Home > Uncategorized > : Changing paradigms in Pakistan’s evolution — I

: Changing paradigms in Pakistan’s evolution — I

 

The Russian economist, Nikolai Kondratieff, held 50 years was about the length of a paradigm’s life cycle. In this interval, it is born, finds intellectual acceptance followed by popular support, and application to real life problems. In application, it develops contradictions, and when these remain unresolved, the search for a new paradigm begins. Kondratieff applied this theory of paradigm shifts to economic cycles but his ideas have a wider applicability to social systems. It is interesting to study the ruling paradigms that gave rise to the idea of Pakistan and its development since the 1920s and to see how they have changed within the framework of Kondratieff cycles. Is Pakistan’s current paradigm due for a major overhaul? Consider.

The idea of Pakistan was truly born when the Muslim aristocracy of Punjab and Sindh realised the inevitability of the British leaving India. It was obvious that the existing feudal order, and the vast rich land holdings that sustained the aristocracy, would be impossible to preserve in a democratic India. The idea of Pakistan arose in defence of the Punjabi aristocracy’s power and pelf. Once it was on the table, it gained support from aristocracies in other places such as East Bengal and even Central UP. But the impetus came mainly from the landed aristocracies who stood to lose land and power in the emerging democratic dispensation. This was amply demonstrated when the Punjabi aristocracy acquiesced to dividing the Muslims in two equal halves, one of which was to remain with India, for a country in two halves separated by a subcontinent. The arrangement actually diminished Muslim influence in the Indian polity. However, since it preserved the Punjabi aristocracy’s hold over its feudal subjects, this ‘moth-eaten’ state was acceptable in preference to rule by a consensual majority of which Muslims would have constituted a 30 percent bloc.

The elements of the first paradigm that fashioned Pakistan and guided its development until the 1970s are interesting. Firstly, the paradigm established the validity of identity-based politics in Pakistan itself. This is now one big problem. Secondly, the paradigm held that given the numerous differing identities in India, and the absence of an overall unitary religious basis for Hindus, India would break apart sooner or later and Pakistan must be in readiness to grab its due shares of spoils to fully establish a home for all Muslims. This began with the seizure of Kashmir cutting off India from the Central Asian land mass. The ultimate aim was to seize control of the rivers that fed water to the Punjab plains. Being in readiness meant establishing a well-oiled military machine and Pakistan went about putting such a machine in place by offering itself as an expeditionary force to the US. This element of the Pakistani paradigm held absolute sway till it was tested in 1965.

On the economic front, Pakistan’s superior natural agricultural resources, free enterprise unburdened by taxes, US military aid, and annexation of Balochistan with its oil and gas, gave the Pakistani economy an excellent head-start. Pakistan was miles ahead of India on most parameters of development right up to the fateful year of 1965. The early years in Pakistan, despite the political failure of its politicians, amply validated the idea of Pakistan for its people.
What the paradigm failed to take into account were two major developments that proved to be its undoing in the 1970s. Firstly, Pakistan largely ignored the needs of its masses in the provinces for development since building the war machine took priority over developmental needs. Secondly, what remained after feeding the war machine was gobbled up by the Punjabi aristocracy, which flourished, westernised and officered the military machine. By the 70s the Punjabi middle and upper classes were indistinguishable from the military and still remain so. The less well-off, casting about for an explanation why they were marginalised, took to identity-based politics to explain their impoverishment. The Bengalis in particular, blamed the Punjabis.
As identity-based politics took hold, provinces other than Punjab were extremely resentful of the Punjabi pre-emption of resources. The 1965 war with India, meant to seize the rivers of Kashmir using proxy militias, shattered the idea that India was an easy pushover. With that stalemate, the idea of feeding a military machine to undo India came under scrutiny. Combined with identity-based politics, especially in East Pakistan, and the impoverishment of the masses in both wings, the military was compelled to jettison Ayub Khan and promise democratic reforms that saw the rise of Zulfikar Bhutto as an ideologue. The 1965 war was quickly followed by the 1971 debacle that completely demolished the ruling paradigm and saw the emergence of Bangladesh. With that, the two-nation paradigm was effectively buried and fresh ideas came into play with the rise of Bhutto. The search for a second paradigm had begun.
Two powerful sets of ideas competed for a while for the domination of Pakistan’s discourse in the early 70s. One was the leftist idea, lead by the charismatic Bhutto, that favoured a leftist economic agenda centred on ‘roti, kapra aur makaan’ (food, clothing and shelter) for the masses. This met with powerful opposition from the right-wing conservative Punjabi aristocracy and the military. These two groups opposed such a progressive agenda using a combination of religious and security state arguments citing the threat of disintegration of Pakistan from India. This threat, coming in the wake of the formation of Bangladesh, was very credible, if misplaced. Slowly but surely, Bhutto — despite having the advantage of being in power — had to cede ground to the military in terms of countering India, and to the religious right in terms of strengthening the ‘ideology of Pakistan’. General Zia stepped into this melee to firmly establish a new paradigm for Pakistan that has since guided its destiny. What were the elements of the Zia paradigm and how have they fared in guiding Pakistan’s destiny?
The central purpose of the Zia paradigm was to preserve the power of the military and the Punjabi aristocracy as before. The two groups had effectively merged after the middle and upper middle classes began to send their best into the army. The corporate interests of the military were no longer incidental as the army took in a third of all government revenues by then and was loathe to downsize after the loss of Bangladesh. The Punjabi aristocracy had had to cede significant assets to Bhutto’s nationalisation programme and was keen to wrest back its lost assets. The two were natural allies with Zia helping the aristocracy to claw back lost assets by openly looting the banks through bank loans never to be repaid.
The paradigm they cobbled together was both ingenious and powerful. Firstly, the Zia paradigm postulated that the reason Pakistan had failed its destiny was because it was not run according to Islamic principles. India could still be undone by the strategy of a thousand cuts using guerrilla proxies, firstly in Kashmir, followed by Punjab and elsewhere. Zia actually wrote out a paper for the army to this effect. Indian retaliation to such use of proxies, such as in the 1965 war, could be deterred through the threat of a nuclear weapon. This preserved the power of the military and in fact helped it pre-empt further resources. As a potential pay off, Afghanistan was added to Kashmir, where strategic depth would facilitate confrontation with India besides giving Pakistan much money through control of access to Central Asian oil, gas and other mineral resources.

(To be continued)

The writer is a trader. She can be reached at sonali.ranade@hotmail.com or @SonaliRanade on Twitter

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