Decaying politics

Published January 9, 2024
The writer is a political economist with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley
The writer is a political economist with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley

POLITICS is to acquire and use power to achieve one’s aims and is often autocratic (won via force to favour elites). However, its best form is democratic, where rulers present pro-poor policies to win and implement them. But elites have created many perverse political forms to prevail even in democracy: patronage, populist, fascist and religious politics.

Our politics is clearly elitist. Sadly, it has shown a huge drift to perverse political forms over time. Our mother political form was Muslim League’s freedom one. Unlike Congress and Awami League’s pro-poor left ideology, its politics were rightwing ethnoreligious populism based on fear of Hindu rule sans a pro-poor vision. Yet this national politics hid many regional forms.

Muslim League co-opted feudal Unionists in Punjab and patronage politics ruled there for long, with elites winning by offering crumbs to familial voter blocs rather than pro-poor agendas. Yet Punjab voted for PPP’s leftist agenda in 1970 but later adopted aberrant rightwing forms again like PML-N’s patronage and PTI’s populism (anti-elitism sans clear pro-poor agenda). So, which one will prevail in Punjab is unclear. A distinct Seraiki identity has emerged in its poorer southern region but is yet to spawn ethno-ideological politics there. After 1947, Pakhtuns stuck to Ghaffar Khan’s leftist ethno-ideology for long. Religious parties ascended slowly in isolated areas like Dir, Kohistan and the south but PTI’s religio-populist nationalism now holds sway despite the crackdown. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Hindko region, better off than many Pakhtun areas, has always stuck to patronage politics, like Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir.

Sindhis and Baloch too started with leftist ethno-ideology led by G.M. Syed and Bizenjo. Among the Baloch, establishment ploys have stoked religious and feudal-led politics as older ethno-ideological parties face extinction. Sindhis later switched to PPP’s leftist ideology, but then adopted patronage politics. Ethno-ideological Sindhi parties now get few votes. Mohajirs supported Muslim League’s rightwing politics initially, swung to religious parties in 1970, then turned to MQM’s ethno-populist quasi-fascism after 1980 and PTI in 2018. With both PTI and MQM facing state oppression, religious parties (JI and TLP) are rising again. But like Punjab, the future of Mohajir politics remains unclear though it too may remain rightwing. Mohajir politics is the oddest nationally as despite their high education, income, global links and exposure, urban location (which makes mobilisation easy) and big intellectual pockets, they keep moving from one perverse political form to another.

Most of our failures stem from our political failures.

So nationally, there is no ethnicity or region where ideological politics prevails. Even those who had it have embraced perverse politics. Stagnant patronage is now our main political form, vacuous populism its main challenger, religious extremist politics the main wild card, and terrorist politics the main spoiler, cutting a bleak view of our politics. This state is mainly due to the establishment’s autocratic politics that serves as the bedrock of our politics. It has ruled directly for 30 years and runs politics covertly, and even otherwise, by furthering various forms of political patronage. Our huge economic, security, social and foreign policy failures stem from our political failures. Our political failures exist because powerful forces have blocked our natural political evolution for six decades.

The view is not entirely bleak as small pro-poor forces are rising. Strangely, these are mai­nly in the two poore­st and most viol­ent areas: ex-

Fata and Balo­chistan. The mi­­sery from poverty is mag­­nified by terr­o­­­­rism — relig­ious in ex-Fata to conquer the state and ethnic |in Balochistan. PTM won two national seats in 2018 in ex-Fata.

Baloch forces are still loose as seen in Gwadar protests and Baloch march. So, politics in these areas now has three forms: patronage politics, militant politics, and mass politics, which rejects both.

The state is unwisely crushing it, not seeing its value in ending both forms of terrorism. The huge political energy of Baloch protests must crystallise into durable political forms like PTM. In my solidarity visits to the Baloch protest camp in Islamabad, I requested Mahrang Baloch and others to think on these lines.

Our political decay reflects a larger Saarc proclivity: Bangladesh embraces one-party autocracy, India has illiberal extremism and Sri Lanka stagnant politics. Yet nowhere are multiple crises and the need for mass politics bigger than in Pakistan.

The writer is a political economist with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

murtazaniaz@yahoo.com

X: @NiazMurtaza2

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

Wheat price crash
Updated 20 May, 2024

Wheat price crash

What the government has done to Punjab’s smallholder wheat growers by staying out of the market amid crashing prices is deplorable.
Afghan corruption
20 May, 2024

Afghan corruption

AMONGST the reasons that the Afghan Taliban marched into Kabul in August 2021 without any resistance to speak of ...
Volleyball triumph
20 May, 2024

Volleyball triumph

IN the last week, while Pakistan’s cricket team savoured a come-from-behind T20 series victory against Ireland,...
Border clashes
19 May, 2024

Border clashes

THE Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier has witnessed another series of flare-ups, this time in the Kurram tribal district...
Penalising the dutiful
19 May, 2024

Penalising the dutiful

DOES the government feel no remorse in burdening honest citizens with the cost of its own ineptitude? With the ...
Students in Kyrgyzstan
Updated 19 May, 2024

Students in Kyrgyzstan

The govt ought to take a direct approach comprising convincing communication with the students and Kyrgyz authorities.