Pakistan: an ‘overdeveloped’ post-colonial state – Farooq Yousaf

Source: Daily Times

When it comes to political debates and discourse, Pakistanis, like many other nations, believe that they know just about everything regarding the state of affairs and politics in their country. Very little, or no, attention is given to the pre-partition political past, and how the country ended up with weak democratic structures. Also, our oversimplification of major politics dilemmas and state crises also help little in our understanding of the larger picture.

This larger picture might point towards our colonial past and its present traces in the state machinery. A further analysis might also bring us to the conclusion that Pakistan’s problems might have started as a consequence of our colonial legacies. Such thoughts might attract theoretical and academic interests, but would repel common citizens, relying merely on sensationalised news stories for their ‘political knowledge’. Hence, it should come as no surprise that very few in the country might have heard, or read, about Hamza Alavi – an internationally acclaimedMarxian academic, activist and scholar.

Alavi propagated the notion of Pakistan’s Postcolonial symptoms in the early 70’s when limited scholarship on the topic was taking place in the country. He believed that Pakistan’s inheritance of overdeveloped colonial machinery, in form of the military and bureaucracy, and its cooperation with three major elites – landed-feudal, indigenous bourgeoisie and metropolitan bourgeoisie – resulted in what became a complexpostcolonial state. His thesis also explained why cracks still exist in Pakistan’s civil-military ties. Where developed countries of today progressed from having a strong nation transitioning into a strong state, the process in Pakistan was somewhat in reverse. Our independence from the British Raj gave us a weak nation – Vis a Vis East and West Pakistan – and a strong state – the military and bureaucracy.

Postcolonialism does not suggest a period ‘after-independence’ or after ‘colonialism’, rather, signifies an ongoing process, where the state and its machinery still reflects certain features of the colonial era. These reflections are often visible when a majority of the country believes that the only institution capable of leading Pakistan is the military. Further reflections could be seen when peripheries like tribal Pashtuns in FATA are still governed under special administrative regimes. The Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) is one such regime, which, even with its human rights shortcomings, is still actively in place. Hence, the concept of the ‘superior us’ vs the ‘inferior others’ is still put to practice.

Also, colonial narratives of the past, especially against the tribal Pashtuns, have resurfaced since the 9/11 attacks and the global war on terror in 2001. The Pashtuns were again branded as ‘savage’, ‘violent’ and ‘barbaric individuals’, similar to what the colonial military writers had portrayed them in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Even today, the ‘metropolitan’ province believes that the individuals belonging to the ‘periphery’ should be profiled in their own country, due to their ‘propensity towards violence’. Additionally, Alavi’s argument of the ‘salariat class working for the British Raj with diminished job quota’ playing a major role in Pakistan’s independence, also explains why bureaucracy still holds more power compared to elected representatives. It was Alavi who, in 2001, warned us about the rise of religious fundamentalism, and how religious groups, who strongly opposed Pakistan’s creation and PML’s secular leadership, were wrongly claiming that they struggled for a theocratic Pakistan.

Many believe that Pakistan may have transitioned from a Postcolonial to a Praetorian state. A praetorian state, or democracy, is where the military plays the key role in the political sphere, ranging from the exercise of a veto over decisions of a civilian government to the replacement of a civilian government with one that was completely or substantially military in character. Pakistan’s praetorian state has recently included a key section of the religious right in the power nexus. This also explains why major hurdles still exist for Pakistan to accomplish a full western democracy model. Alavi’s ideas, therefore, even in current discourse help us understand and analyse Pakistan’s political and administrative problems, coupled with the growing influence of the religious right.

It’s a pity when the country’s academia is busy churning out papers after papers in local journals on eye-catching topics like ‘CPEC’, ‘Indian involvement in Pakistan’, and ‘Pashtun terrorists in FATA’, very little attention is, and would be, given to scholar’s like Alavi. He aimed to inspire a generation of young thinkers who could understand Pakistan’s problems through critically analysing the country’s colonial past, and initiating constructive debates on how to make things better. The current progressive-intellectual decline of the left in Pakistan is a point of concern. This concern is aggravated with the fact that progressive scholars and activists rather than teaching the future generations are ending up in prisons. Thus, Pakistan, more than ever, needs an academic revival of Alavi’s works and his social thought which could help students, activists and academics in correcting the wrongs of Pakistani political narratives.

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