Pakistan finds itself in the throes of serious political problems. The crisis is marked by clashes between institutions of the State, the absence of any real system of justice and a lack of accountability of all those entrusted with the responsibility of running the country.
Without in any way minimising the responsibility of those in power, an analysis of the crisis of a modern nation-state like Pakistan must start with an understanding of the process of modern state formation.
Two key features stand out in the formation of nation states. First, the nation states of the North recognised the importance of minimising wars in their backyard. Second, they realised that they needed to wage wars in the South for economic benefits to keep their own masses well-fed and happy and thus prevent conflicts and wars.
The current crisis of the new post-colonial nation states like Pakistan is a direct result of the continuation of the policy of the North – of peace within their own boundaries and the war for maintaining their economic and military hegemony in the distant lands of the South.
The rise of British hegemony in the world-system during the nineteenth century was accompanied by two novel political developments. The first was a phenomenon unheard of in the annals of Western civilisation, namely a hundred years of relative peace from 1815 to 1914. The second, equally striking development was the gradual shift, in England, from a system of rule based largely on coercion to a system of rule based largely on “consent”. The period witnessed the enactment and introduction of several political, legal and social reforms, which ushered in the ideology and institutions of the liberal-democratic state. However, these features obscure the importance of war and coercion in the making of British hegemony.
First, Britain’s pacifism in Europe went hand in hand with a voracious appetite for military prowess and conquest in the non-European world.
While peace reigned in Europe after the Napoleonic Wars, Britain fought ten wars on the Indian subcontinent alone. These included a) two Anglo-Maratha wars (1803 and 1818) which gave British control of much of Central and parts of Northwestern India, b) one Anglo-Gurkha war (1814-1816) which established British presence in Nepal, c) two Anglo-Burmese wars (1824 and 1852) which brought parts of Burmese territories under British control, d) two Anglo-Sikh wars which extended British control to the borders of Afghanistan and e) the infamous Anglo-Afghan wars in 1839-42 and 1878. In addition to wars on the Indian mainland, the British fought two wars against China related to the triangular trade between India, China and Britain; the Opium Wars during 1839-42 and 1856-58. If we take Asia and Africa altogether, there were as many as seventy-two separate British military campaigns between 1837 and 1900.
Military ethos informed the administration of colonial India and the liberal distinction between the civil and the military was non-existent
Britain could afford militarism and simultaneously reduce military expenditure because warfare in general, and in the non-European world in particular, had become cheaper. The fact was that the army and navy detachments did not cost much less when they were in the barracks. The loss of a few European lives seemed of no great importance either – in an age of rapidly expanding populations
A good part of the military cost incurred was being absorbed by the non-European world. Whatever cost that was incurred in these wars, which in some cases could be high – the First Afghan War, e.g., cost 15 million Pounds Sterling and claimed over 20,000 lives – the expense did not always fall on the average Briton. Britain could afford to reduce military expenditure at home because it had the control of the largest European-style army in Asia, paid for entirely by Indians. By 1880 Indian tax payers were supporting 130,000 Indian and 66,000 British troops – 40% of the Indian government’s gross expenditure went to the Army.
The rise of British hegemony was accompanied by several political and social reforms in England. These reforms helped incorporate the rising middle- and working-classes into the social order and facilitated the development of rule by “consent”. The Reform Acts of 1832 followed by the Franchise Acts of 1867, 1884 and 1918 established the principle of general elections and enfranchised the middle- and working-classes. The Municipal Reform Bill of 1835 and the establishment of the County Councils in 1888 led to powerful and popularly elected local bodies and government in both town and country. The Factory Acts of 1833 and 1847, inspired and pushed in part by the socialist manufacturer Robert Owen, set into motion better working conditions, wages and benefits for wage earners.
These reforms, helpful in resolving the social question in Britain, were intimately connected to military conquest and coercion elsewhere. Imperialist politicians and industrialists had no qualms about admitting as much. Though hackneyed, the 1895 statement by Cecil Rhodes is still worth quoting:
“I was in the East End of London yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for `bread,’ `bread,’ `bread,’ and on my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism. … My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, i.e., in order to save the 40,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we, colonial statesmen, must acquire new lands to settle the surplus population, to provide new markets for the goods produced by them in the factories and mines. The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists.”
This viewpoint was shared by the entire spectrum of British political opinion, ranging from conservatives like Joseph Chamberlain and Winston Churchill (an erstwhile liberal), to Labour stalwarts like Ernest Beven, as well as Liberals and Radicals.
It is not surprising, therefore, that none of the democratic institutions characteristic of British hegemony ever applied to the Indian sub-continent during the British rule. Interestingly, it is with the decline of British hegemony that some halting, half-way and emasculated measures of representative government were introduced. The Government of India Act 1909 was the first small step towards representative government. The chief legislative bodies, known as Legislative Councils, at the centre and in the provinces, consisted wholly of nominated civil servants called `official’ members.
But these councils were not viewed as a parliament. They were to function like a durbar, a Mughal court, where a monarch learns how his measures are affecting his subjects and may hear of discontent before it turns into rebellion. Liberals and conservatives alike remained categorical in their insistence that India was not fit for parliamentary government. It was not till 1919 that the principle of representation was considerably expanded due to mounting nationalist pressure, and it was not till 1935 that direct general elections were allowed.
India was governed, therefore, mainly by coercive and bureaucratic institutions of state: the civil service, the army and the police because the primary objective of British rule was extracting maximum revenue and suppressing resistance and revolt. Even these institutions had special characteristics. Unlike civilian bureaucracies in England, the Indian Civil Service, proudly known as the “steel frame of India” was not merely executor of policy but also its maker. As already noted, leading decision-making bodies like the Executive and Legislative Councils were composed mostly of members of the civil service. At the local level the District Commissioners had absolute power to collect revenue, settle disputes and maintain law and order.
Similarly, the army not only defended external frontiers but was instrumental in putting down frequent uprisings and coercing recalcitrant landlords. It was also intimately connected with civil administration. Military men were usually members of ruling institutions, such as the Governor-General’s Council and were often also senior bureaucrats and officials in the civil service and the police. Military ethos, therefore, informed the administration of India and the liberal distinction between the civil and the military was non-existent.
Finally, the role of the police was not merely to maintain law and order and ensure the `rule of law’ as it should be under liberal democracy, but to supersede the legal process because the latter was too long drawn or too scrupulous to satisfy the colonial need for prompt retribution and collective punishment.
It is evident that the approach of the imperialist powers of keeping peace in the Global North and unleashing wars is the South is still very much in place. While wars are being fought in Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and Pakistan there is peace in the Western hemisphere with the exception of isolated terrorist attacks.
In the case of Pakistan, a war was brought to it by obtaining the support of the country in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. In parallel, corrupt governments and coercive law enforcement agencies continue to be supported by those who are enjoying the virtues of democracy and peace in their own backyard.