State of the state-By Ayesha Siddiqa

THESE days there is a great sense of despondency regarding the state of affairs in the country. Even ordinary people ask questions about the viability of the Pakistani state and its ability to survive.

Such questions annoy those who feel greater ownership of the state and believe that the present environment is nothing but a global conspiracy to shut down the project of the Pakistani nation-state. This reaction does not take into account the fact that the question is being raised by ordinary people who have high stakes in Pakistan.

Apart from the core issue of problematic relations between the centre and the federating units and the institutional imbalance in the country, there is the question of how the state has systematically ceded authority or shared it with sub-organisations or non-state actors. The state, in fact, no longer enjoys a monopoly over maintaining control which is one of its core functions. Besides, there are many other tasks that the state has begun to subcontract to private entities.

Charles Tilly, a prominent theoretician on the state, gives a list of seven core functions that states perform: state-making, war-making, protection, extraction, adjudication, distribution and production. The state is a supra entity whose capacity is gauged according to its ability to deliver. The question is how does one treat a state that is unable to perform even some of its core functions if not all? What if despite the ability for state-making, war-making and production, its capacity to distribute is limited and to extract and protect is questionable, and it has a problematic system of adjudication?

There are three perspectives on the issue. First, from a realist paradigm, a state continues to exist and be effective as long as the international community and organisations such as the UN recognise it. Second, according to the liberal paradigm, a state continues to function as long as its bureaucracy has the capacity to deliver, money is invested and the economy is functional, even if barely so.

Finally, there is the human security perspective according to which a state remains meaningful as long as it meets the expectations of the people, makes them feel secure and has the capacity to deliver certain services to the population for which they initially opted to become part of the state. Here, the state’s ability to perform its core functions becomes important.

In Pakistan’s case, it is common knowledge that the state faces a problem in evenly distributing its resources among the people. While some parts of the country are satisfied with the performance, others are less impressed. Despite the fact that the government has an extensive system for extracting resources in the form of taxation, its ability to make citizens pay is problematic. Similarly, the inability to provide justice to the people has resulted in non-state actors resorting to other means of seeking justice. The Sharia courts in the tribal areas are one example of the state’s inability to adjudicate.

However, the focus here is the state’s ability to protect, which means its monopoly on maintaining control. A couple of developments in the past few years have raised eyebrows such as the authority given to non-state actors or non-state organisations to establish parallel systems of security which directly challenge the state’s authority. The first case relates to militant organisations and groups being allowed to operate in many parts of the country. The second pertains to the MQM’s decision to install defence committees in all districts and neighbourhoods of Karachi to impede the growth of Talibanisation in the metropolis.

The MQM’s decision comes in the wake of the resurfacing of various banned outfits in Karachi including the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) which carried out a demonstration in the city after remaining underground for about eight years. The party which runs the city has projected itself as a secular and liberal force prepared to prevent militant forces from disturbing peace and law and order in Karachi.

The MQM, in fact, seems to have assumed the same responsibility as the Turkish military performs of keeping the socio-political culture liberal. Recently, the MQM leadership even summoned a meeting of the ‘begums’ of Clifton and Defence assuring them protection for their lifestyles.

What is even more interesting is the fact that such announcements have not been challenged by any segment of the state which is primarily responsible for providing protection to its citizens.

The fact of the matter is that Karachi on the whole is a good example of the weakening of the state. The increase in private security demonstrates that the state does not have the capacity to ensure law and order which has forced private citizens to employ alternative means of security. This means that an ordinary citizen, depending on his/her economic capacity, spends additional resources for protection and hence is not getting the expected output from the money he or she pays the state in the form of taxation.

Regarding the MQM’s move, there appears to be no entity to challenge the party’s assumption regarding the increase of Talibanisation in the city, which many believe is not happening but is merely an excuse to checkmate the movement of people, especially those from the Frontier province to Karachi. Given the increased insecurity in the Frontier, there is a demographic shift with people moving to other cities, Karachi being one which offers greater opportunities.

Also, there is a sizeable community of Pathans already living in the city which attracts a similar kind to the city. Surely, there is a difference in the style of living and social conditions of the Pathan and the Mohajirs whom the MQM claims to represent. However, this does not mean that the new migrants are Talibanising the metropolis.

So, what does one make of the MQM’s claim? The party probably wants to stop the flow of Pathans or any other community into Karachi which would challenge the current demographics of the city and have an impact on the MQM’s political authority. However, it is also a fact that some banned militant outfits have resurfaced in the city resulting in the setting up of defence committees by the MQM. Is it that those who control the militant outfits and are part of the state are connected with the MQM?

But a larger question is: why should a party be given the freedom to carry out functions which are the responsibility of the state? If indeed the state intends to subcontract one of its most important core functions then what does one make of the state itself?

The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.

Source: Daily Dawn, 15/8/2008


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