EducationVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 13

State-society relationship in Pakistan

The institution of the state, which is arguably the highest level of human organization, historically emerged from society. In other words, society gave birth to the institution of the state. The fundamental rationale behind the formation of the institution of the state was and has been to organize the social life in all areas and respects.

The ancient and modern states, more often, came into existence through an agreement among social classes and social groups. This agreement was given the name of “social contract” by classical political thinkers, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.

While organizing the social life a state has to use all its powers and resources to ensure security, development and welfare of its residents. In this regard, a state has to exercise its sovereignty that is the supreme authority which it has within its territorial limits and is unrivalled by any other sub or supra-state institution. A state which fails to exercise its sovereignty loses its writ and becomes a failing state and if this failure is consistent, the state is called a “failed” state. A state role in organizing social life is ubiquitous, all-encompassing, unrivalled and continuous as well as instantaneous. A state, which fails to organize its social life, loses its meaning and raison d’être.

Over decades, successive governments have largely failed to organize social life and that is the reason that we are facing chronic problems of religious extremism, terrorism, financial corruption, mass illiteracy, political instability and mismanagement in every sector. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that the people have lost faith in elected representatives, governments, institutions and functionaries to address their needs and issues.

Starting with religious social institutions, the state ought to ensure that all people must hold and practice their religious beliefs according to their conscience. More importantly, the state must guarantee that any so-called religious group or movement must not become a threat to the stability of society and thus an impediment to social control. In this respect, the state must devise clear and practicable rules and procedures for religious institutions, groups and movements. All such bodies must get themselves registered with relevant governmental departments, vividly mentioning their agenda, modus operandi and sources of funding. For instance, all seminaries must get themselves registered with the government and provide information about their curricula, students and funding. On the other hand, all mosques must be owned by the government and as religion is a sensitive affair, there must not be any permission to private organizations to own a mosque. Because in this case, there is every possibility that a mosque could become a symbol of a particular mindset having a sectarian, political or even an economic agenda, which is deleterious to larger community and societal interest. Against this backdrop, the Pakistani state has largely been unable to organize the religious social life. The consequences of the inability are quite obvious.

The state also has to organize the social institution of economy without which the functioning of the state is not possible. The state has to regulate the affairs of economic markets, ensuring fair competition and discouraging monopolization, cartelization etc. The state also has to impose fair and progressive taxation to fund its operations to cater to the basic needs of the people, including inter alia, food and environmental security. Most importantly, the state has to ensure an equitable distribution of resources to protect the overall social solidarity. It also has to provide opportunities for upward economic mobility to all its citizens and a conducive environment for business and investment. The economic conditions of contemporary Pakistan demonstrate that the state has mostly been unable to perform on all the economic fronts and the result is an economic meltdown, hyper-inflation and flight of capital.

A family is a basic social institution. Even the state also has a huge and definitive role in organizing the family life. Generally, family life is considered something private and the state has nothing to do with it. This is a profoundly erroneous perception, rather it is a misconception. It is the state that provides for the conditions in which the family’s development and welfare is ensured. Moreover, if affairs within the family become unmanageable, the state has to intervene and resolve the dispute between the family members. In Pakistan, family feuds and intra-family conflicts have been a key feature of social life. This state of affairs within families in Pakistan is largely because the state has failed to regulate the affairs of the family by strict enforcement of family as well as other civil and criminal laws.

Educating its citizens is one of the most important functions of the state as without imparting the people with knowledge and a variety of skills, society cannot function let alone harmoniously. Pakistan is among one of the lowly literate states of the world. Roughly half of the population is illiterate and the quality of the literate population leaves a lot to be desired. It is important to note that no modern state can shirk of its duty to provide education to all of its citizens. However, in Pakistan the state has not only been able to cater to the educational needs of its citizens but also has allowed the privatization of education, which is a dangerous phenomenon. At this point in time, a new crisis has inflicted Pakistani educational institutions as most public-sector universities of the country are facing acute financial crisis and they are unable to pay their employees.

In Pakistan, we often come across a discourse that what is the basic reason behind our multidimensional problems and issues and what is wrong with the state? The answer is very simple that the state has largely failed to organize the social life. Therefore, the current political leadership of the country, particularly the parliamentarians, must put together their heads and think along these lines as otherwise the crisis has become so aggravated that anything can happen.