Why Pakistan Is Not Changing

Shah img(Image: Badshahi Mosque Lahore, Pakistan via Shutterstock)

“Change” and “Pakistan” are the words of significant disconnect for Pakistanis and the world outside. The world outside has many illusions about Pakistan. The federation of the Indus civilizations’ muslim majority states is merely 70 years old, but houses a contemporary history of global geo-political engagements and is the epicenter of terror and violence in the name of Islam. It’s also a hot spot for ethnic chauvinism that runs through the tectonic plates of the iron-clad military headquarters at Rawalpindi.

The vast majority of Pakistanis at home and abroad, as well as the stakeholder international community, have one common concern: why Pakistan is not changing for the better. A quest to seek answers needs a microcosmic reading of the ingredients and dynamism of change in Pakistan society vis-à-vis its state oligarchy and power matrix.

Class Complexities

Pakistan has highly peculiar and complex traits of class formation, evolution and transformation, which have no match in the rest of the world in terms of social engineering by the state and its omni-powerful security establishment.During the period of Indian partition, Pakistan was predominantly a rural society comprised of mostly sharecroppers, peasants and landless agriculture laborers. It also had traditional feudal figures called zamindars, who owned arable land traditionally, and feudal lords known as jagirdars, who also held large amounts of arable land that was awarded to them by British colonizers in exchange for their loyalty and collaboration in British imperial endeavors in India. They were predominantly Muslims. Despite three attempts between 1965 and 1978, no effective land reforms took place. The fear of socialist inroads led to Pakistan’s establishment – with international support – gradually nationalizing emerging industry. Thus the process for the emergence of industrialists was barricaded. Led by the refugee feudal leadership of the ruling Muslim League and the Punjabi military, feudal lords were strengthened to cement the foundations of the military establishment in politics so that they might remain unchallenged, as urbanization and industrialization were the basis for change.

It is worth mentioning here that during the Indian partition of 1947, the Punjab Regiment of the undivided Indian Army was carved out to become the Pakistan Army. In the later phase of the military takeover of the state in Pakistan, despite leveling the playing field for the development of industrialists, the military itself turned its retired and serving officials into industrialists, thus creating a militarized industrialist and trading class. This ensured the status quo as well as a cushion for military-controlled change in Pakistan. Moreover, by facilitating the employment of state institutions for legitimate use of violence (police, second-tier military outfits like Pakistan Rangers, Frontier Constabulary and Bajwaur Wing) by the feudal loyalists in rural areas, and urban land grabbers, thugs, mafias, mullahs and terrorists in urban hubs like Karachi (Sindh), and to a certain extent in Quetta (Balochistan), Peshawar (Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa) and Lahore (Punjab), the security establishment created a “third state” to safeguard its interests. Thus, the elements of change were permanently resisted in Pakistan.

This resistance was further fueled and infected by the funded seminaries (madrasas) preaching the Salafi brand of Islam among the majority Sunni muslims of Pakistan, who were mostly Sufi by the cultural virtues of the Indus civilization. Hence, the mechanisms to transform Pakistan from rural and feudal into modern; from religious extremism of central Punjab and parts of South Punjab and Pashtun tribal areas into liberal; and urban mafias, thugs, and terrorists into change-monger city dwellers has been taken over by the military and its broader security establishment. Therefore, the shrinking of civil and liberal spaces in Pakistan has become phenomenal – despite the fact that the majority of the citizens in Pakistan that reside in the Sindh, Balochistan, South Punjab and Pashtun belt are either secular (as in the case of Sindh) or liberal. Consequently, talking about change in Pakistan means coining terms like “pro-civilians of the military” and “pro-military civilians.” Maverick terms like “liberal extremists” are usually used by the extremist component of the Pakistani security establishment to describe the vocal Sindhi classes and socio-political elements.

Ethnicity Faultlines

A broader ethnic diversity that could have become a vital motor for progress in Pakistan has now converted into the source of an ethnic divide and antagonism – mostly due to the military and security establishment’s preference of some ethnic groups over the others. The unwritten constitution of the Pakistani establishment has one guiding principle – the dividing line between “hard-core” Pakistanis and second-, third- and fourth-level Pakistanis. Hence, trust and participation in statecraft has been prejudicial and exclusionary since the predominantly Punjabi security establishment buys the idea that of citizens belonging to any of the 11 Punjabi-speaking districts of Punjab province, religious Salafi/Wahabi or Sunni muslims are the most trustworthy, hard-core Pakistanis. Urdu-speaking Indian partition refugees from northern India fall into the second “level”; the Hindko-speaking people from Hazara Division of Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa, the third; the Persian-speaking Hazara refugees from Afghanistan in Balochistan, fourth; and Salafi /Sunni Pashtuns are the fifth in the category of so-called “defined priority categorization” of “hard-core” Pakistanis.

This “prioritization” resulted in the inclusion of some ethnic groups in statecraft and the exclusion of others like Sindhi and Baloch, as well as Hindu, Christians, Shia and, to a certain extent, Ahmadis, creating the foundations for ethnic conflict, interest strife, freedom movements and warfare in Pakistan. This matrix of conflict may be categorized as Sindhi, Baloch and Pashtun versus the Punjabi-dominated establishment. It can also be categorized as a competition over participation in governance and access to resources between Baloch and Hazara refugees in Balochistan; Sindhi and Urdu-speaking Sindhis in Sindh and Pashtun and the Hindko-speaking communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa; and between Siraki, Potohari and Punjabi in Punjab. This dynamic has been created in the first instance and is now utilized for furthering the Punjabi-dominated establishment. Eventually, the phenomena has created a Bangladesh (previously East Pakistan)-like situation in Sindh and Balochistan.

A State of Anarchy

Anarchy has engulfed the Pakistani state apparatus. The conflict between the civilian population and noncivilians is at center stage. The former includes the pro-civilian fold, the upholders of civilian dominance in statecraft in the form of political parties: social groups, dissenter individuals and pro-civilian elements. The pro-military fold includes serving and retired armed forces personnel and the military-associated intelligence fraternity, pro-military elements within the political parties and civil bureaucracy and parts of civil society.

Moreover, two groups are crosscutting elements in Pakistan – military and mullah. They have inroads into almost all social groups and schools of thought of the state and society, with the only low-scale “infected elements,” the larger majority of activists in Sindh and Balochistan who strive for freedom or secession. This great puzzle of state and society in the South Asia of our times is a predecessor of the ongoing and upcoming worst form of anarchy in the state and the society among the federations of the world.

Road to Change

Achieving positive change in Pakistan would be like an attempt to wash the dirt out from a cowboy’s jeans. In the context of socio-economic complexities, political traits and the ethno-religious composition of the military-dominated state apparatus and establishment of Pakistan, there would be some necessary prerequisites. Changing the ethno-religious composition of all civil, military and security governance segments of the state would be a primary requirement. Cutting off the nexus between feudal and urban lords and the criminal security regime of the country – misused for the manipulation of society and polity in favor of military interests – would be necessary. That would also lead to an ultimate shutdown of religious-terrorist factories in Punjab. It is important to de-Punjabize the state apparatus and reduce the existence of Hindko, Urdu and Hazara ethnic minorities, proportionate to their civilian population, however, it is worth mentioning here that the Shia Hazara of Balochistan are also the worst victims of state-sponsored Salafi terrorism.

The change in the ethnic composition of Pakistan’s military is the unavoidable prerequisite, given that Sindhis are almost nonexistent in the Sindh Regiment, Baloch in the Baloch Regiment, and Siraki in the Punjab Regiment. The same is evident in the technical corps and specialized formations of the military. Surprisingly, the residents of coastal Sindh and Balochistan are not part of the Naval Forces, and inhabitants of high-altitude mountains are nonexistent in the Air Force. Moreover, the hegemony of Punjab in the Parliament needs to be altered. According to the arrangements under the 1973 constitution of Pakistan, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa provinces together do not form a numerical two-third majority in the parliament to amend the constitution of Pakistan. If desired, the Punjab, in association with its collaborating ethnic minorities, can amend and legislate the constitution. In such a situation, religious extremist Punjabi-speaking Punjabi, eyeing Afghanistan and the Indian Kashmir, can never be willing to undo the Jihadi machinery and repeal notorious laws like the blasphemy law, as well as arrangements that bar nonmuslims from holding the offices of president, prime minister and armed forces chiefs.

Moreover, the preamble to the Constitution of Pakistan should be excluded, as it was, in fact, a resolution by the All India Muslim League’s central working committee to turn Pakistan into an Islamic Republic after the death of Jinnah. If these changes are not made, the existence of Pakistan will be disastrous for its own victimized majority of the people in Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa and Siraikistan (South Punjab) and pose a danger of greater anarchy and instability in South Asia and the Central Asian region. There are only two options for Pakistan, according to the realities of our times: Exist after undertaking wider drastic reforms or vanish by dividing into two or three new sovereign countries on the world map. There is no middle path.