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Thwarted Nationalism, Economic Counter-revolutions, and Anarcho-vassalage: Pakistan and the lineages of retardation

  • IMRAN ALI (a1)


There are challenging complexities in analysing both historical trends and contemporary structures in the region now comprising Pakistan. Interrelating both history and the present poses further challenges. With scholarship aligned on either side of the apparent watershed of 1947, analysts have hitherto remained negligent of a pattern of continuity and disjuncture that is explored in this article, which it is hoped will enable a deeper understanding of historical causations and outcomes. Further, we propose here that such multiple and diverse trends, while they might demand distinct empirical analyses, can coalesce within three overarching themes. Analysing these themes and their interstices, enables a more cohesive and integrated understanding of Pakistan's complex realities than has been hitherto forthcoming from the more segmented approaches that dominate discourse on the study of Pakistan's past and present. The author aims to shed light on why and how retardation in Pakistan is so resilient, and hopes that understanding these long-term outcomes will be greatly assisted by an analytical approach predicated on three themes: thwarted nationalism, economic counter-revolutions, and anarcho-vassalage.



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1 A major exception is the work of Kenoyer, J. M.. See his Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization (London: Oxford University Press, 1998). For a more ebullient account, see Ahsan, A., The Indus Saga and the Making of Pakistan (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1996).

2 For some major works by these authors see Ansari, S., Sufi Saints and State Power: The Pirs of Sind, 1843–1947 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); van den Dungen, P. H. M., The Punjab Tradition (London: Allen and Unwin, 1972); Gilmartin, D., Empire and Islam: Punjab and the Making of Pakistan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988); Jalal, A., The Sole Spokesman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Major, A. J., Return to Empire: Punjab Under the Sikhs and British in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (New Delhi: Sterling, 1996); Yong, T. T., The Garrison State: The Military, Government and Society in Colonial Punjab, 1849–1947 (New Delhi: Sage, 2005); Talbot, I. A., Punjab and the Raj, 1849–1947 (New Delhi: Manohar, 1988).

3 See Aziz, K. K., The Murder of History: A Critique of History Textbooks Used in Pakistan (Lahore: Vanguard, 1998).

4 This is true of a host of facilities such as roads, localities, airports, and public parks; institutions like colleges, universities, and hospitals; and even chairs and fellowships at foreign universities maintained by the Pakistani government. Scholars have also tended to reinforce this telescoping of Muslim nationalism in South Asia to particular individuals. Hence The Sole Spokesman.

5 The classic work on this is Habib, I., The Agrarian System of Mughal India 1556–1707 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999). See also Richards, J. F., The Mughal Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) and Alam, M. and Subrahmanyam, S. (eds), The Mughal State, 1526–1750 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000).

6 See Raychaudhuri, T., ‘The state and the economy’, in The Cambridge Economic History of India 1200–1750, vol. 1, ed. Habib, I. and Raychaudhuri, T. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

7 Alam, M., The Crisis of Empire in Mughal North India, Awadh and Punjab, 1707–48 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1986). See also Gandhi, R., Punjab: A History from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten (New Delhi: Aleph, 2013).

8 The agrarian origins of the 1857–58 conflict are explored in Stokes, E., The Peasant and the Raj: Studies in Agrarian Conflict and Peasant Rebellion in Colonial India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980). See also Stokes, E. and Bayly, C. A., The Peasant Armed: The Indian Revolt of 1857 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986).

9 See for northern India, Bayly, C. A., Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars: Northern Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1770–1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

10 The family histories of the more eminent magnates are recorded in Griffin, L. H. and Massy, C. F., Chiefs and Families of Note in the Punjab (Lahore: Government Printing Press, 1940).

11 For a more detailed analysis, see Ali, I., ‘The Punjab and the retardation of nationalism’, in The Political Inheritance of Pakistan, ed. Low, D. A. (London: Macmillan, 1991). The rulers of the Phulkian states, which included the most revenue-prolific entity, Patiala, were descended from a Sidhu Jat peasant, Phul. Kapurthala owed its origins to Jassa Singh, who belonged to the lowly Kalal caste. The Bahawalpur family led the Daudputra caste, but then claimed Abbasi origins.

12 See Kessinger, T. G., Vilyatpur 1848–1968: Social and Economic Change in a North Indian Village (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974). The British established a direct revenue nexus with the Sahota Jat caste in this village, setting aside the remnants of earlier Muslim Rajput intermediaries.

13 See Yong, The Garrison State.

14 See I. Ali, ‘The Punjab Canal Colonies, 1885–1940’ (PhD thesis, Australian National University, 1980).

15 See Barrier, N. G., The Punjab Alienation of Land Bill of 1900 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1966) and The Punjab Tradition.

16 Ali, I., The Punjab under Imperialism 1885–1947 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).

17 In the largest canal project, the Lower Chenab Colony, seven districts from central Punjab were selected for contributing land grantees, thereby introducing a large number of Sikh agriculturists to a Muslim majority region. Sikh grantees also figured prominently in military related grants in the Lower Jhelum and Lower Bari Doab Colonies. Such population movements were to have a dramatic impact on communal violence at partition in 1947. See Ali, I., ‘Sikh settlers in western Punjab’, in Globalisation and the Region: Explorations in Punjabi Identity, ed. Singh, P. and Thandi, S. S. (Coventry: Association for Punjab Studies, 1996).

18 The Court of Wards files, including those on individual families, are in the Board of Revenue records in Lahore, File Series 601. For a more detailed analysis see Ali, The Punjab under Imperialism, ch. 3.

19 Ali, I., ‘Malign growth? Agricultural colonization and the roots of backwardness in the Punjab’, Past and Present, no. 114 (February 1987), pp. 110–32.

20 Ali, The Punjab under Imperialism and Ali, ‘Punjab Canal Colonies’.

21 For a discussion on this issue, see Mukherjee, M., Colonializing Agriculture. The Myth of Punjab Exceptionalism (New Delhi: Sage, 2005).

22 For an account of the communal cleansing at the local level and subsequent revival of commercial activities, see Chattha, I., Partition and Locality: Violence, Migration and Development in Gujranwala and Sialkot 1947–1961 (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2011).

23 Sindh's canal network commenced with the Jamrao Canal in the 1890s, followed by the large-scale Sukkur (earlier called Lloyds) Barrage project in the 1930s, and then further extended through the post-1947 Kotri and Guddu Barrages. See Perera, J., Irrigation Development and Agrarian Change: A Study of Sindh, Pakistan (New Delhi: Rawat Publications, 2003).

24 See S. Ansari, ‘Political legacies of pre-1947 Sind’, in The Political Inheritance of Pakistan.

25 Rothermund, D., India in the Great Depression, 1929–1937 (New Delhi: Manohar, 1992).

26 See Low, D. A. (ed.), The Congress and the Raj: Facets of the Indian Struggle 1917–47 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006).

27 The incidence of violence and mass killings was accompanied by widespread rape and kidnapping of women. This aspect, hitherto downplayed in official and establishment histories, has now been the focus of the exegesis of partition stories on both sides of the border. It is also being more fully addressed in more general accounts of the partition: for example, Khan, Y., The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).

28 See Ali, I., Punjab Politics in the Decade before Partition (Lahore: South Asian Institute, 1975) and Ali, I., ‘Relations between the Muslim League and the Panjab National Unionist Party, 1935–47’, South Asia, 6, no. 1 (1976), pp. 5165 .

29 For analyses of Punjab politics in this period see Heeger, G. A., ‘The growth of the Congress movement in the Punjab, 1920–1940’, Journal of Asian Studies, 31, no. 1 (1972), pp. 3951 ; Oren, S., ‘The Sikhs, Congress, and the Unionists in British Punjab, 1937–1945’, Modern Asian Studies, 8, no. 3 (1974), pp. 397418 ; Gilmartin, D., ‘Religious leadership and the Pakistan movement in the Punjab’, Modern Asian Studies, 13, no. 3 (1979), pp. 485517 ; and Talbot, I. A., ‘The growth of the Muslim League in the Punjab’, Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, 20, no. 1 (1982), pp. 524 .

30 ‘Relations between Muslim League and Unionist Party’.

31 An intriguing but eventually unconvincing portrayal of the origins of Pakistan as an ‘idea’, and that too with some equivalence to Zionism and the creation of Israel, is contained in Devji, F., Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013). An even deeper problem of understanding the creation of Pakistan lies not only with Devji's whimsical analogies, but generally with most work on this subject. Such scholarship has generally failed to recognize the actual realities and historical developments in the Indus basin as the decisive causative factors in the emergence of Pakistan. Scholars have continued to assume that the thrust for Pakistan came either from influential individuals or from the insecurities of Muslims in areas that did not in the end constitute Pakistan. A contrary analysis, incorporating the dynamics of historical change in the Pakistan area itself, has been developed in I. Ali, ‘The continuum of counter-revolutions: Rethinking the origins of Pakistan and their post-1947 impacts’, 24th European Conference on South Asian Studies, Warsaw, July 2016.

32 Ansari, ‘Political legacies of pre-1947 Sind’.

33 See E. Jansson, ‘The Frontier Province: Khudai Khidmatgars and the Muslim League’, in Political Inheritance of Pakistan, and Rittenberg, S., Ethnicity, Nationalism and the Pakhtuns: The Independence Movement in India's North-West Frontier Province (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1988).

34 For a review of India's development experience, and comparisons with Brazil, Korea, and Nigeria, see Kohli, A., State-Directed Development: Political Power and Industrialization in the Global Periphery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

35 Ali, The Punjab under Imperialism, pp. 182–92.

36 Ibid., pp. 109–57.

37 See Ali, I., ‘The sinews of governance: Bureaucracy, narrative and power under colonialism and independence’, Pakistan Development Review, 45, no. 4 (Winter 2006), pp. 1255–62.

38 See Jalal, A., The State of Martial Law: The Origins of Pakistan's Political Economy of Defence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) and Shah, A., The Army and Democracy: Military Politics in Pakistan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

39 That state building in both India and Pakistan had more complex dimensions that involved personal, group, migration, citizenship, property, and rehabilitation aspects, and that these involved a process longer than just the events of 1947, is analysed in Zamindar, V. F., The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia: Refugees, Boundaries, Histories (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007). How pivotal these factors actually were for state construction, in Pakistan at least, remains an open question, especially since the author failed to incorporate the embedded historical dynamics of the Indus region itself, concentrating on a single city, Karachi.

40 See Jahan, R., Pakistan: Failure in National Integration (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972) and Choudhury, G. W., The Last Days of United Pakistan (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1993).

41 Bajwa, F. N., Pakistan and the West: The First Decade, 1947–1957 (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1996).

42 For an analysis of the Pakistan army, see Nawaz, S., Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2008).

43 For an analysis of this dichotomy, see Fair, C. C., Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army's Way of War (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2014).

44 On the US–Pakistan relationship, see Kux, D., The United States and Pakistan, 1947–2000: Disenchanted Allies (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2001). See also Haqqani, H., Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding (New York: Perseus Books, 2013).

45 See Nasr, S. V. R., The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution: The Jama'at-i Islami of Pakistan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994) and Nasr, S. V. R., Mawdudi and the Making of Islamic Revivalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

46 Ali, I., ‘Power and Islamic legitimacy in Pakistan’, in Islamic Legitimacy in a Plural Asia, ed. Reid, A. and Gilsenan, M. (London: Routledge, 2007).

47 See Nasr, S. V. R., Islamic Leviathan: Islam and the Making of State Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), ch. 6, for an analysis of the state's role in Islamization under Zia and subsequent governments.

48 For a useful review covering Pakistan's first four decades, see Noman, O., The Political Economy of Pakistan 1947–85 (London: Routledge Kegan Paul, 1988).

49 For works on the Zia years, see Arif, K. M., Working with Zia: Pakistan's Power Politics, 1977–88 (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1995); Baxter, C. (ed.), Zia's Pakistan: Politics and Stability in a Frontline State (Boulder: Westview, 1985); and Chishti, F. A., Betrayals of Another Kind: Islam, Democracy and the Army in Pakistan (Karachi: Jang Publishers, 1996).

50 On survival in this adverse environment, see Inskeep, S., Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi (New York: Penguin Press, 2011). During 2015–16, operations by the paramilitary Rangers against criminals and terrorists succeeded in improving the security climate in the city.

51 For analyses of the period of civilian governments in the 1990s, see Akhund, I., Trial and Error: The Advent and Eclipse of Benazir Bhutto (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2000); Baxter, C. (ed.), Pakistan on the Brink: Politics, Economics and Society (New York: Lexington Books, 2004); Hussain, I., Pakistan: The Economy of an Elitist State (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1999); and Kibria, G., A Shattered Dream: Understanding Pakistan's Underdevelopment (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1999).

52 See Ali, I., ‘The historical lineages of poverty and exclusion in Pakistan’, South Asia, 25, no. 2 (2002), pp. 3360 .

53 See Ali, I., ‘Historical impacts on political economy in Pakistan’, Asian Journal of Management Cases, 1, no. 2 (2004), pp. 129–46.

54 For an analysis of sectoral change, see Ali, I., ‘Telecommunications development in Pakistan’, in Telecommunications in Western Asia and the Middle East, ed. Noam, E. M. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

55 For a more sympathetic analysis of Pakistan's military, see Cloughey, B. J., Wars, Coups and Terror: Pakistan's Army in Years of Turmoil (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books, 2008).

56 For a particularly antagonistic vilification of Pakistan's role, see Gall, C., The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001–2014 (New York: Mariner Books, 2015). For a more even-handed analysis, see Lieven, A., Pakistan: A Hard Country (New York: Perseus Books, 2011).

57 Ali, I., ‘Imperialism, extremism and the withering state’, in Pakistan, 1979–2009, ed. Calabrese, J. (Washington DC: Middle East Institute, American University, 2009).

58 Ali, I., ‘Pakistan: Political economy and post-2000 developments’, in Pakistan in Global and Regional Politics, ed. Jetly, R. (London: Routledge, 2009).

59 Among many partisan accounts, for more balanced analyses, as well as the implications of war between two nuclear powers, see Lavoy, P. R. (ed.), Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences of the Kargil Conflict (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

60 For an assessment of planning issues, see Ali, I., ‘The Government of Pakistan's new Framework for Economic Growth and its impact on business’, KSBL Review, 1, no. 1 (June 2013).

61 Ali, I. and Malik, A., ‘The political economy of industrial development in Pakistan: A long-term perspective’, The Lahore Journal of Economics, 14 (September 2009), pp. 2950 .

62 See Asif, M., Energy Crisis in Pakistan: Origins, Challenges and Sustainable Solutions (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2011).

63 For stalled efforts at reform in the water sector, for example, see Ali, I., ‘Reform of irrigation management in Pakistan, and implications for institutional modernization’, KSBL Review, Karachi, 2, no. 1 (June 2014).

64 According to Transparency International's corruption index, Pakistan in 2016 stood as the 117th least corrupt country out of 175. India enjoys a better relative position at 76. Pakistan's status has actually improved in the past decade, from 142 in 2006. See, [accessed 20 May 2017]).

65 Pakistan failed to reach any of the eight Millennium Development Goals adopted through the United Nations at the turn of the century and targeted for 2015. Thus, the lives of the poor, women, and children, indeed the great majority of the Pakistani people, continued to be blighted by a structure of inequality and inequity. See ‘Special Report: Millennium Development Goals’, Dawn, 13 September 2015.

66 Ali, I., ‘Two tales of a city: Post-Mughal and postcolonial Lahore’, in Cities—Engines of Growth, ed. Haque, N. and Nayab, D. (Islamabad: Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, 2007). At its height in the early eighteenth century, Lahore's population approached an estimated half a million. Yet at British annexation in 1849 this had reduced to below 100,000.

67 See Markovits, C., The Global World of Indian Merchants, 1750–1947: Traders of Sind from Bukhara to Panama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). The author analyses the activities of merchants from the towns of Hyderabad and Shikarpur in Sindh, including their international networks.

68 Ali, The Punjab under Imperialism.

69 See, for example, Darling, M. D., The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt (New Delhi: Manohar, 1977) and Calvert, H., The Wealth and Welfare of the Punjab (Lahore: Civil and Military Gazette, 1936). The discourse of the manipulative moneylender was not confined to a particular religious community, though such growing recriminations were adding to communal animosities, and in turn leading towards partition. From the 1930s perhaps the most fervent ‘anti-Bania’ politician was Sir Chhotu Ram, the leader of the Hindu agriculturists of Ambala Division, present-day Haryana.

70 Ali, I., ‘Development and its antidotes: Pakistan's colonial legacies and post-independence strategies’, Comparativ—Zeitschrift für Globalgeschichte und vergleichende Gesellschaftsforschung [Comparativ—Journal of Global History and Comparative Social Research], 19, no. 4 (2009), pp. 2543 .

71 Ali, I., ‘Past and present: The making of the state in Pakistan’, in Pakistan: the Contours of State and Society, ed. Ali, I., Mumtaz, S. and Racine, J.-L. (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2002).

72 I. Ali, Business, Stakeholders and Strategic Responses in Pakistan, University of New England Asia Centre, paper no. 8, Armidale, 2005.

73 Ali, I., ‘Business and power in Pakistan’, in Power and Civil Society in Pakistan, ed. Weiss, A. M. and Gilani, S. Z. (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2001).

74 See White, L. J., Industrial Concentration and Economic Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974) and Amjad, R., Private Industrial Investment in Pakistan: 1960–1970 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

75 For analyses of the Peoples Party government under Z. A. Bhutto in the 1970s, see Burki, S. J., Pakistan Under Bhutto, 1971–1977 (London: Macmillan, 1988); Raza, R., Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Pakistan, 1967–1977 (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1997); Syed, A. H., The Discourse and Politics of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (London: Macmillan, 1992); and Wolpert, S., Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan: His Life and Times (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

76 The inequalities and inequities exacerbated by this extensive diversion of resources by public functionaries are discussed in Ali, I., ‘Persistent inequality and the challenges to legitimacy and peace building in Pakistan’, in Democracy, Sustainable Development and Peace: New Perspectives on South Asia, ed. Hussain, A. and Dubey, M. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013).

77 See I. Ali, ‘Pakistan and the crises of governance’, IIAS Newsletter, International Institute of Asian Studies, Leiden, November 2008.

78 For this discussion, see I. Ali and S. Mumtaz, ‘Understanding Pakistan—the impact of global, regional, national and local interactions’, in Contours of State and Society.

Thwarted Nationalism, Economic Counter-revolutions, and Anarcho-vassalage: Pakistan and the lineages of retardation

  • IMRAN ALI (a1)


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