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Images of Pakistan's Future: Possible Scenarios

For the author's latest  Article on Pakistan's Future Scenarios click here.

Sohail Inayatullah*


Exploring current images of Pakistan's futures is the task for this essay.  Based on a literature review of Pakistani magazines, newspapers and journals as well as conversations with Pakistani scholars and interviews with members of the general public, we develop and evaluate five images or scenarios of the future.  This essay concludes with suggestions for designing alternative futures for Pakistan. 

Before we articulate these images of the future, let us first examine the "futures approach" to the study of social reality.  A futures view focuses primarily on temporality.  Where are we going?  What are the possibilities ahead? What strategies can we use to realize our goals?   How can the image of the future help us better understand and change today?  Who are the losers and winners in any particular articulation of time?  The futures perspective is initially similar to traditional political analysis in that it begins with an exploration of economic, international and social events and the choices made by actors that make these events possible.  However, the futures view also attempts to place events and choices within an historical dimension; that is, the larger and deeper structures that make these discrete events intelligible, such as core-periphery, urban-rural, gender, caste, and macro patterns of social change.  Also important in the futures view is the post-structural dimension; the larger meaning system or the epistemological ground plan of the real as embedded in language that constitutes events and structures. 

     Unfortunately, most efforts to understand the future remain in the predictive mode.  It is often asked, what and when will a particular event occur and how can we profit or increase our power from a specific prediction?  Economists and strategic analysts claim to excell at this task.  Our efforts here--sensitive to the richness of reality and the need to decolonize the study of the future from narrow models of reality--is to explore images or scenarios of the future.  Our task is not to predict and thereby make this essay political fodder for technocrats but to use the future to create real possibilities for change.  We thus do not intend to give a familiar reading of Pakistan's future, as might be available in a five year plan, rather we enter into a discussion of alternative futures, of the many choices ahead as contoured by the structure of history and the modern boundaries of knowledge that frame our identity.

     In the images or scenarios that follow it should be remembered that  these images are meant as tools for discussion and dialog; they are intended to clarify the futures ahead not to reify social reality. Our goal is insight not prediction.  As an initial caveat, an important failing of this essay is that the textual sources and conversations were entirely in english--one might get different images with local Pakistani languages.  

1.   Disciplined Capitalistic Society  

       The first image of Pakistan's future has many anchors, the  most version recent uses S. Korea as a compelling image of the future.  Both countries were underdeveloped thirty years ago but now S. Korea has joined the ranks of the developed, it is become an integral part of the "Pacific Shift."  Through state managed industrialization with strong private spin-offs (and the economic activity caused by the Vietnam war) Korea has dramatically raised its standard of living. Along with a strong confucian ethic (respect for hierarchy, family, hard work, and an emphasis on education) Korea was a strong national ethic.  However, given Pakistan's social structure perhaps North Korea is a better example of  Pakistan's possible future as both have strong militaries.  However, while North Korea has a strong totalitarian ideology, Pakistan does not.  Islam is in many ways a legal/social doctrine and in that sense that it defies any particular  authoritative interpretation rather it is up for grabs by a variety of ideologies. While a theocratic military state is possible so far this mixture has not occurred nor has a one-man state managed to succeed. The best way of stating this model of the future is the "disciplined capitalistic society."   The military rules directly or indirectly under the guise of "law and  order."  Not only is civil society disciplined but so is labor.  Labor exists to aid capital in its national and  transnational accumulation.  The Islam that is used is one  that aids in societal discipline at the individual and social level. The head of the nation is then the strict father who knows what is best for the children.  The mother is in this image is apolitical, remaining at home to take care of the nation's children so they can work for the larger good of capitalist development.

     However there is an important contradiction here.  Among the reasons of the rise of East Asia was women labor.  Females are thus essential for for export oriented strategies that lead to capital accumulation; at the same time the Islamic  dimension of this model demands their continued "home-ization."  They are to provide care to labor.  This is the semi-proletarian  existence which in the long run cheapens the cost of labor for capital since the informal sector helps support the formal "monied" capitalistic sector.  Females are integral to this semi-proleterian structure.

     The other obvious contradiction is the role of the military.  Besides the role of women, confucianism, the historical particular juncture in the worldeconomy, East Asia developed because of low military expenditures and high social expenditures.  Is Pakistan ready to put health and education before military expansion, that is, to redefine security?  We have yet to see.  In the meantime, the hope is that through discipline and privatization Pakistan can join the ranks of the rich.

  2.   Islamic Socialism

       This image is partially influenced by interpretations of Islam that give weight to the syncretic personal dimension of Islam; that is, an Islam that does not the become the facilitator of the mullah's rise--not rote discipline but revelation.  The rendering of Islam is populist as for example in the view that the land is perceived as belonging to the tillers not the landlords.  This image is also partially influenced by the third world movement which has attempted to follow an alternative development path not based on multinational West run capitalism or on soviet party/military run communism.  This view was  made famous by  Z.A. Bhutto in Pakistan.  But let us be clear:  this view is still industrial and growth oriented like the previous model, however, it has a strong emphasis on "roti, capra, makan," on basic needs and distributive justice.  Nehru attempted a similar model but without the Islamic overtones as have numerous other third world leaders.  In this model, the state softens the impact of local and transational capital on individuals.  At the macro level, import substitution and nationalization become key strategies.  However, the larger problem of the world economic system as essentially capitalistic and politics nation-state oriented with Pakistan near the bottom of the global division of labor remains.

     The meaning of this image, however, does not come only from the economic as central is the religious.  It is Islam that unites, it is Islam that gives direction, it is Islam that integrates individual, family and nation.  And although Islam is pervasive, it remains open and committed to distributive justice and individual spiritual growth--a soft Islam, if you will.  National allies in this image come from other third world countries with collective self-reliance the long run goal--south/south cooperation on economic, cultural and political levels.

     Among other writers, Syed Abidi's writes that these two images take turns dominating Pakistan's politics.   Exaggeration of one leads to individual and social frustration and then the rise of the other and visa versa.  However, revisionist historians, such as Ayesha Jalal, argue that both are unsuccessful because of the nature of the Pakistani state, molded along authoriatarian lines due to the circumstances of partition. 

     A third image, based on individual and national identity attempts to transcend the earlier two, using the past as its gateway into the future.

  3.   The Return of the Ideal and the Search for Identity

       The original image of Pakistan was that of a safe heaven and haven for muslims: safe from both the hindus of the east and  later on from the  jews of the west (in Israeli and  American forms).  It was derived--at least in its popular  myth--as the territory wherein muslims would not be  oppressed by the hindus of India.   While Jinnah's intent may have been political power (a share in the action when  India was to be divided) for the Muslim League and later the  creation of a secular state, it quickly became a state for  muslims of muslims.   Pakistan's self image was to a large degree defined by India.  India has been the enemy that gives unity.  Even after three  devastating wars, military strategists still believe that Pakistan can defeat India.   In this view, India has  many gods, is bent on destroying Pakistan (the empirical  evidence of the Bangladesh war), has nuclear weapons and is  allied with godless Russia.  But would Pakistan retain any sense of its identity without India since Pakistan knows itself through the other of India? Indeed, is Pakistan but not-India. India has survived thousands of years  with and without muslim domination, but Pakistan is still struggling  to complete a half-century, to imagine itself as a nation, to find a coherent self.

     This image exists in many ways outside our earlier  dimensions in that internal identity is more important than external reality.  The image is that we reside in the land of the Pure, the  place where there is no threat from the outside, wherein the  purity of Islam can flourish.  Other variables such as the type  of political-economy, culture and geo-politics are less important.  The moral dimension of Islam is central.

     Questions that arise from this view is: has Pakistan achieved this  level of purity?  Some muslim scholars argue that each Islamic nation attempts to recover the polity of the initial Islamic state, the ideal of the  original promise of the time of the Prophet--the revolution  had occurred, prophecy had been delivered, the rightly guided  caliphs ruled, and there was social justice and economic  growth in Arabia.  This ideal is then the image of the  future for Pakistan; this is the time of partition when there was  promise in the air, a great deal had been achieved through  sacrifice, the British and the hindus had been thrown back, and the Quaid lived.    The image of the future then is a return to a time of hope  and dreams; of victory over struggles and of purity, before the politicians in the form of the military and the  landlords coopted the future.  In this sense this image of the future is a search for an ideal past, a mythic past.

     But while this image may be glorious, revisionist historians point out that the birth of Pakistan was already steeped in power politics, in feudal domination: there was never any purity to speak of, to begin with.  If this is true then perhaps what is needed is a reimagination of Pakistan.  A  search for a new vision, a new purpose that makes sense of the last forty years of frustration and creates real visions of the future not dreams based on a past that is but a lie.  This reimagination task could occur through a democratic process of collective future envisioning or it could come from the words or images of great artists or others marginal to the present established power structure.  But while we await this reimagination of the future, in the meantime the present disintegrates.

  4.   The End of Sovereignty

       This images is the most pervasive and has many variants and levels.  The first is conquest by India leading to a greater India.   This is possible through military conquest or through  economic imperialism if the doors of trade are left wide open.

     The second is more sophisticated and deals not with military  or economic imperialism but with cultural domination.  The  main villain is  the West, especially the United  States.  Irrespective of US AID and other ties to Pakistan, religion and their distant locations in the world economy make Pakistan and the USA naturally antagonistic.   Recent desires of the US to inspect Pakistan's nuclear development exacerbate this tension.  But cultural domination comes in  many forms: technology transfer from the green revolution to  the microcomputer revolution--technology is not neutral but  has many cultural codes and messages embedded in its  hardware (the actual physical technology) and software (the  rules that make it sensible).  For example, certain  technologies might promote individualism and the expense of  family.  Others might promote mobility.  Education transfer  also leads to cultural penetration, the widespread  emigration to the USA for education and then for work is the  obvious example.  Electronic technology even in the  ostensibly neutral form of CNN can but spread foreign views  of what is significant and what is unimportant; that  Pakistan is rarely covered is not inconsequential to  cultural self-images.  Travel to the West for tourism,  conferences, and medical reasons is another example.   While  certainly there is a bit of cultural transfer mostly it is but one-way communication.  Sovereignty then is clearly  violated; the idea that a nation can exist given this level  of cultural penetration is highly problematic.  For instance, just as  there is a world division of labor there is a world division  of culture and news with some supplying modern culture others  providing exotic or traditional culture.  We provide the data for their theories of the traditional.  The responses to this form of penetration are obvious:  fundamentalism in its strongest forms--a return to the historic text, a denial of physical and mental mobility, and a critique of all things foreign even those which increase the freedom and life chances of individual and family.   This is the famous  call by the ruling elite for a local form of "democracy" in  which basic "universal" freedoms are denied so as to save traditional local culture.  Liberals, thus, argue that the defense of cultural sovereignty of the  nation is but the denial of the sovereignty of the  individual and the reaffirmation of the  power of the State.  In the name of tradition, all sorts of injustices can be committed and rationalized.  Other responses to Western penetration could be further  Islamic penetration, for example, by Iran.  This could lead  to a Pakistan-Iran partnership with an increased Shia influence in Pakistan.  It would increase the power of ulema  in that they would have the power to define and narrate  legitimate cultural and political activities. Conversely the end of sovereignty could become a positive image in that Pakistan could be forced to become an international blend of many cultures and technologies: a place where the future resides, a place where sovereignty finds itself renewed at a higher plantery or spiritual or cultural levels not at a myopic national or local level.  This is then a reaffirmation of the idea of the ummah but extended to the entire world in the form of a global community.  Pakistan could then become a compelling image for other places to emulate. A receiver and sender of social technology and a creator of postmodern culture. But this direction would take a great deal of daring and courage as there are no models to follow only vague possibilities to explore.

     As problematic as cultural sovereignty is the loss of the sovereignty of the self.  The self was previously constructed around familiar lines: heaven was above, hell below, and God all around.  One knew what one was to do with one's life: class and caste were clear.  But with the world continuously being recreated by the science and technology revolution and with the problem of West continuously staring at the Pakistani "self," there no longer exists any clear cut self.  Am I Sindhi first?  A woman first? A Pakistani first? A wife first?  A muslim first?  A feudal first?  Where do my loyalties lie?  Can I integrate these often contradictory fragments of identity?  And where do these categories stand in the larger scheme of things?  Moreover, the problem of the self can but become increasingly problematic with the feminist movement, increased exposure to the outside world through travel and the development of an overseas Pakistani community.  Instead of one mutually agreed upon authoritative construction of self we may see many Pakistani selves all vying for individual and national dominance.

     The next layer of sovereignty that is made problematic is internal territorial sovereignty, that is, the provinces increasingly  wanting more autonomy and in some cases secession.  The  calls for an independent Sindh is the latest case in point.   The image of this future is of all the provinces going their separate ways with Pakistan finally only being Punjab. The north-west might join with Afghanistan or the Phaktoons might form  their own country.  In addition, Baluchistan might join Iran, become its  own nation, or join a loose confederation with Sindh.  And in this image, Azad Kashmir would either join Punjab or unite  with the rest of Kashmir to form its own nation.  While  this might lead to conquest by India most likely the same forces that would lead to end of national integration in Pakistan would also lead to the disintegration of India, from one India to many Indias. Also possible after a period of disintegration is reintegration into a united states of south asia with Punjab as the most likely center of this loose regional federation.

  5.   No Change: the Continuation of the Grand Disillusionment

       The last and we would argue most pervasive image of the  future is that of the present continued or "no change."   This is a general malaise, a grand disillusionment with the  ideal of Pakistan, with the promises of the rulers, with the  intentions of politicians.  In this view, the power structure--so obviously unjust--appears unchangeable to individuals and groups. 

     Given this malaise, there are then a range of strategies available. The first is individual  spiritual development, an escape from the social and material worlds.  The second is to flee the  country to brighter horizons outside: "Dubai Chalo" or the  fabled green card.  The poor and middle class go to the Middle East and the rich and the upper middle class leave for the United States.  Within the country the strategy is to  find a job and then use one's personal influence to help  others find work thus allowing the family as a whole to  move up the economic ladder.  Of course this is more  difficult in times of contraction.  During economic expansion, movement is easier.  Another tactic is politicization in the  form of joining political parties for the purpose of social transformation.  However, this strategy is often quickly abandoned  once the enormous weight of the  historical structures at hand are made obvious (the military, the landlords, and the interpretive power  of the ulema, mentioned earlier).  What remains is politics as patronage. 

     This regression from politics as social transformation to politics as patronage has a devastating influence on the national psyche.  Individuals  are forced into corruption and dishonesty (within their definitions of these two terms) and must live with their own moral  failures in a land where morality is central to personal and social valuation.   Violence--individual, institutional and state--becomes routine and acceptable.  Cities disaggregate; the rich secure themselves and the rest either form separate communities or create their own armies.  What emerges is cynicism and pessimism, a breakdown in the immune system of the political and social body--a world ending with a whimper not a bang.

     For those in the position of leadership or responsibility  the contradictions are even stronger and inasmuch as the local, national and international structures are too difficult to transform others are blamed: the  foreign elements, the bad local elements, or the undisciplined youth, to name a few enemies. The oppression of the present bares down on leader and follower alike; both lose their humanity, both lose hope in any collective image of the future.  Worse, there is no savior ahead: all models have failed; leaders have failed; religion has failed; capitalism has failed; socialism has failed; political parties have failed.

  Conclusion: Designing the Future

     The need for reimagination of purpose, of identity, of vision from this dismal final vision is glaring.  Part of revisioning is creating alternative structures.  Among the points of departure for these new structures should be the centrality of difference. Pakistan has placed its strength on unity; a unity that has proved elusive.  Perhaps we need to create institutions and models of change that use difference to create strength, that celebrate our uniqueness among each other and in the world. From an embracing of difference, a unity of self, family and a larger group identity then might be possible.  As important as difference is decentralization, the creation of local practices to solve local problems, that is, endogenous development.  Finally, we should not forget democracy, not in the trivial sense of voting--which has historically but strengthened statist politics--but in the more important sense of individual empowerment and community participation in the creation of preferred futures as contextualized by the social designs of others. In any case, designing the future at local and community and broader levels (through local and nternational social movements, for example) might be a more promising task than waiting for a politician or some other central authority to solve the problems ahead.  Imagination does not mean, however, a forgetting of the material world and the real interests--structural, institutional and individual--that impede attempts to transform the present.  The future must then be a sight that one moves toward as well as a site wherein the material and the creative meet. The future--like politics, economics and culture--must be decolonized and reappropriated by each one of us.  Today.  While the above represents an initial exploration of Pakistan's  images of the future, dimensions within these images have  yet to be explored: the role of the environment, structural and direct violence, the role of children, images of health, the possibilities of growth and distribution, and the relative powers of various actors, such as nation-states, political parties and social movements.   To conclude, one might ask: what is my image of the future for myself?  for my family? for my community? for my nation? for the planet?  And what am I doing to realize my personal and social image of the future? 

  *(Dr. Sohail Inayatullah is a member of the executive council of the World Futures Studies Federation and is currently editing a book on the Futures of South Asia.  In the preparation of this essay, Dr. Inayatullah, the author's father, provided a wealth of insights and made helpful editorial comments)


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