Social trends have a noticeable impact on the politics of an area, region or country. In other words, the politics of a society cannot remain isolated from the social trends prevailing at a particular point in time. Today in Pakistan there are a number of key social trends that are having profound impact on the politics of the country while others do not have much impact. Keeping this in new, it is important to observe, analyze and document them from time to time to make both the people and the policymakers understand not only the trends but also to come up with effective policies to respond to these social currents.
One of the most important social trends in contemporary Pakistan is the ever-increasing and fast-growing population of the country. Pakistan has become the fifth most populous country of the world. This rapid population increase has an extensive and deep impact on the politics and political institutions of the country. First, this rapid and galloping population increase has been putting an unbearable burden on the state and its governance structures. Pakistan, historically, does not have a very strong state and governmental structure and the most important evidence in this regard has been that the state has not been able to respond to the needs of society and fulfill its important functions. Noticeably, the state and its policies have also been responsible for the unchecked and sustained growth of the population. Therefore, the state cannot be absolved of the responsibility in the fast growing population of Pakistan.
If one looks into population growth and bad governance it transpires that both bad governance and inept policymaking on the one hand, and rapid population growth on the other, have fed into each other. Because the important factors in population growth around the world include lack of education, poverty, a conservative society, prevalence of large-scale lack of purposelessness within the people and society. These are the key factors of galloping population growth even in Pakistan. Again this has been due to bad governance that these factors have been prevalent in the country. Once the public representative at each level of governance come to realize that he has speak for, and serve, such a large number of people while the resources of the state cannot fulfil the demands of even a few thousands of his hundreds of thousands of voters, he becomes disenchanted and develops a sense of powerlessness. On the other hand, people continue to make demands on their representatives and seeing they cannot deliver, their sense of belonging to the state, its apparatus and democracy start to vanish. On his part, the public representative’s feeling of dejection due to his powerlessness to fulfil the much-needed promises to his electorate and on the other hand his understanding that if he has to remain relevant in politics it could be only on the strength of financial resources, make him financially dishonest. Financial corruption by public representatives, along with public officials, results in multifarious negative trends in the society. Pakistan for the last 40 years has been suffering badly due to the ill-effects of financial corruption by public representatives and of public officials.
Intolerance is another social trend in Pakistan. Intolerance in society has persisted over decades and fundamentally is the result of bad governance at all levels of state. Intolerance, in turn, has resulted in development of extremist social attitudes among the people and part of these social attitudes have translated into terrorism, particularly in the name of religion, sect and ethnicity in the country. Since 2005, Pakistan experienced the worst wave of terrorist violence in which so far more than 75,000 people have lost their lives. Terrorism by groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan posed an existential threat to the survival of the state, precipitating gigantic response from the state to eliminate terrorism. While the state response to terrorism has been multipronged, it largely remained confined to military offensives. Due to terrorism and the state response to it, huge damage has been inflicted on society and its members, as millions have suffered physical dislocation, displacement and privation. Although the state may be able to a great extent to eliminate terrorism however the root causes and the seeds of terrorism have not been fully identified and exterminated. Moreover, intolerance and terrorism continue to affect every aspect of society, including political institutions and culture. The lack of tolerance among the key political parties and the resultant stunted growth of democracy is also largely due to the intolerance among political actors. When both the political actors and people are affected by intolerance and extremism the situation within the society becomes inimical to growth and progress.
Terrorism and the state response to it as well as extremist social attitudes prevalent among the masses have also engendered large-scale feeling of insecurity within the society. The most important repercussions of prevalent insecurity among the people is that increasing number of people are un- able to express their aspirations, making use of their natural talents and resources. Due to this situation, the country’s economy and society have both suffered excessively and have not been able to achieve the desired levels of economic growth and social stability. The feeling of insecurity among Pakistanis has also given rise to huge challenges to the state as it needs gargantuan efforts to allay the feeling of insecurity among the masses.
Consumerism is another important social trend in contemporary society. Whatever consumerism we are experiencing in Pakistan is the result of increasing adoption of the postmodernist values. Although consumerism has resulted in the growth of public spending but as the state has to spend a huge amount of its foreign exchange reserves to pay for the import of consumer items, the financial stability of the state is greatly affected. This can be gauged from the yawning gap between the exports and imports of Pakistan. Consumerism has also resulted in extreme social trends as increasing number of people are after products and as poverty is not only extensive in the country but also deep-rooted the gap between the haves and the have-nots has widened. This gap has also negatively affected social relationships, and militates against the healthy growth of all sectors of society.