Pakistan is not a ‘normal country’ due to its paradoxes and fault-lines, particularly when an impression to this effect comes from defenders of our frontiers, at a time when everything is imploding – from the balance of payments to the balance of the constitutional division of power.
Conflicts and contradictions in the evolution of state and society are inherent to any societal or state formations. So, there is nothing abnormal in considering our statehood abnormal. The real question is: how do we rightly identify the various paradoxes and contradictions? And how do we become a ‘normal’ nation-state that serves the people rather than their masters?
When people call Pakistan a ‘gift from God’, they foreclose any inquiry. The very idea of ‘Muslimhood’ as separate from and at par with Hindus on the basis of lost entitlements with the fall of last Moghul in 1857 had its origin among the aristocratic Urdu-speaking elites (Ashraaf) of minority provinces, as articulated by Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan. Whereas the Two-Nation Theory originated from the minority-Muslim provinces, the Lahore Resolution envisaged that those “constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign” where Muslims were in a majority. This contradiction between an exclusionary ideology of a self-imagined nation in consonance with the notion of a supra-territorial ummah and the historically inclusive aspirations of the indigenous populations remains unresolved.
The conflict between the democratic national aspirations of the provinces and the protagonists of an authoritarian centre continued to disturb the evolution of the nation-state, which resulted in the division of the country. If Bangladesh continues to find it difficult to resolve the dilemma of Bengaliness and Muslimness, Pakistan is yet to overcome its ideological hangover which is now quite vulnerable to sectarian schisms. Even though religious extremism and terrorism now pose an existential threat to Pakistan as a nation-state, the ruling civil and military elites – consisting of roughly 2000 families – are not ready to share power with the peoples of Pakistan.
The civilian and military elites continue to monopolise power in rotation, and deny the oppressed classes and deprived ethnic groups their due. Benefiting from the external hostility from both our eastern and western borders, they coalesced in to promote a nationalism that served their privileges at the cost of sustainable and participatory development. The civil and military elites worked against both people and participatory democracy. This is reflected by various quasi-civilian-military coalitions which collided on share of power, as seen by the overthrow of the civil governments or removal of Bonapartist generals. And this circus of power-struggle continues in the name of ‘national interest’. Consequently, Pakistan is yet to stand on its democratic and multi-ethnic and linguistic premises. Authoritarian structures and the hegemony of extremist and exclusionary ideology are super-imposed. In turn, the paradoxes and fault-lines that Pakistan faces are further exasperated.
A somewhat bumpy democratic transition continues to face uncertainties that allow desperate elements to disrupt a fragile democratic transition and a constitutional path to stability. There are ideological, political, strategic and institutional paradoxes that distort political processes, making the state look ‘abnormal’ – often described in symptomatic terms of failures of governance. Pakistan has moved on with all the burdens and damages caused by disparate modes of development and models of governance. Nothing has worked – from quasi-elected civilian dispensations, manipulated by the bureaucracy, to extremely devastating direct or indirect authoritarian models.
Despite the framing of the 1973 constitution, after the dismemberment of the country under Gen Yahya Khan, the country suffered at the hands of quasi-civilian and naked military rule – supported by an obliging judiciary under the ‘doctrine of necessity’ – by rotation in a perverse khaki and mufti divide. The resulting contradictions, conflicts and paradoxes have continued to dog us over the years. These days there is talk of the ‘doctrine’ of a non-Bonapartist general. However, no doctrine is worth its name unless it addresses the paradoxes that we face.
There are five major paradoxes: first, the nature and character of the state. Some political scientists find that issues inherent to the exclusively Muslim independence movement are simplistically exploited by the religious right to make Pakistan an Islamic state, even though it has resulted in sectarian divides. These elements fail to build a unified terrestrial nation-state which they reject due to their concept of Islamic universalism. The other view is of a modern nation-state that is based on geographical sovereignty regardless of its citizens’ religion but historically rooted in the organic multi-ethnic nature of the country.
This fundamental ideological paradox remains to be resolved. The compromise reached in framing the 1973 constitution among various ideological schools or reference to the founders’ intentions is not helping us reach a logical conclusion. This has resulted in the failure of the state to evolve an alternative national democratic narrative to counter the Islamic universalist view represented by extremist and religious outfits. Even the so-called politically liberal parties remain confused on ideological parameters, as religious parliamentary parties resist becoming democratic unlike their Christian counterparts in Europe. Hence, Pakistan remains a conflicting mix of religious and secular entities, having failed to resolve its ideological dualism.
The second paradox is civil-military dichotomy, which has continued to hinder a smooth transition to a democratic and constitutional order. Over decades of direct and indirect rule, the garrison has emerged as a de-facto power over whatever it deems to be in the ‘national interest’, or due to the lack of capacity within marginalised civilian structures. When the de-facto power structures representing non-elected institutions continued to collide with de-jure civilian structures, no stable representative system of governance could emerge. This gives the army leadership an overriding role over the elected leadership. These are the institutional imperatives behind experiments with various versions of authoritarian, totalitarian and controlled quasi-democracy.
The third paradox is the conflict between the federation and the provinces: despite the passage of the 18th Amendment, the tension and overlapping between the structures of the federal tier and the federation units continues to generate controversies, conflicts and even insurgencies and counter-insurgencies. Controversies over National Financial Commission or distribution of resources, lack of functioning of Council of Common Interests, an inverted pyramid-like unequal development, unending military operations in Balochistan and the tribal regions, over-extended role of paramilitary forces and debate over the routes and benefits of CPEC are some of the manifestations of the uneasy relations between the country’s centrifugal and centripetal forces.
Fourth is an unequal and unsustainable economic development model that helps concentration of wealth in a few hands at the cost of the marginalisation and pauperisation of the vast majority of dispossessed people and deprived regions. This creates not only social stratification, but also regional disparities. The Ayub model failed, so did Bhutto’s quasi-socialist experiment and the Sharifs’ brick and mortar model. Under increasing debt, crises of balance of payments, higher defence expenditure, falling exports and remittances, Pakistan’s economy is facing an enormous crisis. In fact, an over-burdening super-structure cannot be sustained by an unsustainable and fragile economic base. There is no focus on the demographic surge of youth that – rather than becoming an asset – will turn out to be a dangerous liability in the absence of proper education and human resource development. As rent-seeking and corruption prevail, manufacturing and agriculture are becoming unviable.
Our fifth paradox is that extending security designs, and a hostile regional environment, is going to further exacerbate both the internal crisis and conflicts with neighbours. It is not a double-speak foreign policy that is failing, but flawed and dangerous security paradigms that bring Pakistan in conflict with everybody. There is no alternative to a peaceful resolution of conflicts. Without regional economic integration with the ongoing CPEC and other regional cooperative projects, Pakistan cannot achieve a secure and prosperous existence. Instead of quarrelling over frivolous issues and undermining each other, politicians should focus on fundamental policy issues and mobilise public opinion on alternative paradigms of inclusive political and socio-economic development. But it may be too late as we seem to be moving towards yet another reversal of the democratic route.
The writer is a senior journalist.