Crises of identity and accuracy

State and Civil Society in Pakistan
March 21, 1997

Every student of Pakistan knows that the country has been so wretchedly abused by politicians, bureaucrats, generals, judges and businessmen that today the state and the citizen look at each other as enemies and people talk freely but in fear of political disintegration. What caused this disaster?

Iftikhar H. Malik, a Pakistani academic living in Britain, felt "a pronounced need for an integrated study that could provide a theoretical and historical framework for Pakistan's exciting but traumatic political career", and wrote this book "to meet this challenge". The study is "the result of an effort spanning several years and various institutions and individuals across three continents". The effort is not good enough. What we have is a fairly representative record of Pakistan's misfortunes and its rulers' misdeeds, not an appreciation of underlying factors and forces, nor an analysis of the state in action, nor a survey of the ways in which society conducts itself.

The book suffers from disproportion, allotting 28 pages to politics, 26 to elites, 16 to bureaucracy, nine to the military, 13 to feudalism, 21 to intelligence agencies, 14 to the social sector, 29 to women, and 88 to ethnicity (the last concentrating on Sindh alone). It is also aberrant in content. It is a tightly packed catalogue of misdemeanours, follies and muddles, but it omits such crucial aspects as state-religion relationship, nature of political parties, behaviour of the electorate, level of political awareness, social roots of politics, etc. The study should logically have led to a discussion of the paramount question of identity crisis; it does not even mention it. It also assumes that the reader commands an intimate knowledge of the subject. Characters and events enter and leave the narrative without any introduction, annotation on background. This is a crippling defect which will reduce the readership to a few hundred specialists.

The bibliography is impressive in print but secondary in nature. The two principal and rich sources of contemporary evidence are not used: the daily press and the parliamentary proceedings.

The style is another deterrent. Malik relishes lengthy sentences made up of a tumult of clauses and a a clutter of often-hyphenated nouns. By the end of the sentence the reader has lost track of how it began. Ungainly and opaque jargon, so popular with some American social scientists, stains the writing. All the following terms appear within the space of five pages: construct, communitarian, state structures, interface, civic dictums, dysfunction, trans-territoriality, postulations, vetoing state structure, honorific social contract. Clarity is the casualty.

His patriotism mars some of his judgements. Thus, East Pakistan might not have separated in 1971 but for India's intervention. Extravagant and historically untenable claims are entered on behalf of the Urdu language. Far from being "uncomfortable" with colonialism, Iqbal was a proven loyalist; and instead of being "weary" of the Punjab Unionist Party, he was in fact one of its founding fathers.

Then there are plain errors. Jamiat-i Ulama-i Hind should be Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Hind (throughout). Governor General Ghulam Muhammad did not belong to the railway administration but to the Indian Audit and Account Service. It is not true that Liaquat "followed a non-aligned policy". It was Muhammad Masud, not Mukhtar Masud, who wrote the dissenting note on the Hari Report. Edwin Montagu was not a peer.

K. K. Aziz is preparing a Dictionary of National Biography of Muslim India, 1800-1947, and The Intellectual in Pakistan.


State and Civil Society in Pakistan: Politics of Authority, Ideology and Ethnicity

Author - Iftikhar H. Malik
ISBN - 0 333 64666 5
Publisher - Macmillan
Price - £45.00
Pages - 347

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