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Jochen Hippler                                                                    see also: Basic Problems of Pakistan (2012)
more on Pakistan here

Problems of Democracy and Nation-Building in Pakistan

The term Nation-Building had been widely used during the late 1950s and 60s by Western academic, developmental and political/military actors. It had - and still has - several meanings. It provides an analytical tool, focussing on the conditions and developments that lead to the establishment of Nation-States; and it provides a policy to actually create Nation-States. As a policy tool we can distinguish two variants: Nation-Building as a strategy for development policy; and as instrument for competing in the Cold War (“development” and Nation-Building” as alternatives to “Socialism” and “Revolution”). After the Vietnam War the term somewhat got out of fashion, while since the end of the Cold War it has been revitalized. Since then its meaning has been somewhat altered; it has become more shallow and often is used quite loosely. In the context of our topic I will use Nation-Building only as an analytical instrument. It will consist of three major elements:
One: an integrative ideology, that might be nationalist, but could also be religious, racist, developmentalist, or shaped along other lines, as long as it provides for integrating the subgroups of the inhabitants of a country into one society;
Two: an integrated society, with its several elements communicating more often with each other than with outsiders. This implies a “nation-wide” integration of geographic regions, economic sectors, and politics. It also presupposes a functioning infrastructure and intellectual discourse of “national” scale;
Three: an existing State apparatus, which actually fulfills its functions on all of the national territory.

Nation-Building, that is, the establishing or development of a Nation-State, is more advanced, the more these three criteria are fulfilled. This definition does not judge the legitimacy or usefulness of Nation-Building, nor the tools used for its purpose. Ethnic cleansing, massacres, and ethnic or cultural repression have been (used) utilized quite often. And sometimes ethnic, religious or geographical entities have been integrated that never wanted to be. The Nation-State may have been (and still may be) the solution to a set of human and political problems, but it also has been the source of problems and suffering. Therefore, the way I use the term Nation-Building I am not implying any judgement about its usefulness in any specific case.

Why Nation-Building in Pakistan?
Pakistan was established in 1947 as the state for the Muslims of India. The driving force behind the setting up of this new state was the better educated Muslims (often from administrative, trading, intellectual professions) of the Muslim minority provinces of central India, like Uttar Pradesh and Bombay. The inhabitants of the Muslim-majority areas, which later became Pakistan (Punjab, NWFP, Sindh, Balochistan, and Bengal), had been less enthusiastic or even skeptical. They joined the cause of the “Pakistan Movement” only during the last one or two years before the foundation of Pakistan. Paradoxically, the country was not established with a religious purpose, but with a “national” one in mind. Though there was hardly any “ethnic” or “national” difference between the Muslims of Bengal, Punjab, or Uttar Pradesh and their respective Hindu neighbors, the theory of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his Muslim League perceived the Muslims of India to be a distinct “Muslim Nation”, opposed to a “Hindu Nation” (“Two-Nation-Theory”). As a result, when Pakistan came into existence, it consisted of a wide variety of “ethnic” and linguistic groups and subgroups, which had very little in common besides being Muslim. Two official languages (Urdu and English), six or seven important regional ones (Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi, Saraiki, Bengali), and perhaps two dozen small or local ones (mainly in the North) are an indication of linguistic wealth, if not of homogeneity. The founding fathers, being profoundly secular (sometimes bordering to be non-religious), had to deal with the task to bring about what they had insisted upon prematurely: to make Pakistan into a “Nation”, to integrate the several ethnic groups into an national community - without over-using the only bond they had in common: religion. The task was made more complicated because most of the founding fathers were migrants or even refugees to what was to become Pakistan. Jinnah did not speak any of the local languages; he did not even speak Urdu well. He delivered his speech declaring the Independence of Pakistan in English, to be translated into Urdu. The creation of the Pakistani “Nation” did not develop from “below”, from the societal roots or nationalist movements, but from top-down: first the State was created, hoping to develop its own social base. Nation-Building was to generate the Nation that the Nation-State desired.

What Kind of Approaches to Nation-Building?
All governments since 1947 have heavily relied on pointing across the border to promote “National Unity”. In all cases national integration was tried by emphasizing India as an external threat, one that was always willing to attack the new country. Hostility towards India, the struggle for Kashmir (the Muslim majority state that joined India at partition because it was governed by a Hindu ruler), and anti-Hindu sentiments have been and largely remained important tools to stress Pakistan’s legitimacy, its unity, and its character as a “Nation-State”. Using an external enemy for strengthening internal unity had gained credibility by the pains of partition with its ethnic cleansing, its millions of refugees and killed. Three Indian-Pakistani wars (1948, 1965, and 1971) also provided a base to the argument that internal unity was a necessity for survival. Therefore, immense internal heterogeneity was linked to an overwhelming desire for unity, at least as articulated from the political center. The fragility of the Pakistani state and the emphasis of unity were twins. Besides India, the other most important tool to establish unity instead of fragmentation has been “Islam”. Again, all governments have (used) utilized religion as a unifying force, if in very different forms. For Jinnah Islam was the reason for Pakistan’s existence, but more on a cultural than religious level. Others, including Zulfikar Ali and Benazir Bhutto, used Islamic symbols and rhetoric to justify their secular policies. And Zia ul-Haq even tried to make Pakistan into his own version of an “Islamic State”, therefore closely cooperating with Islamist forces. Using religion for national integration seemed irresistible, since it was practically the only common bond between the several ethnicities and nationalities.
The imported, urdu speaking, first generation of leaders consisted of often Westernized, secular modernizers of their new society. This included an implicit and often explicit use of Western “Modernization” theories. It began under the leadership of Jinnah and Liaqat Ali, but found its fulfillment under Ayub Khan’s Presidency. Later several different approaches to integrating society into a “Nation” have been tried. They could be summarized like this:

    1. Charisma, mixed with Modernization (Jinnah/Liaqat Ali)
    2. Modernization (Bureaucracy and Ayub Khan)
    3. Mobilization and Socialist Rhetoric (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto)
    4. Islamist Modernization (Zia ul-Haq)
    5. Muddling Through, with some Modernization (Benazir Bhutto’s and Nawaz Sharif’s first terms, Benazir’s second term)

But, at the same time, the stress of unity as a “national” goal was utilized as a tool for governance, allowing the political elites to control or repress both dissent at the center, and in the provinces. The informal ruling alliance of the Bureaucracy (in the 1940s and 1950s with mostly Muhajir background) and the big Punjabi landowners during the first decade of Pakistan’s existence perceived National Unity as a system securing their own hegemony. Muhajirs provided administrative and economic experience, while the Punjabi elites political power. Anybody, who was not part of this combination or not willing to be co-opted as a junior partner, was perceived as a potential threat to the Nation. Therefore, ethnic minorities or most provincial governments became marginalized. Also, this model of national integration ignored or even consistently weakened any social movements that might develop both in Punjab and the other Provinces. The masses of people - that is the country’s own citizens - were perceived as potentially destabilizing, as a nuisance. National integration and unity were perceived in bureaucratic rather than political terms. It meant placing the provinces under the control of the central government and repressing demands for a federal system or provincial self-rule.

Problems of Nation-Building in Pakistan
In 1971 the official “Two-Nation-Theory” was disclosed as wishful thinking. The former East-Pakistan became independent as the new state of Bangladesh, after a civil war cum external war, in which the Muslim Bengalis of East Pakistan joint forces with the “Hindu enemy”, India, against Muslim West Pakistan. Secular Bengali nationalism triumphed over the secular “Muslim nationalist” ideology. Among the reasons for the split of Pakistan were, a) the exclusion of Bengalis from the power structure, b) economic exploitation of East Pakistan by the Western wing/the Central Government; c) the numerical strength and geographic remoteness of East Pakistan (separated from the Western wing by some 1600 kilometers of Indian territory). With the independence of Bangladesh, Pakistan lost more than half its population. Bangladesh became a relatively homogenous country, with some 98 percent of the citizens being Bengali. What remained of Pakistan (the former Western wing) was hardly less heterogeneous than it had been before: it lost just one of its ethnic groups and nationalities.

The case of East Pakistan/Bangladesh is illustrative of how the problem of ethnicity and provincial autonomy was dealt with in Pakistan. While officially the political center strongly de-emphasized ethnic identity as a political factor, in reality its policies strengthened it. While political power geographically lay in the Punjab (and, to some degree, in Karachi) and politically in the bureaucracy and the army, the majority of citizens happened to live far off in Bengal. And Bengalis where hardly represented in the army and the bureaucracy. Therefore, when the powerful elites tried to protect their interests by monopolizing power and excluding others, they automatically frustrated the Bengali desire for equality and self-rule. A key experience was the “One-Unit” rule in West Pakistan. “One-Unit” dissolved all provinces in Western Pakistan, integrating them into one political unit. The key reason for this was to balance the demographic strength of East Pakistan by confronting it with a Western wing, which was united and nearly equally populated. Expressed in ethnic terms, this policy had two results: it tried to form a coalition of all non-Bengalis against Bengal. Two, it also abolished all notions of provincial autonomy or of federalism in the West. It placed the smaller provinces and ethnic minorities of West Pakistan even more firmly under the dominance of Punjabi politicians, bureaucrats and military officers. While formally Pakistan became more integrated and united, the Bengalis, Belutschis, Pushtos and Sindhis felt marginalized and excluded, and the fabric of Pakistan weakened. In this phase of Pakistani history the goals of democracy and provincial autonomy were closely connected: democratic and regional/ethnic movements went hand in hand. After the split of Pakistan in 1971 the political environment changed drastically. The democratic and ethnic movements in the former Western wing were deprived one of their main sources of political strength: the cooperation with the Bengalis of Eastern Bengal. With the independence of Bangladesh what was now left of Pakistan was able to shake off the dominance of the old (still colonial) bureaucracy, and even forced the army back to the barracks - at least for a few years. But at the same time the preconditions for Punjabi dominance were strengthened, by loosing the main potential counterweight, Bengal.

This was the time of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s rule. It was full of contradictions. Bhutto originated from Sindh and aired a distinct anti-establishment rhetoric. Mobilization of the poor masses of Pakistan, for the first time in its history, became his trademark, along with socialist sounding speeches. But he also was a feudal landlord, and had been a Minister in General Ayub Khan’s government. When Balochi frustrations with the central governments increased, Bhutto ordered a brutal military campaign to crush the insurgency. Also his political style very soon moved from democratic to repressive and authoritarian, weakening his social base considerately at the end of his rule. When the army finally overthrew him in 1977, there was little resistance.

After Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had tried a mixture of repression, social mobilization and populist rhetoric to integrate what was left of Pakistan after 1971, Zia ul-Haq mixed more repression with Islamist rhetoric and a skilful foreign policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan which produced considerable amounts of US foreign aid. Both Presidents heavily relied on ideology to sustain their respective rules, but in both cases their hold on power weakened after a few years. Lack of the Government’s performance proved more important than political rhetoric, no matter whether socialist or Islamist. But while Bhutto (for being a Sindhi himself) had managed to integrate Sindh closer into Pakistan (while completely alienating Balochistan), Zia ul-Haq saw Sindh turn into a hotbed of opposition to martial rule. The “Movement for Restoration of Democracy” was by far strongest in Sindh, and again, the desire for democracy and for provincial/ethnic autonomy went hand in hand. Zia’s rule saw one additional and quite dangerous development: the rise of the MQM in Karachi and urban Sindh in general. Until the middle of the 1980s, most Muhajirs in Karachi had strongly supported the Jamaat-e-Islami(JI), the main Islamist party, founded by Maududi. It was less religious radicalism, but the fact that JI was perceived as “anti-ethnic” and pro-islamic. The Muhajirs coming as refugees from India did not fit any of the local ethnic groups, and of all social groups most strongly believed in the “Islamic Nation” theory that justified Pakistan’s existence. From 1986 a newly established Party gained momentum, the MQM, Mohajir Qaumi Movement (renamed into Muttarhida Qaumi Movement in 1997). It was an exclusively Muhajir party of secular, middle class orientation. Rumor has it that Zia ul-Haq’s Islamist government had a hand in setting it up, to subvert the power of the main opposition party, Benazir Bhutto’s PPP in Sindh. This cannot be confirmed, but the result was exactly that, as its existence led to a civil war in Karachi. The struggle for power between the Muhajirs and Sindhis in the province of Sindh became one of the major destabilizing factors in Pakistan, arresting economic development in the country’s main commercial and industrial center.

The governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif (each with two terms in office between 1988 and 1998) lacked any ideology. They both tried to appear in modernist garb, but performance was generally worse than that of their predecessor governments. Both Nawaz Sharif's and Benazir’s terms have been characterized by excessive corruption, involving Benazir’s husband and Nawaz personally, and his family. Free market policies, political opportunism plus financial greed were the uniting features of both Prime Ministers, while they waged political war against each other for personal domination of the political system. Corruption, the still prevalent power of feudal landowners, and the permanent power games of the political elite all contributed to paralysis in the political system, and to under-performance in economic development. This was not exactly the best way to make the non-elite sectors of the population (especially in the smaller provinces) interested in the future of a united Pakistan. By 1996/97 for probably the first time in Pakistani history a section of intellectuals more or less openly questioned the wisdom of having split India and to create Pakistan. During Nawaz Sharif's second term a new development occurred: the weakening of state structures resulting from the Prime Minister's attempts, to bring them under his personal control. Nawaz successfully forced the President to resign, drove the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court into resigning, and did the same with the top ranking military brass. While the last move might be perceived as enforcing civilian authority over the armed forced, all three were politically motivated to weaken or abolish any potential counterweight inside the state structures to the Prime Minister. As a result, the independence of the judiciary and the presidency, as well as the freedom of press were gravely weakened and institutional rules broken to strengthen personal rule. Simultaneously, during Nawaz's second term the economic situation of Pakistan deteriorated dramatically, with the country coming dangerously close to bankruptcy. The resulting domestic crises, complete loss of confidence in Nawaz by nearly all sector of society led the Prime Minister to push through Parliament a bill introducing the Sharia, Islamic law. This again was more targeted to strengthen the Prime Minister himself, less of religious relevance.

Factors Weakening the National Integration of Pakistan National integration in the case of Pakistan cannot mean creating ethnic or national homogeneity throughout the country. It can only mean establishing a common citizenry, common political and social structures, a common State, and an additional sense of identity, of belonging together. It means building commonality on top of the existing (linguistic, ethnic, religious, geographical) diversity, and not substituting an artificial new identity for the old ones. Not that such a process of substitution of identity would be impossible in principle. But it would either take several generations, or unacceptable means to achieve, like genocide or ethnocide. Nation-Building in Pakistan at the end of the 1990s-- that is, after 50 years of the countries existence -- is at the verge of failure. It has already failed once with the split of Pakistan in 1971, and today the danger of the rest of Pakistan disintegrating cannot be ruled out. The following factors contribute to this:

Generally in Pakistan’s history, Nation-Building and national integration have excluded the population, making it very difficult to transform it into a citizenry. The people have been mere onlookers to politics. Sometimes they identify with specific politics or politicians, but this often was hardly more than an audience applauding a cricket team: it was to identify with someone else, not being an actor oneself. “National Identity” therefore remained shallow and could hardly develop. The main reason behind this was that the character of the Pakistani state did not significantly change after independence. It still remained of “colonial” character, remaining a tool for controlling the population, instead of becoming an instrument for self-government. The state was captured and instrumentalized by a small political elite, which consistently tried to exclude any competing counter-elites. Since the ruling elite mostly consisted of Punjabi rural, “feudal” landlords, the top echelon of the civilian and military bureaucracy, and (with decreasing importance over time) a small elite of Muhajirs, other groups felt excluded. Factions of the Punjabi and Karachi industrialists were among them, but also most of the local elites from Balochistan and Sindh. In contrast to excluded capitalists from Punjab, the tribal leaders from Balochistan and the rural landowners from Sindh perceived their respective exclusion in ethnic rather than political terms. (An important exception applied to the Pashtoons of the Northwest Frontier province. This ethnic/national group has little economic power and is under-represented in the political and bureaucratic elite. But since it is over-represented in the powerful Armed Forces, it today feels much more integrated and “Pakistani”, than it did in the 1940s and 1950s.) A combination of excessive corruption and pathetic under-performance of state structures today characterize Pakistan. Both the development of the economy and of stable political conditions are being undercut by these factors. The police and the legal system, the bureaucracy and the political class are shamefully corrupt, more interested in enriching themselves individually, than serving or developing the country. Since these state structures represent the state to the citizenry, people tend to become cynical and alienated from politics and the state - which implies alienation form “Pakistan”. Also, state structures and national infrastructure remain weak, and actually have weakened over time. These problems to some degree result from what is called in Pakistan the “feudal mentality”. Modern capitalists - who are depending on functioning infrastructure, a fair legal system, secure rules for economic activity - still do not control the country. The “feudal class” still dominates and paralyses politics, having decisive influence in any parliament or government. This class is depending less on achievement and economic efficiency than on extracting resources from other classes by using political power or traditional, tribal or rural power structures. This class is mostly rent seeking, and perceives the state as providing security and perks. The Army has traditionally dominated politics. During about half of Pakistan’s history the country has been governed by military regimes. While some of the arguments the Army put forward to justify its taking power (like incompetence and corruption of many civilian politicians) are not without merit, military rule has not strengthened, but weakened the social fabric of the country. Martial law mostly was an extra tool for the political elites, not threatening their power. It excluded even more the political participation of citizens, thereby making politics even more into something only done by small elite groups. Exclusion of citizens from politics has not been a strategy of only the civilian and military bureaucracy. Even in times of elections and “democracy” people were kept out of politics as much as possible. A very important point has been that all political parties (PPP, PML, many smaller ones) are organized as internal dictatorships. Office holders are not elected, but appointed by the chairperson, or the governing bodies. Parties are hardly the instruments of people to express their will, but oligarchies and political machines. Internal democracy is completely absent, and political programs do not matter. What counts are networks of family and friends, clientelist favors, buying and selling of votes and support, control of local and regional vote banks, control of perks, and a culture of greed. It is obvious, that these structures of politics will not strengthen identification with the political system, and its legitimacy. It also tends to fragment the system into informal and extra-constitutional cliques of people, making not the “Nation” into the key focus of interest, but clientelist networks. Personalization of politics has been one of the factors weakening institution-building. It has considerably contributed to further fragmentation, thereby reinforcing tribal, ethnic, national and other factors. Personalization is psychologically and structurally linked to the “feudal mentality”, and to the weak and non-democratic character of political parties. The weakness and lack of infrastructure also has made national integration more difficult to achieve. Especially in rural areas, in the mountainous North, and in Balochistan not even streets are always available. Electric power, the telephone system, railroads and other means of public transport have been and are in constant crises. The banking system has been inefficient and has been looted by politicians, who are used to receiving “loans” which they never pay back. Police is incompetent, corrupt, and in rural areas acting on behalf of local landlords and “feudals”, who keep their own groups of strongmen. The tax system is a bad joke, and public utilities are hardly accessible without paying bribes. In short: “national infrastructure” is not just weak, but has deteriorated in many respects. Outside pressure on the country does not make things easier. Some five million refugees, a spillover of arms and a resulting “Kalashnikow Culture”, and cheap opium and heroin have entered Pakistan as a result of the Afghan war. Constant tension and fighting in Kashmir at the Indian border have helped justify military expenditures that take up to 50 percent of the national budget. At the same time the IMF and international lenders have turned the squeeze and force Pakistan into one of their “structural adjustment programs”. The economic pressure is being felt all over society, increasing internal competition for meager resources results and reinforces fragmentation.

The future of Pakistan after 50 (fifty) years of existence hangs in the balance. Political paralysis is hurting economic development, and the economic problems restrict financial possibilities to develop infrastructure and social support systems. Limited resources coupled with outside pressure to adopt neo-liberal and austerity policies lead to increase the struggle over the shrinking pie. At this moment an outright ethnic or minority insurgency in Pakistan is unlikely. But at the same time the last elections have shown a strong ethnicization of politics. Today, hardly any party has truly “national” importance: the Muslim League (PML) of Nawaz Sharif has overwhelming support in Punjab (where some 55 percent of Pakistanis live). But in all other provinces it is weak or very weak. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of the Bhutto family and the MQM control the rural respectively urban Sindh, and paralyze each other. And in Balochistan and - to a lesser degree - in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) local, ethnically or religiously based parties predominate. Therefore, fragmentation of the political system has increased considerably during the last 25 years, and has grown more provincial in character than “national”. At the same time, the national government has the constitutional right (under some conditions), to fire the provincial governments.

Currently the social fabric of the country is weakening. While successful separatist movements are not likely in the near future, a grave political and economic crisis is. It could take two forms: one option is the further disintegration and fragmentation of Pakistan, while for a longer time not producing an opting-out of some of the provinces. (Under conditions of a) A continuing weakening of state structures, increasing cynicism with politics and the state, mistrust of the whole political system and its parties, a chronic crisis of the economy could easily lead to de-legitimation of the democratic system, and to its undermining by both the government and the opposition. This would also imply a weakening of national integration, and the stronger emphasis of ethnic, tribal and religious forms of political identities. In this context, Pakistan might not face disaster in a big bang, but slowly erode, until it finally fractures. The country definitely has great potential. Both its middle and lower classes could be a strong base for democracy, if they would no longer be excluded. The economic prospects are dim at the moment, but again, the potential for development does exist, if only the political sector would function properly. Therefore it is tragic that the most likely scenario for Pakistan is a very pessimistic one. In case the current government will not successfully deal with the most pressing problems of the country (or is sabotaged by the bureaucratic, military and feudal elites) Pakistan may not have a future. It still might exist in name; it still might have a government. But the danger is the government and the “national” structures becoming more and more irrelevant. Paralysis, fragmentation and the weakening of the social fabric can easily lead to a highly unstable situation in which the forms of a democratic nation-state still exist, but beneath the surface politics become more and more localized, without a functioning integrative mechanism. Somalia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Liberia, Bosnia may be drastic examples for this kind of scenario. It is quite likely that Pakistan will be spared this fate, and will only suffer a lesser (less severe) version of the same dissolution of society and state. The problem is that the combination of paralysis, fragmentation and the weakening of the social fabric will bring about a highly unstable equilibrium, that can suddenly and seemingly without advance warning flip into several possible developments. It can lead to an all- out civil war (which still is not very likely at this point); it may lead to a break-up of the country by its loosing a province or part of it; it also may produce a handful or more local civil wars, along the lines of the Karachi situation of 1995. It also cannot be excluded in the long run that the democratic system will be overturned. Less likely and more of a long range possibility is the strengthening of the Islamist movement, perhaps of the Jamaat-e-Islami. It is at the moment campaigning to change from a “leninist” party structure into a huge membership organization. And the Islamists currently are the only party of real opposition to the system. Finally, there still remains the possibility of the unstable equilibrium going on for a long time, without producing a new system or a dramatic crisis in the foreseeable future. This scenario would imply the current ‘muddling-through’ policy not falling apart, but being successful enough to keep going. It is the least likely of all possibilities, but still it cannot be completely ruled out. Whatever the outcome of the brewing crisis may be, one thing I consider certain. The next few years will decide on the fate of the Pakistani experiment. The first 50 (fifty) years of Pakistan’s existence have not produced a Nation-State. Nation-Building and Democracy both have not been successful up to now. But the question still has to be answered: Will the country use the last chance it has, or concede defeat?

© Jochen Hippler

in: “Liberation, Democratization, and Transitions to Statehood in the Third World”, Proceedings of the Conference Organized by Muwatin, 7-8 November 1997, Ramallah,  edited by May Jayyusi, for Muwatin – The Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy, Ramallah);
slightly different version in:
Silk Road – A Journal of West Asian Studies, Vol. 1, No. 4, April 1998, pp. 6-15;
and under the title  “Problems of Culture, Democracy and Nation-Building in Pakistan”
in: Nord-Süd aktuell (hrsg. vom Deutschen Übersee-Institut Hamburg), Jahrgang XII, Nr. 4, 1998, S. 697-701


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