trader mentality, more interested in the quick moneymaking shenanigans of Bahria Towns and stock exchanges, than any actual productive enterprise. In effect, we have an elite unwilling and almost incapable of living up to their own promises, and fail to be hegemonic beyond superficial invocations to Islam, nationalism and “development”. As such, it is forced to resort to a politics of vertical patronage networks and high profile infrastructure projects to build a weakly hegemonic order, susceptible always to the manoeuvres and encroachments of a rapacious praetorian guard. Fearing both the masses and the praetorian guard (for different reasons), they are forced to lean on one and another for an always tenuous, often short-lived legitimacy.And thus is our democracy, and the elites who have come to become its bearers, condemned to alternate between a sense of tragedy and a sense of farce. And it is this sense of tragedy and farce that lends the struggle for a substantive democracy in Pakistan such crucial importance. Because, in the absence of such a deep democracy, in the absence of a sustained engagement of the common masses with the mechanisms of deliberation and engagement entailing democratic governance, we are condemned always to alternate between the poles of authoritarianism and mere procedural democracy. Without mass engagement, we are left with a poverty of choice, which ultimately leads down the current slippery slope of a soft coup. Without democracy being lived, experienced and fought for at the mass, everyday level, we will slouch from crisis to crisis with the spectre of authoritarianism always looming over us. In effect, what we suffer from is a gap of representation and an elite constantly in need of saving from itself. Where on the one hand we have the foul-mouthed invocations of the zealots of TLYR, on the other we have the sometimes soft and sometimes grating truths being pronounced by the likes of Manzoor Pashteen and Jalila Haider It is in the midst of such a crisis, in the middle of wounds in the body politic which refuse to be sutured, that a whole host of insurgent politics has emerged, some truly pathological and others truly transformative. Where on the one hand we have the foul-mouthed invocations of the zealots of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool (TLYR), on the other we have the sometimes soft and sometimes grating truths being pronounced by the likes of Manzoor Pashteen and Jalila Haider. For all their incommensurability, TLYR, Manzoor and others are not the cause, but the symptoms; they are not the situation, but merely the interpreters of the situation. And it is a situation, which presents both grave dangers and great opportunity. The dangers are apparent in the machinations and encroachments of the praetorian Khalai Makhlooq. The opportunity: that in the likes of Jalila and Manzoor that we have the seeds of truly transformative and substantively democratic politics. For even a cursory glance at our history reveals the crucial role of youth, students and labour in the struggle for democracy and against autocracy in Pakistan. All through the 1960s, 70s and 80s, it is the youth and students who, having taken a step out of their comfort zones and ventured into the spaces of the dispossessed, led the high noon of the democratic struggle in Pakistan. It is also no coincidence that Pakistan’s last anti-dictatorship struggle was precipitated not just by lawyers and the electronic media, but also groups like the Students’ Action Committee (SAC), which advanced the democratic struggle on campuses and beyond. In fact, the Lawyers’ Movement resulted in the politicisation of a whole generation of youth, providing impetus and shape to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and new progressive formations such as the Awami Workers Party (AWP). It would not be amiss to say that a whole generation of the Left was born out of the crucible of the anti-Musharraf movement of 2007-8. In effect, the new Left in Pakistan is, in crucial ways, an excess of the Lawyers’ Movement and subsequent attempts at suturing the crisis of those years. There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a similar crisis today. It is here that old energies are being revived and new modes of politics are being experimented with, which can give substance and meaning to a hollowed-out democracy. In Islamabad, the likes of Ammar Rashid and Ismat Shahjahan are deploying electoral politics to put forward an alternative vision of state, politics, and the ecology. In Lahore and its environs, college and university-educated youth are seeking to rebuild the long-lost connection between two crucial constituencies, students and labour, under the banner of the Haqooq-e-Khalq Movement. And make no mistake, these projects are not mere pious wishes and idealist schemes. Ammar and Ismat are drawing upon their own personal struggles and organising efforts among the oft-ignored of our cities and peripheries, while the HKM too is working to connect ideologically-driven youth to longer-standing histories of working class and democratic struggles in the Punjab. Of course, it can be (perhaps correctly) pointed out, that such efforts are too little too late to save the façade of democracy in the face of increasing encroachment by the powers-that-be. But that is to fall into a philistinism, which leads up a blind alley of cynicism and inaction. There is no royal road to history and politics, and the multi-faceted, multi-sectoral crises of our time require a response, which is both disciplined and innovative. All avenues and means must be explored; all nodes of discontent must become spaces for progressive, programmatic politics. Today’s new Left, fundamentally shaped by the struggles of yesterday, might not be in a position to breach the creaking fort of the ruling classes. But the discipline of concerted — often thankless — organisational work, and an attitude of openness and flexibility, is the only way to intervene (albeit in a limited manner) in the present crisis. It is only by drawing the large masses of unmoored youth today into a living, breathing politics that we will be ready to intervene in the next wound-ridden conjuncture in Pakistan. The forts of Bastille will not be stormed today. However, it is imperative to prepare for the next crisis and its attendant opportunities if we are to save our democracy from its self-styled standard-bearers. There is no doubt that the likes of Jalila, Manzoor, Ammar and the HKM are heralds and bearers of these new politics. It is imperative upon us to read this moment — and the opportunity it presents — correctly and give shape to the future excess of this crisis. It is only thus we can ensure that, if I may challenge the master, the next time need not be farce. The writer is part of the Visiting Faculty at Habib University, Karachi and a member of the Awami Workers Party Published in Daily Times, June 12th 2018.