From post-colonial to neo-colonial

May 01, 2022

In Pakistan’s context, the United States may be seen as a neo-colonial power

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etermining the exact identity of Pakistani polity has remained the foremost challenge for me ever since I entered the field of academia. A nation state in the name of religion was obviously, as Khalid bin Sayeed called, “an aberration of the norm”, simply because modern state system does not subscribe to religious ideology as its guiding principle.

Faisal Devji had quite a provocative title for his book, Muslim Zion, which to many like Ayesha Jalal seemed inaccurate, if not an altogether arbitrary description of Pakistan. Muslim Zion argues that Pakistan has never been a nation-state, grounded in the historic connections of lands and peoples. Just as Israel is the only Jewish state, Pakistan is the only Muslim state to make religion the sole basis of its nationality.

Despite all such contestations, there had hardly been any dispute on its being a ‘post-colonial’ state. Dispassionate reading of Pakistan’s struggle for freedom, however, suggests that north Indian Muslim leadership was vying for independence against Indian National Congress and not from the British overlords.

Nevertheless, for the last couple of decades, it was looked at as post-colonial state. But this too has proved an inauthentic description of the polity. The regime change last month, at America’s behest, proved that neocolonial was an apt description for the polity instead of post-colonial. In the lines that follow I will draw the sharp distinction between the two epistemic frames, namely postcolonial and neocolonial.

Post-colonial thought was primarily concerned with accounting for the political, aesthetic, economic, historical and social impact of European colonial rule around the world in the 18th to the 20th Century. Robert Young’s book, Postcolonialism, A Very Short Introduction, explains that post-colonialism “claims the right of all people on this earth to the same material and cultural well-being. The reality, though, is that the world today is a world of inequality, and much of the difference fall across the broad division between people of the West and those of the non-West”.

Edward Said’s theory of post-colonialism is based mainly on what he considers the false image of the Orient or the East that has been fabricated by Western explorers, poets, novelists, philosophers, political theorists, economists and imperial administrators since Napoleon’s occupation of Egypt in 1798. For example, the British had a colonial presence in India from the 1700s until India gained its independence in 1947. That is the cultural dimension of a postcolonial dispensation which had socio-political implications. As we can imagine, the people of India, as well as the characters in Indian novels, must deal with the economic, political and emotional effects that the British brought and left behind. Post-colonial took the academic world by storm after Said’s Orientalism was published. I personally stand by Young’s definition of the category that mounts challenge to colonial structures and episteme.

Edward Said’s theory of post-colonialism is based mainly on what he considers the false image of the Orient or the East that has been fabricated by Western explorers, poets, novelists, philosophers, political theorists, economists and imperial administrators since Napoleon’s occupation of Egypt in 1798.

Neo-colonialism, on the other hand, is defined as the economic and political policies by which a great power (read United States of America here) indirectly maintains or extends its influence over other areas or people. Wary opponents of neo-colonialism are scrupulous about keeping their nonaligned credentials intact. Neo-colonialism has been broadly understood as a further development of capitalism that enables capitalist powers (both nations and corporations) to dominate subject nations through the operations of international capitalism rather than by means of direct rule. Kwame Nkrumah, former president of Ghana (1960–66), coined the term, which appeared in the 1963 preamble of the Organisation of African Unity Charter, and was the title of his 1965 book, Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism (1965). Nkrumah theoretically developed and extended it to the post–war 20th Century.

The socio-economic and political arguments were presented by Lenin in the pamphlet, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1917). The pamphlet frames 19th Century imperialism as the logical extension of geopolitical power, to meet the financial investment needs of the political economy of capitalism.

Jean Paul Sartre’s Colonialism and Neocolonialism (1964) contains the first recorded use of the term neocolonialism (without a hyphen). The term has become an essential theme in the African philosophy, most especially in the African political philosophy. Sartre had an abiding interest in the African struggle for de-colonisation. There is a strong possibility that he had borrowed the term from Nkrumah.

It is important to assert that the idea of neo-colonialism has developed from the writings of Karl Marx (1818-1883) in his influential critique of capitalism as a stage in the socio-economic development of human society. The continued relevance of Marxist socio-economic philosophy in contemporary times cannot be denied. The model of society as structured by an economic basis, legal and political superstructres, and a definite form of social consciousness that Marx presented both in The Capital and the Preface to the Critique of Political Economy remains important to socio-economic theory. Marx presents theories which explain a certain kind of evil in capitalism.

The United States may be seen as a neo-colonial power because it influences less powerful or Third World nations like Pakistan by its economic authority exercised through its control or preeminent influence on such agencies as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It is enabled to exercise its influence because of reasons like (a) weakened position of European powers; (b) rise of consciousness against imperialism; (c) the needs of the developed states; (d) the continued dependence of the new states on developed states; and (e) impact of the Cold War.

The methods employed to impose and subsequently sustain neo-colonialism are (a) interference in the internal matters of new states; (b) supply of arms and weapons; (c) use of foreign aid and loans; (d) control over international economic institutions; (e) using multinational corporations; and (f) creating economic dependencies.

A close study of the (past as well as contemporary) history of Pakistan’s foreign policy alludes to the tangible existence of these reasons and methods. An interesting aspect of neo-coloinalism is the fascination with America exhibited by our political, administrative and judicial elite. They can do anything to be a part of the American dream.


The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore.He can be reached at tahir.kamranbnu.edu.pk



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