Culture and politics

November 17, 2019

Monetary corruption by public representatives and public officials results in varied negative trends in a society

Whatever is prevalent and practised in a society at a particular point in time constitutes the culture of that society. These practices determine each and every aspect of the society, including politics. In other words, the wider culture of a society has extensive and profound implications for each of its sub-cultures, including politics.

Although the impact of social trends on the political culture is inescapable the depth, magnitude and intensity of the impact and implications are determined by a host of factors, most importantly the nature and level of involvement of the majority of citizens in political processes. Social currents, both positive and negative, have consequences for political life.

A number of social currents can be readily identified in contemporary Pakistan. These social trends are having a profound impact on the political culture of the country. Given the profound importance of their political implications it is important for the intelligentsia to observe, analyse and document these trends, their nature and significance so as to educate both the citizens and policymakers and enable them to come up with effective policies to respond to these social currents.

Radicalism and extremism is the most noticeable social current in contemporary Pakistan. There is widespread intolerance at every level of social interaction: within families, in markets, at educational institutions and in religious institutions. Extremism and radicalism have existed for decades. Fundamentally, they have been the outcome of bad choices at all levels of state action and intervention.

Extremism has resulted in the formation of radical social attitudes. In some cases these social attitudes have translated into terrorism, particularly in the name of religion, sect and ethnicity. Since 2005, Pakistan has experienced the worst ever wave of terrorist violence. At one point it posed an existential threat to the very survival of the state. Terrorism and the state’s response to it have inflicted huge damage on the society and its members. Millions have had to suffer physical dislocation, displacement and privation.

Extremism continues to affect every aspect of the society, including political institutions and culture as is evident in intolerance among key political leaders and parties. The stunting of our democratic culture is also largely due to intolerance among the political actors. In today’s Pakistan, both the political actors and people are profoundly affected by intolerance and extremism.

Extremist social attitudes have caused widespread insecurity in the society. Resultantly, an increasing number of people are hesitant to express their aspirations, not using their natural talents and resources. This allows the loud minority to dominate them. The country’s economy and society have both suffered on this account and been unable to reach the desired levels of economic growth and social stability.

A post-modernist culture, infused through the media (both traditional and new media) — is spreading fast.

Manifesting itself mainly in the form of consumerism, the post-modernist culture, is another social trend in contemporary Pakistani society. Consumerism has also resulted in extreme social trends as an increasing number of people want access to more products. Poverty is not only extensive in the country, it is also deep-rooted. The gap between the haves and have-nots has widened. This gap has also negatively affected social relationships.

The ever-growing population is another key trend. Pakistan is the fifth most populous country of the world. According to the UNICEF, more than 15000 babies were born in Pakistan on January 1, 2019.

The increasing population has put an unbearable burden on the state and its governance structures. The population growth rate is both a cause of bad governance a consequence of bad governance. When a state and its successive governments are unable to give a sense of purpose and direction to its citizens and do not come up with sustainable development policies, a high population growth rate is but natural.

Bad governance and irrelevant policymaking on one hand and rapid population growth, on the other, have had a symbiotic relationship. Key factors in population growth around the world include low literacy rates, substandard education, poverty, conservativeness, prevalence of purposelessness in people and a society termed as anomie by French sociologist, Emile Durkheim.

The underlying cause of these trends is bad governance. This, in turn, has important political and policy consequences. According to Naila Aman Qazi, a political sociologist, who teaches at the University of Peshawar, “When a public representative has to speak for and serve a large number of people but the resources of the state are not sufficient to solve the problems of even a few thousand of his voters, he or she gets disenchanted and develops a sense of powerlessness.”

“On the other hand,” she says, “people continue to expect performance from their representatives. When people see that they cannot deliver, their very sense of belonging to the state, its apparatus, and democracy starts vanishing. Public representatives feel dejected due to powerlessness to deliver the much-needed goods to the electorates. That may make them financially dishonest.”

In today’s Pakistan, the number of people which every public representative represents at the local, provincial or federal level has reached an unprecedented level. Consequently, good governance has become a pipe dream. Monetary corruption by public representatives and public officials results in multifarious negative trends in society. Pakistan has been suffering badly due to ill-effects of financial corruption by public representatives and public officials.

Financial corruption in official circles has gnawed at the viability and vitality of Pakistani state institutions, making them unable to provide basic services to the people. A very important systemic quality is predictability. Today, every political and governmental institution has lost this important characteristic, resulting in a disconnect between the state and the society.

This disconnect, in turn, has given way to serious societal consequences, specifically regarding respect for law and institutions, rendering the society increasingly ungovernable.

The writer is a political economy and security analyst and governance and public policy practitioner. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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