Underlying the crises of the economy and internal security is the crisis of governance. It may be helpful to examine the nature of Pakistan’s governance model in historical perspective to clarify the challenges it faces today.
The processes in the spheres of the economy and national security that were engendered by Pakistan’s mode of governance have now come to a head. The challenge of governance today in the economic sphere is to transit from a rent based limited access social order focused on the elite, towards an open access order which provides economic opportunities to all of the citizens rather than a few. In the sphere of security the challenge is to bring to bear the power of the state to enforce the law without fear or favour.
Power has historically been constituted within the framework of patron-client relationships: During the late 18th century in the period preceding the Raj, there was a widespread peasant revolt in the Punjab, in which the traditional Mughal elite was overthrown, and a new class of ‘rich peasants’ established an extensive though fragile hold over large tracts of the Punjab. By the 19th century when the British faced the challenge of governance, they attempted to build a basis of political support by formalizing the proprietorship over land of the Zamindars, who had newly emerged from the upper peasant strata. By contrast, in Sindh, the British sought the support of the traditional agrarian elite. In both cases, the colonial government, created a political constituency through patron-client relationships with selected factions of the rural elite.
The most important and far reaching form of patronage was done through the development of canal irrigation. From 1885 onwards, areas that were previously arid, and had now become arable were appropriated by the colonial government. Large parts of the newly arable land were transferred as land grants to loyal supporters in the agrarian elite of Punjab and Sindh. This constituted the greatest resource gratification to client elites in history.
The basic model of governance that emerged during the Raj was accessing state resources and generating rents through government regulations, for transfer as patronage to selected individuals for building political support.
In the post independence period the patron-client model of governance persisted under both ostensibly democratic and military regimes. The rent transfer for patronage took a variety of forms: The transfer of evacuee property on the basis of false claims in the aftermath of partition; the granting of licenses and contracts to favoured individuals in the private sector during the Ayub regime; lucrative appointments in the public sector following nationalization under the Bhutto regime; siphoning of funds and weapons obtained from the US for use in the Afghan war to favoured individuals, during the Zia regime; loan write off after loans granted by state controlled financial institutions to selected supporters of the government, during the democratic period of the 1990s and alleged stock market manipulation by the government for enabling capital gains to selected individuals during the Musharraf-Shaukat Aziz period.
There was a two fold problem in this post independence model of governance. First, it shaped an economic structure that in giving rents to the elite became aid dependent, and in which mass poverty was endemic. Second, the price of large aid inflows during the military regimes was that Pakistan became a client state to play a role in pursuing Western strategic interests: a role that was to give an increasing influence to the security establishment in Pakistan’s process of governance. This role took a particularly heavy toll on Pakistan’s security environment during the Zia ul Haq period when state funds were used to create the social and military infrastructure to fight the ‘Jihad’ against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Over a million impressionable young men were indoctrinated to hate and trained to kill in the name of religion. Security agencies burgeoned as did the militant extremist groups they nurtured. At the end of the war against the Soviets, the Mujahideen mutated into the Taliban and Al Qaeda combine, who have now become the principal security threat to Pakistan.