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Strength or weakness: Pakistan’s fragmenting state and the maintenance of social order

Dr. Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, Assistant Professor, National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad

Mainstream scholarly analyses of the Pakistani state regularly emphasize its ‘failure’ and even its ‘rogue’ character. Meanwhile journalistic depictions and discussions in liberals’ drawing-rooms within the country focus on the increasing weakness of the state vis a vis ‘non-state’ actors. In all such accounts there is almost no recognition of the sociological bases of state power, and in particular the extent to which the dominant social order is in fact being strengthened or weakened by contemporary political developments, including (but not limited to) the intensification of millenarian violence.

In this paper I argue that while the Pakistani state does appear to be fragmenting, the dominant patronage-based social order has actually been strengthened over the past three decades. Notwithstanding the growing influence of militant groups that engage the coercive state apparatus in military conflicts, the majority of religio-political organisations as well as secular ethno-nationalists are participants in the mainstream political sphere. More generally Pakistanis across the board engage with the ‘everyday’ state across the terrain of civil society. In this sense alone the prevailing social order is relatively stable. The paper will outline the sociological bases of the contemporary patronage-based political system, and in particular the role of commercial middle classes in a rapidly urbanizing society.

About the presenter:

Dr. Aasim Sajjad Akhtar (Yale, SOAS) currently teaches courses on political economy and South Asian politics at Quaid-e-Azam University. Prior to joining QAU, he was part of the adjunct faculty at LUMS as an instructor of Colonial theory and Pakistan Studies.


posted by S A J Shirazi @ 4/04/2014 12:00:00 PM,

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