Tuesday July 05, 2022

The postcolonial dilemma

February 08, 2017

Colonialism resulted in human exploitation, coercion and dependency in the societies it controlled. The post-colonial epoch was the manifestation of historical and political notions of the previous era and, as a result, set up a normative discourse. Decolonisation was akin to ending the physical architecture of colonialism but, in its entirety, the metanarratives and contextual nuances of colonialism persisted.

Hamza Alavi’s seminal thesis, ‘The state in post-colonial societies’ is a better reflection of the responses of states in post-colonial societies.

Colonial rule was made possible through the state’s coercive administrative machinery and the institutions that had been developed to consolidate and strengthen it. The post-colonial era did not call off this institutional mechanism, which was utterly irresponsive to the public and was highly exploitative. The extension of this frame of rule aggravated the concerns of the public at the local level where they were the direct subjects of this oppressive mechanism.

The definitions of contested notions like democracy, human rights and the system’s continuity in post-colonial societies are highly fallacious and do not account for societal trends, cultural norms, historical experiences and psyche of the public. Most of the theories and conceptions are Western-oriented and uncongenial to the vernacular trends. It has made all these discourses incomprehensible and perplexing for the masses. As a result, the acceptability of these confounding processes is always questionable.

India and Pakistan, both post-colonial states, have a similar beginning, a shared past and a common history. Independence in these states could not bring about anything new, given both persisted with the administrative and institutional mechanisms that was set up by the British Raj. Parliamentary democracy was not a wise option for these nations which were immensely divided along class and caste structures. Instead of ideology, hierarchy had prevailed in these societies. That was why these states – which had come into existence in the name of communal identities – could not transform themselves into welfare republics. The voters became consumers and the system became elite-dominated. The electoral processes became procedural rather than being participative or substantive.

Though these states showed development in certain intervals and patches, the end result was never uniformity. This figurative development could not alter the genuine concerns of governance in which these societies were entrenched. Showcase projects, development in fudged figures, fake indicators and the politics of patronage marked their growth and these states failed to revamp and redefine the interaction pattern of the state and society.

A significant cause of concern in this regard is the failed system of justice. People were caught into a highly exploitative system of civil code proceedings where the aspiration of getting justice turned into a daydream. Some popular political myths have been described by KK Aziz in his riveting book, The Murder of History in Pakistan. But the problem is that a vast majority of people actually believe and circulate these popular narrated tales. In these stories, the oppressors are portrayed as rescuers and the nation is thrown into a militaristic vision of many enemies and a conspiratorial paranoia at large.

Nothing damaged Pakistan as much as the nexus of religion and politics did. The tacit backing of religious outfits turned religious forces into leviathans. The diminishing constitutional rule served as an added factor to the entire imbroglio. The successive military stints increased the vulnerability of the country further.

The educational system is also one of the key reasons of Pakistan’s currently torn state. Different systems are running parallel to one another, creating contradictions: some of them clarion for orthodoxy while some are abettors of modernity. Madressahs have become the epicentres of terrorism and intolerance has become a national symbol of this polity.

The subsequent fanaticism needs to be ruled out and it can only be done by educating the public. Nothing can rescue Pakistan except for a rationalised discourse. Constitutionalism is the only way to ensure the state’s civilian supremacy. The rift between democracy and deliverance needs to be measured and the procedural frame of rule must be made participative, accommodative and representative.


The writer is a faculty member at
Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.