Dr. Shahid Masud has been talking a lot about Black Swan. He believes, with may be some justification, that a Black Swan may soon occur to rock Pakistan’s political arena—and as politics is as closely connected to Society and Life as Oxygen to Air, such a Black Swan if occurs is likely to change Pakistan’s social landscape and the lives of its people.
The “Black Swan” metaphor was not known to me before I read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s brilliant bestseller in 2007. I mentioned it in my prologue to a collection of my columns “2007 The Winds Of Change” which as the title indicates was a day to day account of one of the most turbulent years in the country’s history.
The anther of the Black Swan had written in the book: “Before the discovery of Australia, the people in the old world were convinced that all swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by empirical evidence. The sighting of the first black swan might have been an interesting surprise for a few ornithologists, but that is not where the significance of the story lies. It illustrates a severe limitation to our learning from observations or experience, and the fragility of our knowledge. One single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from millennia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white swans. All you need is one single black bird”.
It was not hard for me to understand the metaphor. What we call a Black Swan is not a bird, but an event with the following three attributes.
Fist, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the domain of normal expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.
Second it carries an extreme impact.
Third, in spite of its ‘outlier’ status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence ‘after’ the fact, making it explainable and predictable.
Let us go into some examples. Hitler’s rise was a Black Swan. Could anyone, by stretch of one’s imagination, have predicted in 1930 that this short, curious looking fellow would soon re-write history.
The 9th of March 2007 was a Black Swan.
Till early morning that day no one in one’s wildest thought could have thought that the Man-in-Command in Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf in a matter of days weeks and months would become irrelevant— and that a man called Iftikhar Chudhry would stage an emergence of phenomenal nature to virtually re-write history.
Another Black Swan occurred in the dying days of the same year. Pakistan’s most powerful and influential political figure Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on 27-12-2007.
But that was not the Black Swan. The Black Swan occurred in two-phases—(i) the mayhem and free-for-all looting and arson that started taking place in Sindh within an hour or so of the assassination and (ii) the emergence of an unlikely saviour in the person of Asif Ali Zardari (regarded as a shadowy among the most shadowy characters in the country). His PAKISTAN KHAPPAY mantra became the KEY to the events to follow.
The next Black Swan event in our history occurred on April, 02 2016 with the explosive emergence of a two-word mantra of change—Panama Papers.
I don’t know what kind of a Black Swan Dr Shahid Masud has in his mind. Anything that can be predicted today can’t be a Black Swan. A military coup can’t be a Black Swan. An act of terror, of the dimensions of 9/11 (in the U.S) and 16/12 (2014) in Pakistan cannot be a Black Swan. Nor an Indian act of aggression. Nor an American incursion into our lands. These are events in the domain of predictability. Even Imran Khan emerging as Prime Minister in 2018 will not be a Black Swan.
An NRO leading to the rehabilitation of MNS?
Possible, but unlikely. Then what?
What I can predict now, or can Dr Shahid Masud, can’t be a Black Swan.
Black Swans come from the domain of improbability and unpredictability.