Wednesday February 28, 2024

Imperial moorings and anti-imperial delusions

March 29, 2022

There is an imperial moment internal to Pakistan’s politics. It is not, however, that of ‘America’ determining and indeed dictating the ins and outs, the day to day machinations of the Pakistani polity — a vulgar analysis of imperialism where Imran Khan’s increasingly desperate name-calling and reactionary cultural nationalism meet with the pseudo-analysis of some self-proclaimed anti-imperialists. Indeed, such a view with its lockstep, unidirectional, and one-to-one determinative schemes should be combatted at all levels as a primitive infantilism which segues into support of some of the most reactionary forces in Pakistan.

No, the imperial moment of Pakistan’s politics is much more structural, much more deep-rooted, and much more long term than such a jaundiced view would allow. Pakistani ruling classes’ dependency on imperialism is an index of their wider social and economic weakness, one conditioned by the lack of a sustainable project of accumulation centered on a genuinely national economy and culture.

It is thus that a ruling bloc wracked by its own limitations, has been provided coherence and purpose at key moments through imperial patronage (from Ayub’s Five Year Plans to Zia’s jihad and Musharraf’s 'war on terror' and the now fading hopes bound with CPEC). This is the whip of external necessity which, at key moments for the imperial world order, has brought foreign and internal forces together in a mutual convergence of interests, one which has served to shore up the failings and limitations of local elites, externally-borrowed cement to paper over internal cracks and structural weaknesses.

It is also this imperial patronage which has been absolutely central in providing some kind of sustainability to an otherwise chaotic accumulation project, one that has also seen one institution become the overbearing monopolist power it is today, the lynchpin and articulating principle which holds together a ruling bloc constantly at war with itself and with its own people. Unlike much liberal handwringing and pious wishes over constitutional ambits and institutional boundaries therefore, it is this wider imperial and social mooring which is the real basis of Pakistan’s civil-military faultlines, the rational kernel behind the seemingly endless game of musical chairs and the homeostatic stasis of the civil-military pendulum.

No internal project forthcoming, Pakistan’s ruling classes are thus incorporated into the world-system through a curious form of dependency: one based on selling their own people as labour (for remittances) and, crucially, on selling their services to the highest imperial bidder, in order to provide continuing grist for this carousel of wealth, pelf, and corruption.

Thus it is too, that with the imperial coordinates of the world order shifting, the war on terror (at least at the regional level) having lost primacy for the US, and no sustained foreign patronage forthcoming, that the Pakistani ruling bloc is left twisting and turning from the US to China one moment, only to jump between Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey the next. In short, a grotesque dance over the hot coals of imperialism and sub-imperialism.

That the internal fratricide of the ruling elite has taken a sharper turn over the last few years, that their incoherence and lack of internal consensus is laid bare for all to see, that the Emperor is naked and object of the whole village’s jest, is due in no small part to this lack of imperial mooring. No patrons, no rents or aid, no willing bidder on the world stage to buy their ever-willing services, no whip of external necessity – or largesse – to settle, even if temporarily, their familial squabbles, and we arrive at a ruling bloc reeling from its own shortage of legitimacy, unable to decide who among them will confer upon the interest of one the mantle of the interests of the rest.

This is then not a matter of direct determination but one of long-term structural crises and incoherences. It is not a matter of conspiracy but of a congenital weakness expressed intensely in particular moments, mostly through fratricidal bleeding.

Indeed, the foul-mouthed bluster, the constant Ertugrul-posturing, and the geostrategic delusions of Khan and his allied social groups stem exactly from these weaknesses – the narrow basis and objective limitations of their own material bases. Delusions and their destructive consequences, we must remember, are not only a preserve of the strong (cf the US’s scorched earth imperial hubris), but are often too a compensation for relatively weakness (cf Putin’s fevered Tsarist revanchism and its recent misadventures).

As for the Khan government, our point of view is simple: it is the civilian facade of a sometimes disguised, but mostly open undemocratic, unelected rule – one which is based on a modicum of popular support, but draws real sustenance from the most reactionary segments of Pakistani society: those representing a comical but highly dangerous patriarchal-theological charlatanism, a middle class whose fascistic proclivities would be frightening if they were not such a bad parody of the actual fascists next door, and most crucially, the one politico-economically monopolist powerful institution.

As such, if the government is in the process of imploding, it is not because imperial bureaucrats in Brussels and Washington conspire against it, but on the basis of its own contradictions, falling on the poisoned tip of its own once proudly-wielded sword of Damocles and treacherously-fickle ‘wickets’ – the military and political brokers sensitive to the establishmentarian breeze.

We have no love lost for such a reactionary combine or for its inevitable and long overdue unravelling. The quicker they are buried and forgotten the better.

The writer is a university lecturer, with research interests in Marxist and post-/anti-colonial theory.