Why Pakistan is resistant to real change?

Every government in Pakistan comes with a promise to change people's lives. Changes they bring are minimal in comparison to the expectations of the people. How is a comprehensive change possible? writes Dr Tariq Khan.


Dr. Tariq Khan

The PTI government came to power with the slogan of change. They did not achieve the desired change as people expected. The PTI party and leadership were comparatively educated people exposed to western societies. They were also passionate and enthusiastic about change. The question arises as to why they could not bring the desired change.

Leaders have tried in the past to change Pakistani society. Whenever a political movement or leader attempted to bring some changes in the Pakistani state system, he faced immense resistance. The resistance comes from the conservative vested interests. The resistance can also be seen as an effort by the system to maintain itself and come back to the balance threatened by the half-back change plan. This quality of the system to resist change has become its strength and weakness simultaneously. It is a strength because it doesn’t allow negative changes or circumstances to destroy the system and society. However, this is a weakness because the system doesn’t allow for any positive changes in the political, economic, and cultural arena to change society for the better permanently. A change always has losers and winners. Whenever the winners make a move, the loser vested interests rush to impede the change.

When the British left India and Pakistan, there was a power vacuum in the state structure of Pakistan. Unlike India, Pakistan filed the power vacuum by bureaucracy and army. The state system settled for a stable position after much oscillations in the 50s. Afterward, there were few changes in the system despite many attempts by ambitious leaders and groups in Pakistani society. President Ayub made the first attempt. His focus was on economic development, but he suppressed the political growth of the society. The result was separatist movements that overshadowed the economic achievements. The system came back to democracy after the loss of East Pakistan. The political movement in West Pakistan of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto tried to bring change through socialism. The effort was a failure in the economic sense. The system came to its previous state of capitalism after absorbing some changes from socialism. The system rejected the extreme changes related to socialism and democratization and settled with some changes at the minimum levels. General Zia made an effort for change to centralize and Islamise the system. The system accepted some changes introduced by the General Zia. However, the system rejected most changes such as Islamic laws, the Islamic economic system, and social instruments compelling people for religious practices. President General Pervez Musharraf tried to liberalize the economy. He attempted to reform the bureaucracy. The system rejected most of his changes.

The PMLN and the PPP made an effort to democratize, privatize, and liberalize the system. The system accepted some minimal changes but rejected others. Imran Khan made an effort to reform the system. The system rejected his proposed agenda.

One can see a long list of dreamers who tried to change the system. The majority effort failed, only making small changes that couldn’t bring the ideal change that Pakistan’s people are waiting for. Pakistan has an elaborate system of military, bureaucracy, judiciary, and democratic institutions. The system is extraordinarily complex and intricate. On the one side, it comparatively better absorbs all sorts of shocks. Pakistan relatively coped better with the challenges of economic recessions, wars, and pandemics like Covid. But on the other side, it also doesn’t allow positive changes. The system is sound, in essence, to respond to bad changes by curtailing it, but it is terrible not to let the positive and good changes required in the contemporary world.

For the future, any political strategist or dreamer who wants to bring a change in Pakistan must consider this restrictive and retaliatory behavior of the system. The system would allow him to a limited extent, but whenever he crosses the critical stage, and there is a fear that the whole system will crumble down, the system will respond in a way to neutralize the changes made. The change maker will have to address the entrenched vested interests that hinder the transition. He should have a strategy to offset the vested interests so that they should not be able to respond vigorously against the change. The vested interest entrenched in the military, bureaucracy, judiciary, and political system should be either taken along or neutralised so that they should not impede the process of change.

It is much easier for Pakistan to make an effort for change in the new emerging globalized world. The world is changing fast through technologies and economic integration, and it is much easier than before to expedite and initiate change. The conservative forces usually against the change need technology and financial processes to survive. But the balance of power in economic gains between different groups of the society need not be necessarily the same as what it was in the past.

Apart from the large change movement, small changes are already underway in the society that would be leading to a different world with or without a large political movement. Large political movements can help bring significant changes. But a large political movement would also invite the counter and reactive negative response from all entrenched vested interests. Let us hope. Pakistan should move ahead through incremental changes or a large


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