Pakistan: a failing society

Published: May 3, 2010
The writer is consulting editor, The Friday Times (

The writer is consulting editor, The Friday Times (

A couple of weeks ago a conference at the Lahore School of Economics allowed me to pontificate on how Pakistan is fast turning into a failing society. The context was how fractured federalism and an unstable political system had resulted in the social exclusion of a majority of the population.

The net result has been that we are a society that is divisive with embedded violence all around. Much has been said about Pakistan as a failing or failed state. Such prognoses have been manufactured in the dominant capitals of the West. True, such claims are exaggerated and self-serving for they provide a tailored worldview that Pakistan is a place that needs to be ‘fixed’.

While we are cognisant of such imperatives, let us not be blind to our deeply iniquitous and un-just society that needs major healing, reconciliation and perhaps surgery. Pakistan from 1947 to 1971 could not become a cohesive society, as the cultural-political identity of the Eastern Wing, now Bangladesh, was never accepted. Efforts to create a uniform identity failed and ultimately our majority province severed all ties with us. Ironically, this was a province at the forefront of the Pakistan movement.

After 1971, we continued to develop a national security obsessed state and society at the expense of regional, ethnic, religious and cultural diversity. Dissent, pluralism and multiple identities were all sent to gallows by the General Zia decade, which nurtured violence, sectarianism and hatred across the country. The legacy of the Zia years has been difficult to undo.

Even the recent saviour, General Musharraf could hardly reverse the way our state functioned. States and societies exist in a symbiotic relationship and a failing state has far reaching impacts.What is it that renders society, if there were such an entity, is worrisome. There has been a continuous breakdown of traditional social systems such as jirgas and panchayats.

These institutions were germane to the local society and had a social purpose. In the Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa they have been rendered ineffective and where they are functional they are instruments of control and punishment. Formal systems of justice have not filled in the vacuum. Endemic poverty has contributed to the growth of religious militancy and intolerance. By dismissing the Taliban movement as a state-led phenomena we ignore how the idea of quick justice and land rights had captured public imagination in pockets of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and elsewhere. In a cohesive society, citizenship is a right enjoyed, albeit relatively, by all in equal measure.

However, unequal benefits of citizenship define our society. People who live in Fata, Pata, AJK, Gilgit-Baltistan, parts of Balochistan and south Punjab and non-Muslims have a tentative citizen status. Lack of access to public services leave a majority of the poor at the mercy of intermediaries such as touts, contractors, middlemen and alienates them from the mainstream. This is why violence is now a means for redressing grievance. Consequently, high levels of tolerance for corruption mark the Pakistani society.

Corruption is not a Pakistan-specific issue, but its social legitimacy here is startling. No longer are corrupt practices considered shocking but they have, over the decades, acquired the status of a norm. Our inability to develop tolerance for multiple identities means that exclusionary and localised identities – biradari, tribe, sect and ethnicity – define us. Not surprising that only 14 per cent of the youth in a recent survey saw themselves as Pakistanis. Three quarters viewed themselves as Muslims.

Now what happens to those declared as non-Muslims or even sects that have been branded as wajibul qatl (fit for murder)? Considering that Pakistan will soon have a majority of a young population, this is alarming. Our political elite is making efforts to empower provinces so that we have a functional federal system and the recent additions to fundamental rights such as education and right to information are steps in the right direction. However, the challenges are immense and remedies inadequate.

Never before was set for a transformation and popular mobilisation to clean up the body politic. And, the moment may arrive sooner than anticipated.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • May 3, 2010 - 2:36AM

    For some reason we really hate the idea of individualism. If someone identifies themselves from Waziristan or Gilgit we quickly demand that they proclaim “Pakistan first”. The other day I was passing by a shop in South East London where a Jamaican lady was talking to who I assumed was a Pathan shopkeeper. When the lady asked him, “Are you from Pakistan”, he swiftly replied, “No, I am from Malakand Agency”. Now had the same event transpired in Pakistan, I am sure someone would have demanded that we should focus on being Pakistani.

    As a society dominated by distinct institutions, populated by members who represent a fraction of the country its not surprising that we have been systematically indoctrinated to marginalize the majority of society. Recommend

  • May 3, 2010 - 3:15AM

    Corruption has become a ‘right’ for some in the land of the pure.Recommend

  • Shahid
    May 3, 2010 - 6:34AM

    Really nice column Raza.

    The role of ethnicity isn’t surprising keeping in mind how the state forced constructs of patriotism filled with religion to demolish rising voices of Bengali nationalism. As we have failed to celebrate our linguistic and ethnic diversity, and forced religio-nationalism over the masses, it is hardly alarming that people identify according to ethnicity whenever they can.

    The knee jerk reaction that arises from the failures of our state is exemplified in the calls of the mythical “khilafa” and the fact that Pakistanis are perhaps the only pan-Islamist dreaming country in the world. The children of Maududi have damaged this country by knifing it in more than a thousand places.Recommend

  • SofiImage
    May 3, 2010 - 5:06PM

    I have come across innumerable artical of similar type in recent past and Mr. Raza Rumi has indeed shown his concern on the fading situation of the society, I say we all how have a little bit of sense clearly understand what is really happening in Pakistan nothing is now hidden we all know now very well who the real culprits are, its time to join hand and work for a Pakistan where all the citizens are treated alike where all Pakistanis have equal opportunities.Recommend

  • zubair torwali
    May 3, 2010 - 11:11PM

    Nice piece Raza!!
    In the debate and war against terrorism the genuine causes of the support for the proxies in the country are very often forgotten. This cannot be termed as a class war but the divide of the ‘haves’ and ‘haves-not’ also plays a role of fuel to it. Pakistani society has been moulded on the grounds which are very much in favour of the ruling elite and exclude the poor. Recommend

  • Imran Ali
    May 4, 2010 - 10:25AM

    Pakistan is in the middle of so many crisis because it the NOT the same Pakistan that was proposed in 1940 Pakistan Resolution. According to the resolution, the federation of Pakistan shall be responsible ONLY for (1) Foreign affairs (2) Defense (3) Defense related Telecommunication. All other issues are to be decided by provinces. Creator of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam always used the word “sovereign states” NOT provinces and that was not just a coincidence. Each province of Pakistan has different personality because they have passed through different historical experience and hence they should be allowed to design their own socio-economic system. The solution to most of the problems of this country lies in the restoration Pakistan that was proposed in 1940 and on which all provinces agreed. The Provinces should be renamed “States” and country should be named “United States of Pakistan” or “United States of South Asia” instead of “Islamic Republic of Pakistan” and there should be no State-Religion because that promotes extremist religious thinking. This is not just my thinking but its the demand of most of Sindhi speaking youth who still believe in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Amina
    May 5, 2010 - 2:03PM

    For me corruption has to be one fo the main reasons Pakistan is failing as a society. Hardly anyone is sincere with his countrymen and people try to hustle anyone who is weak enough to fall for it. We see alot of people singing national anthems or putting up flags on their cars and houses but that is not real love for one’s country. The hypocrisy just sickens me…
    As far the suggestion of changing ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’ to United States of Pakistan/South Asia is concerned well I will like to say that Islam is the only thing holding Pakistan because if it isn’t for Islam the provinces might as well proclaim independence.Recommend

  • Harish
    May 5, 2010 - 3:43PM

    Great piece! The similarities with India are marked. We South Asians have a genetic disposition to clannishness and corruption. In fact such disposition is impervious to religious leanings and is really our most defining feature. Our ability to create a racket out of the most noble intentions is uncanny. All around us we see religion, beards and minarets in your country and temples and idols in ours, but no values. Someone supremely powerful is watching, but who cares! Monetary gratification can take care of everything and everybody, taking the form of “chadhawa” in Hindu temples and zakat in mosques. We are all racists but accuse the West of racism against us. Recommend

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