Study of a nation’s predicament

April 11, 2021

Azhar Hassan Nadeem’s book is a thematic political history of Pakistan

The book under review is a thematic political history of Pakistan. The themes that the author, a retired senior police officer, has chosen are: rule of law, police and civil administration, politics, local government, civil society, terrorism and the economy. Each theme has various aspects, some of them connected to and leading to others so that the book becomes a coherent whole. Before embarking upon his investigation of each theme the author gives the readers an introduction to his study of Pakistan dwelling upon what he calls the ‘predicament’ of the country. In the chapter on ‘predicament’ he provides a theoretical framework for the book. Briefly, he points out the work of theoreticians who explain how “the elitist extractive institutions reign supreme” and are responsible for the problems that currently confront the country (p 23).

He then proceeds to the justice system of the country first giving a brief history of the superior judiciary violating the spirit of the law in its judgments. The gist of this discussion is that the judges accommodated military dictators giving one reason or another. Since there are many accounts of these judgments (usually citing the doctrine of necessity) up to Gen Zia ul Haq’s period, the writer rightly describes the cases after this time and gives pride of the place to the case of Gen Musharraf. The judgments in this case too are pragmatic and not correctly juristic. Since ordinary people have to deal with the lower judiciary and the police, the author has dedicated a whole chapter (No 4) to them. Being a police officer, his information and analysis of policing are worth the attention. He points out, among other things, that the jails are overcrowded and the medico-legal system needs to be reformed as, indeed, does the whole system of criminal justice.

In the chapter (No 5) on political parties, the army and politics as a whole, Nadeem points out that the political parties have not yet matured into democratic institutions primarily because of the dominance of the army to which they are initially beholden. Thus, instead of merit-based promotions the parties have dynastic rule. On the whole, the political system maintains the status quo which, as mentioned earlier, promotes extractive politics. The local government, the subject of Chapter 6, is a case in point. It is neglected, held in abeyance or starved for funds and power when civilian democratic governments rule the country but, ironically, does relatively better when the military takes over. This is not because the military is concerned with the solution of grassroots problems, but, “as a means for a non-representative centre to gain legitimacy through by-passing the political agents at the provincial and national levels.” (p. 86). This is an important insight and one that should be taken into account by researchers.

The chapter on civil society mentions – among other bodies known as comprising that discursive and organisational pressure-group between the state and the individual citizen which defines civil society – student leader conferences, tribal communities (including jirgas), the Women Action Forum and youth rallies. The newest emergent force is, of course, social media. In the author’s opinion such civil society organisations can help solve Pakistan’s problems. Among these problems is terrorism to which the author devotes a chapter. In this he very aptly points out that the state, as conceived by Jinnah, was a liberal-democratic one. However, it was taken over by those who wanted to make it an Islamic polity such as Zia ul Haq. This has allowed terrorists to become dominant. In the last chapter, on the economy, he has given a resume of Pakistan’s policies ending on the optimistic note that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government’s policies will bring about positive change in the country.

There are certain assertions in the book that are capable of a different view. To begin with, there is a statement of fact which needs to be corrected. The author claims that Abul A’la Mawdudi, the pioneering father of the Jamaat-i-Islami declared in 1948 that the Kashmir war was not a jihad “as the state was not Islamic” (p 112). However, while Mawdudi did point out that the state was not Islamic, his edict on the Kashmir war was based on specific verses of the Quran in the light of which he declared that (a) a jihad can only be declared by the head of the state and (b) before declaring it all treaties of peace must be revoked. As Pakistan had used non-state actors and never declared a war or revoked treaties of peace, this was not jihad according to Mawdudi. Moreover, the author points out, and rightly so, that Zia ul Haq did create conditions that increased the power of the Islamist lobby. However, the author fails to point out that MA Jinnah’s own invocation of Islam could be interpreted as if he wanted an Islamic state.

Later, all Pakistan’s rulers, including even Gen Yahya Khan, used Islam for national integration but, by the same token, kept strengthening the Islamists. Even more to the point, the author ignores the army’s role in promoting Islamists even using them as proxy warriors in Kashmir. In short, if the religious lobby clamoured for an Islamic state, they were merely calling the bluff of the state that had vowed to create one from day one. As for the optimistic scenario that has been painted about the economic policies of the PTI government, I am not adequately qualified to comment upon them. However, the fact that the cost of living has gone up is noticeable.

Notwithstanding the omissions of the author pointed to above, this book is a compendium of knowledge about Pakistan that would be useful for those who want to study this country. I recommend it to the specialist as well as the ordinary reader.


The Politics of the Misgoverned

Author: Azhar Hassan Nadeem

Publisher: Routledge, 2020

Pages: 171

Price: INR 695

Dr Tariq Rahman is an occasional columnist   

Study of a nation’s predicament