The Rebel Road…

I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man. – Ernesto Che Guevara

Social transitions and value patterns of Pakistan.

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Pakistan is a society in transition; it is a society defined by its keen acceptance of new production methods but maintains a strict adherence to more traditional values. It is unfortunate, however, that we cannot have our cake and eat it too. The adversarial relationship that these new modes of productions have with old values and traditions is seldom immediately evident. It is akin to changing the brick-pattern of the pavement while passers-by continue to walk on, one does not notice the changes until one consciously goes in search of them.

Pakistan, as a State, came into existence due to two fundamental class-movements. The first was the movement of the Bengali middle class and constituted the bulk of the intellectual and cadre base of the two-nation theory. The second movement was of the feudals in West Punjab who joined forces with the proponents of the two nation theory simply because they wanted to free themselves from the threat of Land Reforms that were rumoured to be on the Congress Party’s agenda. Value systems in Pakistan were a result of the balance between different class forces finding dominance from time to time. It is for this reason that the values inherent in Pakistani society, along the changing decades, can be classified very neatly into distinct blocs.

1947 to 1958

Pakistan was, predominantly, led by individuals from the salariat who had risen to high posts in the Muslim L eague by dint of services rendered during the independence movement. It is for this reason that the two dominant classes of Pakistan, i.e. classes which enjoyed an intimate contact with the functioning and the state apparatus, at the time, were either the upper middle class of the feudal class. It must be mentioned here that while the feudal class in Pakistan was an overwhelmingly powerful one – it was content at the time to merely be powerful yet silent partners with the upper middle class. All this with the implicit understanding between both – that the interests of the feudal class would not come into contention or controversy. It was a precarious relationship but, given the fact that Pakistan’s economy was overwhelmingly agrarian, a necessary one.

It is for this reason that these eleven years are identified, primarily, with the emergence of social norms and values attributed to the upper middle class. Professionalism was one of the stronger points of this decade and a quasi-democratic culture came into existence. Although these years are also remembered for incidences of gross incompetence by some leaders, they are also remembered for some radical good decisions as well.

An example of this is the decision to set up infrastructure within the country to facilitate eventual industrial growth, during this particular decade rather than that of Ayub Khan who is sometimes erroneously praised for setting up the industrial backbone of Pakistan.

1958 to 1971

These years are known for the military rule that Ayub Khan instituted within Pakistan by deposing the con government of Iskandar Mirza. While this had a profound and everlasting affect on Pakistani politics, the real affect (of which politics is only a reflection) was on the very make-up of Pakistani society and class dynamics.

The upper middle class of Pakistan was virtually thrown out of the political arena by Ayub Khan’s regime and was replaced by a new artificial class of crony capitalists. I call this class ‘artificial’ because unlike the bourgeoisie freedom movements in other countries, which led to the establishment of the bourgeoisie as a distinct and dominant class industrial units and agriculatural lands in Pakistan the bourgeoisie followed the Junker’s Path, i.e was literally constructed by the state itself by giving out to individuals and families selected from the feudal and mercantile class of Pakistan.

As can be expected, these years were known for the rise of political and social corruption within Pakistani society. One of the defining features of any dictatorial regime is the eventual emergence of nepotism, and Ayub Khan’s regime was no exception. Economic and financial corruption along with the rise of the 22 families was another blemish on an already dirty record.

General. Agha Yahya Khan inherited the state of Pakistan from General. Ayub Khan when the latter stepped down from office due to his plummeting popularity in Pakistan. Yahya Khan, also a military dictator, was further confounded in his efforts to rule the country due to the heap of political, economic and social incompetence that the 11 year old rule of Ayub Khan had left in its wake. In comparison, this regime was both short and floundering from the beginning. The military campaigns and the loss of East Pakistan only exacerbated the problems for Yahya Khan and he handed over office to Z. A. Bhutto in 1971.

Not much can be said about the condition of values and ethics under Yahya Khan since he, himself, became a victim of the ghosts of Ayub Khan’s corrupt policies. Society under Yahya Khan, however, came together and gelled to form a democratic backlash to 13 years of unconstitutional military rule. This era is known for an increase in social consciousness and emphasis on concepts of fairplay and justice. Social cohesion and mass-politics also defined this era.


Also known as the Bhutto years, this particular era was known for its radical and status-quo-shattering policies. The re-nationalisation of the industrial units that Ayub Khan had given away for peanuts was also one of such policies.

The class-divide in Pakistan changed once again as peasants and workers of Pakistan found more power in their hands than they had earlier. Feudal values started to disappear one by one but the rise of religious political parties was the inevitable consequence of the military years before Bhutto. It is for this reason that these years saw the bifurcation of Pakistani society into two well-defined camps. The first were the secular and progressive lobby represented by the PPP, NAP and various communist and leftist parties. The second was the religious and traditionalist camp, which was represented by religious parties and some other mainstream parties. Although Bhutto tried to placate the religious mullahs by disenfranchising minorities such as the Ahmedis, but it was felt that the chasm between Bhutto and the religious parties had grown too wide. It was for this reason that General. Zia was able to overthrow Bhutto with the consent of various powerful classes (bourgeoisie and feudals both of which had been affected by Bhutto’s reforms – bourgeoisie by industrial nationalisation and feudals by land reforms introducing a land holding ceiling and tenancy laws, various, religious parties and United States.

The best word to describe the nature of values held by Pakistani society under Bhutto is awaami. There is no disputing the fact — by friend or foe, that Bhutto was a man of the crowds. He knew how to talk the talk, so to speak. His (relaxed to say the least) adherence to socialist principles made him stand out in a society where, up until that point, socialist ideals were conspicuous only by their absence. It is this quagmire of pseudo-socialist, quasi-democratic and populist values that defines both this era and Bhutto himself.

1977 – 1988

The years under General Zia-ul-haq can be conveniently summed up in one sentence – they were years in which free or profound thought were a crime that was punished swiftly and severely. These years mark the steady rise of religious and militant forces in Pakistan,- all because Pakistan was taking part in a very different form of proxy war back then, the war against the communists.

These jihadis, trained by the best facilities Pakistan could provide, were the front line offensive against USSR in Afghanistan. However, the cost incurred to Pakistani society for taking part in this war has gone beyond simple figures, the echoes of our past resound in our ears even today. Militant fundamentalism, a phenomenon that the state and people of Pakistan have been battling ever since the (in)famous 9-11 incident is a direct consequence of having trained those so-called jihadis to begin with.

All in all, these years are known for a general retrogressive and downward traditionalist spiral in cultural norms and values. Religious indoctrination and militant fundamentalism were encouraged as state policy and all democratic norms and notions of freedom of thought or expression were flogged out of people.

1988 – 1999

These years were a veritable merry-go-round of the same old faces coming back into office over and over again in nothing short of leap-frog fashion. However, as corrupt as they were or as haughty as the individuals in the regime were, we are better able to assess those years for what they really were now that we have been granted the wisdom of further years and experience.

The class-clash in these years was a dynamic one. Power was given to and wrested back from the lower-classes over and over again as Benazir and Nawaz Sharif played their years long game of tug-of-war. However, these years are also known for the rampant corruption that came to exist in Pakistan as a result of the many manners in which both rulers made efforts to cling to power. Benazir had her Mr. 10 percent and Nawaz Sharif had illusions of everlasting glory as the first Caliph of Pakistan. Pakistani society became a complex mixture of discontent, distrust, disillusionment and despondency. These were the sentiments on the street up until General. Pervaiz Musharraf carried out his, now, historic coup of 1999.


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