Curse of Authoritarianism: Pakistan’s Viceregal Politics and Regimentality of Social Institutions

Curse of Authoritarianism: Pakistan’s Viceregal Politics and Regimentality of Social Institutions

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This article is the first of a series of articles that shall be posted on monthly basis .
This secret yet none has grasped that Muslim Scripture reads so sweet: Practising rules by it prescribed, becomes its pattern quite complete. Allama Muhammad Iqbal

In the world order which was emerging after World-War II, the British Empire was struggling to maintain its colonies all over the world and especially in the subcontinent. The war had exhausted the resources of the empire which was based on racial superiority and stimulated the political process for independence of Indians from the British yoke. Freedom was eventually attained in 1947 when the Sub-Continent split into India and Pakistan but it came plagued with problems pertaining to partition, namely the refugee problem, division of assets and Kashmir. All of this disturbed a peaceful transition to independence. Since the partition, India and Pakistan are at daggers drawn with each other over what both of them perceived as unjust distribution of wealth, history, and land.

India, when compared to Pakistan, got a relatively entrenched institutional arrangement with more monetary strength and ownership of some lands which Pakistan claims as its own. However, in terms of military assets, Pakistan, considerably smaller than India in terms of geography, got 30% of the army, 40% of the navy and 20% of the air force assets.

It is against this backdrop that Pakistan’s civil-military off-balance has been put into motion. Moreover, there were repeated proclamations by the Indian and British political leaderships regarding Pakistan’s survival along with implicit and explicit measures exercised to make the nascent state falter and succumb to failure. This pushed Pakistan’s trajectory into a security sphere where defence was prioritized over development.

What little civil-military balance was in place at that time was fatally wounded by the exile, natural and mysterious deaths, assassinations, and decimations of the founding leadership of the Pakistan Movement. The final death blow to the democratic evolution of the new state was served in 1958, merely 10 years after the inception of Pakistan, when the-then President of Pakistan Major General Iskandar Mirza dissolved the government of the-then Prime Minister Feroz Khan Noor as well as the constituent assembly. He appointed the Chief of Army Staff Field Marshall Ayub Khan as the chief marshal law administrator who, after thirteen days, dislodged President Iskandar Mirza and assumed Presidency for himself. Thus, Pakistan’s drift into repressive authoritarianism cemented and viceregal politics emerged, putting democracy into cryostasis.

However, contrary to mainstream perception, authoritarianism is not exclusive to Pakistan in South Asia and the larger region – especially in a post-colonial context. Ayesha Jalal in her book ‘Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia: A Comparative and Historical Perspective’, argued that regardless of an apparent political dispensation dichotomy between India and Pakistan, both states remained authoritarian in nature particularly to curb off dissidence and ethnic, regional threats. In Pakistan, absence of a proper political process gave birth to institutional synergy of military and civil bureaucracy to augment their institutional powers and run the state. Similarly, the political process in India did not decentralize power at the beginning and the Indian National Congress (INC) led by Jawaharlal Nehru dominated the political landscape of India for a long time.

The institution of politics was at the forefront of the regimentalization of social institutions. Democratic norms and institutions require time to evolve and develop but after the coup of 1958, they increasingly fell prey to military and corporate interests which came to hegemonize the political discourse and process in the country. However, successive leaderships of that era rationalized this political arrangement with the regional and international circumstances which related to Pakistan directly.

It is precisely this aid which hampered and continues to hamper the development of crucial socio-political institutions within the country.

In the book ‘The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World’, T.V Paul explicates the ‘geostrategic curse and blessing’ and ‘resource-curse’ that Pakistan possesses owing to the policies it pursued. Pakistan’s geography allows it to be the centre of most geopolitical events which configure the political and security challenges of South Asia e.g. U.S.-Soviet animosity, Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, chronic hostility with India, and 9/11. This strategic geography, even though a blessing, was utilized more to fulfil short term objectives without realizing longer-term prospects of these political developments. Moreover, in the author’s perspective, what constitutes the resource-curse is the aid which kept on flowing to Pakistan. It is precisely this aid which hampered and continues to hamper the development of crucial socio-political institutions within the country. The political elites, largely comprising of agriculturists, industrialists, and the military, foresaw the continuity of the aid regardless of their efforts for institution-building and sustained economic growth, thus jeopardizing long-term planning for a sustainable economy and institutions.

Repeated martial laws and subsequent totalitarianism of politics contributed greatly to the institutional decapitation and many other social ills which we encounter today in our national polity and society. Religion was the second casualty of the slide into authoritarianism. However, contrary to common understanding, religion was not utilized as a mere political asset to fuel the independence movement, rather it was a collective belief held by many within the Muslim League ranks that the nascent state should be organized around religion and religious principles should guide national life in all its spheres. Venkat Dhulipala in his meticulously researched book ‘Creating a new Madina: State Power, Islam, and the Quest for Pakistan in late Colonial North India’ implied that religion was in Pakistan’s DNA.

However, the interpretation of religion which transpired in Pakistan starkly contrasted with the interpretation of religion which the new state was envisioned to be organized around whose sublime principles would be ijtihad, rule of law, and human rights.

However, the interpretation of religion which transpired in Pakistan starkly contrasted with the interpretation of religion which the new state was envisioned to be organized around whose sublime principles would be ijtihad, rule of law, and human rights. Max Weber, a prominent German sociologist and economist, expounded the interaction between religion and economics in his magnum opus ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’. In his view, religious ideas of Calvinism inspired the emergence of capitalism. Correspondingly, the military and bureaucratic establishments of Pakistan appeased the religious institutions to sustain and augment their own clout within national polity and society by enacting certain legislations and promoting certain social discourses to align themselves with them.

This evolving triumvirate resembled the Power Elite Theory of C. Wright Mills, an eminent American sociologist. There is also a security imperative in this regard in which religion plays the role of deterrence and social cohesion in Pakistan’s geopolitical algorithm. In his book ‘The Pashtuns Question: The Unresolved Key to the Future of Pakistan and Afghanistan’, Abubakar Siddique elucidated that religion was utilized by the Pakistani state to foster domestic social cohesion to counter ethno-nationalism originating from within various ethnic communities. However, religious institutions gained more and more traction into power corridors and society with time which granted them a monopoly over religion, the repercussions of which we are now experiencing. Education and family systems were susceptible to this authoritarian national culture. Tumultuous politics took its toll on education where education policies envisioned to achieve considerable literacy and educated minds imperative to meet forthcoming challenges were subjected to repeated changes due to lack of stability in the political system. It also hindered the development of an intellectual and social culture where critical thoughts, creativity, and analytical discussions could be held, written, and spoken without the fear of intimidation and incarceration.

Family institutions also embraced authoritarian tendencies whereby machismo were sanctified by misinterpretation of religion and perversion of culture. Children had to go through ordeals in their choices for education and matrimonial partner. Women were exposed to intense forms of domestic violence and blatant murders in the name of honour. Most of our discourse in this regard terms patriarchy as the usual suspect. But a close inquiry would indicate that patriarchy in itself is not the culprit. It is the lack of democratization of social relationships which causes strains and the influence of authoritarian tendencies on individuals, who themselves are a product of an authoritarian social culture.

Since the inception of Pakistan till now, our authoritarian tendencies in politics, religion and in various other social institutions have had an adverse impact on the evolution and functioning of a vibrant and modern society. A rigorous scrutiny of the religious texts of both Abrahamic and Dharmic religions demonstrate that even sacred figures democratize their religious preaching.

Our failure, since independence, to create a balance between defence and development, particularly social development, has made us more susceptible to emerging threats. While today our defence maybe invincible against a conventional military challenge, our society remains at peril of the 4th generation war which is being waged against Pakistan.

Our failure, since independence, to create a balance between defence and development, particularly social development, has made us more susceptible to emerging threats. While today our defence maybe invincible against a conventional military challenge, our society remains at peril of the 4th generation war which is being waged against Pakistan.

In this type of war, our social behaviours in society and our institutional capacities of religion, education, judiciary, police, economy, civil society, sports, and politics are being tested. This is a war of narratives and only if we amend our behaviours and institutions to align them more with democratic norms and values can we build the envisioned Pakistan as a constitutionally ruled state where ijtihad is a religious norm, rule of law is a legal norm, and human rights are a social norm which ought to be preserved, protected, and promoted.

Hassan Zaheer
is pursuing his Masters in Sociology from the University of Karachi. He also contributes for the CSCR.

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