Volume 6, No. 2, February 2024
Editor: Rashed Rahman
Pakistani state: an overdeveloped or unevenly developed state?
Pakistan is passing through the last round of primitive capitalist accumulation. It will entail converting subsistence agriculture into corporate farming and converting a majority of the rural workforce into wage labour. During the period of primitive accumulation, various sections of the Pakistani elite played the role of ‘robber barons’ to transfer resources from the productive sectors, better endowed regions and toiling classes to loss making businesses and enterprises. That explains capitalist development’s underperformance and dependence on the state’s power. While this development took place under the guise of a free market, the transfer of resources took place with the use of state power. Our business classes depended on the patronage of the state for business ‘success’ and the state depended on civil society for performing social welfare functions. Pakistan’s economic and political power structure, which is very elitist and exploitative, is at the same time based on interdependence between the state, the market and civil society. This interdependence defines the elements of a strategy to make the transition from an underperforming capitalism to a welfare state (or socialism, democratic socialism, or a bourgeois democratic revolution).
Another development closely linked with this systemic transition is our elite’s decision to change its role from a regional policeman in the Cold War to toll tax collector of the regional trade corridor. Both these developments are part of the transition from an underperforming ‘war economy’ to a better performing ‘peace economy’. During this transition, the political forces opposed to elite capture want to claim a better share in prosperity. It is important to mention here that the Pakistani state is not an overdeveloped but unevenly developed state. Systemic interdependence and the unevenly developed nature of the state create the possibility of transformation through negotiation. Negotiating egalitarian development fits in with the democratic socialist ideal of the left-wing parties. However, the strategy for negotiating change has to be carefully thought through, keeping in view the ground realities.
Many concerned citizens and public intellectuals in Pakistan think that the best strategy to fight failed capitalism in Pakistan is to work for copying failed socialism. This view is partly based on misunderstanding the role of the state, the market and civil society in the process of social change in Pakistan. First it is important to understand that Pakistan’s economy is not a ‘free market’ economy. It has not followed the path of development by rewarding the competent and punishing the incompetent economic agents. The state has played an important role in providing resources, subsidies and protection to the private sector, which resulted in nurturing big businesses that generate private profits and social losses. This has led to the flight of billions of dollars to private accounts in safe havens and accumulation of heavy and chronic debt by the national exchequer. Understanding the nature of the state, market and civil society in Pakistan helps us in understanding the specific forms of exploitation and appropriate forms of struggle against that exploitation.
Many renowned scholars have grappled with the economic role of the state in Pakistan. While Hamza Alavi (Alavi:1972) called it an ‘overdeveloped’ state, Gunnar Myrdal called it a ‘soft’ state (Myrdal: 1967, 1972). Gustav Papanek, without mentioning the word ‘state’ called the Pakistani business elite ‘robber barons’ (Papanek: 1967) and Akhter Hamid Khan viewed the Pakistani state through the lens of a law and order administration (Khan: 1978). All these formulations have a grain of truth. The reality perhaps needs to be looked at differently. The Pakistani state has an overdeveloped defence and security function, an underdeveloped welfare function and underperforming managerial system. If we take into account the functioning of the Pakistani state, it appears to be an unevenly developed state rather than an overdeveloped one.
Due to Pakistan’s role as a frontline state in the Cold War, it has a highly developed military capacity. It also played an important regional role as a successor of the British Indian army, but it has shown limited capacity in domestic policy making, consensus building and societal welfare. This has happened due to the absence of administrative, social and political infrastructures below the district level. In its domestic role the Pakistani state has functioned as a law and order administration and depended heavily on the rural elites or philanthropists for performance of its welfare functions in the past and on civil society in recent years. This interdependence assumes critical significance because it furnishes the foundation for negotiating with the state the space for social transformation. Leading civil society organisations have made use of this interdependence in activating and engaging the government and introducing participatory practices in place of predatory ones. This interdependence creates the opportunity to introduce political changes through negotiation, not violence. Reformist political forces need to learn three important lessons from civil society: i) nonpartisan politics is more effective than partisan politics in negotiating with the state; ii) local action is the best entry point for engaging with the power structure; iii) dialogue can take the place of violence and reform can take the place of revolution as part of democratic socialist politics.
State, economy, and forms of exploitation
The first question we need to ask to understand the character of the systemic exploitation and appropriate forms of struggle is where does the surplus value originate and how it is transferred and distributed. In Pakistan’s case, value originates in agriculture, small production, family enterprises in the informal sector, and wage labour in the industrial sector and is transferred through price control, subsidies, foreign exchange rate control, land grabbing and writing off loans, and through regressive taxation, accumulation of foreign debt and pilferage in the procurement process to privileged enterprises. The value originating in the most competent sectors of the economy is transferred to sick industries, government officials and politicians (Baqir: 1984).
The predominant form of surplus appropriation is not through employment of wage labour but transfer of value from the more competitive sector to the less competitive sector and converts social losses into private gains, and competitive businesses into loss making enterprises. It is small scale production, agriculture, the less developed regions, domestic and international tax payers, not wage labour, that is the primary source of expropriation of surplus value. In this process the state rather than the market plays the primary role. According to Marx’s view, since capitalist exploitation subsumes other forms of exploitation, therefore the struggle against other forms of exploitation is subsumed under the struggle of the proletariat against capital. In Pakistan expropriation and transfer of resources from different spheres of production through state power creates the conflict between the state and citizens as the major conflict, and the struggle against the excesses of the state subsumes all other forms of struggles in the economic and political sphere.
In considering the use of state power in the interest of the ‘robber barons’ it is important to note another distinctive feature that the Pakistani state, instead of exercising a monopoly on the use of violence, has accepted and promoted privatisation of violence and vigilante justice in dealing with perceived internal and external threats. This patronage of the privatisation of violence is connected with the role of the state as a frontline ally of the west in the Cold War. It also led to the colonisation of religion and violation of the constitutional path. The frontline character of the state necessitated perpetual rigging of the market and elections in the context of the Cold War. Due to the rent collecting role of the state and the nexus between state and non-state violence, the struggle between the state and citizens becomes the dominant form of struggle to move Pakistan from failed capitalism to a welfare economy.
Forms of struggle
Popular forms of struggle against the excesses of the state in Pakistan have included parliamentary politics, rent payment to official and non-official patrons, theft of public resources (land grabbing, use of kundi for stealing electricity, bribing chatti dalals to seek justice in the lower judiciary), agitation and protests, and armed insurrections. In the case of armed struggle a single spark, i.e. repeated armed insurrections in Balochistan, did not create a prairie fire. The major challenge of the resistance was to overcome the divides within the ranks of the democratic forces. An interesting aspect of the citizen-state relationship is that citizens fear but they don’t trust or respect the state power. Citizens have therefore created their own support systems to meet their pressing needs. One path of struggle followed by civil society was to take over the welfare function of the state. As the key social conflict moved from wage labour-capital conflict to citizen-state conflict, the citizens’ battleground moved from the factory floor to communities of interest and residential communities. It resulted in fighting a thousand different battles rather than one big battle. This process entailed frequent engagement between the state and civil society and moved the battle lines from the streets and picket lines to the inner space of the power structure.
Highlighting and learning from the transformative practices of civil society is the most important part of the narrative on social change. Civil society, like the state and economy, is seen as a monolithic entity by many development experts. This monolithic view has led to stereotyping of the role of civil society both among its champions and critics. As very insightfully pointed out by Adil Najam (Najam: 2000), the space between the state and civil society consists of four distinct subspaces – cooperation, collaboration, confrontation and co-option. The potential of each space is defined by the goals and means of the state and civil society. Similar goals and similar means would lead to a cooperative relationship; similar goals and dissimilar means will result in complementarities; dissimilar goals and similar means lead to engagement only through co-optation, and dissimilar goals and dissimilar means would lead to confrontation. In the conventional narrative, only the last two subspaces are highlighted and the first two spaces are not emphasised. In reality, activities in the first two spaces may have far greater consequences than the last two subspaces.
We need to contrast the predatory practices of ‘disenfranchising the people’ with the participatory practices of ‘communities owning and engaging the government’. The ruling elite’s desire to make the transition from geopolitics to geoeconomics depends on a fundamental domestic policy transition from kleptocracy to meritocracy. A meritocratic domestic policy calls for redefining the character and role of the state in dealing with economic decision making and eliminating legal and illegal forms of rent collection. Legal rent collection includes appropriation of unearned income and transfer of resources through fiscal controls and market distortion carried out in the form of price, interest rate, wage and foreign exchange rate control, regressive taxation, allocation of permits, licences and subsidies to power brokers and neglect of fiscal responsibilities. Illegal rent collection includes the use of public office for private gain in the form of land grabbing, stealing resources received through foreign loans, receiving commissions on the contracts signed with foreign suppliers of civilian and military equipment, evading taxes, selling public assets to dubious bidders and tampering with the procurement procedures in public offices.
A naked attempt at grabbing power does not receive popular sympathy, therefore some ideological, moral and political justification has to be invented to justify the usurpation of power. These justifications have included protection of the ideology of Pakistan (invented by those who opposed the creation of Pakistan); Islamisation of economy and society (advocated by those who have not been able to abolish interest from our banking system, have denied the right of inheritance to women and passed on the welfare functions of the state to civil society); elimination of corruption (by those who have run the most expensive patronage programmes in Pakistan’s history and oppose constitutional accountability and transparency), and/or defence of the motherland.
The purpose of depicting the paradoxes of Pakistan’s economy is not to make an attempt to find scapegoats for Pakistan’s ills. The purpose is first to point out that the prevalence of rent seeking practices has undermined merit based practices by increasing the cost of doing business and converting public loss into private profit by awarding inappropriate subsidies and imposing regressive taxes (Easterly: 2003). It is holding Pakistan back from making the best use of its potential for development. Secondly, it aims to show the instruments and mechanisms used for rent seeking practices and create public awareness of the options available to change these practices through citizens’ action and civil society engagement. The third and final reason is to show the path of transformation and to demonstrate how anyone can make a difference by following the participatory path of building trust with the ‘others’ and understanding that aspiring for and capturing power is not the only way to transform Pakistan.
In the power contest between the weak and the powerful, the conventional strategy of a head on collision serves the interests of the powerful by giving them advantage over a disorganised, unprepared and vulnerable adversary. A counterintuitive strategy of engaging with the state serves as a more effective counter-exclusion strategy. It neutralises elite power by framing the conflict in a non-zero instead of a zero-sum game. Appearances are deceptive and engagement should not be seen as being co-opted and collision not as an antidote to predatory power.
Pakistan’s moment of rupture
Pakistan is passing through a moment of rupture. At this moment the narrative of fear has collapsed and the metaphor of hope has emerged. Pakistan has given birth to many trailblazing stories of hope – the hope of freedom from poverty, illiteracy, disease, violence, social discrimination, tyranny and bigotry. However, these stories are hidden from the public gaze, especially the youth. The Pakistani chattering classes and youth feed on the outmoded narrative of fear regularly recycled in the mainstream media and social media. Most of the public opinion leaders are not even aware that 14 Pakistanis have received the Ramon Magsaysay Award – considered to be the Nobel Prize of Asia – for their outstanding services to marginalised communities. These stories range from doubling the incomes of 100,000 families in the highest mountain ranges in the world (Baqir: 2007) to providing sanitation facilities to the residents of an informal settlement of 1,000,000 people (Khan: 1996) to providing shelter to 10 million people in the metropolitan city of Karachi (Zaidi: 2001, Ismail: 2004) to providing interest-free credit to millions of micro-entrepreneurs to establishing peace in areas hit by communal and sectarian violence and protecting the victims of blasphemy laws. All these successes have one underlying principle in common: ‘Anyone can make a difference.’
The successes of these programmes are not discussed in the public square. Ironically, failure has many fathers and success is an orphan in Pakistani society. People like the Nobel Laureates Dr Abdus Salam and Malala Yousafzai are disowned by the mainstream and the Ramon Magsaysay Award recipients are not known to them. The work done by the leading agents of social change and the signposts of hope created by them is a continuation of the social, cultural and intellectual traditions reflected in folk and Sufi narratives and practices. Development practitioners in Pakistan have worked in an inconspicuous way and their work has not been documented and presented in the form of case studies and stories accessible to idealistic young people. This has created a sense of helplessness, an inclination to find an explanation for Pakistan’s failure in conspiracy theories, and a siege mentality that always blames the ‘other’ for one’s own faults. It has deprived youth of the opportunities to harbour change at the local level by harnessing the potential of local communities and reversing the underperformance of government at various levels.
During the past three decades formal sector builders, planners and contractors have been eyeing rural settlements for developing mega city projects. Residents of these villages had lived there for centuries and possessed land based on customary arrangements. They had no legal documents to prove their ownership of the property that they possessed. These residents were, therefore, under continuous threat of eviction by commercial land grabbers in collusion with government officials. Government data showed that there were only 400 rural settlements around the metropolitan city of Karachi. The Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) found that 2,000 such settlements existed and could be encroached upon by land grabber mafias. Village residents could not secure any protection from government officials or politicians or rights-based organisations as they had no legal ownership documents. OPP very patiently and quietly mapped all these settlements and due to its evidence-based work, the government agreed to give land titles to 1,063 of these settlements by April 2010.
Meritocracy’s role is cut out to follow pluralist practice not a polarised approach in dealing with the centre of power. Fragments of pluralist engagement practice are scattered here and there but not well recognised or valued on the touchstone of meritocracy. The purpose is to draw the attention of meritocracy, youth and concerned citizens to the social practices that have effectively countered the exclusionist path of kleptocracy by showing and implementing non-zero solutions for human and social development and by showing that the people’s gain does not mean the elite’s loss. This path seems to be the path of modesty and humility, but it requires creation of a social infrastructure that brings people to the table alongside the elite for decision making about their wellbeing.
We need to delve upon what is missing that needs to be changed. The conventional outlook does not see the problem in the context of inter-subjectivity of the elites and the people, interdependence of the state and people, macro-micro linkages of the problem and the role of ordinary citizens and communities as subjects in making social transformation. These are excellent ‘outsider’ narratives missing out on the inner connection of the insiders in the state and communities as the key thread for transforming Pakistan’s governance from predatory to participatory ways. We need to frame the argument for social transformation in terms of the ‘art and science of linking with the other’, drawing insights from the powerful engagement experiments in the field.
Alternative paths of transformation
We clearly see two patterns of transition at work in Pakistan. While elites in Pakistan have embraced the path of transition from colonial and feudal patronage to capitalist and postcolonial patronage, a parallel tide in society is underway to move away from patronage to participation. The most effective strategy for making this transition has been to ‘conquer the fort from within’. This has happened in bits and pieces in an inconspicuous and low profile manner. These experiences define the path of social transformation. This social transformation is led by the meritocracy. Pakistan’s meritocracy includes entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, innovators in the government, civil society and the informal sector. Pakistan’s meritocracy has reversed the losses caused by kleptocracy, carried out managerial innovations, and harnessed the potential of communities for human and social development. The dilemma of Pakistan’s meritocracy is that, except for a few exceptions, it has not been able to rise above low profile and self-implemented but highly effective strategies for social transformation at local level to mainstream its ideas in the form of progressive legislation, executive decisions and policy changes. This is where political forces come in. Political action needs to convert the successes achieved at local level into policies.