NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 10

Society-state relations in contemporary Pakistan

The relation between society and politics is so intimate that the two cannot be separated. The state and consequently the government, two most important political institutions, may be the largest mechanism and instrument to organize and discipline society but the former also mostly take their shape and direction from the social structure where they exist and function.

Contemporary Pakistani politics is largely, if not completely, influenced by social dynamics and changes that have taken place or are gradually unfolding. In the backdrop, both state and society are dynamic concepts and their dynamism is correlated and interconnected. In the last few years, some important social changes have taken place in Pakistan which are, to a great extent, setting the tone and tenor of the country’s politics.

Observably, the foremost social change which has taken place in Pakistan is the pervasion of materialism in every aspect of society. The materialism is evident from growing conflicts over properties among family members. Another important factor is growing consumerism in the country. This is the brand culture in the country. Some sociologists refer to it as the Mcdonaldization and Coca-Colaization of culture. It is the direct result of globalization, particularly due to satellite and cable television as well as the Internet and social media. This material, consumer culture implications have transpired in the shape of a highly fleeting society where money and everything material has become the most sought-after and valuable commodity. The situation has also greatly but negatively influenced Pakistani politics. If one looks into Pakistani politics, it has become the most lucrative business in the country. A large number of people have joined politics without having the requisite qualification, experience and penchant to serve the community and people. Politics cannot be a career and only those who have alternative sources of income could dare join it, as it is an arena in which an actor has to spend from one’s own pocket. However, what we have seen is that most of our politicians have made a huge fortune while remaining in politics. Most ruling politicians are facing many financial corruption cases in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and other courts of law whereas they have stashed billions of dollars of ill-gotten wealth in Swiss and other foreign banks.

The second significant social change in the country is the dilution of ideology. Once, most members of Pakistani society believed in one ideology or the other, whether the left, right or centre and even religious doctrines. Today, if one asks most Pakistanis in which ideology they believe, whether liberalism, Marxism, nationalism, conservatism, fascism, feminism and so on, one doesn’t think they would clearly have an idea. It is a situation far different from the 1970s, 1980s and even 1990s. The end of ideology has an extensive impact on Pakistani politics. Today, none of the political parties or leaders could clearly identify which ideology they officially believe in.

Another observable prevalent social trend in contemporary Pakistan is intolerance and bigotry at every level of social interaction and interrelationship. Intolerance has been slowly and gradually pervading Pakistani society for long. Arguably, intolerance in the country has been the upshot of policy vacuum and bad governance. More dangerously, intolerance, in turn, has resulted in development and proliferation of extremist social attitudes, which has translated into the phenomenon of terrorism. The unprecedented terror wave which Pakistan unfortunately experienced in the recent times has been the upshot of extremist social attitudes and posed an existential threat to the state. Intolerance and terrorism have affected 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 intolerance among political actors. Intolerance and extremism have been affecting the statecraft, governance and policymaking in myriads of ways and at each level. Such is the state of intolerance in Pakistani politics that the opposition and the government have refused to talk to each other. Consequently, the parliament has become a completely ineffective institution.

Yet another identifiable social trend in contemporary Pakistani society is a large-scale sense of insecurity prevailing among the people. Consequently, an increasing number of people have been hesitant and afraid of expressing their aspirations, making use of their natural talent and resources. The situation has inflicted colossal losses on society, in terms of lack of stability, and on the economy in the shape of underdeveloped economic potential. Due to insecurity most of the people are shy of participating in the political arena due to which a democratic culture cannot evolve and governance cannot be improved as it needs accountability at every level. Insecurities have also stopped political leaders from reaching out to the masses and understanding their issues and problems.

Another significant but dangerous social trend in Pakistan is the rapidly increasing population of the country. According to UNICEF, more than 15,000 babies were born in Pakistan on the first day of the last year. This is indeed a huge count by any standard as if the one day average population increase is multiplied with 365 days of the year, the figures come out to 5,475,000 new people every year. The rapid population increase has extensive and deep impacts on the politics and political institutions of the country. The galloping population growth has been putting an unbearable burden on the state, its resources, infrastructure and, above all, institutions preventing the state from fulfilling its basic functions. The state functions include: to maintain its territorial integrity, to provide people security of life and property, to address the basic problems and issues of society and its members, to fulfil the basic needs of society and last but not the least to organise social life or society. It is important to mention that the state and its policies have also been responsible for the unchecked and sustained growth of the population. An important question is whether it has been the weak governmental institutions, their irrelevant policymaking and the resultant lack of good governance or simply bad governance that has been responsible for the rapid population growth or the other way round?

If one deeply looks into both phenomena, it transpires that both bad governance and irrelevant policymaking, on one hand, and rapid population growth, on the other, have a symbiotic relationship. It is important to understand that overpopulation has affected all areas of statecraft from political processes, including electoral processes, policymaking, planning to governance. Financial corruption by public representatives along with public officials is a case in point. Perceptibly, consumerism is another important social trend in contemporary Pakistani society. Importantly, large-scale consumerism in Pakistan is the result of the increasing adoption of postmodernist cultural values. Consumerism has also resulted in extreme social trends as an increasing number of people are after products and as poverty is not only extensive in the country but also deep-rooted, the have-nots are getting more disenchanted negatively affecting social relationships, particularly consideration and altruism among the people.

Today, a majority of Pakistanis are said to be living in so-called urban areas. They may have some traces of urban areas as the definition of urbanization in Pakistan is based on the density of the population and not the presence of urban infrastructure and facilities. To all intents and purposes, the apparent urbanization is a kind of suburbanization. At the moment, it is estimated that 40 to 60 percent of the country is (sub)urbanized. However, the urbanization has not resulted in economic growth or refined the people and engendered extensive civility among the masses, which is quite disturbing. The situation has greatly affected traditional rural-based politics. It has some positive effects as an urban-oriented political party, the PTI, for the first time got power, though with a very thin majority. So, all social trends are greatly impacting the political life of Pakistanis. The policymakers and political leaders must take stock of the situation to come up with appropriate policies.