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How To Stop Our History From Repeating Itself – Yet Again

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“All great world historic-facts and personages appear, so to speak twice” Hegel remarkably said, to which Marx added, “first as tragedy, and then as farce.”

Pakistan has a long history in which charming personalities have captured power and authoritarian forces have ruled unhindered – both with the promise of uncompromising determination to revamp the economic and administrative structure. But a few strikingly similar practices every now and then indicate the future as nothing but a farce.

This country embarked on a journey of change under the tutelage of a well-read Oxford graduate. He was a man of charisma. People believed in him and saw in him the messiah who would change their lives. People couldn’t help but admire his principles and acumen. They chose him as he was the only option who could help overhaul their lives. He took over the reins of power by capitalizing on the material needs of masses.

He portrayed change as a dire need to get rid of the tyrannical rule and the morbid state of affairs that the masses had been in. He was the ray of hope for many – having vehemently posed the need to break up the iniquitous concentration of wealth and revamp the bureaucracy. His policies were to support the poor. He wanted the middle-class to rise. He was a man who left people awestruck when he spoke, delivering a magnificent speech in the United Nations for which he was admired across the seas.

But, he was very intolerant towards dissent. He demonized the opposition parties as traitors. It was still all fine; people were docile and living their lives until the bubble of change burst in the faces of all. It was the miserable failure of his governance. The devaluation of the rupee wreaked havoc on the poor. Natural calamities destroyed the livelihoods of millions, but the government failed to reach out for help. Crop production was inadequate due to floods, and to add fuel to the fire the prices of fertilizers and petroleum products skyrocketed. To mitigate the dearth, his government issued orders to import food items but to no avail.

Now, the failure of his governance was vivid more than ever and a coalition of the opposition parties orchestrated a resistance movement relying on it. The prime minister of Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was in serious trouble.

Historically, the institutional development of Pakistan has been in shambles. Oligarchic control of the over-developed institutions and the dynastic elitism has never allowed any dissenting group to speak against the repression, let alone overhaul the actual system.
Since the end of the populist era of the 1970s, the current time is the second moment in the history of Pakistan when populism has struck again with intense fervour in the last forty years.

To identify the problems, the principle role of the state needs to be elucidated. A state, as Max Weber puts it is a ‘monopoly of legitimate violence’ and a certain level of centralization is required for its smooth functioning. The state is bound to reduce the ‘transaction costs’ and provide a suitable environment for markets to function. But the control and command of the institutions, when limited to a few, becomes extractive and exclusive – and so is the case of Pakistan.

They have formulated economic policies which are exclusive in nature and yield benefits only to some chosen ones. Although many dynasties have failed to pass the test of gaining a mandate, the virus of dynastic elitism and over-developed institutions in the political spectrum of Pakistan still lingers on.

The origin of exclusive political institutions lies in the bitter fact that the participants of the political process rely on the resource elites to run campaigns and contest elections while promising the deprived classes to devise poor-friendly policies. But the promised policies are never executed because the contestants can’t help but provide patronage to the elites relying on the resources of whom they made to the helms. As a result, the control of the institutions remains in the hands of a few and the economic policies are tacitly made as such which favour mafias, resulting in price manipulation and shortage of the items of necessity.

There is increased control by the elites in determining the policies affecting the lower strata of society the most. Also, with the increased concentration of wealth and no chance of development of the political culture, the masses are never expected to resist. The reason for their docile attitude also lies in the exclusionary political institutions. Since the political elite in confluence with resource elites never allow any instance which could foster any ‘creative destruction,’ the masses never feel the need to resist against them.

Any possibility of restructuring institutions is quite worrying for the elites because a socially conscious and technologically modernized social class is the worst of enemies for the landed elites. For that matter, the elites never allow distribution of resources, which could have resulted in investment for developing education and tech infrastructure, so that the marginalized classes might not develop the political maturity which could result in a revolution.

It might sound cliché that strong and developed political institutions are a requisite for human development. Still, the bottom line is that political development yields its benefits in terms of economic development which in turn strengthens the former. The soundest reason for it is economic upheaval and equal chances of social mobility. With developed institutions come inclusive polices which help in the distribution of the resources and a society begins to disengage with the policies which are extractive and exclusive to a few.

Without investing in the development of political institutions, there is not a chance that our nation can survive. There has never been a moment in history when elites gave up their powers voluntarily – ensuring that is the responsibility of the ones whose lives get affected by it.

The ghost of ‘change’ is breathing its last. But if we continue to give chances to history to repeat itself, it would again be the elites who  enchant us with slogans of change and continue to relish their extravagant lives, sadly at the expense of ours. Thus, history must not repeat itself.

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Naya Daur