Volume 5, No. 9, September 2023
Editor: Rashed Rahman
That Pakistan has been in the throes of a crisis of state and society has become a commonplace over the years. This crisis may manifest itself in different ways at different times and affect different people, classes, communities, religious minorities, women, etc, in diverse manner. But what is common to all these manifestations is the structural crisis of the polity (state) and its fallout or impact on the different sections of our people (society).
What does this crisis consist of? Simply put, it is the by now undeniable fact that what began as the domination over the political forces of the military-bureaucratic alliance inherited from colonialism has by now, through all the twists and turns in our history, been reduced to purely military dominance, the bureaucracy, the ‘steel frame’ of the Empire, having been incrementally reduced to secondary status.
Expressions of this reality can be traced to the increasingly hegemonic role of the military in shaping the polity in particular (thereby the state) and society generally. In such a scenario, hopes for Pakistan to join the ranks of modern democratic states and societies seem increasingly forlorn. Politics has been reduced to ‘negotiating’ with the establishment the terms of entry into office (though not necessarily power, as this Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf – PTI – government’s experience is showing). The culture of collaboration with, and yeoman service to, the powers-that-be that owes its origins to the colonial encounter in return for titles, largesse and wealth has become firmly rooted.
The people, groaning under the price hike, unemployment and uncertain future that the PTI government has bequeathed in a relatively short span of time in office, do not as yet have a credible roadmap out of the cul de sac they are trapped in. The ideas of any state and society at any given stage of history are the ideas of its ruling elite. Unless the intelligentsia formulates and disseminates a counter narrative and thereby achieves the hegemony of ideas in our state and society, no meaningful change is likely. So far at least, in this era of defeat and retreat of the progressive, enlightened forces, that seems a long way off.
The Pakistani state more and more is veering towards a Bonapartist dispensation with some local peculiarities. The military has no need to rule directly in the presence of the hegemony of the ideas it adheres to, and which it propagates in society at large. At the same time, it is even more entrenched as the final arbiter amongst the competing capitalist and landed classes in our elite. The culture of collaboration with the establishment therefore is alive and kicking.
Weak as the progressive forces and their hitherto militant base amongst the working class, peasantry, oppressed nationalities are, theoretical and practical interventions in the present conjuncture can light the way forward. To the list of the above traditional mass base of the Left must today be added other oppressed sections, including women, religious minorities and the emerging middle class or salariat. Such a coalition of popular forces, guided by the theoretical insights of the progressive intelligentsia, seems the strategic path waiting to be pursued if the people of Pakistan are finally to achieve freedom, liberation, and a just and equitable society.