Future of Pakistan – 28 Jan 2023
`For a revolution to break out, it is not enough for the lower classes to refuse to live in the old way; it is necessary also that the upper classes should be unable to live in the old way.` Lenin THE recent narratives of imminent collapse and inevitable need for radical change propounded by Miftah Ismail and Shahid Khagan Abbasi remind me of my recurring conversations with my wife. I recently again explained to her that if things in Pakist an do not radically change, collapse is imminent. My wife`s response was devastatingly insightful. She reminded me that I had propounded the same analysis of imminent collapse and the inevitable need for radical change for the last two and a half decades, but still Pakistan had neither collapsed nor had the inevitability of radical change emerged.
Neither breakup nor collapse but violent chaos: Anyone who bases his theory, or need, for radical change on the premise that unless radical change occurs, Pakistan will either break up or collapse, will be disappointed. Firstly, at present, the only secessionist movement in Pakistan is the Baloch insurgency. Despite their unquestionably legitimate complaint of being treated as a colony in their own country, they neither have the military capacity nor will any international power intervene on their behalf to defeat the Pakistani state. They will continue to be a violent problem for the Pakistani state, like the Kurdish separatist movement in Türkiye.
Secondly, as Theda Skocpol in her book States and Social Revolutions explains, external wars and their connected fiscal crises lead to social revolutions. Although Pakistan is involved in a lowintensity conflict, or cold war, with both India and elements from Afghanistan, there appears to be little possibility of a full scale war with India or that of extremist religious elements like the TTP defeating the Pakistani state. These conflicts will continue to bleed Pakistan, but the country will not collapse because of these conflicts.
Thirdly, will the fiscal crisis lead to a collapse? Our history shows that Pakistan`s utility as a mercenary state for international forces, especially in this critically important geopolitical region and also as a nuclear power, has always provided a reason to financially bail out Pakistan, as happened under Ayub, Zia, Musharraf and even under the post-2008 democratic regimes.
The most likely scenario is that we are enter-ing a period of continuous severe economic crises and political chaos with unending game-ofthrones battles between the PTI and other political parties, ever-increasing terrorism by Baloch separatist and religiously motivated extremists, international and regional semi-isolation, an extraordinarily corrupt and inefficient state, and collapsing societal institutions in the face of unchecked population explosion and unregulated urbanisation while our human development indicators get progressively even worse.
Pakistan is imploding, and its future is not breakup or collapse but more violence and chaos.
Lovers of the status quo: This raises the key Leninist question cited above why are our ruling elites able to survive and flourish by maintaining their old ways/status quo despite the ever-increasing dysfunctionality and crisis of both state and society? Most analysts think thatthe Pakistani ruling elites are either too incompetent to comprehend solutions, or selfish (with mala fide intentions), or both. But the answer lies elsewhere: firstly, the current status quo of a corrupt, inefficient, elitist and anti-people Pakistani state is being sustained because it guarantees the political and bureaucratic power of these elites. So why would they change something which benefits them? Secondly, all ruling elites have mala fide intent or are selfish, or both. But similar elites in other countries have historically reformed themselves in order to remain the ruling elite because the old order was unsustainable. Angels will not descend from the skies to govern us.
Thirdly, these elites have seen it all; namely, fiscal crisis, wars, terrorism, crime, an inefficient state and the worst social indicators; but, despite this, they have still survived and flourished. So why reform? Agents of change, not solutions: There isalways hope for change in countries like Pakistan because such ruling elites have neither the capacity for complete repression of dissent nor the intelligence (in their own self-interest) to initiate at least some reform to legitimise their elitist rule. Moreover, the answer doesn`t lie in devising new solutions to our old problems, as examples from other developed countries provide a complete roadmap solution to building a democratic and modern state. Rather, the answer lies in identifying the agents of change.
Power within contemporary Pakistan is wielded by eight actors and divided into: coercive and surveillance power (military establishment), executive and legislative power (politicians and bureaucrats), constitutional and legal power (judiciary), narrative power (media), political mobilisation power (middle class, especially youth and women), economic power (the moneyed elite), fatwa power (old and new religious leaders) and anarchic power (terrorists and secessionists).
Meanwhile, the ruling elite in Pakistan is broadly composed of two cooperating but also conflicting groups: a status quo elite that doesn`t want to change, and a selfish but enlightened elite (within the military, politicians, bureaucracy, judiciary, media, moneyed and old religious elite circles) which realises that this country is becoming unmanageable and unlivable for them and their children. This latter group also feels ashamed of being viewed as a failed and beggar nation internationally. This selfish enlightened elite needs to rigorously push for radical reform from within the state and should refuse to support this decaying status quo. In other words, they must expunge this status quo from the power structure. But this selfish enlightened elite will only succeed if the middle classes mobilise themselves against the status quo. The middle classes are the greatest losers in this continuing status quo as they are neither part nor beneficiaries of the ruling elites. The middle classes are the new societal agents of change, as Aasim Sajjad rightly argues in his book The Struggle for Hegemony in Pakistan,and this middle class power is also evident in the rise of the PTI and the successful lawyers` movement.
Will change happen? The answer really lies within each one of us. The writer is a lawyer.