The Unresolved Conflict

Since 1947, when Pakistan was created, major demographic, social and economic changes have taken place in the country. These changes are so enormous that they can be termed revolutionary. However, they have not been institutionalised in any form. In fact, they have not even been politicised, which according to social scientists is a pre-condition for institutionalisation. The result is that the manner in which our state is structured and governed, our fiscal system operates, and development is conceived, managed and implemented, does not reflect our changed demographic, social, cultural and economic realities. This in turn has resulted in the creation of parallel systems of governance in defiance of state laws and regulations; political and cultural alienation of increasingly large sections of our population; social anarchy and the resulting administrative and judicial helplessness; and a firm belief in our vested interests that there is no tomorrow, and hence their culture of loot and ad-hocism that pervades every aspect of life in Pakistan.

There are many manifestations of socio-economic change in Pakistan and in this short article one cannot dwell on all of them. However, two of them are of a very fundamental nature and are closely inter-related. One is the demise of the feudal order as an effective arm of the establishment, and the other is rapid urbanisation. The feudal order, in areas that constitute Pakistan today, organised agricultural production and maintained and helped develop the infrastructure this activity required; maintained class and caste relations; directly or indirectly controlled the marketing of produce; maintained law and order on behalf of the state; created conditions conducive to the collection of revenue; and guaranteed to the establishment the results it required in the political arena. It was able to do this through well established clan and tribal affiliations; a barter subsistence economy for the vast majority of the population; and a subservient artisan class which was denied all social and economic mobility, and was (along with feudal culture which reflected these relationships) the backbone of the system. Pakistan’s administrative structure and its de facto political life have been built round this feudal structure, the niceties of Anglo Saxon law and liberal constitutions notwithstanding. Indeed, Anglo Saxon law and liberal constitutions were only possible because this feudal power could make them “constitutionally” ineffective. It was a system admirably suited for the political purposes for which it was created and clearly reflected the larger social and economic realities of the age in which it was conceived.

The feudal system is now incapable of fulfilling the functions it so admirably performed in the past, and without it, the state structure of which it was an integral part, is fast becoming irrelevant. The extension of irrigation systems, the development of green revolution technologies, the mechanisation of agriculture and transportation (ironically all introduced by the state itself), have changed Pakistan’s rural areas. The barter economy has been replaced by a cash economy and in the process it has created social and economic mobility; killed the effectiveness of tribal, clan and caste affiliations and organisations; made village self-sufficiency and old patterns of governance impossible, and introduced new power brokers (who have not yet exercised their real power) in the rural areas. The void created by the demise of the effectiveness of feudal institutions has not been filled and the forces of change and the transfer of ideas is so powerful that even in barani areas, where conditions for the development of a local cash economy were absent, mass migrations to the urban areas have taken place, giving birth to what has been termed as a “remittance cash economy” and killing the effectiveness of clan and tribal organisations and the old barter relations. In addition to these changes, the new modes of production and transportation which have been introduced require sophisticated services sectors and new credit mechanisms, which the feudal order and the state are not organised to deliver. These needs of production, credit and transportation are taken care of by an increasingly aggressive and increasingly urban supported informal sector, dominated by the once subservient merchant and artisanal classes. The power of this services sector can be judged from the fact that 72 percent of the producers, directly or indirectly, receive credit from it, and its profits on agricultural production exceed those of the producers by 300 to 1,000 percent, depending on the nature of the produce. Surveys on agricultural production processes in irrigated areas show that 68 percent of the smaller farmers meet their fertiliser, pesticide, mechanical irrigation related and mechanical production needs through the produce of the nonregularised light engineering and chemical industries. These industries and the classes that own them continue to expand in spite of government policies and the multinational and feudal lobbies that relentlessly seek to curtail their expansion and growth.

The new rural classes that have emerged due to these changes, have no national vision and political philosophy but are motivated purely by material gain and by seeking physical developments at the local level. Hence they do not contest national and provincial elections but increasingly win the elections to the local councils. In the more developed areas of the country, where they dominate the councils, their conflict with the district administration and the line departments of the provincial government (and also with the MNAs, and MPAs of their area) is well known and has led to the suspension of a number of local councils. They increasingly feel that the powers of the district administration should be transferred to them. If the present trend continues, and there is every reason to believe it will, there is a major conflict in the offering between the elected local bodies and the provincial establishments. The money being used by political parties to buy out local councilors and candidates cannot work for ever because of the pressures generated by the changes from below.

The other major manifestation of change is urbanisation. In 1951, 18 percent or 6.5 million population of what is today Pakistan was urban. In 1991 this had increased to 30 percent or 40 million. In 2011 it will be 50 percent or 98.4 million. Over 70 percent of the present day urban population lives in informal settlement which are either katchi abadis or non-regularised subdivisions of agricultural land. In both cases the settlements are unplanned and unserviced and owe nothing to state agencies. An informal sector in land supply and delivery, transportation and jobs, which acts as a mafia, caters to their needs along with a substandard private sector in education and health. According to various studies on the subject, 70 percent of the urban population is employed in the un-regularised sector where there are no minimum wages and where labour rules and regulations do not apply. Whereas Pakistan’s overall urban population growth is supposed to be 4.8 percent, the informal settlements grow at over 9 percent per year and their rate of growth is steadily increasing.

Urbanisation is a major social revolution. New local level ties to replace the old clan and tribal affiliations are being formed. Economic pressures and urban culture is forcing women to work outside their homes, especially in the informal settlements. A populist culture has replaced that of the elite. The city centres and recreational areas are dominated by the low income or lower middle income classes and the councilors from their areas are emerging as the major power in the municipal councils. Meanwhile the state, media and the political parties not only fail to support and reflect these changes, but actively support and propose concepts, attitudes, and structures that seek to stem the political consolidation of these changes. The urban centres continue to be governed by the bureaucracy without the people’s involvement and technocrats, who are accountable to no one, still determine whatever little development that takes place. With the growing up of the second (and in some cases third) generation of slum dwellers and lower middle income residents, who have broken with their feudal past and have laid claim to the urban centres, and the process of local body elections, the present system of urban governance and development procedures cannot last. The choice again is to develop appropriate institutions that reflect the situation on the ground or anarchy. The states increasing failure to collect revenue, and the increasing power of the mafias, apart from the lawlessness that has set in, shows that anarchy is already there and growing.

The conflict between the organisational culture and structure of the state and the socio-economic (and hence cultural) reality of civil society is nothing new. The most intense form of this conflict in history has been in 18th and 19th century Europe. The resolution of this conflict, whether by reform or revolution, was not accomplished by the bureaucracy, the power elite or the establishment politicians, and it is unreasonable and irrational to expect these groups to perform this function in Pakistan. The ground for the institutionalisation of socio-economic change has always been prepared by the intelligentsia, professional organisations and academic institutions. Writers and thinkers have written about social injustice, economic deprivation and inappropriate state institutions, in a language understandable to the people and have identified the causes for the malaise of society and based on it, developed directions for solutions. Professional bodies have looked at their professional performance from the point of view of the people and developed health, engineering, planning, legal and other alternatives more suited to the conditions on the ground. Academic institutions have brought about changes in their teaching and research parameters to produce socially conscious professionals, identify and quantify issues and to reflect the new needs of a changing or changed social and physical environment. The vision generated by this activity and supported by facts, figures and alternatives, has been transferred to the emerging classes who in turn, through their often newly founded trade and political organisation, have lobbied for reform or worked for revolution. For lobbying to be taken seriously it has to not only identify the issues and problems but offer concrete and feasible (not desirable) alternatives. Rhetoric and slogan mongering has never brought about reform or revolution. The intelligentsias that have played the role described above have been in touch with their people and have sought inspiration and guidance from them, and from the social and political conditions in which they live and from the history of their societies.

Pakistan’s intelligentsia, like that of many other Third World countries, has not played the role described above for a variety of easily understandable reasons, some of which have been discussed in previous articles in this series. However, the major reason for its failure is that its source of inspiration and point of reference was not the objective reality of its own society, with whom it has progressively lost contact to become a part of the First World, but models of government, law, academia and development, operative in the First World, which in their non-modified forms, are to say the least, inappropriate to our needs. Likewise, the reference point for our left wing political opposition and intelligentsia was also not the objective conditions of Pakistan but the theories of government and development churned out by Moscow and China and evolved under very different conditions. The result is that our politicians are unaware of conditions, except intuitively; our professionals can serve only a very small percentage of our people; and our research organisations work on subjects that are really esoteric in nature as they are in no way related to the problems our society is faced with. For instance, our economic research institutions produce volumes on exchange rates, fiscal policy choices, monetary management etc. but the informal sector, on which the vast majority of our people survive, does not feed into these researches and nor is it a subject of research by itself. Similarly, modifications to engineering technology, procedures and standards and the extension of this research to make it affordable to our people has not taken place. The list is endless and encompasses international affairs, law, medicine, education, planning and all other disciplines. The result is that trade, social welfare and micro-level development organisations, concerned citizens groups and non establishment politicians have nowhere to turn to for support, and government development and social policies based on these studies and the attitudes they promote become increasing irrelevant for the vast majority of our people.

However, there are some small signs of change in Pakistan. Although the First World intelligentsia is growing in Pakistan and becoming even more alienated, the number of educated young men and local organisations who are busy searching for alternatives to a system that does not work is also increasing. Some academic institutions are trying to relate their work to the larger social and economic issues. Human rights, aid for prisoners, technical support for rural and urban communities and small entrepreneurs, alternative systems of governance are all subjects that are beginning to surface in some organised and structured form, minus the socialist or liberal-secularist romanticism of previous decades. There is a realization that the state structure cannot and will not deliver and an alternative structure that reflects the changed reality of Pakistan is required. This feeling is so strong that even the “sarkari” intellectuals in Islamabad are talking about participatory democracy, empowering people and decentralization, and for their own reasons, the government’s international bankers are using the same vocabulary. However, at the same time violence, anarchy, obscurantism, all symptoms of an unresolved conflict between the state and civil society, is also increasing.

Even a dull witted political observer of the Pakistani scene can see that given not only the enormity of the gap between the state structure and social reality, but also its rapid increase, the Pakistan state will have to be restructured. Given the current trends and directions, this restructuring can only mean greater autonomy for the constituent units, local councils and community organizations. For this to be made possible there will have to be major fiscal and legal changes. The question is no longer whether this will happen or not, but how and when will it happen? What will be its mechanics and what exactly will restructuring entail and what will be its repercussions for the different classes and groups that constitute Pakistan?

If the intelligentsia cannot create firm links with the people, their problems and perceptions fast enough and create and promote a vision of a democratic and modern state, then it cannot answer these crucial questions; in which case change will come through violence preceded by fascism and obscurantism. If on the other hand the intelligentsia and the local activists and agents of change who are operating throughout this country can join hands to fulfill the role history has burdened them with, restructuring can take place with less violence and anarchy and through progressive reform and accommodation. In either case, time is running out.

(Arif Hasan is a Karachi based architect who has provided technical and managerial support to a large number of rural and urban communities in Pakistan for the last decade and a half in developing alternative local based systems of development and management. Since 1982, he has been associated with the Orangi Pilot Project and has published widely on the processes of socioeconomic change in Asia in general and Pakistan in particular).

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