Country Listing

Pakistan Table of Contents



Pakistan has been struggling to develop an all-encompassing identity since the founding of the state in 1947. The nation was created by Western-oriented professionals and bureaucrats as a homeland for Muslims, a place where they would no longer be a minority community in the Hindu-majority state of India. Enthusiasm and a sense of profound moral renaissance for Muslims in South Asia accompanied independence. Expectations were high that Pakistan would flourish and that its citizens would be unified by their sense of social contract. It was hoped that Pakistanis would freely and vigorously engage in parliamentary debate, while creating new industries, all under the umbrella of Islam.

This vision of promise and unity soon encountered the realities of state building. Islamists and secularists disputed the centrality of Islam in the government. Pakhtun and Baloch tribes resisted relinquishing their autonomy to the new centralized state, which they regarded as an outside power. Partition also created new ethnic communities. The Urdu-speaking entrepreneurs and industrialists who migrated to Karachi created a new self-identifying group, the muhajirs. Unlike the majority of Pakistanis, who are tied emotionally and politically to a specific locality in the country, muhajirs did not have these ties. When the new state granted housing and land to the muhajirs to compensate them for what they had left behind in India, indigenous Punjabis and Sindhis clashed with the newcomers. Also during the 1950s, language riots in East Pakistan and anti-Ahmadiyya protests in Punjab cast doubt on the unity of Pakistanis under the rubric of Muslim brotherhood.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Pakistan emphasized building its industrial base to ensure both economic and political survival. Western-educated professionals and industrialists, as well as forward-looking feudal landlords who valued education, were increasingly influential; more traditional leaders saw their power deteriorate. A fairly liberal interpretation of Islam was supported by the state, resulting in the passage of the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance in 1961.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto promoted "Islamic Socialism" in his 1971 electoral campaign, raising the material expectations of the masses to an unprecedented level. Many people believed that life would improve significantly under Bhutto and the Pakistan People's Party, but from 1971 to 1977 there was little change in the standard of living.

Intergroup tensions grew as members of the lower and middle classes became disillusioned, as upper-class industrialists were alienated by the government's nationalization policies, and as wealthy landlords were threatened by Bhutto's land reform program, which weakened only his adversaries.

Ethnic groups in Balochistan and the North-West Frontier Province pressed for increased autonomy, while muhajirs, not yet organized as a political group, ran the city of Karachi and non-Muslim minorities worried about the state's increasingly formal identification with Islam.

Bhutto restructured the civil bureaucracy while increasing his personal authority, alienating many people at the highest echelons of power while creating opportunities for others. Under the first democratically elected government in twenty years, Bhutto made full use of his power by giving jobs and privileges to supporters of the PPP.

Under Zia-ul-Haq, who governed from 1977 to 1988, nepotism continued: who one knew was much more important than what one knew. The leadership gave jobs, contracts, and privileges to its allies as it sought to undermine the PPP. Traditional markers of ascribed identity, such as mother tongue, area of family origin, and kinship ties, increasingly dictated individuals' opportunities as competition continued to block the development of citizenship based on shared, nationwide concerns. The common expression in Urdu and Punjabi, "the whole world knows (or believes) that . . .," reflects the small (usually family or neighborhood) social reference group of many Pakistanis.

In February 1979, Zia decreed that Islam--or, rather, a certain interpretation of Islam--was to be the basis of Pakistan's legal system. Fearing discrimination, some non-Muslim minorities, especially Zoroastrians, began to emigrate from Karachi in unprecedented numbers. Shia Muslims marched on Islamabad in 1982 to protect their right to maintain their own system of social welfare.

Zia employed his rhetoric of Islamic state building to disguise his political opportunism. He also exploited the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to build his arsenal of weapons by diverting some that were shipped through Pakistan for the Afghans. Some experts have even argued that the massive explosion at the Ojhri munitions camp on the outskirts of Rawalpindi in April 1988 was deliberately planned to justify "replacement" purchases in excess of the quantity actually lost.

In the 1980s, Pakistan continued to place little emphasis on social programming despite growing problems, including a rapid rise in heroin addiction. The country has been criticized by international development organizations for ignoring social and human development. In the 1980s, the government's priorities were instead political, and it strengthened those regional political leaders who could contain the PPP in their localities. In addition, the central government declared that democratic principles would have to remain in abeyance while the state searched for the right Islamic guidelines. The government's decision allowed local officials to continue corrupt practices, such as hiring and firing people within the bureaucracy at will and making significant commissions from contracts on projects they approved.

To many Pakistanis already disillusioned with the economic and political functioning of the state, the fundamental social weaknesses of the nation came to the fore in the early 1990s. The most obvious of these--uneven distribution of wealth; the selfcenterness , nepotism, and greed of the privileged; and rapid population growth among the nation's poorest people--made the institutionalization of a nationwide concept of citizenship problematic. The failure to forge a widely understood social contract is reflected in increased tensions among ethnic groups, social classes, extended families, and religious factions.

The way people interrelate with one another, the way they perceive national issues and their role in affecting them, and the priority they assign to personal ties and group identification are all parts of the matrix of a society and indicators of its social cohesion. Until Pakistanis can come up with an inner commitment to a cause--which in Pakistan's history has been fairly rare outside of kinship circles--little can be done or will be done to serve the wider society impartially, be it a national conservation strategy, education reform, opium poppy substitution programs, or the promotion of industrial growth.

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General works pertaining to social change in Pakistan include Sabeeha Hafeez's The Changing Pakistan Society, Akbar S. Ahmed's Discovering Islam, Anita M. Weiss's Culture, Class, and Development in Pakistan, Hastings Donnan and Pnina Werbner's Economy and Culture in Pakistan, and Myron Weiner and Ali Banuazizi's The State and the Restructuring of Society in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. Shahid Javed Burki examines Pakistan's social development in Pakistan: A Nation in the Making, and Naseem Jaffer Quddus addresses education issues in Problems of Education in Pakistan.

Khawar Mumtaz and Farida Shaheed's Women of Pakistan gives an overview of the Pakistan women's movement. The controversial report by the Pakistan Commission on the Status of Women became available in 1991, five years after it was published. For a composite of statistical information on women based on all four of Pakistan's official censuses, the Pakistan government's Federal Bureau of Statistics' Women's Division's Women in Pakistan: A Statistical Profile and Ann Duncan's Women in Pakistan: An Economic and Social Strategy are helpful. A recent study of women's lives, drawing on women's own words and views in the context of wider social changes, is Anita M. Weiss's Walls Within Walls. Islamic issues in Pakistan are analyzed in Anita M. Weiss's Islamic Reassertion in Pakistan and John L. Esposito's Islam and Politics.

Environmental issues are addressed in the Pakistan government's National Conservation Strategy Report. Geographic information can be found in Ashok K. Dutt and M.M. Geib's Atlas of South Asia and in K.U. Kureshy's A Geography of Pakistan. The works of Frederick Barth and Akbar S. Ahmed analyze Pakhtun society, and an in-depth look at the Baloch is provided in A.H. Siddiqi's Baluchistan.

The most important English-language magazines providing useful accounts of current social issues are Herald and Newsline, both based in Karachi. Travel narratives that capture cultural features of Pakistani life include Geoffrey Moorhouse's To the Frontier, Richard Reeves's Passage to Peshawar, and Christina Lamb's controversial Waiting for Allah. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of April 1994

Country Listing

Pakistan Table of Contents