State of nature —Rafia Zakaria

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Trapped in a contradictory web of denial and self-hatred engendered by the country’s lapse into brute survivalism, Pakistanis lapse schizophrenically either into the heights of bravado or the depths of despair

The philosopher Thomas Hobbes describes man’s original state of nature as a state of complete conflict or anarchy. This state of nature is a point of existence prior to the social contract, prior to the construction of the state that imposes order and reduces conflict. Hobbes says: “that the state of men without civil society (the state of nature) is nothing but a war of all against all; and in that war, all have a right to all things.”

Hobbes’s extrapolations are part of a treatise on political philosophy, a necessary theoretical step to arrive at the necessity of proving philosophically the ubiquity of the state and its power in mediating what would otherwise be a state of constant conflict devoid of security and bereft of certainty.

Given to abstractions, few political theorists have wondered what a state of nature, a complete state of anarchy would look like in modern times, where all linearity points toward progress and the empirical science of statecraft is coined in terms like “development”. Such terms fail Pakistan: as a country it has been able to realise neither the impressive technological progress of Southeast Asia nor come close to the manufacturing prowess of China.

Yet in philosophical terms, at least Pakistan has achieved a dubious honour, we have realised in actuality the philosophical “state of nature”, that pre-state position where man has not yet realised that emerging from anarchy and a preoccupation with survival requires a strong state that is mediated by law.

A week’s worth of newspaper headlines provides ample evidence of Pakistan’s devolution. The last two weeks of 2008 saw the country quite literally plunged into darkness, small cities were suffering up to 20 hours of load-shedding a day while larger cities like Karachi and Lahore saw up to 16 hours day. Students studying for exams were left hapless; tanneries looking to tan hides after the Eid al Azha season lost over 2.5 billion rupees; and flour mills in Lahore were unable to grind flour, leading to long queues of frustrated buyers outside stores. Industrial workers in Faisalabad began to riot because of the power outages, burning vehicles in the street and destroying other property in their rampage.

Following the uproar, the president made an announcement assuring 30,000 tons of furnace oil to help power companies. In the meantime, load-shedding continues in all parts of the country.

If the failure of the state to provide basic services like electricity is not enough substantiation of Pakistan’s devolution into an anarchical state of nature, the absolute lack of security is bound to quell any doubts regarding the regression. According to a report issued by the Aurat Foundation, nearly 500 women were killed in Karachi last year alone. Of the two hundred reported raped, nearly 15 were gang raped.

The mayhem is not confined to women. A recent article published in the Wall Street Journal reported nearly 12,000 murders in the first eleven months of 2008, the highest reported in over a decade of Pakistan’s history. If one escapes death or sexual assault, there are always kidnappings to worry about. Whether it is middle business owners or high profile victims like Satish Anand or Kamran Tessori, kidnapping for ransom remains an unwavering threat, allowing anyone with a gun and a plan to prey on anyone without.

Not surprisingly, middle class Pakistanis have turned to self-help as recourse in the absence of a state that can provide security. Those with means have now resorted to the use of private security guards with imposing firearms to guard their homes and businesses. The move is unsurprising: a morbidly amusing report by the IGP Sindh reports that nearly 20,000 police officers were disciplined for corruption charges, making self help or the hiring of personal security guards the obviously smarter option.

For those prevented by a lack of means from purchasing security, self-help can come in the less complicated form of gun ownership. The underground gun markets of Dara Adam Khel can equip you with a pistol for less than three thousand rupees, or if that is too inconvenient, the supposedly legal gun markets at Liaqatbagh in Rawalpindi can provide arms from Mausers to Kalashnikovs at a slightly higher price. Self-help undeniably is the route to self preservation.

Power outages, lack of water, long lines for staples like flour, kidnappings, rape and murder form the tangible parameters of Pakistan’s recession into survivalism. Yet the burden of living in an effectively stateless nation is not borne only by those who are actually victimised by crime or material want. The state of anarchy, the constant and unwavering realisation of humanity being stripped to the state where persecution of another is not only warranted but required has taken an incredible moral toll on Pakistanis. When a car left unlocked is a car foregone, where walking out alone even on one’s own street is unthinkable, where a child picked up late from school is an invitation to kidnappers, where surgery must be carried out under a naked light bulb and women can bought at the market, the very concept of normalcy is skewed beyond recognition.

Trapped thus in a contradictory web of denial and self-hatred engendered by the country’s lapse into brute survivalism, Pakistanis lapse schizophrenically either into the heights of bravado or the depths of despair. Survival is a tricky commodity, lending itself into prudish rationalisations that paint mere existence itself as a victory against odds, yet at the same time defining the very minimum of possible achievement.

Much has been said in recent days about the need for national soul searching, for a stance against extremism and a disavowal of terror. Yet all of these words fall on ears benumbed by the very pain of survival, by the necessity of embracing ignorance and the requirement of indifference toward the want or need of another in the face of the more acute need of saving oneself. In anarchy, there is no morality and there is no empathy. Pakistan in 2009 embodies just this condition.

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney living in the United States where she teaches courses on Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. She can be contacted at


Reproduced by permission of the Author and DT\01\10\story_10-1-2009_pg3_3


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