SPEAKING FREELY Constant scramble for power in Pakistan
By Luqman Saeed
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Terrorism is the political backbone of Pakistan. All known forms of terrorist activity (religious, sectarian, ethnic, nationalist) are taking place in the nuclear-armed country.
The onslaught of Islamist insurgency in the tribal areas after the US invaded Afghanistan is only the most recent addition to a history of terrorism that goes as far as the creation of the state itself.
Since the present article talks about terrorism in Pakistan, it is pertinent to define at the outset what exactly the term terrorism means. Although it's a contentious issue and there is not a single mutually agreed definition of the term that exists, two important
features are generally accepted as hallmark of terrorist action.
Number one is the use of violence to pursue a politically motivated agenda. Second is the scope of the message which is intended for an audience that goes beyond the immediate victim to larger community that the targeted individuals belong to.
If this definition is followed, then after the bloody events that took place during the partition, the first noteworthy episode of terrorism in Pakistan was riots against Ahmediyya community spearheaded by Islamist radicals such as Ahrar-Islam, which aimed to force the government to designate the community as non-Muslim.
Another important demand of the agitators was to exclude the Ahmediyya community from government jobs. Incidentally, this agitation took place four months prior to the constituent assembly developing a collection of rules which were to guide the future constitution. These rules reserved the seat of head of the state as an exclusively Muslim domain.
The state has a monopoly over the means of violence. This sheer imbalance between the state and society in their capacity to exercise violence is a political reality embedded in the contemporary political order of the world and for many ordinary mortals a natural uninteresting fact.
The psychological consequences of this, which shape the political understanding of the masses is obviously, that the only violence that makes sense is the violence of the state. Any other actor emerging from society which tries to violate this imbalance is considered brute and its violence senseless.
The attempted abstract division of "us" and "them" is a smoke-screen that state and society consciously or unconsciously created.
Observers who frequently survey the domestic politics and social dynamics of Pakistan have likely seen the smoke-screen at work. Is seems terrorists are some unknown perpetrators running on dictums of some internationally hatched conspiracy to destroy the country. However, once the smokescreen is lifted, the picture that emerges of terrorism in Pakistan is a bloody clash for power and influence between different groups of society.
Terrorist violence seems to be a one political strategy among many others to negotiate power. The ongoing bloody turbulence in the tribal areas is essentially a question of power.
The inflow of al-Qaeda militants into the area after the US launched operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan lad the Pakistan army to respond and cleanse the area of militants. Historically the region has not hosted army personnel. So as the army moved into area, should such a bloody eruption of Tribalists be defined as an insurrection of religious fanatics - or power hungry actors competing for power they deem too precious to lose?
The ethnic rivalry in the port city of Karachi is again a battle between different groups negotiating power and influence through the use of violence. The agenda of the Baloch nationalist is the control of the regional resources which they claim are being unfairly exploited by the ruling elite who does not represent them.
It should be clear that the representation of terrorism in this manner is not an apology for terrorists who use violence against the people, but rather aims to instigate a different framework which transcends any moral idealization and sharp categorization of who are the victims and perpetrators.
This framework sees the state as an institution that monopolizes the means of violence, an unchallenged power to adjudicate, and a gargantuan capacity of social transformation through its pervasiveness and command of technology.
Its attraction rests in the fact that the above mentioned features give it a brilliant capacity to generate rents from the economy and itself serves as an incentive for political mobilization. This mobilization can take violent form once its peaceful manifestations are not accommodated.
Post-colonial states share a common political heritage. One is the obvious history of being colonized by European powers. The second is the institutionalization of the modern state. These states were not formed through evolutionary process, like in Europe where changes in productive relations brought the ascendancy of bourgeois over the feudal class.
These historical features however are missing in the formation of states in this part of the world. The Europeans brought with them the concept of the modern state,but no corresponding process that could knot the diverse communities into the idea of one nation.
Power is concentrated within one institution in Pakistan, while solidarity at a social level is more pronounced at group level - for example as religious or sectarian communities, of by caste or tribe. This unleashes a "scramble for power", as groups within society compete for control of the state.
One of its classic example of this scramble was during the creation of Pakistan itself. The idea of a separate country for Muslims in India was born out of the fear that Muslims would have not access to power. Pakistan was established on August 14 1947. However, all this achieved was a narrowing of the arena for the fight for power and rents between various communities. The religious identity was not the only identity that could serve to produce a homogenous nation.
The party which led the Pakistani movement was the Muslim League, whose elite cadre hailed from the Hindu-majority province of UP (United Province). This elite group was relatively more educated among the Muslim community, and for that reason, they were more conscious of the competition that they faced from the majority Hindu community in securing government jobs. Hamza Alavi term this community as "Salariats" who depended on government jobs for their economic survival.
After the creation of the state, this Urdu-speaking community migrated to Pakistan and settled mainly in Karachi and Hyderabad, in Sindh province. Due to its experience in government jobs and training in Western education, this community, despite making 4% of the total population of the new country, occupied most of the position in state bureaucracy.
The interest of this community was therefore to preserve its status and privileged position in power corridors and the easiest way to do this was to privilege the means that gives this community a leverage in keeping its hold on the power. Urdu, the language of this community, and English were made National and State languages , thus tilting the power balance in this community's favor.
The first reaction to such attempted exclusion from power came from Bengal and then from Sindh. The economics behind the was comparative disadvantage non-Urdu speaking community would face in accumulating necessary human capital, due to language handicap, to build up adequate credentials to claim the share in power. Urdu being national language also entitles it to be the language of curriculum, along with English, and thus making gains in higher education and possibilities of socio-economic advancement contingent on it. Bengal seceded from Pakistan in 1971 to form Bangladesh.
The fight for power in Sindh was going to take more deadly form in the coming years. One of the first preludes to the coming storm was the boycott of exams in 1958 by the Sindhi students. This imbalance of opportunities which State education program promoted served to create a division rather than producing nation united along linguistic lines.
The ascendancy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a Sindhi politician, opened a new chapter in this struggle for power. His government reserved a 60% quota for government jobs for the rural Sindh, inhabited mainly by Sindhi speaking people and made Sindhi, provincial language alongside Urdu. This was now resented by the Urdu-speaking community, for it hurt their privileged access to power and resulted in massive language riots in 1973. Another factor that contributed to tensions in the province was increased migration to Karachi of other ethnic groups such as Pashtuns, and easy availability of arms in the wake of Afghan Jihad.
The point that I intend to emphasize here is that ethnic terrorism was not due to one group or the other emerging from within society and spontaneously starting using violence as political tool rather the usage of the violence as political strategy, ie terrorism, was determined by the degree of exclusion that it faced in its bid for power. This degree of exclusion makes terrorism an attractive political strategy whose overall incentive is provided by the state itself, through its power to generate rents.
It was in the interest of the ruling regime in earlier years to make the language that they speak the language of power and promote it through its education program. But that merely served to sharpen the ethnic divisions for what it actually meant for indigenous communities was handicap in securing government jobs and power.
The likely consequences of such policy is the political mobilization of a community to pursue its interest and, since that naturally means, soaring community consciousness, it further served to entrench ethnic divisions. Terrorism in this case is one strategy among others through which the community negotiates its interest with the power group running the state and rest of the communities.
The negative externalities of Afghan Jihad, such as weapons and drug flow, is blamed as one of the factor that contributed towards ethnic terrorism in Pakistan. This is true but this should not be mistaken as the root cause of terrorism, since Afghan jihad merely served as an exogenous factor which made violence less costly through the easy availability of arms. The role of language is excluding the Baloch people from power is evident from the fact most of the bureaucracy to run the provincial administration has be imported from outside the province.
The rise of religious militancy can also be studied in present framework where State privileged a certain religious segment of the society through certain sets of policies and established its exclusive claim to power and rents. The roots of Islamization in Pakistan are in the objective resolution which directed the constitution making in Pakistan to follow "Islamic" principles.
The defense for this can be formulated by stating that the constitution, the rules of the games, were to be developed within the parameters of the ideology that the majority of the population adhere to. But this goes against the sectarian as well as cultural diversity of Pakistan. The first to react against this was the non-Muslim community. A motion was forward against the "religious" bias of the Objective Resolution draft by Prem Hari Barma, a non-Muslim member of the constituent assembly.
This was defeated by 21 votes (all Muslims) to 10 (all Non-Muslims). The tilted the balance of power in favor of the Muslim community. Thereafter, the contest became "intercommunity" and Ahmediyya were eventually elbowed out and consigned to title of non-Muslim, and since the state claims to be "Islamic", that compromised their claim to power as well.
The self-identification of state as Muslim and the consequent diversity of Muslims at social level are well explained by the fact that after a agitation against the Ahmediyya, a commission was set up to investigate the disturbance. The report of this commission, known as the "Munir Commission", came to conclusion that not two Ulema agreed to one definition of Muslim. This stance of the state where it becomes party to one community generated incentives for the groups within the community to compete for power. The interests of elite in the group is in keeping the divisions intact and rather sharpen it more which supports their exclusive claim to power.
This sectarian scramble for power became more conspicuous during the regime of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, which saw a massive campaign to Islamize society. This aimed to develop a constituency of support in domestic as well as the international political arena. After toppling the Bhutto government, Zia allied with the religious right and used religion as legitimizing tool for his unconstitutional rule as well to rally support for jihad in Afghanistan. The international community, particularly the United states and Saudi Arabia provided diplomatic but most importantly financial support to Zia.
This Islamization enterprise had a clear-cut sectarian bias and the constituency of support added to the regime was essentially Sunni religious groups. The domestic imperative of this bias was that Pakistan is a Sunni majority country and for that obvious reason the main support could only come from this community and its religious heads. Secondly, international financiers like Saudi Arabia had an ongoing strategic fight with Iran and an interest in bringing Sunni regimes within its orbit of influence.
The alliance with the regime provided these Sunni Islamist groups with higher accesses to government rents. Along with higher funding, their graduates were given special opportunities in government jobs. The direct consequence of such policy was that the state created another violent actor contending for power, influence and rents. It also legitimized the overt use of religion in politics, which encouraged local religious figure, facing sectarian competitors, to politically mobilize along sectarian lines thus further entrenching the divisions within society.
One observes in ethnic politics, that the rise of Sindhi during the 1970s was resented by the Urdu-speaking community as a threat against its established interests. Similarly, now in the current period the very same state which introduced sectarian actors in its legitimate political arena, tries to exclude them from the power and thus is facing a violent backlash from the affected parties.
The case of tribal areas fits within this framework as well. Tribal leaders resisted the control of Britain during its heyday of colonial rule in India for subjugation of community hurts the established interest of the ruling tribal leaders. Of course the culture plays a strong role in motivating a community to resist foreign control but the ultimate motivation comes from threat of losing the power.
In the post 9/11 period, after the US launched operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and as al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters moved into tribal areas, the Pakistan army launched the operation to cleanse the area of the militants.
So far the state has functioned in this region by appointing political agents who theoretically and, to quite an extent practically, holds dictatorial power in the region. But the current phase of penetration means the transformation of the local order on a much wider scale. For example, if the state intends to transform the process of adjudication in the area, that would make tribal leaders irrelevant in adjudicating disputes.
Similarly, if the state tries to manipulate the economic system by influencing the flow of good across the borders, this ought to produce some affected parties. The interests of these parties are therefore to fight to sustain the current order intact.
What one sees in Pakistan is a diverse array of social groups fighting each other to secure power and rents. The state and its power to generate rents is the ultimate incentive for these groups to compete with each other in taking its complete control or a share of it. The idea of a nation-state, where a state secures allegiance of the its citizens through constitutional consent, seems to be missing in the politics of Pakistan.
The state is not the projection of the collective will of the society but an instrument to secure the interest of one's community or group. If this theory is assumed to be correct, it seems like that the state, as manifested in its policies, itself is a generator of divisions rather than social cohesion.
To support the above mentioned framework, I recently completed a study on the causes of terrorism in Pakistan. The empirical results show a positive impact of per capita education expenditure by the state on terrorism in the country.
The study shows how education, by privileging the national language or through its sectarian biases, enables particular communities to attain higher human capital and consequently higher jobs. The obvious reaction to it has been from the communities and sects which are left out in competition for power.
Police and other law enforcement agencies are long understood to be used by the group in power to pursue their political ends. Even the religious groups have penetrated the police to secure their sectarian agenda as the 2005 report "The State of Sectarianism in Pakistan" by the International Crisis Group revealed.
The conflicts therefore lie in the very failure of the state to absorb the diverse communities into a national polity. The quest for developing one identity out of many has dashed by lowering the prospects for those groups, whose economic competitiveness is harmed by the policies set up by the state.
All the violent actors that we see fighting in Pakistan may be different in their outlook, but they share the quest for power.
It works like a self-perpetuating cycle, where higher concentrations of power and blocked political opportunities lead to more violence. This further entrenches the divisions as communities look inward. This also gives opportunity to the state to assume more power to contain this violence and thus further fuel the incentive of terrorists to supply it as well.
The policies that lead to more decentralization should be seriously reconsidered as long-term solution to contain violence.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Luqman Saeed is Lecturer of Economics at Forman Christian College (A Chartered University), Lahore, Pakistan. His area of interest includes Institutional Economics, Political Economy and Conflict Studies. He can be reached at [email protected]