Deteriorating social cohesion in Pakistan

By Amanullah Khan

Pakistan is the outcome of tedious struggle of millions of Muslims who risked their lives, properties and honor for having their own independent homeland. Those reached Pakistan from India regarded themselves as fortunate enough. There were millions others who were very much part of the freedom struggle but could not make to Pakistan for unavoidable reasons, we are grateful to them, and pay tribute to them also, a lot.

The people had a dream to see Pakistan truly an Islamic welfare state. Despite limited resources, Pakistan survived at first stage, as it was not expected by the Indian leadership. Not only this, Pakistan liberated a part of Kashmir region, Azad Kashmir, and badly repelled Indian aggression in 1965. Economically, Pakistan was seen as a model of economic development. At one point of time, Pakistan gave loan to West Germany, and South Korea borrowed Pakistan’s five-year plan for development. National institutions were nascent but performing well; PIA for example was a profiting organization. Above all, Pakistan was enjoying good image in the international community. Pakistan achieved these milestones due to honest and competent leadership with collective and solid support from the socially integrated nation.

Let us now comprehend about social cohesion phenomenon and its importance. Emile Durkheim, a sociologist, defines it as the interdependence between the members of the society, shared loyalties and solidarity. A cohesive society works towards the well-being of all its members, fights exclusion and marginalization, creates a sense of belonging, promotes trust, and offers its members the opportunity of upward mobility. Simply, it is all a strong sense of belonging to one another in a society.  Shared values, shared interests, and shared vision are important components of social cohesion. Socially cohesive societies carry trust and confidence, face challenges boldly with collective wisdom. It also fortifies national identity cause. Social cohesion gets affected by transformation in the values systems, i.e., social, economic and political. Changes in policies at a state level directly influence social relationships at the societal level. In addition, it affects state-society relationship.

Pakistani society has undergone a significant change since independence, especially in late 1960s. It was never as fragmented as it is today. Deterioration started in many ways. The crisis that shook the very foundation of national unity was having political manifestations, at start. There are several other obvious reasons too. Currently, it is divided on linguistic, sectarian, political party affiliations, haves and have-nots, and liberal and religiously extremist lines. Unequal public spending for different parts of the country is also causing frustration in the society. Some parts of the country remain under special attention, while other lack basic needs and infrastructure. Marc Andre, the UNDP country director in Pakistan, exposed this reality. Addressing in a seminar, he said that ‘public spending in Pakistan is politically driven, governments spend money on areas where they could gain maximum political advantage’, which eventually causes massive disparity and a strong sense of deprivation in the minds of people from backward areas. Hostile elements then exploit these feelings of the people; Balochistan is an example in this regard. Although, it is treachery on the part of some Baloch insurgents to ask for separation from Pakistan and getting assistance from hostile agencies, however, federal and provincial governments are liable for grievances of the people of Balochistan.

Besides, unregulated or poorly regulated capitalism is contributing to fragmentation of the society. Free market economy is good for rapid economic development but it needs a proper regulatory mechanism in place. The major drawback of capitalists’ societies is that it produces trends like individualism, materialism, corruption and exploitations. A society becomes corporate in its nature with such an uncontrolled economic system. Pakistani society is under strong influence of unregulated capitalism. State control is weak on the private enterprises. In a more simplistic way, money has taken charge of social relationship in the society. Corruption is reaching new heights day by day. Other than that, international politics, outside interference in the internal affairs (social, economic, and political spheres) of the country through different means, are also having impact on the social behavior of people in Pakistan.

The country is suffering from the declining social cohesion. There seems chaos in the country. Inter sects, inter parties and inter provinces fights have gone up over the years. Ironically, there is a division between the establishment and political government on some foreign policy matters. This divided approach is a welcoming sign for the hostile forces. These antagonistic elements exploit such soft targets in the society for achieving their interests. The nation can turn into a crowd and eventually become a mob if the existing anarchy continuous unnoticed for a longer time.

There is much for social cohesion in Pakistan. We have a lot to share; abundance of resources, talented people, geographically significant location and above all, Islamic teachings of unity, brotherhood and non-violence. State authorities need to have full grip on public affairs in order to reduce disparities. The current generation be regularly reminded about the sacrifices our forefathers made for Pakistan; what was the purpose of achieving this sacred state of Pakistan and how could we move forward as an independent, strong and sovereign nation in the contested and disordered world. Syllabi in educational institutions and positive media role are also vital for social cohesion.

Moreover, people centric policies followed by implementations, in both letter and spirit, can promote the culture of harmony and trust among people from distant parts of the country. Unfortunately, we are passing through leadership crisis as well. Only a competent leadership can bring about such policies for national integration. Somebody rightly put, the nation needed a separate country before partition of the sub-continent and now the country needs a nation and a visionary leadership.

The aim of this piece of writing is not to be pessimistic about Pakistan’s future but to highlight some gruesome realities. Generally, Pakistani people have kind and loving tendencies by nature. We have witnessed this on many challenging times in recent history. Public response in 2005 earthquake is enough to prove the argument. Good governance practices can help in nurturing an environment of cohesion in the society. All pillars of the state including media have to play their vital role in promoting social cohesion. The ultimate objective should be to create an environment of positive peace (according to Johan Galtung’s definition of peace) in the society. Finally yet importantly, we must remember our Quaid’s lesson—unity, faith and discipline—to live like a dignified nation in the world.

Amanullah Khan is a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad, Pakistan

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Foreign Policy News

Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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