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Rescuing the state


May 28, 2015

Although the state as a political institution evolved over ten thousand years ago in response to human needs, for long periods of time – especially during wars, conquests and internal conflicts – the state and its institutions have ceased to exist even as the country and the people remained.
In several countries of Africa, where the institution of the state had not yet taken roots in the post-colonial era, the warlords and tribal chieftains have not allowed – even in the 21st century – the state and its laws and institutions to operate and constrain their arbitrary and unaccountable rule over fiefdoms.
For some time, wars and warlords of Afghanistan created a similar picture – of a country without a state – until now when the state structure is trying to put down its roots in society. And in the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Libya and Yemen) causalities of internal conflicts, sponsored terrorism and external aggression also present a sad picture of countries without a proper functioning state and its institutions.
Luckily we are not there, although several non-state actors and their sponsors and protectors have been trying since long to disable the Pakistani state from performing its natural functions or constricting their unfettered rule over fiefdoms – territorial as well as functional.
The state as a political institution is a holistic body of citizens created for ensuring the security and wellbeing of all citizens. The government comprises only those individuals that exercise the authority of the state – on behalf of citizens – to achieve the purposes of the state (ie security and good life of citizens). The state is sovereign, but the government is subordinate to, and performs its functions under, the laws of the state.
A critical question that arises is: how did ‘the country of Pakistan’ land in a situation where the ‘the state of Pakistan’ is being challenged by a range of non-state actors within its own borders?

And how did these non-state actors – political, sectarian, ethnic, and economic and others – despite being on the wrong side of laws of the state, continue to acquire economic resources and militant muscle to challenge – as well as political protection to keep defying – the laws of the state and getting away with it?
A natural corollary that follows is: were the governments, as agents of the state, ignorant of what had been going on within their jurisdictions or incompetent to meet the challenges thrown up by non-state actors or were some rogue elements among them complicit in these activities? Whichever be the cause – or all of these – the state had been weakened, while non-state actors were emboldened to displace the state and impose their own agendas.
This is the crux of the matter. Remedying this problem will deliver the solution to internal challenges confronting the state of Pakistan.
The steel frame to hold any state together – despite wars, conflicts and internal upheavals – has been turned into a plastic frame in Pakistan, thanks to the kind of governance the country has been subjected to. It has been moulded, turned and twisted any which way and made largely incapable of upholding the laws of the state or preventing rogue elements from rising to take charge of the reins of government. The only part of the steel frame left unscathed are the armed forces of Pakistan, which are now made to carry the entire burden of holding the state together, both from internal challenges as well as external threats.
Several factors have contributed to create this sorry state of affairs, but the most culpable and corrosive has been the cultural factor. A political culture going all the way back from Mughals to the Mongol invasions and beyond is still ruling the roost in modern, democratic Pakistan and has effectively disabled the state from performing its normal functions.
This native political culture was nurtured when the institution of the state did not exist in our part of the world, nor was it sophisticated enough to draw the distinction between the ruler/government and the state. It recognised the ruler as the sovereign who was above the law and unaccountable to anyone for anything. There were no states but countries or territories that were conquered and ruled by dynasties. These territories changed hands depending upon whoever could muster bigger force. There was no recourse to the law for this change because the law did not exist – apart from what a ruler wished.
The concept of loyalty to the state did not exist simply because the institution of the state itself did not exist. Loyalty was only to the ruler of the day. It is the native political culture that is still dictating the governance in Pakistan. But, instead of cleansing it off medieval baggage, it has been given a new lease of life – sometimes by misusing the name of Islam, other times by misusing the label of democracy. As this native medieval political culture gained strength, the state and its institutions retreated or became complicit. Either way, this culture encouraged non-state actors and their criminal enterprises to expand their networks and keep defying the state
The political sophistication of the distinction between the state and the government did not exist in the native political culture nor did the concept of loyalty to the state above and beyond loyalty to individual or group. These were imported concepts in our part of the world.
In Pakistan, this political sophistication was spelled out by Quaid-e-Azam, a man well versed in the political culture of constitutional governance of a modern democratic state. In his post-independence speeches he drew the distinction between the state and the government and urged the nation to follow this for the wellbeing and prosperity of Pakistan.
But the critical mass to sustain this political sophistication weakened after Jinnah’s death and the native political culture with medieval roots came back to wrest control of decision-making forums. This time it also utilised religious and democratic idioms to create space for exercise of its personalised rule – unfettered by the laws and institutions of the state. Depending upon where its interests lie, it even influenced which provisions of laws and constitution may or may not be implemented.
While the state and its institutions, as we saw, did not exist in the traditional political culture of our medieval age, the state has now been caged and confined to act – only if allowed and to the extent and the manner so allowed – by the ruler of the day.
This native, medieval political culture has effectively conquered the state in Pakistan. It does not recognise equality of all before the law nor does it subscribe to equal opportunities for all. Its success in putting the state and its institutions in the orphanage is there for all to see – more so in Sindh than elsewhere – as everyday media reports show how business is conducted.
How can the state be rescued from this orphanage and empowered to perform its normal functions for the good of all citizens? That is where lies the key to solving the problems facing Pakistan today.
The writer specialised in FDI from MIT and designed the Board of Investment and First Women Bank. Email: [email protected]

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