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Home > General > Pakistan: Between the soldier and the citizen | Harris Khalique

Pakistan: Between the soldier and the citizen | Harris Khalique

16 April 2014

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The News (Pakistan) April 16, 2014

Brainstorm. What comes to your mind when speaking of some fundamental contradictions within the Pakistani state and society, from the time of independence 66 years ago until now?

Between the native and the immigrant, the West Pakistani and the East Pakistani, the dweller of a smaller province and the Punjabi, the rich and the poor, the affluent middle class and the rest, the bigot and the moderate, the soldier and the citizen. There may well be other issues but this off-the-cuff list perhaps helps us identify the key divides and contradictions we faced when the country was established and continue to face today.

Human beings as individuals and in their collective lives face contradictions, confusions and disputes. States and nations, however, make concerted efforts to resolve their basic issues once they are recognised as posing a challenge to the state’s existence or seen as impediments in the nation’s path to progress. Ironically, our state falls in the category of those who have, intentionally or unintentionally, created new contradictions for themselves to deal with. Anyway, let us see how we have approached our contradictions – created by ourselves or by circumstance.

The contradiction between the native and the immigrant was present at all levels – political, economic and cultural. The immigrant elite – including top-notch civil servants of the imperial order, the educated middle class from Muslim-minority provinces of British India who migrated to the Muslim-majority provinces constituting Pakistan, those migrating within Punjab after its partition and those from Bihar and West Bengal migrating to East Pakistan – all laid claim on the new land and the new opportunities it offered.

Undoubtedly, the suffering of the majority of those who migrated cannot be undermined. But the immigrant elite and upper middle class seeing Pakistan as a land to be dominated and ruled by them created a divide between the native and the immigrant from day one. It affected the lower middle and working classes as well. The divide was sharper wherever the immigrant population was large. The initial discourse of the state also favoured the immigrants as they were not only running the bureaucracy and public service but the cultural spaces were also created and dominated by them.

Interestingly, whenever you are shown images of 1947, you see poor, famished and distraught people, old and young, riding animals or on foot crossing over into Pakistan. This is the primary image of the creation of Pakistan in our collective imagination. It shows people coming to the land of their dreams as though no one else lived there before. There are no images of people receiving them or offering them food and shelter. It is all about the land.

Although the contradiction between the native and the immigrant is not fully resolved yet, it gets less sharp due to a host of reasons including amalgamation because of the passage of time since Partition and the politics of the MQM, which in a way gives a section of the next generation of immigrants a distinct voice but also naturalises them as a native group claiming stakes in local level politics rather than harbouring any abstract national ideology. This contradiction, in fact, is largely being replaced by the contradiction between the affluent urban middle class and the rest.

The emergence of an educated and well-heeled middle class across different provinces and within different ethnicities changes the middle-class dynamic in Pakistan. This class finds itself at odds with the thinking, ideology, beliefs and, most of all, interests of the rural population as well as the urban poor. For them, management of resources by the state is a bigger issue than redistribution of resources among people. Corruption is a bigger issue than poverty. Increasing administrative efficiency is more important than decreasing social inequality. The PTI, for instance, and affluent middle class groups within other parties articulate these demands.

The contradiction between the West Pakistani and the East Pakistani is no more. However, the way we ended it is known to all. We settled for the dismemberment of the country upon being invaded by an external force after being unable to resolve the issues internally. Unfortunately, this contradiction was to be replaced by a sharpening of the contradiction between smaller provinces within West Pakistan and the biggest province – Punjab.

When Punjab was a minority province in united Pakistan but the biggest in the west, it pushed for one unit in West Pakistan and asked for parity with the east. When it becomes the largest province in what is now Pakistan, allocation of resources by the state has to be made on the basis of population. Jobs and economic opportunities are not equally accessible to Pakistanis living in smaller provinces. Particularly, the imbalance in the military and also in the police, to an extent, reinforces the image of the Punjabi as the repressive arm of the Pakistani state in smaller provinces. What is being done to dispel this image is too slow, too little and too late.

Like in any third world country, the contradiction between the rich and the poor, across ethnic, provincial and sectarian lines, is sharp as ever. The Pakistani state is doing next to nothing to change that massive imbalance in favour of the rich. There is an inherent bias towards the powerful and the privileged in all institutional arrangements and functioning of the state. The lack of provision of basic facilities and services, health and education, employment and entertainment, to the large majority of Pakistanis is shameful. This was a contradiction the state inherited from colonial rule; while it did not create it itself, it did nothing serious to resolve it either.

The one contradiction that was actually created by the state and has come back to it as its nemesis is the contradiction between bigotry and moderation. The state of Pakistan, its military and its political leadership, encouraged the radicalisation of its population, soldier and citizen alike. They used orthodox religion to further their narrow political agenda and short-term economic gains, created armed militias themselves to either operate within Pakistan or outside. The contradiction can only be resolved if the state changes its paradigm for existence based on abstract ideological notions.

Last but not the least, the contradiction between the soldier and the citizen continues to haunt us as a nation. This was also created by the state itself when our earliest politicians wanted to use the military to their end, introduced a man in uniform in the cabinet of ministers who soon took over as the first martial ruler, tried to control East Pakistan by using the sword arm of the west, etc.

When ZA Bhutto got an opportunity to settle the issue, his government not only rehabilitated those who shouldn’t have been rehabilitated but also wished to use the military to its benefit and created a political desk in the inter-services intelligence (ISI). Ironically, the same military dislodged him and organised the judicial murder of the first elected prime minister of Pakistan.

The military has directly ruled for half of the time of our existence as a country, indirectly dominated for a little less and continues to have an oversized political stake in the affairs of the country. It has also established major commercial investments and enterprises, distancing it further from the impoverished millions and is seen as siding with the rich and the powerful.

Pakistani foot soldiers and officers, young recruits and hardened troops, all have laid down their lives in thousands to defend the country. But for senior officers, it is important to recall the short speech made by Quaid-e-Azam on June 14, 1948 to the officers at the Staff College, Quetta. The Quaid said clearly that they had to follow the constitution and the orders of the executive head of the government.

The executive head and his government also need to work towards resolving the fundamental contradictions in the interest of the people of Pakistan, the poor and the dispossessed, the terror-stricken and the weak, rather than getting full-page self-congratulatory advertisements published in newspapers about the illusion of good governance and efficient performance of their government.

The writer is a poet and author based in Islamabad.

Email: harris.khalique[at]


The above article from The News is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use