Sometimes, I make predictions and
they have, occasionally, been proven right. Some around me attribute it to the
company of my friends. I do not deny having the privilege of being in an intelligent
and influential company of friends but I think some correct calls are both the
cause and the effect of such company.
I think to help some understand
why I say what I say, it will be a good idea to share my views on what is
happening in Pakistan. Because once one understands the context, it becomes a
lot easier to see how things are and where they are headed. This piece is an
exercise in explaining how I see. While analyzing issues, I have tried to rely
on unbiased judgment. I think my beliefs emerge from such analysis and not the
other way round. Another thing important to note is that things are constantly
in a flux, and so no ism, no political theory, in its totality can be relevant
for a longer period of time. Times change and with them the challenges and so
should the solutions. Lastly, this is my understanding of the issues and I will
invite opinions/ comments on it to help me refine my view but for now I will
narrate things the way I see them.
The fundamental crisis in
Pakistan is the crisis of bringing to modernity a society and creating the
concept of a state that has not historically existed. Just when transformation
to post-industrial revolution world is what every part of the world has been
through, what makes it more complex for places like Pakistan is the fact that
Pakistan as a state and coherent society is very young.
Probably in every single respect,
India faced the same challenges as Pakistan did. Like Pakistan, India too,
though culturally and geographically interlinked, was never a state in its
present boundaries. On three occasion when the rulers tried to create a union
of India in the past (Asoka, Aurangzeb, and British), it has been viewed by
others in Indian subcontinent as an imperial design and has hardly lasted more
than a century or so. This has built defiance to centralized authority in Sub
Continental DNA. This, also, has never allowed the sense of state and individual
are the same to develop here.
More so, the concept of state
having modern (industrial revolution onwards) laws, and commerce and
constitutional framework was a concept that was imported from abroad. It was
Brits who introduced India, then living in pre-modern social/legal code, to the
concept of modern state. From Eastern Europe to Pacific to Turkey, one thing is
clear that this framework is essential if a society wants to develop in
However, for reasons of their own
convenience, British did not extend the concept of modern state to entire
India. They introduced the modern state framework in large cities and across
key trade/defense routes but left the rest of India under the ambit of feudal/princely
framework, having loose control through loyalties of feudal lords and local
nawabs. This created two parallel societies living side by side, one living in
modern world and the other in pre-modern world.
Since inception, India tried to
expand the writ to earlier loose-framework zones. It has not succeeded in
reaching length and breadth of India for a number of reasons, most of which are
beyond the scope of our discussion.
In Pakistan, the elite, mostly
dominated by migrants (Hindi belt) and Punjabis (Central Punjabis and Punjabi migrants),
decided to continue with our variation of one country, two systems. This system
allowed trader communities, big industrialists, feduals, civil and armed
government servants, and urban elite to live in a world that was almost at par
with modernity while the rest of Pakistan was managed as a remote fiefdom
through a loose feudal/bureaucratic system. The areas farther from the urban
centers (like FATA, Balochistan, Interior Sindh, South Punjab, South NWFP, most
of East Pakistan) were the most loosely governed areas in this system.
Then came 60s. At the time, when Asia
was ripe with talk of red revolution, politically mature Bengalis were running
out of patience. In the bastion of the order, West Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
took the politics to small towns and villages and to the masses. Not only that,
but rise of Middle East, and economic opportunities for working classes in
Europe and Middle East, brought to villages and towns of Pakistan, a new found
wealth. The firewall that was created between order and chaos by British
started crumbling. Modernity had knocked at the door of a society that was
living in 17th century sub-continental system.
However the biggest factor that
enabled the transformation mentioned above was economic and had started shaping
up right after the partition. The economy in Raj comprised agriculture,
resource extraction, merchandise in settled areas, and govt. service. Govt.
Service and Merchandise, the jewels were reserved for denizens of settled areas
by the virtue of system design. And any outsider jumping in was an exception
not the rule. And these exceptions too, mostly emerged from children of feudal,
nawabs, or government servants working in loose areas. One instance of this was
sports. Entire cricket team of Pakistan came from three cities of Karachi,
Lahore, and Rawalpindi many decades into independence, and used to have most of
captains from first Central Model and then Aitchison College.
With Pakistan now in control of
her own resources, the privileged classes started creating a new economy. This
invariably led to utilizing and using of the resources of loose areas (both
agricultural and mineral). But there was one problem. Earlier the resources
were controlled by policies of Raj (colonial govt control) and were shipped to
factories in Manchester and Brimingham, now the opportunities could only be
created in Lyalpur and Karachi and Lahore. More so, it was the “loose area”
resources that were needed to run these factories. On one hand this
industrialization and trading required workers from loose areas while on the
other, this allowed people of loose areas to see the real worth of their
The industrialization and
commercialization of Pakistani economy was initiated by Gujrati and Marwadi
communities of Karachi who were dominant in merchandise during Raj. While the
white-collar consumer segment, still relying mostly on government jobs, mostly
comprised migrants classes of urban areas of old Awadh and Haiderabad urban
The question, why Punjabis ended
up dominating Pakistan, has never been answered. A simplistic vision attributes
it to dominance in Armed Forces. Problem with this view is that in Army north
Punjabis were dominant while it is central Punjab that wields more influence in
Pakistan. Another explanation attributes influence to population size but then
Bengalis had more numbers than anyone. A combo of dominance in Army and population
is another explanation but this too fails to explain why Punjabis were not the
most dominant players in Pakistan till late 50s, early 60s. In early decade of
Pakistan, it was a combo of UP bureaucracy and Gujrati/Marwari businessmen that
yielded comparable, probably even more influence than Punjabis. So what made
The reason Punjabis gradually
rose to dominance in Pakistan’s power structure had to do with the fact that
Punjabis had the most real wealth among all entities in Pakistan. In Raj,
Punjabis produced stuff which was least controlled by colonizers and was
consumed locally rather than being sent to British manufacturers. What they
produced was sold in local market and so they were likely to get the best
return for the produce, thus accumulating wealth in the form of assets and
savings. More importantly, land distribution among Punjabis was more equal
which enabled most to share the reward on the produce. This enabled them to be
the segment of population with the most real wealth at the time of partition. This
real wealth enabled them to catch on commercialization bandwagon as they saw
opportunities appearing in post-Raj Pakistan. Also, this combination of wealth
and numbers, and the fact that the state dominated economic opportunity in
Pakistan, made them focus on dominating the civil services in Pakistan. Thus
began their rise in bureaucracy and judiciary. More so, since Punjab was the
bread basket in early days of Pakistan in an agrarian economy and then became
the industrial hub, it was in interest of Central government to divert resource
to Punjab. So as Punjabis industrialized; Pakistani establishment which
initially comprised Urdu Speaking bureaucracy, Punjabi Army, Gujrati/Marwadi
business community, and Punjabi Agriculturists, started becoming more and more
Since most rapid of
industrialization and urbanization was taking place in Punjab and Karachi, most
of the resources at the disposal of state were diverted to these areas. With
Punjab having the bulk of urbanization, it got the most of resources.
One instance of diversion of
resources was Indus Basin treaty. Pakistan realized soon enough that the water
flowing from India cannot be reclaimed. So it agreed to a compromise where the
world was asked to help Pakistan divert the water from Indus and tributaries (Kabul,
Swat, Gilgit) to traditional five rivers. Plan made perfect sense at that time
because Five-river basin was the backbone of Pakistani economy, still agrarian
in late 50s, and also because there was little or no cultivation across Indus’
Same happened with other
resources including natural gas and other natural resources. Punjab thriving on
wealth generated from agricultural resources could move quicker on the ladder
of urbanization and industrialization than the rest. Federal Govt. that was
centralized saw it as a quick fix. The process led to economic advantage
further shifting in Punjab’s favor.
Here the question arises whether
it was intentional on part of Punjab to be the hegemone? Looking at the
evidence, it seems Punjab had no intention to be the hegemonic but
circumstances led a way where Punjabi aristocracy found itself in a place where
it could wield influence to control economic/political policy and resources
through a centralized system of government.
To be fair to Punjabis, Punjabis
never wanted Pakistan. They were the most well-to-do ethnicity in British
India, growing food and paid handsomely in real-wealth terms. More so, they had
access to the most lucrative of Raj’s jobs, the military ones. It was this
prosperity that made them among the best local allies of British. Till
partition, Punjabis were not as enthusiastic about Pakistan and Muslim League
as Muslims from other areas of subcontinent including Bengalis and Sindhis
were. When partition became inevitable, it was only then that they switched
fully to the idea of Pakistan.
What followed was even more
nightmarish. Punjab was divided and the transfer of refugee populations between
Muslim-dominated Pakistan and Hindu-dominated India took anywhere between half
a million to million lives. It could never be worse for Punjabis. The fear of
being uprooted and losing their lands and livelihood had made Punjabis
compromise with invaders for centuries. Thus the concept that their livelihoods
will survive any eventuality was as strong in Punjabi mindset as was the
concept of Middle Kingdom in Chinese mindset at the cusp of 20th
With partition, on one hand
Punjabis' sense of stability and security was challenged. On the other, having
most fertile land and most amount of real wealth, in a newly independent State
offered them the opportunity to prosper through industrialization along with
the farms they owned and operated.
Also, since Punjabi migrants and
Karachi migrants were a dominant part in the earlier establishment of Pakistan,
for their own legitimacy, they stressed on the need for having Islam as the
reason d’être of Pakistan. This was the only way they could find space for
themselves in a land that was traditionally inhibited by West Punjabis,
Saraikis, Sindhis, Balochs, Pashtuns, Barahwis, Potoharis, and other natives. One
will not be surprised to find that the most of leaders of Anti-Ahmadi riots and
other Islamization drives were migrant Hindi-belt/Punjabi leaders.
As a result of industrialization in adjoining areas and migration to Middle East and Europe, the loose areas came in contact with modernity, initially weak and then
strong voices of control over regional resources started emerging. In response, the slogans
of nationalism and federalism were used to strengthen centralized control over
the resources. These chants not only suited the dominant Punjabi/Karachi
business community thriving on loose area resources and migrant communities in search of space in Pakistan but also suited the
military and civil bureaucracy, and thus emerged the genesis of Pakistan’s
great divide. This all has shaped up the reality of Pakistan and narrative in
which we have been living for past few decades.
In the midst of emerging voices
for control of resources from loose areas, benefactors of crony capitalist
system started patronizing voices of “nationalism” and “Islamism” to continue
on the route of a centralized system. Here lies support of Martial Laws in
Punjab’s Urban Centers and Karachi (particularly business community). Just when the dominance of Central Punjab in
the power structure of Pakistan was governed by economic factors beyond
anyone’s control, these crony capitalist mistook it for their brilliance and maneuvering.
And those, at the helm of patriotism and Islamism, started attributing any
achievements that Punjabi business class had because of end of colonization and
their economic superiority vs. the rest to Islamism and nationalism.
Unfortunately, when religion and
patriotism is used for hegemonic designs, the consequences do not end there.
Things ultimately lead to erosion of state and decay of society. The extremist
and militant tendencies take root and rational analysis of issues and their
practical solutions become the victim. From Europe to China, every human society has been on this path at some point in their evolution to industrial revolution and those who have sorted it out have reaped the rewards of modernity. What made this worse for us was the fact that the rise of Islamism coincided with Iranian revolution and a counter extremist assault by vulnerable Arab regimes. If that was not enough, Afghan Jihad provided the perfect backdrop for militancy and violent Islam. The crisis of terrorism at the root is crisis of establishment of writ of state.
That said, the loud chorus of chants of religion and nationalism could not change the course of time. Just as the logical conclusion of
independence had to be industrialization of Punjab and rise of a Punjabi
business class, similarly the independence and industrialization ultimately had
to lead to awakening of loose areas and their demand for control of their
Wise men running the show would
have realized where things were headed. The state, above all, should have focused
on a more equitable resource distribution through taxation, upgrading of loose
areas, and targeted subsidies to the underprivileged. On the contrary, Punjabi
business class dominated state subsidized non-competitive industries, kept
increasing the size of federal government, and tried diverting natural
resources in favor of those same business classes at the expense of locals. Feudalism is long dead, it is the crony capitalism that has ailed Pakistan and so
we reach the juncture where the strain of changing time is on us the hardest.
The strain is particularly hard
because Central Punjab in the process has evolved into a dense population belt
extending till Bihar which faces challenges of water-supply and energy. When
Pakistan came into being, in our region, the biggest energy source people were
striving for was food and Punjab, being the bread-basket of the region, had
plenty of it. However, since then, with rapid industrialization and new global
economic realities, food is not the only energy need men have. There, in fact,
is a more critical energy needed and that is the energy that runs machines.
Punjab is the only region in Pakistan that does not have indigenous energy
sources (except solar which for now is not commercially feasible). It neither
has fossil fuels nor hydal (though smart planning to exploit gradients at the
time of Indus-basin would have helped a bit in this regard). Since
independence, State of Pakistan has subsidized the local and imported energy
sources to facilitate businesses (mostly Punjabi and of Karachi). With time, as
the people of areas with energy sources are becoming more vocal about control
over their resources and industrialization and modernity is spreading to more
and more “loose areas”, the subsidies are becoming hard to sustain. More so,
cost of subsidy on imported energy is killing the national exchequers and
thus the whole model has become unsustainable. The power crisis we are facing is a structural issue and can only be fixed if people are
made to pay full price of energy. But this will be a huge strain on the biggest
consumer groups of energy (Karachi and Central Punjab). Karachi has two
advantages going its way. First, it is in Sindh (the largest energy reservoir
of Pakistan) and secondly the business there is already more competitive and,
based on my personal feeling, has more elasticity to adapt to revised energy
cost structure. In Punjab, however, shifting the economy to real energy costs
will be a very painful process.
If energy woes were not enough,
Punjab is also on the brink of an intense water crisis. The drying of
five-river channel is lowering water tables. With more
irrigation activity on Indus Channel; Punjab, now, has competing claims to the
only water source of Pakistan. If this was not enough, the urbanization will
soon cause competing claims on available water sources from agricultural and
This crisis is existential crisis
of Central Punjab. If Central Punjab does not manage to tackle these changing
realities facing it, it will be one of the worst disasters in human history.
With around 70 million people possibly on the verge of economic collapse, water
shortage and possibly famine, the consequences are not hard to predict.
Unfortunately, for now, no one
realizes the root cause of Punjab’s (and thus Pakistan’s problems). Punjabi leadership is blaming all the wrong
entities for its woes and is devising all the wrong solutions while being
unaware of what has struck them. This lack of clue for what has struck is a
strong reason behind blaming all for our woes.
If Punjabis think the
colonization of “loose area” resources leading to subsidized energy and raw
materials can continue, they are mistaken. Punjab is surrounded by resource rich
entities in this country. And their resources will very soon draw other
regional and international players, in case, a resistance movement to
Punjabi-dominated states colonization drive emerges. These international and regional
players, at any given time, will offer those regions a better deal than Punjabi
colonization. Well we have nukes. But then we will not be fighting with Iranians, Indians, Afghans, Emiratis, or for that matter Americans, Chinese or Russians. If it comes to showdown we will be fighting Sindhis, Balochis, Pashtuns, Saraikis, Baltis, Wakhis with players at their back and using nukes is not an option there.
This reality makes Punjabis a minority in the new emerging power
structure of Pakistan, and to maximize their power, they will need to cut deals
with other parts of the countries. One institution that realizes this reality is Army (though it still has to do a lot to cut its size and its business enterprise to be fully in sync with new realities). In these emerging realities, a wise businessman will be better of
making other regions offers they cannot refuse.
Also, revoking Indus-basin will
not solve the problem either. First, Pakistan does not have enough muscle to
force India out of Indus-basin. Even if, hypothetically, it does, it will make Indian
north (from Punjab to Bihar) facing same energy and water crisis make more
vulnerable to ultimate disaster. This potential disaster across border shall be
another cause of concern for Pakistani state for it might lead to massive
migration pressure on our Eastern border, just as collapse of Punjab (if we
fail) will lead to on India’s Western border.
So what is the way forward?
Pakistani economy needs a combination of shock-therapy and compassion.
Devolution, political and fiscal, to the provinces and districts is the only
deal which can keep external powers away from our resources. State shall
withdraw all subsidies and protections from businesses and let non-competitive
industries (like automobiles) die, so that the resources could be diverted to
industries/businesses that can survive paying full energy price and price of
raw materials. This must be coupled with targeted subsidies for vulnerable to tame the social impact.
And we need to cut the size of the government significantly in
all areas except health, education, and law and order. To tackle the menace of mafias and violence, we need to expand the writ of the state, and that expansion of writ shall quickly be followed by establishing a strong localized governance structure.
Punjab has to play a vital role
if the country has to survive. Punjabis are hardworking and enterprising. They
have been held hostage by elite which in their name is exploiting the resources
of Pakistani state. It has turned the enterprising, hardworking Punjab into
rent-eater, providing Punjabis with delirium of worthless subsidize. As has
happened in every economy in the world with enterprising communities, after
slight pain, ordinary Punjabi too will thrive in the new economic landscape. Pakistan needs to be ridden of crony capitalism for its people to harness their full potential.
More so, Punjab needs to act for
its own survival. It needs to focus on sources of electricity it can afford
(for now I can think of Solar and Nuclear). It needs to put resources into research on solar energy and low-loss transmission of electricity. It needs to modernize the grid. It needs to focus on low-energy
designs of machinery/houses. It needs to focus on low-water crops/irrigation methods. Punjab needs to be at the fore of energy revolution that is taking place in the world. And it needs to do so for survival. Enterprising Punjab needs to innovate, innovate, innovate. And for this it needs to rise against bureaucratic permit raj and controlled economy. It is in Punjab's interest to ask for opening up of economy. Punjab, in the long run, will benefit if the economy is deregulated and subsidies and permits are removed. Only such environment will allow it to reap the benefits of its hard work and enterprise, the only, yet valuable, sell-able Punjab has in emerging Pakistan and world.
I am a Punjabi and I am worried.
If Punjab fails, the displacement of 70 million people because of hunger, water
shortage etc will make many a states collapse. It will impact not only Punjab
but adjoining provinces and states. But my hope stems from the enterprising
ordinary Punjabi and from the fact that the prospects of this disaster will
unite us. It will make Punjabis have a just bargain with other stakeholders
in Pakistan. And it will make other stakeholders internal and external to
accept such just bargain.
For now, under the hegemonic
leadership and state machinery, Punjab is bent on old ways. These ways will not
succeed. Soon, Punjab has to awake to the reality and flow like water, finding
path along the way. This will make Punjab flow and this will make Pakistan
flow. It is time to reclaim our Punjab, it is time to start the fight for
survival. Failure is not an option!