Why Pakistani governments fail? Dr Farzana Bari

The failure of another government is in the making. The present government has shown no ability to manage the serious domestic problems, of growing militancy, fading economy, deteriorating law and order, social unrest caused by inflation, unemployment, non-availability of essential food and utility items and the political turmoil in Balochistan.

Governments, civilian or military, govern through state institutions. The relationship between the state and society is determined by the nature of the nation-state itself. The idea of a nation-state, as Indian scholar Ashis Nandy says, entered in Southern societies through the colonial connection. He contends that after decolonisation, the local elite who internalise the concept of the white man’s “civilising mission,” tried to establish a similar colonial relationship between state and society.

After independence, the Pakistani state was captured by the feudal, tribal, civil and military elite, who were arrogant and inherently anti-poor. There had been a marriage of convenience amongst these elite classes for the maintenance of the status quo. However, this does not mean that there has been no conflict amongst the ruling elite itself. There have been a tension and struggle amongst the military, civil and political elite for domination of the state structures.

The leaderships of the mainstream political parties belongs to the same elite classes, so political forces seen as a threat to elite’s political order are not allowed in the political arena.

Civil and military governments, as instruments of the state, always served to protect the interests of the elite rather than those of people belonging to different classes and ethnicities in the country. The successive governments in Pakistan, dominated by the rural and urban elite, made no serious efforts to create conditions through land reforms or redistributive justice to enable those representing the poor and marginalised sections of society to reach the corridors of power through the electoral process. The nature of the state is itself a structural barrier to good governance in Pakistan, because elite dominated governments, military or democratically elected, can never deliver to the people.

Therefore, the nature of the state needs to be completely transformed in favour of the poor and marginalised sections of society for any government to function effectively on behalf of people. However, this transformation demands no less than a revolution. The political forces currently in power and control have no interest in bringing such a change. The only way to achieve this goal is the rise of the oppressed majority to the challenge.

Pakistan has a history of failure of social movements, and many factors, which I am unable to explain in this article, are responsible for this. However, one of these factors that I want to point out here is the betrayal and intellectual bankruptcy of the leadership of these social movements, who often belonged to the middle class or had an elite background. For example, the trade unions movement in Pakistan used to get directions and guidance from leaders and intellectuals who did not come from the working class. Similarly the leadership of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) that claims to be the vanguard of women’s movement was dominantly from the elite background. With the availability of foreign funding for the NGOs sector during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the majority of women activists almost abandoned WAF and established their own NGOs. They remained affiliated with WAF but mostly in name. The activities of WAF suffered due to the vacuum and the lack of interest from those who used to champion women’s cause. The most recent example in this context is the lawyers’ movement. The majority of lawyers belong to the middle and lower- middle class; however, their leadership, with few exceptions, had an elite background. The decision of the leadership for not using the public mobilisation during the long march snot only badly damaged and divided the lawyers’ movement but created a trust deficit in the leadership itself.

The lesson learnt from these experiences is that various social groups should organise themselves under the democratically elected leadership from their own class or social group. The Labour Qaumi Movement that represents power-loom workers in Faisalabad, is a good example in this regard. The LQM works with the support of an NGO, Pattan, an entirely independent group with the leadership consisting of power-loom workers. In the next step these organised interests should come together to form political alliances on minimum common agendas and should work together to secure political and state power. The adequate representation of various social groups divided along the lines of class, ethnicity, gender and religion in the polity is the only solution for a sustained and substantive democracy in the country. Pluralistic politics can never be achieved by bringing existing mainstream political parties in power. The coalitions and networking of organised interests belonging to the poor and the marginalised is the new way of politics that can guarantee good governance, success and survival of governments in Pakistan.

The writer is acting director of the Centre of Excellence in Gender Studies at Quaid-e-Azam University. Email: farzana@comsats.net.pk


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