The French revolution of 1789-99 was a period of great social upheaval and it had far fetching effects all over the world. In fact it set the course of the global history and effected all the future movements against absolute monarchy. But in the early years after the revolution and the dethroning of the King Louis XVI, the revolutionaries developed serious rivalries among themselves. There was a period of continuous conspiracies against each other to the point where they started killing each other through hastily conducted summery trials in the newly formed parliament. Most of the cases were decided by just accusing someone of being a ‘monarchist’, which was the most hated crime then. There was no time given for any defense to the accused as everything was predetermined. In haste the case was decided by the majority of the members affirming to his guilt and the accused was sentenced, taken away and guillotined the same day.

Although the French Revolution overthrew the monarchy and established a republic but it catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under a military general Napoleon and unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East.

The liberal assemblies though existed on ground became the means to execute and annihilate any dissenting voices or any opponent. The popular agitation radicalized the Revolution significantly, culminating in the rise of Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobin. Large numbers of civilians were executed by revolutionary tribunals during ‘the Terror’, with estimates ranging from 16,000 to 40,000, from aristocrats to ‘suspected’ enemies of the revolution.

An executive council known as the ‘Directory’ assumed control of the French state in 1795. They suspended elections, repudiated debt - resulting in financial instability, persecuted the Catholic clergy, and made significant military conquests abroad.

During this time the famous revolutionary leader Georges Danton once came to his house in the evening and told his wife about a former comrade that was going to be executed and she was horrified to hear about it. She asked him what was the allegation against him and Danton replied that, the allegation was that of being a ‘monarchist’. His wife said that he knew it was not true and that he had stood with the revolutionary leaders and fought bravely alongside them so why were they doing it. Danton replied that it might not be true but the important thing was that he had become too powerful and a danger to the republic and it was important to get rid of him and the reason, in fact, was not important in comparison to the cause. Hearing this his wife replied that if that was the state of affairs then Danton must be sure that it would soon be his turn and nobody will escape this vicious circle of death. As history bears witness the famous leader Danton who was considered to be the chief force behind the revolution was guillotined on 5th April 1794 by the advocates of revolutionary terror after accusations of venality and leniency toward the enemies of the Revolution. Most of the other revolutionary leaders were killed including Maxillilien Robespierre and hundreds of others.

History bears witness that when it is assumed by a group of people in power that they can decide the fate of all the rest and give verdicts of their being loyal to the state or rebels to it, then there can be nothing but ensuing anarchy in that state.

When those in power assume that they have the right to decide what the people are to think, believe, accept and say and they are denied the right to do otherwise then there can be nothing but a reign of terror in that state.

When it is decided by those in power that my safety and that of my children depends upon my acceptance of their will and to keep my mouth shut then the pretence of freedom and rights becomes a farce.

And when the powerful decide whom they are going to punish and they do not need any reason, justification or law to do that then the result is never different from that of what happened during the French revolution. The circle of injustice just gains momentum and accelerates with each passing day until it culminates in utter anarchy.

In Pakistan we are passing through almost surreal times and the unfolding events have made it clear that all systems of state and governance have been brought to a halt. Although apparently there is a parliamentary system in place but the parliament has been reduced to a circus. The sitting government and the ruling party that came to power with two third majority in the parliament has been brought to its knees. When a legal document was altered in the assembly which became controversial the whole parliamentary set up was shaken until it almost collapsed and the members of the parliament and federal ministers were declared as traitors, non believers, accused of blasphemy and there were demands of their public lynching. All this was done through the various methods of creating public unrest and mayhem.

For the Senate elections the parliamentarians were reduced to being mere puppets and pawns in a merry go round where those in power enjoyed their antics with amusement. The grace and dignity of all institutions is destroyed and they are left hollow.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is behaving like a politician and giving statements of his vision whereas he only has the authority to decide cases in his court according to the law of the land. He is visiting hospitals and doing spot checkings like an administrator. The Chief of Army staff is meeting with journalists and giving his doctrines about the affairs of state because he thinks it is his place to decide what is the internal and foreign policy of the country should be and how things are to be run in the country.

Most political parties and political leader are totally compliant and submissive in their demeanor towards the might of the establishment in the hope that their submission and humility will bear fruit and they will be favoured by the establishment to become the de jure rulers of this country in some managed and engineered setup in future.

The public is perplexed and confused and it is impossible to establish now after the last two years how the vote of common man actually brings any real change. The decisions are made somewhere else and the vote, voter and election is but a façade for giving everything a legal cover.

The most interesting things is that those in power think that they are doing this for the ultimate benefit of the country and that is what gives them the right to interfere and tamper with the system.

It is strange that history repeats itself and is generous in giving its lessons again and again to establish universal truths but the unfortunate thing is that seldom are those lessons learned by people.

The lessons in the French revolution and its ensuing reign of terror are glaring evident for anyone willing to learn. There is no way any one group or party or institution can impose its will on a nation and believe that it can bring peace and prosperity in a country where there are complex and diverse realities and mammoth problems.

There is only one way to attain peace and prosperity and that is through adherence to the constitution. Each and every institution must work in its constitutional limitations and each and every person, party or institution must be accountable for their acts. By all means get the corrupt and punish them according to the law but to trample upon the system will bring ultimate chaos.

The people and parties who believe that they will get the benefit out of conspiring against the constitutional system in Pakistan will have a rude awakening very soon.


The writer is a freelance journalist based in  Lahore. She has extensive experience in writing on development economics and disaster management.