Nadeem F. Paracha
while going through copies of numerous Pakistani Urdu dailies archived in
Washington DC’s massive Library of Congress for research purposes, I came
across a rather amusing news report on page 2 of an Urdu daily. I believe daily
Sarhad was the name of the newspaper, but I can’t quite remember for sure.
what I do remember is that it was from the October 1972 issue of the daily,
which was being published from the former NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). The
report was about a mill owners’ delegation in Punjab’s Mianwali area, who were
planning to meet the then President Z.A. Bhutto and launch a complaint against
mill workers. Apparently, ever since Bhutto had come to power on a populist
socialist platform in December 1971, the mentioned mill workers had tried to
take over the mills.
to the owners, the workers had also begun to desecrate the owners’ ancestral
graveyard by urinating on the graves. I couldn’t find the follow-up to this
story so I don’t know whether the regime took any action against the workers.
unions had been robust supporters of Bhutto’s PPP during the early days of the
party and then regime. That is, till a violent labour movement was crushed by
the government in 1972, especially in Karachi.
suffered severe cultural, economic and political ruptures between the late
1960s and late 1970s. The old order, assembled by the country’s early political
and economic elite and the state, was apparently doing rather well on the
economic front, but this was being achieved by either repressing or outrightly
ignoring the many ethnic fissures and economic discrepancies underneath its
repressed rumblings in this context finally erupted to the surface with growth
in population and greater social mobility, mainly triggered by the aggressive
industrialisation policies of the 1960s and a ‘green revolution’ in the
was jolted by disorder, and by the initial emergence of the loud and
iconoclastic strand of populist politics which followed the commotion. A now
disoriented state hastily tried to restore order through a new political system
(parliamentary democracy) but the damage had been done.
order and its engineers were swiftly sidelined, especially after the 1971 East
Pakistan debacle. The commotion and its immediate results were understood as a
revolution of sorts. But to many it signalled an era of anarchy, which
unleashed distinct political forces and impulses.
between them did not formulate a new thriving synthesis, as German theorists
Karl Marx and Friedrich Hegel had insisted such conflicts did. Instead, it
created a slow-burning chaos. But a new creative order didn’t emerge from this
chaos either as the controversial German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche
society remained in flux as the old order continued to erode but was not necessarily
replaced by one that was any better. Eminent sociologist Riaz Hassan, in his
excellent 1985 essay for Middle Eastern Studies, writes that large segments of
the country’s urban population rose against the Bhutto regime in 1977 because
the social, political and economic impacts of the violent movement against the
Ayub regime in 1968, the 1971 East Pakistan debacle and Bhutto’s populist
policies, left a majority of Pakistanis believing that the traditional basis of
authority relationships — such as those between teacher and student, tenant and
landlord, worker and capitalist, women and men — had eroded.
of the traditional authority structures regulating these relationships left a
social vacuum. No new basis of authority succeeded in completely replacing the
It were the
Islamic parties, and then Zia, who succeeded in offering Islam as the new —and
only — basis to replace the vacuum created by the attrition of traditional
authority and power in society. But this came at the cost of a reactionary
historian Richard Wolin, in his complex tome The Seduction of Unreason, tries
to demonstrate how, ever since the early 20th century, the impulse to overthrow
an established order — especially an order constructed on the principals of
economic and social modernity — has ended up romanticising ‘unreason’ and
chaos. This has often led to the emergence of reactionary ideas, which have,
ironically, devoured their own romancers.
detests chaos. If it has flaws, then these need to be addressed and challenged
from within the limits of an informed and rational framework. But as we have
seen over and over again, and are once again witnessing today in Pakistan, the
perception that the state is weakening or is behind all ills, attracts
excitable and reactive forces which, in their irreverent drive to attack the
state, become reactionary and irrational.
when chaos sets in and the perception that all which is holding the centre is
eroding. But a new order does not emerge from this romanticised chaos. Instead,
it comes from a rebounding state which strikes back hard, but this time without
excitables should thus be wary of the fact that they are basically romancing
chaos that would ultimately invite a rebounding wrath of the state and not some
brilliant new order. An exhausted society will fall in line. In their
excitability, arrogance, irreverence and a somewhat delusional misreading of
the state, they are digging a hole for themselves and those they claim to be