Herald Magazine

How Pakistan views itself at 70

How Pakistan views itself at 70

70 years, 70 questions


Pakistan attained the age of 70 on August 14, 2017. The occasion warranted serious introspection by us, Pakistanis, about the course of our history and the present (and future) direction we have taken as a state and society.  There are multiple ways to do that introspection but none closer to the reality on the ground than an exercise that elicits and puts out the views and world views of men and women who – coming as they do from different parts of the country and working in different fields – are themselves parts of that reality on the ground.

That is the idea behind this public opinion survey.

It aims to find out the public’s views on social, cultural, economic, global/diplomatic, strategic, religious and political issues (among others) that form their opinions and inform their everyday lives. A few main objectives of this exercise were as follows:

To create a verifiable set of primary data about public opinion on the issues that divide, unite, drive and defeat Pakistanis in different parts of the country and in different fields of life. The findings will serve as a basis for in-depth analyses of various historical trends in the Pakistani state and society (these analyses have been published alongside the survey’s findings); 

To collect and collate public opinion on issues of public importance so that academics and researchers, both inside Pakistan and outside the country, can employ the survey in their work;

To offer insight into the thinking of a representative cross section of Pakistan’s people to non-governmental organisations, advocacy groups, international non-governmental entities, think tanks and the media so that they can assess and recalibrate (if and where required) their own work in the light of the survey’s findings;

To provide government departments, political parties and bilateral and multilateral donors a snapshot of the ideas and ideologies prevalent in the Pakistani society in order for them to assess and understand the impact and/or consequences of their policies over the last 70 years;  To assess the progression of public opinions, world views, biases, prejudices, predilections, likes and dislikes that have prevailed in the Pakistani society over the last seven decades. 

Like all surveys, this one has created and followed a demograhic sample to attain its objectives. This sample is based on various demograhic parameters relevant to the reality of life in Pakistan and, in essence, is a manufactured universe where a whole country of 210 million people has been reduced to a much smaller set of numbers so that Pakistanis, thus identified, could be reached and their opinions recorded.

But this whole exercise of putting together a meticulously designed sample would have come to naught if the British Council in Pakistan had not agreed to back the project with its financial commitment. From that stage onwards, its representatives ensured that nothing went wrong with the survey’s technical and editorial aspects and everything ran smoothly as far as expenses on the project were concerned.

Like any other human endeavour, surveys – especially of such an expansive scope – are susceptible to errors. From the brains that conceive the idea of a large-scale exploration to the hands that print them eventually, a lot of stages, individuals and technologies constitute the process, each of which are prone to making mistakes. A credible survey is not a perfect one, but one that acknowledges this fallibility of the method and seeks to minimise it accordingly — something this Herald-British Council survey has attempted to embody.

In this regard, it is worth mentioning the concept of margin of error. Since no matter how large the sample size, it could never truly include the entire population; margin of error is an indicator of the effectiveness of a survey in truly representing the population’s opinion on the questions asked. Based on the confidence level the body conducting the survey expresses, the margin of error depicts the extent to which the results of the survey could be trusted.

For this survey, at 99 per cent confidence interval for the population of Pakistan – 210 million – the selected sample of 7,000 respondents has a margin of error of 2. This means that for any given question on the survey, the response ranges from 2 points above to 2 points below the actual results of the value. In this survey, to illustrate, 60 per cent of the respondents feeling highly satisfied with a government body should be seen as 58 to 62 per cent of the total population feeling highly satisfied with a government body.

The survey methodology, like any other research methods, is and should be premised on the consent of the respondents to withhold their opinions about any question. They may feel uncomfortable, unqualified or merely uninterested in expressing their opinion. The response rate for the overall survey, that is the percentage of the respondents who answered the questions, is 96 per cent, which means four per cent of the respondents chose not to answer the questions. It is worth noting the lowest response rate amongst the 10 sections of the survey is observed in politics (95.1 per cent), law and justice (92.71 per cent), and media (94.26 per cent) — otherwise hotly debated arenas of national discourse.

In the section of politics, the question that was least answered (18.4 per cent respondents chose to not answer this question) asked respondents to choose an election from the nation’s history they found to be the most and least transparent, free and fair. In the section of law and justice, the question that a staggering 26 per cent of the respondents did not answer (by far the most unanswered question in the entire survey of over 700 questions) asked them to narrate their experience with different kinds of courts in Pakistan — military, civil, jirgas amongst others. This is highly telling of the accessibility of our judicial system to the masses.

Finally, in the section of media, the question with the lowest response rate (21 per cent) asked the respondents what they thought about the state of the media in different political regimes. Given the current increase in the surveillance of electronic, print and social media by the state and policing of dissent in various arenas of social life, it is plausible to presume many of our respondents felt uncomfortable voicing their opinion on the subject.

The fact that there has been little done to collect and organise data on the social and political life of Pakistan would go largely uncontested, save for a few commendable efforts in the last decade. Surveys such as this one are an antidote to this dearth of information because not only do they reveal the general temperament of the society but also the continuities and changes within it based on chosen parameters. The subjective experiences of those living by the ocean differ vastly from those dwelling in the mountains and the survey has attempted to record the voices of both these ends and of those in between.

Out of 7,052 respondents, 3,946 were from Punjab, forming 55.96 per cent of the total; 1,643 respondents from Sindh making up 23.29 per cent of the total sample; 904 respondents from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (12.82 per cent); 362 respondents from Balochistan (5.13 per cent); 146 respondents from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) – 2.07 per cent – and 51 respondents from Islamabad, forming 0.72 per cent of the total sample.

We also ensured that the survey represented both the urban and the rural populations in every province. In Punjab, for example, 65.21 per cent of our respondents were from rural areas whereas the remaining 34.79 per cent were from the urban centres. Similarly, in Sindh, 45.71 per cent of our respondents were from rural areas and 54.53 per cent from urban. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 77.99 per cent of our respondents were from the rural areas whereas 22.01 per cent were from urban centres; in Balochistan, 71.27 per cent were rural and 28.73 per cent urban; in Fata, 95.89 per cent of the respondents were from rural areas and 4.11 per cent from urban; in Islamabad, 37.26 per cent of the respondents were from rural areas and 62.75 per cent from urban areas.

In addition, the survey intended to represent the opinions of both men and women in each province. In Punjab, for example, men constituted almost 52 per cent and women 48 per cent of the total pool of respondents; around 53 per cent male and 47 per cent female respondents in Sindh and Balochistan; 51 per cent male and 49 per cent female respondents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; 54 per cent male and 46 per cent female respondents in Islamabad and Fata.

We also ensured that our respondents spoke various languages. Approximately nine per cent of respondents spoke Urdu, 44 per cent spoke Punjabi, 13 per cent spoke Sindhi, 15 per cent spoke Pashto, 11 per cent spoke Seraiki, three per cent spoke Balochi, and four per cent spoke various other languages.


The interpretations offered in this special issue are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the British Council and the Herald, their employees or those individuals who contributed to the research.

The snapshot of a nation

What do Pakistanis think about themselves at 70?

By Ayesha Azhar Shah

Each decade – in fact, each year – demands introspection. At 70 years, Pakistan is certainly no longer basking in the glow of youth. As citizens’ relationship with the state has evolved over the last seven decades, the country, indeed, is coming to recognise the contours of its national character. Undoubtedly, the history of this state-citizen relationship is replete with weaknesses and disappointments as well as successes and achievements.

People across the country now possess sufficient historical perspective to understand and analyse this relationship — some armed with knowledge of history and others equipped with perceptions based on personal and/or inherited experience. But as they look back at their past and compare it with the present, they find themselves in a bit of a tangle between optimism and pessimism.

Where they are not confused, though, is their support for democracy. The have always welcomed the return of democracy – overshadowed by three decades of military rule – with a spring of hope and with the greatest of expectations. This is not to say that they have also tolerated floundering democratic governments with patience and equanimity: they have always been increasingly impatient with democratic regimes that fell short of their promise.

The respondents for this British Council-sponsored survey constitute a sample of 7,000 Pakistanis who represent various provinces, genders and ethnicities (as determined by their mother languages). They also have representation from across various educational, occupational and age groups to make the sample representative of today’s Pakistan.

In its scope and depth, the survey demanded a deep reflection on the part of these respondents on the impact and result, both preemptive and reactive, of the state’s policies and the society’s evolution in various eras and across a wide range of sociocultural, political and economic issues and sectors. They were asked 70 detailed questions about a wide range of subjects — economy, politics, strategic affairs, foreign relations, religion, governance and administration, human rights, law and justice, arts and culture, and media.

The fieldwork for the survey began in July 2017 with a deadline of one month, but the rigidity of the sample and the breadth of the questions meant that it required a lot more time and effort to collect genuine responses than we could have initially anticipated. The process of conducting the survey also ran into several other unforeseen roadblocks: some surveyors backed out at the last moment; others promised but failed to deliver. Yet another group of surveyors failed to follow the sample, necessitating the deployment of new surveyors. The whole process was finally concluded in November 2017.

The results paint a picture of an optimistic nation. While people acknowledge and continue to grapple with issues associated with being citizens of a young third-world nation state, they feel they are on a slow but steady upward path to a better life. More than 55 per cent of the respondents feel their lives have improved in economic terms, with an even greater number of people expressing satisfaction in this regard in rural areas than in urban ones. Predictably, such numbers are higher for Punjab than for the other provinces.

Interestingly, though, the respondents seem to have disregarded historical evidence and ranked the economic performance of democratic governments higher than that of military governments. This clearly highlights that public perceptions do not necessarily corroborate or follow factual positions and that people’s views are, rather, informed and influenced unevenly by a multitude of events and factors. This also explains why these views often appear confused and contradictory.

The survey suggests that Pakistan has made some progress with reference to human rights as well, especially in terms of awareness about and respect for women’s rights. Almost 60 per cent of the respondents feel there has been an improvement in women’s rights over the last seven decades, with more than 42 per cent saying that people are generally better educated in this regard than they have been in the past. This, however, is where the optimism ends. A large number of respondents note that the human rights situation for marginalised groups, other than women and children, has worsened.

The respondents see national security as the biggest hurdle in the protection of human rights. They also see strong links between security concerns and economic development, with 79 per cent surmising that security problems have either influenced (30 per cent) or strongly influenced (49 per cent) Pakistan’s economy.

The security situation is similarly seen as having impacted the economy more than it has impacted the political or social fabric of the society. A strong causal relationship between national security and such indicators as centre-province relations, democratic evolution and even the provision of civic amenities, too, has been suggested by the survey.

The responses also exhibit a strong faith in hard power to secure the country. Reinforcing popular conceptions, many people feel that, more than any endeavour, the acquisition of nuclear weapons has helped secure Pakistan the most. An overwhelming 78 per cent of them feel nuclear arms have contributed more to the country’s security than anything else. Effective diplomacy and support from foreign allies is perceived to be decidedly less important than military force.

When it comes to foreign allies, a large number of respondents rather predictably note China as a positive factor in Pakistan’s security. An almost equal number of those surveyed feel that India and the West are negative influences on national security. This, too, is not a surprising result. The official optimism over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) appears to have spilled over into public perception as well, with 43 per cent marking this initiative as Pakistan’s most significant foreign policy development. What is striking is that the incumbent government, which claims credit for making CPEC possible, has been given a low ranking when it comes to the handling of foreign policy.

Overall, more than for any other period in the last 70 years and despite the difficulties of the country’s initial years, the respondents feel that Pakistan was doing the best in most fields in the half decade or so immediately after its birth. More than 46 per cent of them say Pakistan was most secure under the leadership of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan, significantly more than at any other time. This trend can also be seen in other areas, with more than 43 per cent respondents saying that human rights were upheld most effectively during that early period.

The justice system is also thought to have been most effective during that period. Same goes for corruption: Pakistan is perceived to have been the least corrupt under the Jinnah-Liaquat regime. Early losses also appear to grip the popular imagination. Most of the respondents see Jinnah’s early death as the most significant political incident, followed by the separation of East Pakistan.

The irreconcilable religious narratives surrounding Partition, too, continue to make their presence felt through public perceptions regarding the importance of religion in the national life. Almost 60 per cent respondents point to the overwhelming impact of religion on the country, especially its significant impact on education. A similar number of respondents feel that Pakistanis are intolerant towards those who belong to a sect other than their own. Surprisingly, however, fewer respondents feel that Pakistanis have the same level of intolerance towards people who do not share their religion.

An Indian sholdier patrols the fenced border with Pakistan near Suchetgarh | Reuters
An Indian sholdier patrols the fenced border with Pakistan near Suchetgarh | Reuters

The convergence and divergence of perceptions from historical facts hints at people’s biases and ideological bents, at times revealing the influence of popular narratives and, at other moments, offering discerning insights. There is an obvious tendency among the respondents to view the past, especially the early years of the country’s life, through the rose-coloured lens of nostalgia, using the yearning for what could have been to comment on the malaises of the present.

The outcomes of the survey are, at times, predictable and at other times conflicting with preconceived notions. If nothing else, this alone warrants a deeper analysis of its findings across the range of subjects it covers.

This special publication offers at least some preliminary analysis on each of the 10 sections of the survey. It aims at offering a snapshot of the public’s perceptions at this point in time in various fields of national life.

To construct as precise a sample as can be possible, we initially planned to stratify it along eight different variables. The first stratum was province/region and the total population was divided into six regions — Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Islamabad. The regional population was then divided into urban and rural locations as well as on the basis of gender and mother languages. To get a better distribution of the sample across the whole society, educational, age and occupational groups were included as additional variables.

Two main data sources were used to devise the sample: the 1998 census (for the break-up of population on the basis of regions, divisions, districts, urban/rural locations, gender and mother languages); the Labour Force Survey (LFS) 2014-15 (for age, education and occupation groups). The LFS was used because it was a relatively more current and reliable source of demographic statistics than any other set of data available at the time of the survey’s fieldwork. Major findings of the national census of 2017 became available many weeks after this survey had already begun.

The survey questionnaire – carrying seven questions for each of its 10 sections – was finalised after multiple revisions and was designed to elicit a comprehensive range of responses. Each question was framed in a way that allowed the respondents to provide well-thought-out and nuanced answers. For example, one of the questions asking the respondents to rate the performance of Pakistan’s economy under 10 different governments was supplemented with additional questions further probing the answers.

The questions were also carefully constructed so as not to let any bias get into their wording. For example, instead of asking, “Has Pakistan’s foreign policy been influenced by the United States?” we asked, “How has Pakistan’s foreign policy been influenced by the following? a) United States, b) Saudi Arabia, c) China, d) India,” etc. The options provided to answer the question were also not presented as cut and dried. These included: a) Insignificantly, b) Neither significantly nor insignificantly, c) Significantly, or d) Very significantly, in order to discern the various shades and nuances of public opinion.

The ‘I don’t know’ option was not included in the survey in order to make each respondent reflect on his/her perceptions and then offer a meaningful response.

The questionnaire was translated into the Urdu, Punjabi, Balochi, Seraiki, Sindhi and Pashto languages before it was sent out into the field. A dry run of the survey was conducted for a week in July 2017 and some questions were modified based on the feedback from it. The revised questionnaire took anywhere from 40 minutes to two hours to complete — a massive improvement on the earlier one that took more than two hours for completion every time it was put to a respondent.

The survey was conducted in 70 districts across Pakistan via an online app to ensure error-free data entry and for the results to be verified and collated instantly. Surveyors were sent a detailed sample on a spreadsheet to allow them to match each respondent with a sample number to ensure compliance. Each of the surveyors was given a particular number of respondents to survey – not exceeding 150 – along with detailed instructions on how to use the app and how to conduct the survey.

Initial challenges included finding credible surveyors in each of the districts constituting the sample and, given the precision of the sample, finding matching respondents. Eventually, age, education and occupation parameters had to be randomised because of widespread discrepancies between the latest available data and the situation on the ground.

In some areas – especially in Kurram Agency of Fata, and Swabi and Bannu districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – female respondents who met the demographic sample would only agree to be surveyed by female surveyors due to purdah concerns. Finding suitable female surveyors in rural areas proved difficult at times.

Many of the survey questions were admittedly challenging for uneducated respondents with whom even the names of past prime ministers and presidents failed to resonate. For example, some of the respondents, especially in the rural areas of Balochistan, found questions requiring comments on civic amenities and legal structures irrelevant to their reality. Similarly, respondents in Fata found questions on elections to be irrelevant. In some areas, the surveyors were viewed with suspicion. In other places, people were reluctant to participate in the survey due to time constraints and also due to the fear of making their views public.

Security concerns also arose in some places. In at least one place, district Khuzdar in Balochistan, security agencies questioned the surveyors about the intent of the project.

There were some technological challenges as well. Given that the survey was meant to be filled digitally, it was necessary for each surveyor to possess a smartphone or a tablet. This proved to be a problem in some areas in southern Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Furthermore, filling survey forms online to ensure their instant transfer to the data hub was not always seamless due to bad internet speed and/or the lack of internet connectivity at many places across Pakistan. Some of the forms filled by surveyors, therefore, could not be located at later stages, necessitating repeat surveys.

Badshahi Mosque in Lahore | Murtaza Ali, White Star
Badshahi Mosque in Lahore | Murtaza Ali, White Star

Data verification was carried out simultaneously with data collection, in order to minimise errors during fieldwork. Incoming responses were monitored by a team of coordinators at the Herald as they came in. A number of randomly chosen respondents were also contacted via phone for further verification.

Overall, compensating for erroneous entries, technical glitches and the violation of survey parameters meant that more than 8,000 responses had to be collected during fieldwork. Excess entries were later discarded after a thorough process of data verification and the correspondence of entries to sample parameters.

Due to zero tolerance for deviations in the main stratifications for the sample and multiple verifications, it is safe to assume that the results of the survey provide an accurate reflection of the public’s perception of Pakistan’s history. At first glance, the contradictary sentiments that emerge may surprise, but they provide evidence of the multilayered and complex disposition of Pakistani society. Expecting a rational and linear narrative from a survey of perceptions would mean disregarding the varied experiences of Pakistanis.

A glance at some of the results, indeed, poses more questions than answers: Why is it that the death of Muhammad Ali Jinnah left the strongest mark on Pakistan’s history? Was it our biggest loss? What was the golden era of the country in various fields? These and many more questions necessitate further probes into the whys and why-nots of our history so that we can arrive at a deeper understanding of today’s Pakistan.

As the country enters its eighth decade, with a fresh census just conducted and a new election round the corner, we at the Herald hope that this survey will shed some serious light on the historical consciousness of the nation. The information it offers about the past and the present may, in turn, help Pakistanis move forward towards a better future.

The writer was lead coordinator and editorial consultant for this survey. She works as a business development executive at the Centre for Excellence in Journalism at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi.

Human rights

Sit-in against price hikes and terrorism | M Arif, White Star
Sit-in against price hikes and terrorism | M Arif, White Star

Rights and wrongs: How the public looks at the state’s human rights track record

By I A Rehman

Although Pakistan came into being 18 months before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted, the Pakistan movement had reached maturity at a time when human rights already entered the political discourse in all parts of the world. Furthermore, protection of the rights of non-Muslims in Pakistan was duly accepted in the Lahore Resolution of 1940 itself.

Thus, we find that the first step Muhammad Ali Jinnah took towards framing a constitution for the new state was forming a committee under his own presidentship to draw up proposals on human rights and the rights of minorities. This committee completed a large part of its work in 1948; though the fundamental rights chapter of the constitution, which incorporated nearly all articles of the UDHR, was adopted in October 1950 — about a year before Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination.

This may partially explain why more than three-fourths of Pakistanis interviewed for this survey believe that the government headed by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan upheld human rights more effectively than the succeeding leaders. The respondents also display a pro-democractic inclination and reveal that the national security syndrome is the biggest impediment to (the enforcement of) human rights.

According to some other findings of the survey, the condition of all vulnerable groups, except women and children, has declined on the human rights scale. A sizeable section of the population believes their awareness of human rights has declined and that they are in a worse position than their parents and grandparents’ generations.

Before analysing the survey responses related to human rights, however, it may be appropriate to recall some developments during Pakistan’s early years.

Human rights, in the form of labour rights and fundamental rights of citizens in a democratic state, had entered the political discourse in the India-Pakistan subcontinent in the 1920s, if not earlier — that is, at least two decades before independence. Although a British colony, India enjoyed membership of the League of Nations and quite a few of the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions adopted by the League, which were ratified by the government of India in the 1920s. 

A committee of politicians who were demanding freedom from colonial power – formed under the chairmanship of a Congress leader, Motilal Nehru – released a draft constitution for a free India in 1928. Known as the Nehru Report, this document included a chapter on fundamental rights, such as the right to life and liberty, freedom of belief, freedom of expression and freedom of association, etc. Muslims under the leadership of Jinnah rejected the report on the grounds that it did not accept their demand for their separate representation in Parliament, and for that reason they generally ignored the part about basic rights as well.

Thus, discussions on human rights had been continuing for several years before Pakistan was created and the new country’s leaders were aware of them. But the knowledge about pre-independence references to fundamental rights and the work on the subject in Pakistan between August 1947 and March 1956 – when the first indigenous constitution came into force – were limited to a small number of people. Few Pakistani citizens today might be able to recall how the early governments upheld human rights. This lack of knowledge could be the reason why they tend to view the human rights situation back then in a favourable light.

Non-Muslim Pakistanis hold a protest demonstration in front of the Punjab Assembly | M Arif, White Star
Non-Muslim Pakistanis hold a protest demonstration in front of the Punjab Assembly | M Arif, White Star

The question the survey asks about human rights under governments headed by different leaders – from Muhammad Ali Jinnah/Liaquat Ali Khan to Nawaz Sharif – is as to how effectively they have upheld human rights. If we take the respondents who said ‘most effectively’ and ‘effectively’ together, we can get the relevant government’s approval rating and if we put together all other responses – ‘least effectively’, ‘not effectively’ and ‘no answer’ – as adverse remarks, we get the following picture:

These findings reveal the respondents’ view that democratic rule has been a decisive factor in a situation favourable for human rights. It is possible they have been translating their pro-democracy bias into a favourable climate for human rights.

The largest group of respondents (21.56 per cent) has held ‘national security’ to be the biggest impediment to (the enforcement of) human rights in Pakistan. The other impediments in a descending order are: culture and custom (14.11 per cent); legal system (13.82 per cent); religion and religious belief (13.55 per cent); administrative system (10.37 per cent); economic system (9.46 per cent); education and curriculum (7.41 per cent); feudal system (6.15 per cent); and tribal system (2.98 per cent). The survey vindicates the citizens’ perceptiveness and the soundness of their judgment. 

It also shows that 54.96 per cent of the respondents believe they have more freedom of association than their parents and grandparents had. Only 28.33 per cent of them think they have less freedom of association and 14.75 per cent do not see any change.

With respect to other rights, a majority of the respondents consider themselves worse off than their parents and grandparents. Slightly less than half (49.42 per cent) believe they have a better right to education and 48.18 per cent think they have an improved entitlement to information than their parents and grandparents. In these two categories, the percentage who do not notice any change, stand at 14.18 per cent and 18.65 per cent, respectively.

The present generation is seen by a large number of respondents as being in a worse position compared to their parents and grandparents with regards to the right to speak; only 42.45 per cent believe they are better off than their predecessors. On an average, nearly 16 per cent of the people surveyed see no change in this regard since the days of their grandparents.

This is a stunning indictment of the state in terms of its neglect in some of the key human and social rights of the people.

With regards to the human rights of underprivileged/marginalised persons, the survey reveals a highly disturbing situation. With the exception of women – whose human rights cover has improved according to 59.78 per cent of the respondents, and children, whose access to human rights has improved according to 38.42 per cent of the respondents — conditions for all other groups has deteriorated over the past 70 years.

The opinion is nearly equally divided with regards to religious minorities: while 39.01 per cent of the respondents think the minorities’ enjoyment of human rights has improved, a somewhat larger number – 39.95 per cent – thinks their condition has deteriorated.

The position of labour (industrial, perhaps) has deteriorated perceptibly: only 32.01 per cent of the respondents say their enjoyment of human rights has improved; according to 40.73 per cent, their human rights situation has deteriorated.

The condition of peasants is seen to have degenerated even more than that of workers: only 28.28 per cent of the respondents believe the human rights situation for peasants has improved while 43.42 per cent hold that it has deteriorated. A little higher on the ladder are agricultural workers: 31.81 per cent of the respondents see an improvement in their rights over the last 70 years while 41.54 per cent see a deterioration in them.

The members for ethnic minorities are at the same level as agricultural workers: 31.49 per cent of the respondents say their human rights situation has improved while 36.73 per cent say it has deteriorated.

At the bottom of the ladder lie the transgender citizens. Their human rights situation has improved according to only 28.79 per cent respondents and deteriorated according to 40.48 per cent of them.

The number of respondents who do not see any change in the human rights situation of vulnerable/marginalised sections of the society varies from 16.22 per cent in the case of women to 27.64 per cent in the case of ethnic minorities.

Questions about laws related to women’s rights in selected areas have brought out interesting responses. The happiest response is with regards to a woman’s right to education: a little more than half of the respondents (50.74 per cent) say the laws have become better; only 28.3 per cent say they have become worse. Another 18.87 per cent have seen no change.

With regard to laws about women’s rights to vote, the responses indicate approval of changes in laws: 46.79 per cent of them see an improvement and 28.15 per cent see a deterioration; 21.97 per cent see no change.

As far as women’s right to marry by choice is concerned, 53.3 per cent of the respondents believe laws have improved and 22.67 per cent think they have deteriorated. For 22.21 per cent, no change has taken place.

The opinion is almost evenly divided on the changes in laws related to women’s rights to divorce: for 36.84 per cent, the laws have improved but they have deteriorated for 36.59 per cent. For 24.26 per cent, nothing has changed.

Human rights activists hold placards during a walk held in Peshawar on the eve of International Human Rights Day | Shahbaz Butt, White Star
Human rights activists hold placards during a walk held in Peshawar on the eve of International Human Rights Day | Shahbaz Butt, White Star

The situation is not bad as far as laws guaranteeing women’s rights to work outside their homes is concerned: 44.08 per cent think improvement has taken place and a smaller number (34.56 per cent) believes laws have deteriorated. For only 19.87 per cent, no change has been noticed.

The situation regarding laws covering women’s rights to inheritance, however, remains quite bad: only 36.79 per cent have noted improvement in laws and 34.23 per cent have seen deterioration; 26.9 per cent have seen no change. This is similar to the situation regarding laws related to women’s rights to family planning: 37 per cent note improvement, 35.09 per cent find deterioration and 25.7 per cent see no change.

Comparitively, the situation with regards to laws concerning women’s rights to choose their attire for appearance in public: improvement is noticed by 38.65 per cent, deterioration by 33.89 per cent and no change is noticed by 27.04 per cent.

In regards to violence against women, more people (35.66 per cent) think the legal changes have been good while 32.55 think otherwise.

The respondents are generally dissatisfied with the impact of changes in laws on the rights of non-Muslims and other vulnerable groups. The most positive legal change, according to 54.28 per cent of the respondents, is with respect to their right to observe their religion freely. Another 23.88 per cent think the changes have made laws worse and 19.82 per cent see no change. The respondents are evenly split on the issue of laws on the protection of non-Muslims’ places of worship; 39.56 per cent say the laws have deteriorated while 38.29 percent have noted improvement.

Changes in freedom for the celebration of non-Muslim cultural events are viewed more favourably: 44.98 per cent of the respondents believe the situation has become better while only 29.67 per cent think otherwise. Opinion is evenly divided on the situation with reference to non-Muslims right to speak: 36.28 per cent think the changes have been good while 36.78 per cent think otherwise.

The respondents are quite clear that changes in laws have not done well for transgender citizens: only 31.92 per cent think changes have favoured this section of the society while 35.45 per cent feel otherwise. Most of the remaining respondents see no change.

As for the changes in laws related to protection of children against child labour, 33.96 per cent notice improvement while 36.05 per cent see deterioration. Similar are the findings with respect to laws on children’s sexual abuse: only 32 per cent of the respondents notice improvement in laws while 35.74 per cent see deterioration.

According to 50.2 per cent of the survey respondents, awareness about human rights in general has improved over the past 70 years. It has deteriorated for 25.4 per cent and 21.67 per cent see no change. However, with respect to awareness about certain specific human rights, the responses are quite mixed.

Improvement has been seen in the awareness about freedom of thought by 40.87 per cent of the respondents and deterioration by 33.05 percent. Those who believe awareness about equality of opportunity has increased (34.97 per cent) are fewer in number than those (39.81 per cent) who think it has deteriorated.

As far as equality before law is concerned, 37.26 per cent report improvement in awareness about it, 34.87 per cent report deterioration and 25.13 per cent see no change. Improvement in awareness about social justice has been noted by 33.32 per cent and deterioration by 38.85 per cent while 25.3 per cent have noticed no change.

Those who have seen improvement in awareness about economic justice (31.78 per cent) are outnumbered by those who have noted deterioration (37.74 per cent); another 27.28 per cent have seen no change. Those who notice improvement in awareness about political justice (30.06 per cent) are likewise outnumbered by those who have seen deterioration (39.21 per cent) and 27.57 per cent have noticed no change.

The writer is a senior journalist, peace activist and human rights advocate. He has served as editor-in-chief of the Pakistan Times and has been a director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan since 1990.


Early morning at a newspaper distribution depot in New Challi, Karachi in 1997 | Arif Mahmood, White Star
Early morning at a newspaper distribution depot in New Challi, Karachi in 1997 | Arif Mahmood, White Star

Views as news: Why is news media seen as compromising public interest

By Adnan Rehmat

Historically the media space in Pakistan has been tightly regulated by the state. The broadcast sector, in particular, was restricted to only government-managed television and radio operations throughout the first five decades after 1947. Pakistan Television (PTV) and Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), both owned by the state, remained the sole means of mass broadcasts for current affairs during this time.

This monopoly was singularly instrumental in helping perpetuate military rule which took up more than half of the 50 years after independence. Military regimes were largely unimpeded by democratic resistance in the absence of mobilisation of independent public opinion through mass media. This offers interesting insights into Pakistan’s political evolution.

While the period under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s and later under Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in the 1990s was freer for the media – allowing for the freest political atmosphere till then – it was not until the early new millennium that the biggest media reforms were enacted allowing for non-government, private broadcast media to emerge. The dozens of television channels and FM radio stations which subsequently came about fundamentally altered the contours of public opinion mobilisation and were directly responsible for the resistance to General Pervez Musharraf’s dispensation and the eventual return of democratic rule in 2008.

Pakistan’s media landscape has changed dramatically in the new millennium. The primary transitions have been from an officially controlled media to an independent, pluralistic one; from time-delayed news release and broadcasts to ones taking place in real time; from fixed media to mobile media and from media-driven news and information to citizen-driven contents. These changes have impacted people in a myriad of ways in terms of their perceptions of how representative the media is of their interests as well as its utility. The media has also been developing interests and agendas of its own thereby impacting politics and governance — sometimes threatening the very stability of the system.

The changes in the media landscape coincide with the political transition that Pakistan has experienced of late. The transition from the preceding century to a new millennium was ushered in by the military under a uniformed president. General Musharraf staged a coup in 1999 and stayed put until forced out in 2008. However, paradoxically, the media sector’s largest expansion in Pakistan’s history happened when he opened the airwaves to private ownership in 2002.

By the time civilian rule returned to the country in 2008, the number of independent television channels had gone from zero to over 70. By the onset of 2018, this number reached about 90 and included 36 current affairs channels broadcasting news and views 24/7, according to the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra). In the same period, the number of FM radio stations went from none in the private sector to close to 150 now. Internet and social media have since become entwined with the mainstream media. Newspapers and magazines have also proliferated in the same period (2002-18) mainly because the federal government devolved the authority to issue declarations for them to provincial and district authorities.

Military rule in the new millennium may have effected and facilitated a massive expansion in the media landscape (85 per cent of the media today did not exist when Musharraf took over), but public opinion regards the media as less restricted under the civilian era that has followed him rather than under his own regime. The same holds true for the last millennium: media is considered ‘free’ under civilian dispensations but ‘unfree’ under the military ones. The survey shows that periods under military dictators (Ziaul Haq, Yahya Khan and Ayub Khan) are seen as being the worst for the media, which is seen as having fared better under elected leaders (Asif Ali Zardari, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif).

The media, however, is viewed as ‘not free’ under all but one regime by more than one in three respondents. It is considered the freest during the Jinnah-Liaquat reign (by 52.47 per cent of respondents) followed closely by the Zardari years (when it was free according to 45.43 per cent respondents) and Nawaz Sharif’s governments (when it was free as per 43.51 per cent respondents). The least number of respondents (31.71 per cent) view the media as ‘free’ during the Zia years.

Whether ‘free’ or ‘unfree,’ the benchmark for a media’s effectiveness is how reliable information released from its various channels is considered. The survey reveals that around six times more respondents consider television as the most reliable source of information in Pakistan than those who consider it the least unreliable; over a third of the respondents think newspapers are the most reliable source of information and less than a quarter think they are the least reliable. For one in three, Internet is the most reliable source of information while about one fourth consider it the least reliable. So, it is a mixed bag.

On the other hand, only marginally fewer people lay their stock in the government and the clergy being the most reliable sources of information as compared to those who view these two as the least reliable. Private sources of information such as television channels, newspapers and Internet are trusted more than official sources.

Based upon 11 pre-identified key sources of information, television is considered as ‘highly reliable’ by the highest number of respondents (54.8 per cent) followed by newspapers (by 34.61 per cent respondents) and the Internet (by 30.12 per cent respondents). Other sources considered ‘highly reliable’ include social media (by 29.27 per cent respondents), radio (by 24.32 per cent respondents) and government/public announcements (by 23.85 per cent respondents). Only 22.05 per cent of respondents consider educational institutions, 20.37 per cent regard mosques/places of worship, 20.01 per cent deem clergy/religious groups, 18.88 per cent view educational curricula and 16.86 per cent see community centres as ‘highly reliable’.

The monitoring facility at the Pemra office in Lahore | M Arif, White Star
The monitoring facility at the Pemra office in Lahore | M Arif, White Star

Conversely, 29.94 per cent respondents consider community centres as the ‘least reliable’ sources of information, 28.49 per cent have the same opinion about educational institutions and 28.22 per cent regard educational curricula similarly. Other sources considered ‘least reliable’ include mosques/places of worship (by 27.57 per cent respondents), clergy/religious groups (by 27.15 per cent respondents) and social media (by 25.24 per cent respondents).

The media is supposed to be the guardian of public interest simply because interests of governments and other groups vary over time. In countries where the executive, Parliament and the judiciary are failing to perform their duties, the media becomes the last bastion of support for the suppressed and the marginalised. People expect the media to be ethical by being truthful, accurate, independent, fair and impartial when it comes to highlighting public interest and holding the state/government accountable for the failure to enforce fundamental rights.

On this account, the survey shows that government-owned media, including television and radio, is considered the most ethical medium by 42.63 per cent of the respondents while only 25.37 per cent of them consider privately-owned television and radio as ethically strong. Online mediums such as websites and social media together enjoy the confidence of 52.72 per cent respondents for their ethical strength; 23.64 per cent respondents regard these two as ethically ‘very weak’.

Print media, including newspapers and magazines, are considered the most ethical mediums by around six times more respondents than those who consider it least ethical. In order of preference as ethical mediums, government-owned broadcast media is most highly regarded, followed by online platforms and privately-owned broadcast channels.

One explanation for this public perception could be that private television is seen as hysterical and sensationalist while government media is viewed as relatively calmer in its disposition and treatment of news. Political parties also find private television more amenable to extending their hysterical soundbites driven by their necessity to exaggerate the shortcomings of their rivals.

Because news media in general and electronic and online media in particular have become cheap sources of access to information for tens of millions of people, as opposed to the street politics of the last millennium; it is not surprising how powerful political, social and other influential groups in Pakistan’s socio-political landscape ‘use’ the media to their advantage.

The survey shows that some interest groups with resources and muscle, inevitably, are more adroit media users than others: government, political parties and military are viewed as the best users of television, radio, Internet, social media, newspapers, mosques and the clergy while communities and educational institutions and curricula are capable of using the media to a much lesser degree. Non-state actors such as militant groups are also seen to be relatively more adept at exploiting these mediums to advance their agendas.

According to 53.04 per cent respondents, television has been most effectively used by the government, 19.66 per cent of them believe it is the military that is using television the best and 15.26 per cent think that political parties are doing it better than anyone else. Another 6.89 per cent feel non-state actors have best used television for their agendas.

Radio is perceived by 30.95 per cent respondents as best used by the military, 29.35 per cent of them believe the government is using this medium the best and only 12.63 per cent and 22.15 per cent, respectively, feel non-state actors and political parties use it best.

Newspapers are seen by 30.83 per cent respondents as best used by political parties; 28.68 per cent believe newspapers are best used by the government; 23.58 per cent say the military has used them best and 11.5 per cent respondents see non-state actors having made the best use of this medium.

Internet is best used by political parties (according to 27.51 per cent respondents), by the government (according to 21.87 per cent respondents), by the military (according to 21.35 per cent respondents) and by non-state actors (according to 18.23 per cent respondents).

Social media is best exploited by political parties (according to 27.86 per cent respondents), by the government (according to 21.01 per cent respondents), by the military (according to 20.66 per cent respondents) and by non-state actors (according to 18.48 per cent respondents).

Local mosques/churches/places of worship as a medium of communication is seen most effectively used by political parties (according to 27.32 per cent respondents), by the government (according to 23.17 per cent respondents), by the military (according to 20.91 per cent respondents) and by non-state actors (according to 19.15 per cent respondents).

The clergy as a means of communication is seen as exploited by political parties (according to 24.89 per cent respondents), by the government (according to 24.09 per cent respondents), by the military (according to 20.04 per cent respondents) and by non-state actors (according to 18.32 per cent respondents).

Irrespective of which interest groups best ‘exploit’ various types of media, Pakistani media consumers are quite discerning in their perceptions of which mediums of information are most representative of their interests. The survey shows that both official and private broadcast media (including television and radio) are seen by the respondents as more favourable to people than

Internet, social media and partisan media owned by political parties and religious groups. The respondents do not seem to make any significant distinction between public and private broadcast media in terms of being favorable to people. Simultaneously, more respondents view Internet and social media and media owned by political and religious groups as being unfavourable to them than those who think public and private broadcast media is unfavourable to them.

Privately-owned television channels are seen by the largest number of respondents (46.41 per cent) as favourable to them, followed by government-owned radio (by 42.94 per cent), private-owned radio (by 42.59 per cent), government-owned television (by 41.08 per cent), media owned by political groups (by 38.2 per cent), Internet and social media (by 36.73 per cent) and media owned by religious groups (by 36.33 per cent of the respondents).

Conversely, Internet and social media are seen by 10.86 per cent of the respondents as unfavourable to them followed by 10.56 per cent who believe media owned by religious groups is unfavourable to them. Media owned by political groups is viewed as such by 10.01 per cent respondents, government radio by 8.68 per cent respondents, government television by 6.79 per cent respondents, private radio by 6.69 per cent respondents and private television by 4.34 per cent respondents.

Newspapers, private television channels, Internet and social media are seen by a majority of respondents as most representative of their worldview while media owned by religious and political groups and government-owned broadcast media are seen by them as least representative of their worldview.

The most surprising part of the survey’s findings is that far more respondents think marginalised communities such as religious and ethnic minorities and persons with disabilities receive ‘favourable’ to ‘highly favourable’ media coverage than those who think these groups receive ‘unfavourable’ and ‘least favourable’ coverage. These perceptions could be misplaced if seen in the light of anecdotal evidence as coverage of these marginalised groups borders on the stereotypical rather than being representative of their place in the society. Perhaps the respondents confuse ‘pity’ and ‘patronisation’ with ‘representation'.

The survey does not indicate major surprises in terms of people’s perceptions of media’s role of being the guardian of public interest and its performance and professionalism in representing society’s interests. However, it does offer startling insights as to how people are able to see right through the veneer of media which allows various interest groups to manipulate and promote their agendas to the detriment of people’s interests.

Military, religious groups and non-state actors are seen as exercising undue levels of influence over the media in conveying their messages across to the people. This can only be translated as the media compromising public interests. That private television – which, by definition, is independent of government control – is seen as less reliable or ethical than government-run television can only mean that private media is falling short on not just its public duties but also of people’s expectations.

If the media makes compromises over its professionalism, people’s interests get hurt. In a country that is entangled in a long-running, ever-intensifying fight between representative and non-representative forces over the country’s mission statement and its destiny — this is deeply troubling.

The writer is a media development specialist focusing on advocacy, research and training, with a background in journalism.


Boats at Kemari in Karachi | White Star
Boats at Kemari in Karachi | White Star

Highs and lows: A people's view of Pakistan's economic evolution

By Rashid Amjad

At the time of independence, Pakistan was a very poor country. Its per capita income in 1950 was 350 rupees or, at the then exchange rate, just over 100 US dollars1. Today, Pakistan is classified as a lower middle-income country, its per capita income having increased almost fourfold over the last 70 years. Extreme poverty has declined from an overwhelming 80 per cent of the population to around 30 per cent today. At independence, literacy levels were near 10 per cent.

Today, they are at 58 per cent even though Pakistan’s human development indicators still remain among the lowest in the world. The population has also increased almost sevenfold from just over 30 million in 1947 [in West Pakistan] to around 208 million in 2017. This high population growth rate has been a major reason why Pakistan has not fully reaped the benefits of a rather impressive annual growth rate of around 5.5 per cent over the last 70 years.

Many will be disappointed to learn from this survey that, despite the almost fourfold increase in average per capita income since 1947, only around 55.05 per cent of the respondents feel that their family’s economic situation has improved. Far more worrying is the result that almost 23.4 per cent feel that their situation has deteriorated; 20.98 per cent say that it has remained the same. These results do not change across different age groups covered by the survey, suggesting that the findings reflect the view of successive post-independence generations. Nor do these results change between male and female respondents.

The survey’s results are as much a reflection of the worsening income inequalities, continuing high poverty, lack of decent job opportunities, high inflation and low income growth in the last three decades as they are of increasingly stressful living conditions — especially in urban metropolises where overcrowding, traffic congestion, pollution and the absence or irregular supply of basic amenities have worsened the quality of life for most people. This aspect is best reflected in that far more survey respondents living in rural areas – nearly 59.3 per cent – feel that their economic situation has improved (for rural Punjab, the number is nearly 70 per cent), compared to 47.91 per cent in urban areas.

There is also a clear inter-provincial divide, with people in Punjab (around 65 per cent) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (almost 60 per cent) stating that their economic conditions have improved over the last 70 years, as against much lower numbers for Sindh and Balochistan (almost 35 per cent for each). Interestingly, nearly 60 per cent of the respondents in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) also feel that their families’ economic conditions have improved since independence.

Given that there was hardly any significant industry at the time of independence, it is not surprising that nearly 22 per cent of the respondents feel that industrialisation has been Pakistan’s most important achievement. What is equally significant – given the very low food grain consumption at independence – is that 20.5 per cent see attaining food security as the country’s most important achievement.

This result is reinforced with 14.35 per cent respondents considering the green revolution – in which the output of wheat and rice increased manifold due to new seed varieties – as Pakistan’s most important economic achievement. These results are almost similar for urban and rural areas. Given the lack of implementation and political commitment, unsurprisingly only 6.02 per cent consider the meagre land reforms carried out by Ayub Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to have been an important development.

Perhaps because it is still in its earlier stages, only 8.06 per cent of the respondents see computerisation as important (though if the question had been posed in terms of access to mobile phones, the response would have been very high). Given the important economic impact it had in the 1970s, we find that nearly 13 per cent – and nearly 35 per cent of those who live in Islamabad – consider nationalisation as the most important economic development. A slightly higher share, nearly 15 per cent, look at privatisation the same way. Clearly, both developments are considered significant in altering the growth performance of the national economy.

In keeping with a higher reporting of improvement in economic conditions by the rural respondents, we find that 56.59 per cent of the respondents rate agriculture as having improved compared to only 27.76 per cent who feel the sector has deteriorated since 1947. This is in sharp contrast to industry: while 42.23 per cent feel that it has improved, an equally high 41.34 per cent say that it has deteriorated, reflecting the sector’s high growth (albeit from a small base) in earlier decades and its much poorer performance (‘deindustrialisation’) in more recent decades. After the initial spurt, industry’s share of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has remained relatively stagnant.

A somewhat similar result emerges for the services sector, with 41.89 per cent reporting an improvement and 37.69 per cent reporting a deterioration. The latter response is perhaps a reflection of the sector’s growing informalisation and the fact that it has created mostly low-income, temporary jobs — in many cases, under poor and hazardous working conditions.

The survey results are distinctly favourable for changes in physical infrastructure, with 55.34 per cent respondents reporting a significant improvement in the communications sector. This result reflects the large investment that has been undertaken, especially by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) government, in building motorways, highways and rural road networks.

The same appears to be true of the technology sector, with 53.53 per cent reporting an improvement, though this is not reflected in any significant productivity increases in the economy.

Within the social sectors, 42.14 per cent respondents feel that healthcare has improved but a very high 38.15 per cent also feel it has deteriorated in the last seven decades, reflecting the poor state of health services in the country. The performance of the education sector is looked at somewhat more favourably, with 50.49 per cent saying it has improved but a significant 32.43 per cent saying it has deteriorated. The former number best represents the large increase in enrolment in absolute numbers, compared to virtually insignificant enrolment levels 70 years ago; the latter shows the poor quality of education being imparted.

A clear message that emerges from the survey is that people find a sharp deterioration in the quality of economic management over the last 70 years. This is best illustrated by comparing their assessment of the current situation with that for the period between 1947 and 1951. An overwhelming 69.85 per cent view the government associated with Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and the first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, as either ‘good’ (29.75 per cent) or ‘very good’ (40.1 per cent). Indeed, 80.85 per cent of those who are now over 70 years old view the government’s economic performance for those years as either ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

This result is not just a reflection of the very high regard that people of all ages and all provinces have for the founding fathers but also an acknowledgement of the enormous economic challenges and hardships that Pakistan overcame under their exemplary and honest leadership to set up a functioning state almost from scratch.

This result is in sharp contrast with the respondents’ view of the economic performance under the last Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government presided over by Asif Ali Zardari, which only a total of 34 per cent judge as either ‘good’ (25.13 per cent) or as ‘very good’ (8.93 per cent). The results are somewhat better for the economic performance of the three PMLN governments under Nawaz Sharif, including its current tenure: 41.12 per cent respondents deem it either ‘good’ (26.17 per cent) or as ‘very good’ (14.95 per cent).

The unfavourable rating for PPP is certainly not true for its earlier government under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s and under Benazir Bhutto in the 1980s-90s, both of which are viewed much more positively. Over 53 per cent of respondents view the former either as ‘good’ (30.69 per cent) or as ‘very good’ (22.98 per cent). The evaluation of Benazir Bhutto’s PPP governments is very similar. Over 50 per cent of the respondents view them as either ‘good’ (31.27 per cent) or ‘very good’ (19.61 per cent). The earlier civilian governments (1951–58) are also viewed reasonably positively, with 35.54 per cent respondents seeing them as ‘good’ and 12.31 per cent as ‘very good’.

Business in full swing at Liaquatabad commercial area of Karachi on a December night | Fahim Siddiqui, White Star
Business in full swing at Liaquatabad commercial area of Karachi on a December night | Fahim Siddiqui, White Star

An interesting finding of the survey is that the respondents do not view the military rule of Ayub Khan as significantly different from the earlier civilian governments of the 1950s, which it had replaced. In terms of numbers, 47.37 per cent see the economic performance of Ayub Khan’s government as either ‘good’ (29.32 per cent) or ‘very good’ (18.05 per cent).

The result is very similar for the later military regime under Pervez Musharraf, whose performance, again, is not evaluated as being significantly better than that of the civilian government it replaced: 30.34 per cent consider it ‘good’ and 16.8 per cent ‘very good’. Of all the military regimes, that of Ziaul Haq is rated the lowest (as is that of Yahya Khan), with only 37 per cent respondents seeing it as either ‘good’ (25.51 per cent) or as ‘very good’ (12.3 per cent).

Perhaps the most significant result of the survey is that, on average, people view the economic performance of civilian governments as being better than that of military rulers. Even if one were to weigh the results by the number of years a government has held office, the findings do not change. Another striking result is the very poor opinion the respondents from Sindh and Balochistan have of Pervez Musharraf’s economic performance.

Across provinces, and not counting the extremely favourable ratings of the Jinnah/Liaquat period, the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto stands in first place, followed by Benazir Bhutto in second and civilian governments of 1951-1958 in third. For those aged 18–34 years, Ziaul Haq’s regime and the last PPP government are at the very bottom.

On which important issues have people judged the economic performance of a government? Clearly, those that hinder or help them overcome economic hardships as well as those that adversely or favourably affect their living standards and best meet their basic needs.

Given the poor state of public service delivery, it is not surprising that an incompetent and inefficient bureaucracy tops the list by a huge margin, with 80.94 per cent of the respondents being of the view that this factor is ‘important’ (33.99 per cent) or ‘very important’ (46.95 per cent) in economic management. This is followed by corruption – a bane for all people – and energy shortages which had reached crippling levels recently: 74.51 per cent and 73.65 per cent respondents, respectively, see these two as key (the sum of ‘important’ and ‘very important’) factors. Law and order follows at the fourth position, with 69.08 per cent seeing it as another important factor in economic management.

Even after 70 years of independence, the prevalence of a feudal culture is seen by 57.99 per cent of people as either ‘important’ or ‘very important’ in economic management. Human development, too, is regarded as a significant factor — with 65.32 per cent respondents seeing it either as ‘important’ or very ‘important’. It reflects the high priority people give to educating their children. Surprisingly, income inequality ranks somewhat lower — with 59.35 per cent respondents viewing it as ‘important’ or very ‘important’. This may well reflect a sense of acceptance among people that the state is unable to change the country’s highly inequitable economic order.

An important result of the survey is the relatively high number of respondents – 64.25 per cent – who are concerned about Pakistan’s dependence on foreign aid and loans, reflecting the high foreign debt the governments have incurred in recent years and the burden of repaying this debt. Given the pressure on the balance of payments with stagnant exports and rising imports, 73.19 per cent feel that trade imbalance is either an ‘important’ or a ‘very important’ issue.

A slightly lower share of the respondents, 64.59 per cent, feels that a low currency exchange rate is also either an ‘important’ or a ‘very important’ issue. Inconsistent economic policies are rated as ‘important’ and ‘very important’ by 64.42 per cent of the respondents. This last ratio is slightly higher in Punjab than in other provinces.

Viewed overall, there are no significant regional differences in these results: an incompetent and inefficient bureaucracy still tops the list in all provinces, with unfavourable responses from Punjab – at 83.42 per cent – being marginally higher than in other provinces. The only significant difference is the greater importance given to law and order by 74.58 per cent respondents in Balochistan and by a somewhat lower number – 64.7 per cent – in Sindh. This clearly reflects the volatile law and order in the two provinces.

It is also interesting that only 44.24 per cent respondents from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa give importance to the prevalence of a feudal culture in economic management. This is significantly low compared to the national average of 57.99 per cent.

Rising prices have an adverse impact on living conditions for the vast majority of people and are a major source of dissatisfaction with the governments of the day, which, rightly or wrongly, are held primarily responsible for the problem. It is not surprising, therefore, that 63.24 per cent of the people surveyed feel that the government or the state has failed to control prices. More than half of the respondents are of the view that the state’s polices have been unsuccessful in terms of equitable distribution of farmland and wealth, taxation, farmers’ welfare and relations between workers and industrialists.

Between 42 per cent and 48 per cent respondents feel that the state has been unsuccessful in employment generation, women’s participation in the workforce and infrastructure development. The respondents’ evaluation of the lack of success in women’s labour force participation is not significantly different among women respondents or among those aged 18–34.

The lack of success by the government or the state in addressing people’s key economic concerns is underlined by the fact that almost 80 per cent of the respondents view the contribution of the government sector to the economy as being either ‘highly significant’ (42.84 per cent) or ‘significant’ (36.11 per cent). This is followed by the private sector which is seen as ‘highly significant’ by 23.99 per cent respondents and ‘significant’ by 50.56 per cent of them. The non-profit/non-government sector is regarded as ‘significant’ by 42.88 per cent respondents and ‘highly significant’ by another 17.97 per cent. Foreign states and institutions are seen as ‘highly significant’ by 21.35 per cent respondents and ‘significant’ by 38.86 per cent of them.

Yuan has become a frequently used currency in Pakistani trade | Fahim Siddiqui, White Star
Yuan has become a frequently used currency in Pakistani trade | Fahim Siddiqui, White Star


How do the results of this public perception survey stand up to, or differ from, the broadly held view of Pakistan’s economic performance?

There is little doubt that Pakistan overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges at the time of independence when many had doubted its very survival, especially those who had opposed Partition. Yet, the country has never fully realised its true economic potential. Between 1960 and 1990, it was among the world’s 10 fastest growing economies. Over the next 30 years, it found itself being overtaken decisively not just by the rapidly growing East Asian ‘miracle’ economies but also by China, then India and – after the results of the latest population census – Bangladesh.

It is this loss of earlier momentum and the accompanying disappointment that is reflected in the rather low proportion of people surveyed – just over half – who state that their economic conditions have improved since 1947 despite a fourfold increase in per capita income and great decline in poverty. Yet, the survey clearly identifies significant economic achievements: industrialisation, food security, the green revolution and – though not as significant as expected – the advent and spread of new technology.

But why has the country not realised its true economic potential? Significantly, a key factor in this regard has been the continuing war in Afghanistan, its spillover on the security situation in Pakistan and the resulting loss of investor confidence. Unfortunately, the Afghan war has not been mentioned in the survey questionnaire.

Still, the other key factors identified are telling. Above all others, the identification of an incompetent and inefficient bureaucracy and the considerable importance given by the respondents to the role of the state in economic development show, à la Hamza Alavi’s thesis, that the “overdeveloped state” has become increasingly dysfunctional and has resulted in unfavourable growth and development outcomes.

The survey results differ significantly from the broadly accepted view that Pakistan’s economic performance has been much better under periods of military rule than under civilian governments. While respondents are very critical of the economic performance of the last PPP government, they also rank the same party’s performance under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto higher than that under Ayub Khan and Pervez Musharraf. Economic performance under Ziaul Haq’s regime is viewed poorly but the performance of the PMLN governments is rated, at best, ‘fair’ rather than overwhelmingly ‘good’ or ‘very good’.

One can only infer from the survey’s results that people consider civilian governments more inclusive in decision making and more likely to evenly spread the gains of economic growth and development than the military ones — even if their economic performance in terms of GDP growth is less impressive than that of military rulers.

Businesses on Shahbaz Commercial in Karachi | Eman Rana, White Star
Businesses on Shahbaz Commercial in Karachi | Eman Rana, White Star

Another revealing result that emerges from the survey – again, contrary to the generally held view – is that far more people in rural areas than in urban areas report an improvement in their economic conditions since independence. This does not mean that per capita incomes in rural areas are higher or poverty levels lower – which certainly they are not – but it does show that the tensions and pressures of urban living have taken a toll on those living in the cities.

While more favourable economic policies, including higher prices of agricultural goods, increases in non-farm rural incomes and overseas remittances (with more overseas migration from rural than urban areas) may have helped reduce the rural-urban divide, what the survey’s results bring out is that cities have not served as engines of economic growth and certainly not of happiness or contentment.

An important contribution of the survey is that it brings out stark inter-provincial differences, especially among people living in Sindh and Balochistan who feel they have not enjoyed the gains of growth and development compared to those in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Sindh and Balochistan are also far more critical of the economic performance of military rulers.

The survey offers a mine of information that needs further and closer analysis. Moreover, its important – and sometimes startling – results warrant closer attention from economists and economic historians. Most importantly, they demand decisive action by policymakers and politicians in order to put the economy back on a path of high, inclusive and sustainable growth.

The writer is a professor of economics at the Lahore School of Economics and a former vice chancellor of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics.

Law and justice

The Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad | Tanveer Shahzad, White Star
The Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad | Tanveer Shahzad, White Star

In the people's court: Public perceptions of crime and punishment in Pakistan

By Sadaf Aziz

Pakistan’s legal history cannot be neatly separated from its political history, even in the ways that academic disciplines have been able to separate the two while describing other parts of the world. Here, at least, one strand of this complicated story tells us that the very origins of Pakistani statehood can be traced to the breakdown of constitutional negotiations between the main political players in British India. A little further back in the past, the limited Indianisation of the justice system, and the introduction of self-government during the last decades of colonial rule, produced a legal and judicial architecture in which the attainment of justice was secondary to the maintenance of centralised control over a disparate territory and fragmented population.

Much of this system of mixed and fragmented justice has been inherited by Pakistan and has survived since independence. Our constitutional history is also fragmented: the highest law of the land has been held in abeyance, abrogated, amended and renewed multiple times. While there is no guarantee that a more stable constitutional history would have addressed the functional flaws that constrain our judicial system from being responsive to social demands and people’s problems, we nonetheless remain saddled with the direct results of our chaotic relationship with the constitution.

As public discussions in Pakistan are increasingly focused on competition between different branches of government, this Herald-British Council survey allows us to cast an eye upon the historical provenance of continuing institutional conflicts, as well as the broader interactions of a citizenry with judicial structures. The survey results discussed here reflect perceptions about judicial performance and the broader architecture of Pakistan’s legal system. The picture that emerges is one that immediately suggests apprehension.

While there is much in our fractured history to invoke such apprehension, these perceptions are also perhaps suggestive of a fundamental ambivalence about the role of the judicial system within the larger social order.

The structure of the survey is such that one set of questions gauges the performance of the judicial system during different political regimes — both democratic and dictatorial. The second set assesses the interaction of the respondents with both formal and informal systems of justice. A third set of questions mirrors the respondents’ perceptions about the judiciary’s ability to protect fundamental rights and to respond to social and political conflicts.

The fact that the judicial system in the earliest years after independence is seen as dispensing justice most satisfactorily is rather unsurprising in a context where hagiography reigns supreme. Critical academic literature has long identified the intensification of a law and order state as having taken place in this early period; restrictive public safety and security laws were introduced, and the judiciary was unwilling and unable to invalidate those laws under the terms of the Government of India Act of 1935. These measures can be traced back to the severe dysfunctions caused by Partition, challenges of early state-building, and the colonial carry over of repressive legal and administrative mechanisms.

Broadly, it was a period in which executive rule was solidified and the judiciary showed great deference to it. Provincial assemblies were dismissed by the federal government and the first constituent assembly itself was dismissed in 1954 by the then governor-general Ghulam Mohammad, but the judiciary could do nothing about it at all. The short-lived constitution of 1956 was not much of a bulwark against such centralisations of power, even though it considerably expanded the judicial review powers of the high courts and the newly created Supreme Court. All this seems to be reflected in a marked decline in approval for judicial performance by the survey’s respondents when they are asked about the period between 1951 and 1958.

In such a historical context, the reigns of Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan were not so much as aberrations but rather a culmination of the tendencies the new state had developed early on. These included the executive seizure of legislative powers as well as the judiciary’s subservience to the executive. It is, therefore, useful to maintain caution that the regime-wise division employed in the survey misses out on continuities, and instead provides an unjustifiably ruptured sense of historical transition.

Ayub Khan’s reign is notable for having given Pakistan its second constitution and for formalising a structure of indirect democracy. The survey’s results suggest that the lustre the Ayub regime has long retained for its promotion of a developmental modernism appears to have dimmed somewhat. It seems that the constraints upon judicial structures and their related inability to deliver individual justice may now be more apparent to the respondents than they ever were in the past.

Yahya Khan suspended the 1962 Constitution and instituted a transition to democracy under an interim constitution. It was shortly after his departure from office that he was declared a usurper by the judiciary and at least one of the doctrines previously forged to justify the earlier military seizure of power was invalidated by the Supreme Court.

The 1973 Constitution, promulgated shortly after the breakup of the country, goes further than any previous constitution in enabling the superior courts to exercise review over governmental actions; it reconstitutes the superior judiciary’s writ jurisdiction that was first introduced by the 1956 Constitution and that enables the courts to review the executive’s performance on the enforcement of fundamental rights. Herein also lies the rub: after making the judiciary the guarantor of fundamental rights, the establishment and political forces could always outpace the courts’ ability to become a truly robust institution capable of providing such a guarantee. A variety of mechanisms were deployed to ensure the capture and politicisation of the judiciary to stop it from exercising its constitutional powers.

Justice Hamoodur Rahman (left) and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto | White Star
Justice Hamoodur Rahman (left) and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto | White Star

A conventional liberal assessment of what the courts should do in the service of democracy might suggest that the ideal judicial posture should be reticence during democratic regimes, and activism during military rule. It is hard to see if this rather simplistic view is what is reflected in the approval rates in the survey for the judiciary across different regimes. This view also does not acknowledge that democratic governments do not always act within the parameters of a justice system, as conceived by the constitution. There are, in fact, indications of their unwillingness to protect or abide by constitutionally guaranteed rights or of their willingness to constrain independent action by other institutional players, including the judiciary.

Ironically, on the night of the formal adoption of the constitution containing extensive and deep limitations on the enforcement of every fundamental right listed in it, the regime of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto also imposed a state of emergency. This move made immediately apparent the essential contradiction of a democratic government formally conferring human rights that it was itself unwilling to abide by. Also, the promises of judicial independence were quickly whittled away by the introduction of a number of constitutional amendments, some of which were specifically aimed at ensuring a compliant judiciary, particularly in order to facilitate the regime’s almost official policy of detaining political opponents.

While reading some cases of detentions in the Bhutto era, I recently came across a number of judgments authored by the late Justice KMA Samdani of the Lahore High Court. In these verdicts, the executive’s justifications for detention were often found wanting and the release of detainees ordered in defiant resistance to Bhutto’s high-handed control of the political sphere. Then, sometime later, I read Bhutto’s own bail application filed in 1977 when he was awaiting trial on charges of murder.

The neat reasoning and tone of the verdict granting him bail should have been sufficient indication as to who had written it but it was, nonetheless, a wondrous surprise when I scrolled down and saw Justice Samdani as its author. Conceivably a thorn in Bhutto’s side, he was also among the very few who would brave the displeasure of Ziaul Haq and grant Bhutto bail. It brought to my mind the respect we profess but rarely practice for the idea of integrity.

The judiciary, as a whole, has rarely distinguished itself by pushing back the abuses of fundamental rights. Rather, as the example of Justice Samdani is intended to show, it is individual judges who often follow a line of consistent principles for the application of the rule of law. That the acts of a few judges fortify the institutional power of the judiciary is something we see in both democratic and authoritarian periods. In periods of sustained democratic rule, though, the deeper extension of this stronger role for the judiciary can additionally be demonstrated through the upswing in public interest litigation that started in the early 1990s and carried through over the course of that decade.

This expansion and deepening of the judiciary’s institutional power enabled it to invalidate military courts and nullify various human rights related provisions of antiterrorism laws during Nawaz Sharif’s second term in office (1997-99). More recently, as we are witnessing another episode of the Nawaz Sharif versus the courts saga, it is probably easier to see why the survey results suggest the courts should exercise caution and restraint when operating in a period of democratic rule. Going back to our last period of military rule, though, it is far from clear from the survey if the aggressive judicial pushback against Pervez Musharraf’s arbitrary rule is perceived as being in the service of democracy.

Apart from questions about high politics and the judiciary’s role in it as players during various types of governmental forms and regimes, the survey also contains questions on the broader justice system.

These questions ask the respondents about civil and criminal courts, family courts as well as informal judicial instruments such as jirga/panchayat and religious edicts. Whereas around 22 per cent respondents have reported having interacted with civil/criminal and family courts, the survey results that suggest that around 14 per cent respondents have interacted with military courts, 22.79 per cent with jirga/panchayat and 15.49 per cent with informal religious decrees may seem surprising. Also anomalous, in a comparative sense, may be the fact that a relatively large number of the respondents seem to have interacted with the superior courts.

This, however, can be explained both by the tendencies towards frivolous litigation as well as the expansiveness of writ jurisdiction in Pakistan. Although the figures for (dis)satisfaction with the justice system are not hugely divergent for various types of courts, it is civil courts, long decried for inordinate delays as well as for corruption, that generate the highest levels of dissatisfaction. However, other than seeing the composite image of a society that has a strong relationship with the law and with informal normative order, it is hard to read these survey results without further information. For instance, a survey of victims of crime reveals different things about the criminal justice system than a survey of those accused of committing a crime.

Insofar as the domain of criminal justice is concerned, different groups of the respondents seem to have more or less similar views while evaluating its flaws. Almost across the whole spectrum of crimes mentioned in the survey, the respondents are evenly split in their evaluations as to whether punishments have grown more severe or less severe. As we are operating within the domain of perceptions in this survey, it is pertinent to mention that an increase in the severity of punishments is seen by most respondents as being correlated to a decrease in the commission of crimes.

The split among the respondents perhaps reflects their acknowledgement of the persistence of these crimes. More baffling though are the survey results that fail to identify Zia-era punishments, especially those covered by the Hudood Ordinances and the blasphemy laws, as major factors in increased severity of punishments.

Altogether, although wide-ranging and ambitious, these survey results generally lead us down the path of trying to draw simple inferences from complex phenomena. Is the justice system working, or is it in need of repair? There can be no simple answer to a question like this.

There are very few focused studies of judicial performance and we rarely look beyond the ongoing high political tugs of war between the judiciary and other institutions of the state. In this context, public perceptions alone are truly an unreliable indicator of the health of a justice system. This comes across most glaringly in the set of responses to the questions that ask whether the judiciary has adequately upheld individual rights that clash with the state’s interests. In an era of escalating rights violations, which include enforced disappearances and restrictions on speech, a general approval of judicial performance can only be read as suggesting that perhaps the judiciary is expected to do only so much and not more.

The writer is a faculty member of the Shaikh Ahmad Hassan School of Law at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

Arts and culture

Students working on projects at the National College of Arts, Lahore | M Arif, White Star
Students working on projects at the National College of Arts, Lahore | M Arif, White Star

State of the arts: How have artistic expression and creativity fared in Pakistan

By Quddus Mirza

Artists are usually perceived to be sensitive people: any change affects them more than it affects anyone else and they are expected to respond to the change – in/through their art – more than any other section of society. Going by this line of argument, the massive carnage, mass migration and destruction of property that marred the creation of Pakistan in August 1947 should have made the artists react to and reflect on it. In reality, that did not happen. Though writers dealt with the story of Partition, visual artists somehow remained distant from that dark period of our past.

One recalls a 1947 painting by Abdur Rahman Ejaz, a contemporary of Abdur Rahman Chughtai. Far from showing what was happening in that year, this canvas depicted a blissful Punjabi couple in a garden, with the woman on a swing and the man standing next to her, both dressed in bright traditional costumes amid beds of flowers, lush grass and blossoming trees. This could be a reflection of how artists thought of themselves as part of a larger Subcontinent-wide community instead of being limited to a specific nation state.

Seen this way, it does not surprise that some writers left India and opted to be citizens of Pakistan after Partition but soon denounced their Pakistani nationality in favour of an Indian one (as is the case with Qurratulain Hyder) or a British one (as Salman Rushdie did). Perhaps the artists considered the newly freed states as liquid entities, hence they flowed and floated from one border to the other — and not just once. To give another example, India’s foremost painter S H Raza stayed in his home country but his brother Ali Imam and niece Nahid Raza – both acclaimed painters in their own right – migrated to Pakistan.

In the early years of Pakistan, the link between visual arts and the state was also largely undefined. In the brief period of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s government and during the subsequent years of Liaquat Ali Khan as prime minister, artists continued to pursue their practices without having anything to do with the state.

One comes across post-Partition works by Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1899-1975), Allah Bux (1895-1978) and Fyzee Rahamin (1886-1964) created in the same style, format and imagery as they had done before 1947. Chughtai, for instance, continued to incorporate the influence of the Bengal School (imbibed through his contact with Bengali painters such as Rabindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose who were seeking to form an indigenous artistic identity of the Indian subcontinent during/against colonial rule); Allah Bux and Fyzee Rahamin, on the other hand, kept following the conventions of European art and aesthetics introduced through ‘western’ art schools in India. (“The first proper art school was the Calcutta Mechanics’ Institution and School of Arts, founded by Frederick Corbyn after a public meeting on February 26, 1839,” as is noted in Partha Mitter’s 1994 book, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India. This tradition was continued with the establishment of Mayo School of Industrial Arts in 1875 in Lahore.)

The emergence of a new state hardly mattered for such artists, except that their patronage by Rajas in undivided India stopped. These Rajas would employ miniature painters such as Haji Mohammad Sharif from Patiala and Sheikh Shujaullah till the very last year before Partition. Although they soon found new patrons, and their pictorial concerns hardly changed despite the massive upheaval the state and society were undergoing around them. Contrary to all of this, a large number of respondents (60.9 per cent) in this Herald-British Council survey, coming as they do from various sections of society, believe that the state in this early period was highly supportive of arts and culture.

Art and artists became a point of interest for the state in the later years, as a musical chair performance of Pakistani prime ministers took place under the shadow of governor-general Malik Ghulam Mohammad.

The first book on Pakistani art, Art in Pakistan, was published in 1954. It was written by Jalal Uddin Ahmed who worked the department of information and publication of the state. Pakistan Quarterly, a journal that included writings on art, literature and culture, also came out during this period. One of these prime ministers, Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, helped launch the public career of a young and unknown painter, Sadequain, who had recently arrived in Pakistan after spending a few years in France.

A student of National College of Arts works on a sculpture | M Arif, White Star
A student of National College of Arts works on a sculpture | M Arif, White Star

Pakistan’s growing links with the West in this era also proved helpful for artistic activities. These ties brought in money and academic expertise that resulted in the revamping of Mayo School of Industrial Arts as the National College of Arts in 1958. Many western countries later opened their cultural centres in different Pakistani cities. Foreign art critics (including the renowned Suzi Gablik) also came to Pakistan and delivered lectures on art.

The survey’s approval rating for the state’s investment in arts and culture during 1951-58, however, decreases significantly – to 42.38 per cent – compared to what it is for the period under Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan. This is perhaps because the state exhibited no sustained interest in promoting cultural activities due to political instability. We see that no institutions for art education were set up. A few institutes, such as the Fine Arts Department at the Punjab University, Dacca Art School and Mayo School of Industrial Art, were there but all of them had been set up much earlier.

In a strange twist, art became a flourishing force when the country came under a military dictatorship. Even though Iskander Mirza, the last governor-general and the first president of Pakistan, inaugurated a few exhibitions, it was General Ayub Khan’s era during which the arts began figuring prominently in the state’s policies. For example, Contemporary Arts in Pakistan, a monthly magazine, edited by Jalal Uddin Ahmed and published by the government, began circulating during the 1960s. It was a significant step towards the promotion of the arts and culture, with writings on visual art, as well as theatre, crafts and heritage. Major contributions to this English journal were made by writers, artists and critics from East Pakistan. Many artists from that part of united Pakistan were also frequently covered in its different issues.

The Ayub era was known for multiple exhibitions, some inaugurated by the president himself. In collaboration with the United States, the government sent several artists abroad on different exchange programmes. In Lahore, the Alhamra Arts Council became a venue that brought artists together. Exhibitions were frequently held there, including solo shows of Chughtai organised by Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

This was also a time of great political conflict. On the domestic front, the country was under a dictatorship; in the international arena, it was a period of American invasions and military involvement in many parts of the world. Artists played a strong political role in that period (as is endorsed by 52.93 per cent of the survey respondents). Ijaz ul Hassan was one of them. In his paintings, he commented on the unjust war in Vietnam and condemned the atrocities of the American army there.

The conducive environment for the development of arts and culture continued in the brief yet turbulent years of General Yahya Khan. His era, however, is significant for another reason: despite his indulgence in booze and other delights, his information minister Sher Ali Khan Pataudi coined the term ‘Pakistan Ideology’ that eventually came to be a sore point and threat to many artists, writers and intellectuals.

After the secession of East Pakistan, the country was regrouped by the first democratically elected prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Bhutto and his team created many cultural institutions from scratch, such as the Pakistan National Council of the Arts, the National Film Development Corporation (NAFDEC) and the Folk Heritage Museum, etc. Many of his ministers as well as the first lady, Nusrat Bhutto, were engaged with arts and culture and played a significant role in the promotion of artistic activities. There were frequent art shows of local and foreign artists.

A quarterly publication, Saqafat, was brought out by the Pakistan National Council of the Arts in which art, culture and history of the country were discussed in Urdu. Later, another monthly magazine in Urdu, Al-Saif (published by the secretariat responsible for coordination among the provinces), also came out, dealing with the same issues/concerns. Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party was populist not just in the electoral sphere but it also tried to provide access to art and culture in a local language to a large population that could read only in Urdu.

Sadequain working on a painting in his studio | White Star
Sadequain working on a painting in his studio | White Star

The state became the biggest supporter of the artists, commissioning them to do public projects. This led to changes in artistic practices as well. Pakistan then had an open atmosphere for art in which multiple voices were accepted — even appreciated. The artists not only became confident about their works, they also received state funds. Professional guilds of artists were set up in different provinces — a central body known as Pakistan Artists’ Association also came about at the time.

This golden era for art came to an end in 1977 with the military coup of Ziaul Haq. It was the start of the cruellest dictatorship in the country but, in some uncanny way, it increased art production in Pakistan. Political groups resisting Zia both influenced and utilized art, literature and culture as a means for political protest.

Initially, the Zia regime’s attitude towards arts and artists was not hostile. For many of us, it would come as a surprise to know that in his first public speech – made at the opening of Arbab Mohammad Sardar’s exhibition (mainly of sculptures) at the National Art Gallery, Islamabad – Zia not only proclaimed that Islam allowed visual arts, but also that his government would encourage artists and promote cultural activities. It was only later that he imposed restrictions of all sorts on artistic expression in the name of religion and morality.

Women were also discouraged from being in the public, limiting their involvement in public life and introducing severe decrees on their dress. Strict censorship laws made it mandatory for female television announcers and newsreaders to follow a certain dress code — ensuring that their heads and chests were covered with their duppattas. If a woman was to be shown being saved from drowning in a television play, her clothes were to remain completely dry under orders from the censors. Likewise, a shawl was required to keep covering the contours of her body if she was shown in deep sleep.

These restrictions also spread to visual arts and artists working with images of nude women, both in two dimensions and three dimensions, were not permitted to exhibit publically, especially in state-owned galleries. In 1983, for instance, Iqbal Hussain’s paintings (of prostitutes) were not allowed to be shown at the Alhamra Arts Council, Lahore, so the painter displayed his canvases outside the gallery on a pavement of The Mall.

Alongside Zia’s attention towards the human body and its depiction in art, a general atmosphere against the freedom of speech during his regime hampered writers, artists and other creative personalities from responding to his reign of oppression. Political subjects were banned; references to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s hanging were scrutinised in every form of expression and were blocked.

Yet, Zia found it difficult to silence artistic and creative expression. The literature of resistance and the art of reflection emerged on the scene as if with a venom. Artists like Jamil Naqsh and Colin David continued to pursue their painting of the nude female figure, despite unfavourable conditions. A number of women artists (including Salima Hashmi, Sumbal Nazir and Nahid Raza) – who were working with a range of imagery/ideas – consciously started to portray the female body, mostly nude, as a symbol of resistance against restrictions on women’s presence in public and their representation in art.

Many artists also created a symbolic vocabulary to bypass the censors. Images such as birds behind closed windows and in cages, barbed wires, plants growing amid inhospitable terrains, dogs, vultures and appropriation of the king’s figure from the traditional Indian miniature painting, et cetera, started appearing in the works of such artists as Ijaz ul Hassan, A R Nagori, Salima Hashmi, Anwar Saeed, Jamal Shah and Akram Dost, among many others.

The legacy of this visual language outlived Zia after he perished in a plane crash in August 1988. Later governments of Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and a few interim prime ministers oversaw a society that was changing rapidly in the realms of economy, religion, culture and information.

Although, during the brief rule of Benazir Bhutto, the state’s investment in art and culture was highly significant, the Zia-era legacy continued to persist in multiple forms during her tenure. The most obvious and most dangerous result of its continued influence was that rather than the state it was the society – dominated by religious groups and madrasas – that took up the task of witch-hunting the real and perceived artistic subversions. The government agencies did not pay as much heed to artistic creations as did the general public, and particularly the religious outfits. Censorship was no longer the sole prerogative of the state. Madrasas, maulvis and militants excitedly took over that role.

The years under another dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, were full of contradictory policies and approaches related to art, culture and the freedom of expression. Many of his policies influenced cultural activities favourably. For instance, he completed the construction of the National Art Gallery’s permanent building in Islamabad and also promoted music, dance, film and theatre. Musharraf also allowed numerous private television channels to broadcast. This new media influenced artistic activities as well by offering more opportunities and space to artists for their creative expression.

The artists started enjoying a privileged status as the spread of global trade generated interest in Pakistani art. In time, all these developments would contribute to the opening of several art galleries in different cities which, in turn, attracted a new generation of collectors and augmented the market for art. At the same time, however, Musharraf’s rule will be remembered for an increase in fundamentalist and extremist behaviours in the society along with a rise in the power of religious and sectarian militants.

These two opposing strands have split Pakistani society into different strata. As a high-fashion revolution took place, public access to (uncensored) information improved and the opportunities to link with people of other nationalities, faiths, languages and cultures increased; at the same time, the insistence on religious identity also became firmly rooted.

The governments following Musharraf – of Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif – did promote the arts, but due to their artistic exposure and the enlarged art market within the country, the artists no longer depended on the state’s patronage. Private galleries, international shows and foreign publications focusing on the arts have diffused the need for the state’s role, presence and policies in the minds and studios of Pakistani artists.

Like an email identity or a Facebook profile that does not need a user’s place of origin or current address, the artists today have become part of a globalised world that is not concerned about their personal identities. Their views, practices and political roles are no longer confined to a territory even when they live in a particular location. This sense of internationalism – or being global – has transformed our cultural milieu.

The writer is an artist, art crtic, and editor at ArtNow Pakistan.

Strategic affairs

Indian soldiers patrol the India-Pakistan border in March 2016 | AP
Indian soldiers patrol the India-Pakistan border in March 2016 | AP

Gunning for safety: Perceptions and reality of national security

By Syed Rifaat Hussain

For most of its existence, Pakistan’s security environment has been ‘convulsive’ rather than being ‘peaceful’ as the country has had to contend with the unpleasant reality of a hostile India in the east and an ‘irredentist’ Afghanistan in the west. Born as a ‘garrison state’ with long contested borders and very limited military means to cope with the dual military threat emanating from hostile neighbours, Pakistan became the most allied ally of the United States in the mid-1950s.

This alignment enabled us to survive in a harsh security environment marked by active conflict with India over Kashmir and tensions with Afghanistan over the question of ‘Pashtunistan’ but this alignment also made us overly dependent on the West for supply of arms and military equipment. Towards the late 1980s, this dependence would help the United States make our civilian leaders sign the Geneva Accords for the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan even when General Ziaul Haq, the then military president of Pakistan, did not approve of it.

Even otherwise, Pakistan’s ties with the West have often remained tense, if not quite tenuous. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the demise of the Cold War in 1991, for instance, led to a sharp downturn in Pak-US relations as is symbolised by the imposition of Pressler sanctions in October 1990. As a consequence, American security links with Pakistan atrophied. Even when Washington reversed its policy of strategic retrenchment from South Asia following the overt nuclearisation of India and Pakistan in May 1998 and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this re-engagement has been pursued at the expense of Pakistan (as is evident from how strongly the US has tilted towards India in recent times).

It is against this backdrop that this Herald-British Council survey has been conducted. It asks 7,000 people seven different questions on how their sense of security has been affected by the roles played by political parties, religious actors and governmental institutions including civilian bureaucracy, armed forces and intelligence agencies; about which entities have made Pakistan more secure and which factors have weakened its security; on how our relations with our immediate neighbours as well as with the rest of the world have impacted our sense of security. What follows is a brief analysis of the respondents’ opinions.

The survey suggests that the sense of security is deemed high for the earliest period of the country in spite of the fact that Pakistan then had very poor administrative and security infrastructures. This is perhaps because Muslims of the Indian subcontinent felt themselves secure after achieving their own homeland under the able leadership of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan. Over 70 per cent of the survey respondents feel the country was ‘secure’ under the two founding fathers.

For 1951-58, however, the sense of security decreases significantly as almost 61 per cent respondents feel that Pakistan was ‘secure’ at the time. Jinnah’s death in 1948 and the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951 could be contributing factors to this downward slide. There is further decrease in the approval for security under Ayub Khan (from 61 per cent to 58.13 per cent) and, at the same time, five per cent more respondents feel Pakistan was ‘least secure’ under him than those who have the same opinion for the 1951-58 period.

The percentage of those who feel Pakistan was ‘highly secure’ declines with the onset of the internal crisis due to the overthrow of Ayub Khan’s regime and its replacement by the dictatorship of General Yahya Khan. The percentage of respondents who feel Pakistan was ‘not secure’ doubled under Yahya Khan as compared to Ayub Khan’s regime.

Under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party regime, people’s sense of security was augmented as 64 per cent respondents feel the country to be secure at the time. The percentage of respondents who feel Pakistan to be ‘least secure’ during this period also declined by 6.5 per cent compared to what it was during the previous regime. This is quite remarkable since the country had gone through the trauma of dismemberment and defeat in the 1971 India-Pakistan war at the beginning of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s rule. A truncated Pakistan was certainly feeling increasingly more confident about itself under his dynamic leadership.

A policeman helps an injured person after a blast near the Punjab Assembly in Lahore in February 2017 | Murtaza Ali, White Star
A policeman helps an injured person after a blast near the Punjab Assembly in Lahore in February 2017 | Murtaza Ali, White Star

Soon this changed for the worse — during Zia’s tenure. Only 15.2 per cent of the respondents say Pakistan was ‘highly secure’ under him (another 34.65 per cent say the country was ‘secure’ under him). On the other hand, 31.53 per cent say it was ‘least secure’ then. Zia’s harsh Islamic rule marked by public flogging, the judicial murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto during his tenure and a wave of bombings at public places, all linked to jihad in Afghanistan, might have been reasons why people felt deeply insecure under him.

The feeling of security increased dramatically after Benazir Bhutto came into power: over 62 per cent of the respondents feel Pakistan was ‘secure’ under her. Another 35 per cent feel the security situation under her to be otherwise perhaps due to the increase in sectarian violence and religious militancy in the 1990s.

The sense of security dipped slightly under General Pervez Musharraf as 57 per cent respondents say Pakistan was either ‘highly secure’ (19.5 per cent) or ‘secure’ (37.75 per cent) in his government. Another 30 per cent say the country was ‘least secure’ under him. The rise in suicide attacks across Pakistan and the deadly violence in Karachi, Balochistan and the tribal areas might have been contributing factors to this rather high sense of insecurity.

Under Asif Ali Zardari, the number of those thinking Pakistan to be ‘highly secure’ declines to only 11.07 per cent (while another 35.19 per cent deem the country was ‘secure’ under him) and the percentage of people who feel the country as ‘least secure’ under him increases to almost 35 per cent — these numbers are lower than those even for Zia. The overall sense of security deteriorated during Zardari’s tenure mainly because of his government’s inability to stop terrorist activities across the country, gang wars and political violence in Karachi, and a separatist insurgency in Balochistan.

An eight per cent increase can be witnessed in the number of respondents feeling ‘highly secure’ under various Nawaz Sharif governments (1990-93, 1997-99, 2013-17) as compared to Zardari’s government. There is also a decline of almost seven per cent in the number of respondents feeling Pakistan to be ‘least secure’. Overall, 51 per cent respondents feel Pakistan has been either ‘highly secure’ or ‘secure’ during Sharif’s rule.

Some survey results seem to be rather counter-intuitive. For instance, political parties have been seldom involved in violence (except for a few ignoble exceptions) and most of the respondents see the governments of political parties (headed by Jinnah-Liaquat, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto) to have secured the country the most, yet 41.83 per cent of them feel that political parties on their own have negatively affected the country’s security; only 33.27 per cent approve of their contribution in this regard. This can be attributed to the negative publicity political parties usually get in mass media and public discourse.

Some other results, too, are quite surprising. More than half of the respondents feel religious parties have played a role in strengthening Pakistan’s security. This could be because these parties usually take a strong nationalist, even jingoistic, stance on issues of national security. This number is offset by 30.42 per cent respondents – a significantly high number – who feel that these parties have ‘weakened’ the country’s security perhaps because of their real and imagined ties with militant and sectarian organisations. Public opinion is also polarised, though in a different way, with regards to the role played by sectarian parties in national security: almost 49 per cent respondents feel these have ‘weakened’ Pakistan’s security while 31 per cent feel they have positively contributed to it. The respondents, however, show a strong disapproval of sectarian militant organisations: 53 per cent of the respondents view them in a negative light; only 28 per cent think otherwise.

The same is also true for other religious militant groups. In marked contrast to the relatively positive view of the role of religious parties, 54 per cent of the respondents feel these militant groups have ‘weakened’ the country’s security. This is despite the fact that some of these groups had the freedom to openly campaign for gaining public support until recently.

The respondents’ views change significantly when they are asked about the importance of religious and political parties in making Pakistan a secure country: 57.09 per cent of the respondents believe political parties are important entities in this regard (though another 39.34 per cent do not agree with this view). Similarly, 55.37 per cent of those surveyed regard the role of religious parties important in national security (but 40.41 per cent of them believe otherwise).

When asked about how Pakistan’s relations with India have affected our security, 50.18 per cent of the respondents feel our big neighbour in the east has played a negative role in this regard. Another 20.28 per cent of the respondents do not agree with this and, rather surprisingly, believe that relations with India have actually ‘strengthened’ Pakistan’s security. The same attitude is visible in terms of Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan: 50.36 per cent of those surveyed believe relations with Afghanistan have negatively influenced Pakistan’s security; 23.27 per cent of them do not share this opinion. Our turbulent relations with these neighbours contributing to our sense of security may be put down to the fact that our ceaseless conflicts with them have spurred us to make all kinds of arrangements to keep ourselves safe from them.

Given the solid ties between Pakistan and China, it is no surprise that over 50 per cent of the respondents feel that the latter is a positive factor in the former’s security though almost 29 per cent respondents also feel that the all-weather friendship between the two countries has indeed ‘weakened’ our security. The reason for this perception could be concerns around the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the apprehensions about Beijing’s dominance of Islamabad in strategic, economic and commercial fields.

Pakistan’s relations with the western world led by the United States, that started on a warm note back in the 1950s, have become strained since 9/11. This is reflected in the divided public opinion on how this relationship has contributed to our sense of security: 42.59 per cent of the survey respondents feel Islamabad’s relations with the West have adversely affected our security while 28.88 per cent do not agree with this view.

Public opinion suffers an even deeper divide on the impact of Pakistan’s relations with Iran: 38.38 per cent of the respondents feel Pakistan’s relations with its southwestern Muslim neighbour have ‘weakened’ our security but 33.96 per cent feel our security situation has benefitted from this relationship. There could be multiple explanations for this. Rather strong commercial and diplomatic ties between Tehran and Delhi as well as the sectarian divide between a largely Sunni Pakistan and a mostly Shia Iran could be the two most likely factors.

Such sectarian and religious considerations could also be the reason why many Pakistanis tend to have a favourable view of the Arab countries: 38.37 per cent of those surveyed see the Arab countries in a positive light, stating that Pakistan’s ties to them have ‘strengthened’ our security. That another 34.5 per cent feel these ties have ‘weakened’ Pakistan’s security suggests that religion may be a strong factor in how we view other countries but it is certainly not the only or even the most decisive factor.

The survey throws the relationship between security and political-civil liberties into a sharp relief. Three-fifths of those surveyed feel that Pakistan’s democratic evolution has been either ‘influenced’ or ‘strongly influenced’ by security problems while 30.56 per cent believe that democratic evolution has been ‘least influenced’ by security challenges. Similarly, 61.46 per cent of those surveyed believe security concerns have influenced the provision of fundamental human rights. Only less than one third of the respondents feel that human rights have been least affected by the security situation.

An almost similar number (60.66 per cent) of those surveyed hold that security problems have significantly influenced religious harmony; only 27.34 per cent feel religious harmony has been least affected by security problems. If nothing else, these numbers reflect the impact of sectarian violence on the respondents’ opinions.

About 42.4 per cent of those surveyed feel sluggish economic growth over the past several years has adversely affected the security situation. A significantly high 32.39 per cent respondents, however, do not share this view. In response to a related question about the nexus between security and economic development, 79.92 per cent of them feel the two are causally related; only 7.21 per cent feel this is not the case.

Guards participate in the flag lowering ceremony at Wagah border near Lahore | White Star
Guards participate in the flag lowering ceremony at Wagah border near Lahore | White Star

There, however, is almost a consensus on what factors have been important in securing Pakistan: more than 83 per cent respondents feel it is the military force. (Even the military’s involvement in commercial and civilian administrative spheres – something not directly related to national security – does not seem to make a dent on its image. Only 14.91 per cent of the respondents believe that such involvement does not help their image.) Similarly, more than 78 per cent credit nuclear weapons for securing Pakistan and more than 70 per cent see arms and armaments having ensured our security.

From there onwards, there is a gradual decline. The importance accorded to such factors as religion (selected by 65.05 per cent respondents), nationalism (chosen by 64.46 per cent respondents), diplomacy (marked by 64.23 per cent respondents) and support from foreign allies (picked by 59.96 per cent respondents) follows in the same order.

These numbers suggest that a vast majority of those surveyed feel that Pakistan should not be relying as much on alliances and support from others as on its own strategic autonomy in order to ensure its national security.

There is a relatively lower approval rating for civilian administrations than there is for the armed forces. The survey indicates that a very high number of respondents – 41.8 per cent – feel the security situation has been negatively impacted by the role played by bureaucracy. (Another 31.49 per cent, however, feel that bureaucracy has positively influenced the security situation in spite of the mounting concern over its role in the lack of effective governance.)

Around 66.18 per cent of the respondents consider police to be a vital entity in making the country secure (another 31.45 per cent do not agree with them). Paramilitary and border forces are deemed important for national security by almost a similar number of respondents (65.32 per cent). Those who think otherwise are also significantly sizeable – at 31.45 per cent – perhaps because our border management is far from ideal.

Media, too, emerges as a significant player in national security, according to the survey. Almost 63 per cent of the respondents believe its role to be important in ensuring national security though a sizeable 33.8 per cent of those surveyed do not share this view partly due to the widely held perception that the media has either its own agendas to promote or is being sponsored by foreign actors.

A vast majority of those surveyed (61.15 per cent) believe that intelligentsia has an important role to play in the national security discourse. Nearly 53.14 per cent of those surveyed are of the opinion that madrasas have an important role in securing the nation and 59.69 per cent of them say the same about educational institutions. These numbers suggest as to who is seen as most influential in setting the agenda and deciding the tone and direction of the national discourse on security. These results also show why the state’s security and intelligence agencies have often employed these very institutions for opinion building in the country.

The survey suggests that, 70 years after its creation, Pakistan remains a garrison state in which people are looking more and more towards the armed forces and security agencies for fulfilling their security needs. This, in large part, is due to the fact that our security environment has remained turbulent due to problems with India and Afghanistan. Our participation in the war on terror has also left indelible scars on the psyche of the people.

Pakistan’s security dilemmas are huge and almost intractable. The only way out of them is to promote peace within and without. For this to happen, we need external space to heal our multiple wounds — many of which are not of our own making.

The writer heads the government, policy and public administration department at the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad.

Administration and government

A policeman guards the route of Zuljinnah procession in Kochi Bazaar, Peshawar | Shahbaz Butt, White Star
A policeman guards the route of Zuljinnah procession in Kochi Bazaar, Peshawar | Shahbaz Butt, White Star

Masters not servants: Whom does the bureaucracy deserve?

By Hasan Abbas

It is no secret that poor administration and deteriorating governance mar Pakistan. To put it simply, the two hold Pakistan back from maturing to its true potential. Even though Pakistan has shown resilience and has witnessed growth in many sectors, better governance practices would have allowed it to perform much better. Dreams remained dreams due to sheer incompetence and maladministration that seem to be deeply rooted. However, while criticism is easy, a deeper analysis to understand the malaise afflicting Pakistan proves to be difficult in the absence of hard data – this survey provides us a window into the past to do exactly that.

The availability of credible data on governance is a perennial problem in Pakistan. International donor agencies and major aid programmes have collected some relevant data over the years but public opinion polls on these topics are a relatively recent phenomenon. Hopefully this survey will trigger a positive dialogue between the state and its citizens, in turn strengthening democratic governance.

In an attempt to decipher the governance challenges, this survey probes seven primary questions looking into issues ranging from policing and the accountability of bureaucracy, to the provision of basic services and amenities. The questions also look into the state of communication, infrastructure and investments in human development as a way to gauge how the state’s administrative structures have performed over decades since independence.

Most queries under these categories divide Pakistan’s history into ten easily decipherable phases starting with the Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan era (1947-51), the military rules of Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan, and moving onto the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Ziaul Haq years. Recent decades are divided into the governments of Benazir Bhutto, Pervez Musharraf, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. This allowed respondents to think in terms of how different political governments and military regimes compare when it comes to important governance themes. 

The survey results provide some variation of opinion when viewed through the lens of urban/rural divide, ethnic/provincial identity and age, but by and large the national data is reflective of overall opinions and views. For the purpose of understanding the broader national context, I have opted to focus on major national trends and variables. 

Pakistan inherited an administrative system which served the British colonial apparatus well, but it needed creative adaptations to serve the needs and aspirations of a nascent independent state. The new state, however, lacked resources as well as trained manpower to pull it off on short notice. Existential threats from India and ethnic tensions between East Pakistan and West Pakistan, in addition to a weak economic base, hampered growth and development in the early years. A dysfunctional state was a logical outcome but, despite the odds, Pakistan started off quite well.

A bus stand in Badami Bagh, Lahore, after heavy rain | M Arif, White Star
A bus stand in Badami Bagh, Lahore, after heavy rain | M Arif, White Star

Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, was very clear in enunciating the foundational principles of the state. He emphatically made a case for building a constitutional democracy where pluralism and the rule of law would prevail. Addressing government officials on March 25, 1948, he said: “Those days have gone when the country was ruled by the bureaucracy. It is [the] people’s government, responsible to the people more or less on democratic lines and parliamentary practices.” These ideals received great public support but Pakistan lacked the kind of political leadership after Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan that might have pursued this agenda effectively.

Only Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made a serious attempt in the early 1970s to reform the bureaucratic model which Pakistan had inherited. Some improvements introduced during successive military regimes, such as depoliticisation of bureaucracy, were pursued in the military rulers’ own institutional interests. The civil bureaucracy benefitted overall from such civil-military tussles by often playing one against the other. These factors have hurt the prospects of good governance in the country.

The survey results clearly indicate this deterioration, since hopes of better governance have declined considerably over time, except in a few sectors. Pakistan still struggles as its civil and military bureaucracies act as if they are masters rather than servants of the state. 

It is heartening to see that policing, as an issue, has started getting due recognition and importance. State building greatly depends on the quality of the criminal justice system, and police performance plays a very critical role in this regard. For too long, building police capacity was ignored in Pakistan, and the colonial legacy of using police as a means to ‘control’ rather than serve people has been practised by all governments to date.

The survey indicates that police performance for the first two decades of the country’s independence are seen by the respondents in a positive light. However, this impression might be based on the general assumption that the quality of leadership in the early years of Pakistan was far better than it is today. It is also a fact that crime rates were indeed low in the 1950s and 1960s and corruption was not rampant at the time hence limited investment in law enforcement infrastructure that was made then did not become a huge issue. 

The crime data of those early decades hides an ugly fact. The law and order situation was deteriorating in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) — a factor which is often ignored in our present day analyses. One can argue that investment in a strong criminal justice system would have helped Pakistan develop as a cohesive state in its years of infancy. The 1971 tragedy – that split up the country – was largely a consequence of the failure to uphold the rule of law. 

Interestingly, the survey shows that the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto years (1971-77) improved policing standards as is believed by over 60 per cent of the survey respondents. Democracy, indeed, raised people’s hopes and expectations, while Bhutto’s civil service reforms also had an impact. The policing challenges started becoming acute during the Zia years due to the onset of the ‘Afghan Jihad’ as well as the military regime’s brutal tactics in dealing with political dissent within the country. The survey results indicate mixed public opinion about police performance during the 1980s. 

Insightfully, police performance is seen as having improved during the two Benazir Bhutto governments in the late 1980s and early 1990s and during Musharraf’s government (1999-2008). Survey results show the opposite trend for the governments of Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. These apparently contradictory results indicate that people clearly know which leaders at least attempted to reform police across the country. The national opinion also indicates increasing frustration with police excesses. The increased investment made in police budgets across the country in recent years has not produced any change as is evident from poor police image (except in the case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where it is marginally better).

Tree branches used to warn motorists to avoid an open manhole in the centre of the road near Australia Chowk, Lahore | Murtaza Ali, White Star
Tree branches used to warn motorists to avoid an open manhole in the centre of the road near Australia Chowk, Lahore | Murtaza Ali, White Star

Accountability of the bureaucracy is one of the most potent features of the rule of law, and an important indicator to gauge whether citizens trust their government. The survey results clearly indicate that the level of public trust in the state’s capability to hold bureaucracy accountable is diminishing. Similar to the case of police performance, most Pakistanis believe that accountability of bureaucracy was largely effective till the end of the Ayub years. It dipped during the brief Yahya rule but significantly improved during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and later under Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto must be credited for his attempts to dismantle the elitist bureaucracy model Pakistan had inherited from the British.

There was a blowback to this initiative as civil bureaucracy has always been a powerful pillar of the Pakistani state and it does not like to serve as subordinate to any authority, whether civilian or military. As per the survey results, accountability of bureaucracy during the last decade or so (especially since the fall of Pervez Musharraf) has been quite ineffective.

The only real positive development in the provision of service and civic amenities is seen in the area of communication infrastructure — both in terms of road and air transportation as well as electronic communications. Postal service is also seen as having improved in the eyes of the respondents. In all other categories, ranging from sanitation and garbage collection to electricity and natural gas provision, decline and deterioration in service is registered by the respondents from a cross section of the sample. 

While infrastructure development is the responsibility of the state, private and non-profit sectors are also increasingly involved at a global scale. The survey indicates that most Pakistanis believe that the state’s role is still fundamental in ensuring the availability of the basic necessities of life. Interestingly, the development works during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s and Nawaz Sharif’s governments are well recognised. This is perhaps because democracy provides people an important channel to voice their concerns while pushing state institutions to respond to their needs and expectations.

Human development is a way to measure human well-being — in terms of education, income levels and human rights. The idea of human development revolves around the freedom ordinary people have to determine their aspirations, careers and even religious beliefs. In this category, democratic leaders understandably fare well in comparison to military rulers. The repeated military interventions have played havoc with the human development agenda even though periods of military rule have witnessed higher economic growth (for example during Ayub and Musharraf years). Human development is more about education, capacity building, and providing a sense of equal opportunity to grow and develop.

After the recognition of great work done in the early years when Jinnah emphasised the principles of democracy and inclusivity, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto received relatively high recognition for their initiatives to make ordinary people feel empowered. Benazir Bhutto’s rise – keeping aside governance challenges she faced – was a strong message carrying powerful symbolism for Pakistani women.

In brief, there is a growing awareness about governance challenges in the country and it is obvious from the survey responses that people (irrespective of their educational or ethnic backgrounds) understand the ground realities, especially how state institutions are failing them. This is a crucial realisation which is likely to help raise awareness about the need for democratic consolidation which is the only solid and dependable route to improve governance structures and swiftly move towards strengthening the rule of law in Pakistan.

The writer is chairperson of the regional and analytical studies department at the National Defense University in Washington DC and a National Fellow at New America.


A sectarian clash that erupted in Rawalpindi on November 16, 2013 following an Ashura procession | Tanveer Shahzad, White Star
A sectarian clash that erupted in Rawalpindi on November 16, 2013 following an Ashura procession | Tanveer Shahzad, White Star

Faith in numbers: Religions influence on the state and society

By Tahir Kamran

Islam constituted the most fundamental factor in germinating a separatist sentiment among Muslims in north India. This sentiment then culminated in the establishment of Pakistan in August 1947. It was a novel experiment in the political history of the world whereby the very conception of a nation state was predicated on religion. It was novel because the notion of a nation state is incongruent with the transnational ideology that Islam epitomises. One, therefore, may concur with political scientist Khalid bin Sayeed who describes Pakistan’s creation as an aberration, a deviation from the norm.

I have argued elsewhere that “religious ideology was to be the glue that would inflexibly bind Pakistan’s otherwise disparate sociocultural identities: at the country’s conception, it was understood to be Islam in a holistic sense.” Political and intellectual elite of the country at the time was rather indifferent towards sectarian divisions as well as towards the preponderance of Sunni Islam as a natural upshot of Pakistan’s religious identity.

This essay sets out to gauge people’s perceptions on how this religious identity has informed various fields of national life in different periods of Pakistan’s history. Based on a public opinion survey, this study is conducted in connection with the country’s 70th birth anniversary and is aimed at assessing popular views about how it has evolved over the last 70 years.

When asked about the extent to which they think religion was important in the formulation of state policies under Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan, 41.29 per cent of the respondents answer that it was ‘highly influential’; another 33.59 per cent consider the role of religion as ‘influential’ during that period. Almost 75 per cent of the respondents, thus, think religion was an influential factor in determining statecraft under the founding fathers.

This popular perception is not corroborated by historians who tell us that religion was not allowed to be a cornerstone of state policy formulation under Jinnah. Under Liaquat Ali Khan, however, religion steadily moved to the centre stage of the constitution-making process. Lumping Jinnah with Liaquat Ali Khan while ascertaining the influence of religion as an instrument in policymaking, therefore, confounds the analysis.

It is pertinent to underscore the fact that Jinnah stressed upon an inclusive polity for the new country. In his speech in the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, he clearly defined the role of religion in a modern nation state where freedom of religious practice was the undisputed right of every citizen. His clear-headed vision for the new nation was not predicated on the idea of religion. Instead, he envisaged Pakistan as a diverse, democratic state. The crux of the speech is epitomised in a sentence given below:

“Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal, and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”

This snippet from Jinnah’s speech sums up his political vision that prescribed a way of reconciling the contradictions that arose from the idea of a nation state founded on a religious identity. His death in September 1948, however, meant his vision would not be realised. The Pakistan that emerged in 1949 was not the one foreseen by the founding father. From that year onwards, a clear deviation from Jinnah’s vision of an inclusive Pakistan was visible.

To explain why the new state diverged from the principles of its founder, we have to look a little further back in history. The modernist reformist Aligarh Movement aimed to engage Muslims with western scientific thought and to reconcile religion with the secular concept of a nation state. At the social level, the dominant narrative among Pakistan’s middle class in the early years was the one inspired by this movement. The overriding influence of religion, therefore, was not manifest at the time.

In 1949, two events helped to upstage this trend and took Pakistan in a different direction. First was the establishment of the Majlis-e-Tahaffuz-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwwat (referred to as Majlis hereafter) that can be translated as “The Assembly to Protect the Finality of Prophethood”. It was an offshoot of the Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam, a religious political party founded in 1929 that opposed Pakistan’s creation tooth and nail. It contested the 1946 elections against the Muslim League with a manifesto based on the repudiation of the idea of a separate Muslim state in India but could not secure even a single seat. Ahrari leaders opted for a low-key presence during the initial two years after Pakistan’s creation. They re-branded themselves as the Majlis in 1949 and profoundly influenced the sociopolitical life in the decades to come.

Following Jinnah’s death, the version of Islam that prevailed in the country sprouted from their exclusionary and puritanical interpretations.

The second event was the Objectives Resolution’s passage by the Constituent Assembly on March 12, 1949. It is likely that this would never have come to pass if Jinnah had remained alive, as Justice Muhammad Munir has argued in his book From Jinnah to Zia.

The resolution was instrumental in giving a religious orientation to the state. Its first clause, “Whereas sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty alone”, raised fears among the Constituent Assembly’s Hindu representatives from East Pakistan that they would be treated as second-class citizens and subsequently alienated the large Hindu minority living in East Pakistan. As Jogendra Nath Mandal, president of the first Constituent Assembly and Pakistan’s first law minister who was also a scheduled caste Hindu from East Pakistan, said during a legislative debate, the Objectives Resolution indicated that Pakistan after Jinnah was not the nation Jinnah envisaged.

The minorities felt suffocated and threatened in this Pakistan without the security he had promised them. The reconciliation of nation state and religion that he attempted was, thus, defied and the cleavage between the two ideas was highlighted.

These two events arguably had a profound influence not only on the state policies but also had a considerable impact on the society as well. The Objectives Resolution worked its way from top to bottom as state functionaries and legislators ensured a central role for religion in the process of constitution-making. The Majlis, on the other hand, worked its way bottom-up. Despite the difference in methodology, the aim of the two was the same: emphasising Pakistan’s Islamic identity.

These two events, therefore, set the tone for the future trajectory of the sociopolitical destiny of the nation. Having said that, religion still largely remained much of a private affair during the early period of Pakistan.

The very first social stirring in the name of religion came about in 1953 when the Majlis launched an anti-Ahmadi agitation. Malik Ghulam Mohammad was governor-general and Khawaja Nazimuddin was prime minister at the time. The agitation culminated in a mass movement that demanded legislation to declare the Ahmadi community as non-Muslim. The state suppressed the movement by force but the national as well as the Punjab government fell in its wake.

The movement also launched the political careers of several religious leaders. A few of them, such as Jamaat-e-Islami founder Abul A’la Maududi, had entered politics earlier but had not achieved prominence till then. Others like Abdul Sattar Niazi, a young firebrand from Mianwali, became household names in Punjab. The emergence and prominence of these religious leaders in mainstream politics was to have far-reaching consequences for the future. The most important and historically influential consequence of the advent of the Majlis was the rise of the religious right in politics and the gradual diminishing or exclusion of various progressive, leftist and even centrist political groups.

These developments notwithstanding, it can be argued that religion did not have any substantial influence over the state policy under Malik Ghulam Mohammad. It was evident by the fact that the state rejected the clergy’s call to declare the Ahmadi community as non-Muslim. One, therefore, does not tend to agree with 60.88 per cent of the survey respondents who think that religion was either ‘highly influential’ or ‘influential’ in the formulation of state policy in the years of his rule.

Nevertheless, it is also true that religion had gradually started influencing the society and politics. The same pattern continued during Ayub Khan’s regime from 1958 to 1969. Autocratic in essence, he was liberal to the core, something that was reflected in his government’s policies as well. He promulgated Muslim Family Laws which drew trenchant criticism and public condemnation from religious circles, but he did not budge and refused to rescind those laws.

An anti-blaspehmy protest in Lahore in 2012 | Azhar Jafri, White Star
An anti-blaspehmy protest in Lahore in 2012 | Azhar Jafri, White Star

Politics of the religious right was quite contained under him as were the politics of the left. Middle classes, too, did not betray much religiosity during that period. The society was religious but just tangentially. Yet, 34.85 per cent of the respondents in this survey think that religion was influential at the state level during Ayub Khan’s regime.

The same situation continued under Yahya Khan. It was during his regime, however, when Jamaat-e-Islami first came close to the establishment due to its pro-Pakistan militant activities in East Pakistan.

When East Pakistan seceded to become Bangladesh in 1971, it was a hugely significant event on several counts. Firstly, it was portrayed as a Hindu conspiracy that exacerbated the Hindu-Muslim dichotomy which in turn legitimised the position of the religious right. Secondly, and perhaps most significantly, it consolidated religious majoritarian tendencies in politics. When East Pakistan was a part of the Pakistani state, minorities constituted 23 per cent of the population. After its secession, this number was reduced to less than three per cent. This allowed the conception of an Islamist ideology to gain firm footing and take on a pervasive and all-engulfing character.

Thirdly, it was succeeded by the constitutional declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims in 1974. It was unprecedented for such exclusionary legislation to be moved in Parliament, get passed and be made a part of the constitution. The movement that had failed in 1953 – but, as mentioned earlier, had boosted the cause of the religious right – finally succeeded. This success convinced the Majlis leaders that the elected Parliament could be brought under pressure through extra-parliamentary tactics.

By declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave credence to the religious right’s disruptive politics that did not want to resolve divisive issues through negotiations. Dialogue and compromise were replaced by threats and blackmail. All this allowed Islam’s influence on the state policy to reach such a level that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had to take several more measures to appease the religious right. These included the establishment of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, a ban on alcohol consumption in public and the declaration of Friday as a weekly holiday.

On July 4, 1977, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was ousted from power in a military coup known as Operation Fair Play and General Ziaul Haq assumed power as a military dictator. It was the religious right, in fact, which had deployed its street politics to bring about this change — having mobilised its supporters on the allegations of rigging in the 1977 elections. In his 11-year tenure, Zia undertook measures which subsequently proved irreversible.

In this regard, 1979 is particularly important. In that year, he initiated the process of Islamisation to legitimise his rule. The Zakat and Ushr Ordinance that he promulgated then is particularly important because it went on to crystallise sectarian identities. In the years to come, sectarianism became no less than an existential menace for Pakistan.

The darkest side of the agenda of Islamisation was the promulgation of the Hudood Ordinances – also in 1979 – that provided for public flogging and stoning for such acts as adultery and fornication. The Hudood Ordinances were followed by changes in blasphemy laws whereby it became routine for false accusations to be levelled against religious or sectarian minorities and, at times, even against personal enemies.

Equally importantly, this was also the year when Pakistan’s proxies initiated a US-sponsored jihad against the Soviet Union’s military invasion of Afghanistan. The consequent backing that Zia received from Washington sustained him in power almost throughout the 1980s. The other consequence of this jihad was that it increased the power of clergy beyond measure and the number of seminaries soared incredibly with Saudi Arabia’s financial support. If Pakistan at 70 appears a less evolved nation state than it should have, it is because of Zia’s legacy that has hindered the country’s progress.

Popular perception reflected in the survey – that religion was most influential during Jinnah’s time in government – betrays a stark divergence from facts on the ground. Islam, indeed, was most influential in the framing of the state policies during Zia’s era and its impact became quite palpable in society too.

In the post-Zia era, his legacy of deeply entrenched fundamentalism and sectarianism persisted. The political musical chairs between Zia’s legatee Nawaz Sharif and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s daughter Benazir Bhutto during the 1990s further aided the rise of the religious right. The influence of religion on the state policy remained unabated throughout the 1990s and religion permeated deeper into society.

It is important to note here that these were the days when the Taliban grabbed power in Afghanistan after a few years of abject uncertainty there. Their rise further strengthened the fundamentalist streak in Pakistani clergy.

The 1990s culminated in General Pervez Musharraf’s military coup. He was an antithesis of Zia in many ways, yet he also followed in Zia’s footsteps in more ways than one — such as joining the US-led alliance in Afghanistan after the events of September 11, 2001. Another politically significant step he took was his need-based reliance on the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a political alliance of far right, conservative religious parties which helped him forge an electorally feasible ruling coalition.

Notwithstanding all this, he undertook a critical revision of the state policy, as a result of 9/11, by clamping down against extremism and sectarianism. The reactionary forces retaliated viciously against this revision through suicide attacks. This retaliation was best manifested in events surrounding the Lal Masjid of Islamabad which operated in open defiance of the federal government and its administration.

When the state decided in July 2007 to end the vigilante activities of Lal Masjid clerics, it met with severe armed resistance from within the mosque. It was in the wake of this episode that disparate jihadist and sectarian groups came together under the umbrella of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which since then has targeted the Pakistani state, its institutions and, increasingly, ‘soft’ civilian targets. After Asif Ali Zardari took over as president, the range and the intensity of their operations increased quite considerably.

The greatest security threat to Pakistan’s existence, thus, has come from the religious right. The security forces are trying hard to remove this threat but with only partial success so far. The battle for Pakistan’s future is not over yet.

The writer is the dean of arts and social sciences and chairman of the history department at Government College University, Lahore.


Supporters of opposition parties at a rally at The Mall, Lahore | Arif Ali, White Star
Supporters of opposition parties at a rally at The Mall, Lahore | Arif Ali, White Star

Popular versus factual: Politics as if people matter

By Hassan Javid

More than half of Pakistanis think the military has had a positive influence on their country’s politics; a similar number of Pakistanis feel that the 2013 elections were the least free and least fair; and about two-thirds of them believe that people were most politically active during the first four years after independence. These are some of the findings of the Herald-British Council survey of 7,000 respondents from across Pakistan, with the results demonstrating how, barring a few exceptions, most Pakistanis take a relatively bleak and pessimistic view of the performance of institutions and individuals that shape their country’s politics.

The survey solicits opinions on seven main themes related to politics: the effect of the constitution on different aspects of public life, the freeness and fairness of elections, levels of political freedom under different governments, the extent to which different political institutions have been able to develop, the influence of different institutions and actors on the overall political situation, the effect various factors have had on electoral outcomes, and the significance of several key events in Pakistan’s political history.

The respondents provide answers about these themes on a Likert scale, ranging from positive to negative or from ‘highly active’ to ‘least active’. The data collected as part of this exercise is open to analysis on the basis of different demographic parameters such as gender, province, geographic location, age, mother tongue, occupation and level of education.

A closer look at the survey’s findings makes several things immediately clear. For example, a majority (58.55 per cent) of the respondents feel that the constitution has had a positive impact only in one area — centre-province relations.

In almost every other area, its impact is perceived to be increasingly less positive: 38.85 per cent respondents believe it has been a positive influence in religious affairs; 39.15 per cent feel it has positively influenced the judiciary’s independence; 36.4 per cent say elections and representation have been positively impacted by it; 29.67 per cent state that it has positively influenced culture and customary practices and 25.37 per cent say it has had a positive effect on the tribal system.

In many of these areas, there are more respondents who feel the constitution has had a negative impact than those who feel it has been a force for good. One of the exceptions is human rights where 43.38 per cent respondents feel the constitution has been a positive factor as opposed to 31.88 per cent who feel it has been a negative one.

A similar pattern emerges when popular views on elections are solicited. The survey suggests the most free and most fair elections were conducted between 1951 and 1954 when voters elected the first post-independence provincial assemblies — 47.49 per cent of the respondents endorse those elections as being the most free and most fair. For the freeness and fairness of the rest of the elections, there is a progressively downward slide in public perception, culminating in a majority of the respondents (52.73 per cent) stating that the 2013 elections were least fair and least free.

This number is broadly similar to the disapproval rating for elections in 1993 and 1997 (49.54 per cent and 50.33 per cent, respectively) as well as that for the 2002 elections held during General Pervez Musharraf’s military dictatorship (52.51 per cent).

Interestingly, this generally unfavourable view of how elections have been conducted contrasts with the mostly positive view the respondents take of institutional development. For example, when asked about the extent to which political parties have evolved over the past seven decades, 75.1 per cent of the respondents reply ‘well’ or ‘very well’. For Parliament, 64.33 per cent of the respondents say it has developed ‘well’ or ‘very well’; 56.99 per cent say so for the provincial assemblies; 57.16 per cent have a similar view about the election commission; and the federal and provincial cabinets are seen by 54.49 per cent respondents to have developed ‘well’ or ‘very well’.

Parliament House | Tanveer Shahzad, White Star
Parliament House | Tanveer Shahzad, White Star

Another clear trend emerges when the respondents are asked how politically active people were under different governments. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 76.48 per cent of them believe people were politically ‘active’ or ‘highly active’ in Pakistan’s formative years under Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan. In addition to that, 66.08 per cent of the respondents state that people were either ‘active’ or ‘highly active’ during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government; 65.76 per cent and 57.63 per cent of them, respectively, say the same for the two governments of Benazir Bhutto (1988-1990 and 1993-1996) and three governments of Nawaz Sharif (1990-1993, 1997-1999 and 2013-2018).

This is in contrast to the different military governments under which levels of political activity are acknowledged to have been considerably lower. For example, 56.9 per cent of the respondents state that people were either ‘active’ or ‘highly active’ under Musharraf, 53.62 per cent respond this way when asked about General Ayub Khan’s tenure and 46.66 per cent say the same for General Ziaul Haq’s regime.

Also significant is the number of respondents who say how people were ‘least’ politically active under various governments: for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the figure stands at 23.75 per cent; for Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, it is 24.11 per cent and 24.57 per cent, respectively, but it rises to 30.21 per cent for General Musharraf, to 31.46 per cent for Ayub Khan and to 33.69 per cent for Ziaul Haq.

A significant portion of the survey sought to ascertain public opinion on different factors that have impacted Pakistan’s overall political situation. As stated earlier, 54.31 per cent of the respondents believe military involvement in electoral/political processes has had a positive effect. Similarly, centre-province relations are seen to have a positive impact on those processes by 34.45 per cent respondents. Only 36.02 per cent of them state that foreign countries and international organisations have had a positive impact in this regard.

There is also broad agreement on the factors that have had a negative effect on electoral/political processes. Politics of revenge is seen as bad for those processes by 53.87 per cent respondents, misgovernance by 56.56 per cent respondents, economic instability by 53.5 per cent respondents, ethnic discord by 50.55 per cent respondents, sectarian and religious disharmony by 50.17 per cent respondents, concentration of wealth by 49.44 per cent respondents and inequality in land ownership is perceived to have been a negative factor by 46.36 per cent respondents.

The findings of the survey are quite revealing about the impact of different actors and institutions on election results. There is overwhelming support for the military on this count as well, with 59.36 per cent of the respondents stating that it plays a positive role and a further 45.81 per cent saying the same for the judiciary. Levels of support taper off for other institutions. For example, only 40.68 per cent of the respondents see religious institutions and leaders playing a positive role.

Similarly, just 33.78 per cent endorse the civilian bureaucracy’s role as positive. Caretaker governments are seen as a positive factor by 31.44 per cent respondents, the election commission by 36.88 per cent respondents, polling officials by 32.29 per cent respondents, the police by 30.06 per cent respondents and ‘local influentials’ by 27.9 per cent respondents. The question on the role played by the media appears to be quite polarising: 40.39 per cent respondents say it has played a positive role while 38.88 per cent state the opposite.

Finally, the respondents are asked to state what they feel is the most significant political incident in Pakistan’s history. The death of Muhammad Ali Jinnah is the most popular option with 19.41 per cent of the respondents selecting it. Another 17.24 per cent choose the creation of Bangladesh; 16.48 per cent opt for the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and 14.59 per cent say it is the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu once argued that ‘public opinion’ does not exist. The basis for this claim was straightforward: surveys expect people to have opinions on the questions they ask (people may not have any opinion on those questions and may simply make up responses when asked); surveys treat all responses as being equally valid (disregarding expertise and experience of the respondents); and they assume that the questions being asked are generally considered to be important (they may not be).

Bourdieu was not suggesting that surveys and other attempts to gauge public opinion are pointless. Instead, he was simply calling attention to how it often becomes tempting to read too much into polls that, at the end of the day, do little more than provide a snapshot of opinions that may also reflect the biases of those who create surveys and those who respond to them.

Keeping this caveat in mind, it becomes possible to unpack some of the counter-intuitive findings from this Herald-British Council survey. For example, there appears to be considerable support for the military’s role in politics, as evinced by the enthusiastic endorsement many respondents give to its continued intervention in electoral processes.

This flies in the face of the received academic wisdom that suggests the opposite to be true — that the military has often been a counterproductive force when it comes to the development of Pakistan’s democracy and democratic institutions. Yet, this finding is unsurprising when we consider how the military’s political role has long been valorised in public discourse that has largely been characterised by the existence of a dichotomy between civilian politicians – who are largely seen to be venal and incompetent – and the military generals who replace these politicians only in the greater national interest. Old tropes about the relative merits of civilian and military politics continue to have a tremendous sway over popular imagination.

It is not coincidental that something similar appears to be at play when it comes to the judiciary. Over the past decade, ever since the era of former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Supreme Court has self-consciously appointed itself as the ultimate arbiter of political and electoral probity, amassing a certain populist legitimacy for itself while simultaneously probing the limits of its authority within the broader balance of power that is supposed to exist between the judiciary, the executive and Parliament. In this context, it is only expected that civilian politicians, the bureaucracy and their attendant political actors continue to be viewed as inept at best and corrupt at worst.

Evidence for this can also be seen in how the respondents gauge the freeness and fairness of elections. It is interesting that the 2013 elections — perhaps the most heavily scrutinised in the country’s history, deemed by many international observers to be relatively clean and found to be free of systematic rigging after being subjected to a Supreme Court inquiry — are perceived as being the least free and least fair. This finding undoubtedly is a result of the poisonous public debate that ensued after the election was held and which continues to influence politics even today.

Similarly, while the elections of the 1990s were hardly models of proper electoral conduct, the notion that they were worse than those held under different military governments may be more reflective of a general scepticism towards civilian governments than any solid and verifiable evidence of rigging. Having said that, it is interesting to see that, despite the apparent animosity towards civilian politicians and civilian institutions, most respondents agree that periods of democratic rule have been more conducive for the political engagement of people.

Parliament House in Islamabad | Ishaque Chaudhry, White Star
Parliament House in Islamabad | Ishaque Chaudhry, White Star

The survey also reveals a popular tendency to glorify the past. Claims that people were most politically active under Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan or that the provincial assembly elections of the 1950s were the most free and most fair in history or that Jinnah’s death was the most significant political event for Pakistan would simply not stand up to critical or historical scrutiny.

Again, this could be attributed to the general myth-making that has always been part of the Pakistani project. Just as the military has long been promoted as the ultimate guarantor of security and prosperity, the idea that things would have turned out differently had the leaders of the nationalist movement remained in power for a little longer has been repeated in textbooks and on television channels ad nauseam.

In reality, the first half decade of Pakistan’s existence was characterised by relentless factional fighting within the Muslim League, massive amounts of corruption (particularly in the allocation of evacuee property) and the liberal use of executive power to enforce undemocratic orders. All of this is either ignored or glossed over in the histories that are written and taught in Pakistan.

When it comes to the role played by the constitution in improving different areas of public life, it is not unsurprising to find that most people are pessimistic. Given how arbitrarily the rule of law and the writ of the state are imposed in Pakistan, scepticism about the role of the constitution has more to do with the inability to enforce it than its contents.

Nonetheless, it is heartening, if also puzzling, to find that most of the respondents are quite sanguine about the development of Pakistan’s institutions. The idea that Parliament, the election commission and political parties have evolved ‘well’ does not square with their performance on the ground. Most of the respondents, indeed, have taken a sceptical view of the performance of these institutions.

Finally, while there does not appear to be much difference of opinion when answers are disaggregated on the basis of gender, language and occupation, some interesting variations do emerge under some other parameters. For example, it is quite plain to see that Punjab tends to diverge from other provinces when it comes to the military’s role in politics; while 62.19 per cent of Punjabi respondents feel that its role is positive, 46.07 per cent respondents in Sindh and 42.84 per cent respondents in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa say the same. The number is the lowest in Balochistan, with only 27.62 per cent respondents having a similar view.

Interestingly enough, 61.01 per cent of Urdu speakers endorse the military’s role in politics as do a surprising 61.64 per cent of the respondents in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). Similarly, while there is unanimity on the notion that the constitution has done little to positively affect Pakistan’s tribal system, 28.82 per cent of Punjabis feel that it has had a positive effect compared to only 17.13 per cent in Balochistan and 19.86 per cent in Fata.

If nothing else, these and similar differences show that Punjab’s experience of politics is arguably very different from that of the other parts of Pakistan.

The writer is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS.

Foreign policy

The first container ship to depart after the inauguration of the CPEC port in Gwadar | Reuters
The first container ship to depart after the inauguration of the CPEC port in Gwadar | Reuters

Bonds and bondage: Whose foreign policy is it anyway?

By Haider Nizamani

Foreign policy and its attendant objective of ensuring national security are like an all-purpose flour used for baking a narrative of external threats facing the nation in order to silence dissent at home. In most established multiparty democracies, the making of foreign policy is the purview of elected representatives and implementing it is the job of specialised elite commonly known as diplomats. In Pakistan, this process is further complicated by the role the armed forces have in it.

Our independence in 1947 was accompanied by bloodshed, massive displacement of people in a matter of months – hitherto unprecedented in human history – and lasting animosity with our next door neighbour, India. Our other next door neighbour, Afghanistan, refuses to recognise the Durand Line as its border with Pakistan, terming it a colonial legacy. This has framed the context of the new state’s foreign policy for decades to come. The old Arabic adage ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ has been writ large on most of the subsequent foreign policy decisions Pakistan has made.

Having a country whose two halves were more than 2,000 nautical kilometers apart – with adversary India in between – in any case demanded diplomatic skills that the nascent state’s diplomats were going to have to learn on the job. Roping the United States into regional security was the path Pakistan adopted in the 1950s. Rising tensions between India and China from the late 1950s onwards have led to Pakistan becoming an ‘all-weather friend’ of communist China, and simultaneously the ‘most allied ally’ of the capitalist United States.

The 1970s was an era of turning to the Middle East and our diplomats were busy in the 1980s to portray the Afghan Mujahideen as heroes, after our military-led regime decided to join hands with the United States in order to bleed the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Pakitan’s fixation with India in the making of foreign policy has made our state managers misread connections between domestic and foreign realms. In 1971, Islamabad saw the Bengali discontent in East Pakistan as a handiwork of India, not realising that by December 1971 everyone, from Washington to Beijing, had left Pakistan to its own devices. Bengalis thronged the streets to welcome Indian soldiers as the Pakistan Army surrendered in Dhaka.

Pakistan fought its first war with India within months of independence and has fought two other wars in subsequent years. Islamabad chose to be part of the US-sponsored anti-communist military alliances in the 1950s, and then again in the 1980s under Ziaul Haq who chose to make our country a campground for a proxy war against the Soviet Union. In the 1990s, Pakistan gatecrashed the nuclear club in reaction to India’s nuclear tests. Yet, none of these momentous developments appear on the public’s radar as reflected in this survey.

A full 43 per cent respondents consider the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to be our most important foreign policy development. How does CPEC overshadow all that has happened in Pakistan’s foreign policy choices in the past? Short memory and fixation with headlines is the answer. Like any other survey, this one also reflects the headlines running at the time the survey was conducted, rather than the actual salience of CPEC – which certainly appears to be a game changer in 2018, but not necessarily the most important foreign policy decision in the country’s history.

If the high approval rate of CPEC makes it the most important foreign policy decision ever taken, then common sense would lead us to believe that the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) government should get high marks for spearheading the CPEC.

Public appraisal on this count is almost counter-intuitive. When asked to cast their gaze on 70 years of Pakistan’s history and rank how various governments have conducted foreign policy, 17 per cent of the respondents stated that Nawaz Sharif’s foreign policy has not been effective — the lowest approval rate of any government during the last seven decades. Sharif loses to Ayub Khan (deemed by 7.37 per cent respondents to have an ineffective foreign policy) who initiated an inconclusive 1965 war with India. Sharif even lags behind Yahya Khan (regarded by 13.32 per cent respondents to have an ineffective foreign policy), on whose watch Pakistan split into two parts and faced an ignominious defeat at the hands of arch adversary, India.

The apparent disconnect between the low rating for Sharif and high marks for CPEC is not as anomalous as it appears at first sight. Any sitting government, especially a civilian one, is judged more harshly than its predecessors and Sharif is no exception.

A general view of the three-day Islamic Summit that opened in Lahore in 1974 | White Star
A general view of the three-day Islamic Summit that opened in Lahore in 1974 | White Star

Close to half (46.1 per cent) of the survey respondents rank foreign policy under Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan as the most effective. This is the highest approval rate of any government when it comes to external relations.

This positive assessment could have resulted from a mix of regarding Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan above reproach and a lack of grounding in history. Jinnah hardly had the time – he passed away within 13 months of the creation of Pakistan – or even the inclination to focus on foreign policy. Pakistan was learning the ropes of statehood and foreign policy was not what mattered the most for its founding father. Yet it was during this period that Pakistan had its first war over Kashmir, resulting in a protracted conflict that continues to keep India and Pakistan in perpetual animosity. Historical evidence is sketchy at best to determine whether Jinnah was fully in the loop when the decision to tamper with the status quo in the princely state of Kashmir was taken and executed.

If his role in making the decision to go to war with India is unclear, Liaquat Ali Khan, the man who led Pakistan after Jinnah, can hardly be credited with making stellar foreign policy decisions; he remained unsuccessful in garnering American support to underwrite Pakistan’s security. In spite of such a lacklustre foreign policy report card, the respondents have given the Jinnah-Liaquat duo the highest grade.

There are a number of explanations for this: One, there is a theme nurtured over years in Pakistan that Jinnah could do no wrong so it is convenient to place his policies at a high pedestal and then judge the remainder of the rulers against that ideal. Two, Pakistanis have little knowledge of their history; so the further back in the past something takes place, the less faulty it tends to appear.

Given these two qualifications, it is interesting to see how Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government (1972-1977) ranks second only to Jinnah in approval rate. Bhutto was a divisive figure in the realm of domestic politics, but the survey reaffirms the generally held belief that he ably conducted Pakistan’s foreign relations.

Despite proclamations by our decision makers that they have been running foreign policy independent of foreign powers’ influence, ordinary Pakistanis tend to think that many of the decisions are taken at the prompting of external powers. A traditional urban myth in Pakistan is that Pakistani rulers, be it military or civilian, remain in office with Washington’s blessings and the route to any change in Islamabad goes via Washington.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s ouster through a military coup is viewed as a doing of the US as is Zia’s death in a plane crash. Similarly, when Zia’s promise to hold elections within 90 days after he had assumed power in 1977 turned into a decade-long rule, the longevity of his regime is partly attributed to the US propping his military dictatorship to fight a proxy war in Afghanistan.

Even though the US has long been viewed as the most influential foreign power in Pakistan, China has quietly taken a prominent place in the public’s eye as one of the most influential factors in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Hype about CPEC and much repeated statements about China being our ‘all-weather friend’ explain this.

Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto presiding over a Saarc conference | White Star
Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto presiding over a Saarc conference | White Star

It is, therefore, not surprising to see the United States (regarded influential in Pakistan’s foreign policy by 41.98 per cent respondents) and China (regarded influential by 43.28 per cent respondents) as the two countries that influence (‘highly significantly’) Pakistan’s foreign policy most significantly. Saudi Arabia (regarded influential by 27.29 per cent respondents) is third on the list. Our public, however, ought to be reminded that it was Saudi Arabia that brokered a deal between a former prime minister (Nawaz Sharif) and a sitting military dictator (Pervez Musharraf) and provided sanctuary to the former.

Our former colonial master, United Kingdom, is nearly at the bottom of the countries and organisations that influence Pakistan’s foreign policy. Only 14.84 per cent respondents see it influential in this regard. The diminishing salience of Britain is puzzling because London still features prominently in Pakistan’s political discourse, be it through high-end properties allegedly owned by the Sharif family or meddling in Pakistani affairs by British citizens such as Altaf Hussain.

Yet the public somehow thinks United Kingdom has even less significant influence on Pakistan’s foreign policy than the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) – viewed as being influential by 20.24 per cent respondents – and the United Nations — seen as such by 16.92 per cent respondents.

A good yardstick of a country’s foreign policy is how it handles relations with other countries. And if a country happens to share borders with as many countries as Pakistan, then relations with neighbours count a great deal. Pakistan’s geographical location and national security priorities have often led Islamabad to make foreign policy choices which have brought extra-regional superpowers into regional politics. Ultimately, these choices did not sit well with most of our neighbours.

China tops the list of countries with whom Pakistan is seen to have handled its relations very well, winning endorsement (‘very well’) from 50.3 per cent respondents. It is ironic that Afghanistan secures second place — a glaring irony given how frequently Kabul blames Islamabad for fomenting terrorism in Afghanistan and vice versa. Hardly a day passes by when the two sides do not accuse each other for their domestic troubles, yet 29.9 per cent respondents still believe we have handled our relations with Afghanistan ‘well’. Equally puzzling is the finding that only 14.98 per cent respondents think that Islamabad has handled its relations with Washington ‘very well’.

Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, and the second most populous Muslim nation. It is a member of various international and regional organisations and, given its size, one would expect it to play a prominent role on these global forums. The case of Saarc and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) offers an interesting contrast in this regard. Majority of the respondents (56.11 per cent) consider Pakistan to be a relevant actor in SAARC compared to 42.81 per cent who think Pakistan is relevant in OIC.

The dominant discourse since the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 has tried to veer Pakistan away from its South Asian roots by putting more emphasis on its Islamic identity. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s decision to host the Islamic Summit in 1974 was an early example of this shift. After the lapse of 44 years since then and without much basis to rely on, it is quite puzzling as to why the Pakistani public still thinks the country is a more relevant actor in Saarc than in the OIC.

Even more puzzling is the survey’s finding that 33.06 per cent of the respondents see Pakistan as a relevant actor in the Commonwealth. Any informed analyst of Pakistan’s foreign policy is likely to have serious doubts as the Commonwealth seldom, if ever, surfaces in the news. Probably the only time our lawmakers show interest in it is when there is a foreign trip in the pipeline to attend some unheard of Commonwealth event.

Pakistan’s foreign policymakers should be quite content to know that more than half (65.73 per cent) of the survey respondents see their decisions having secured the country’s interest over Kashmir. On national security, 61.11 per cent respondents think the same way.

That is where the good news ends. The respondents have given failing grades to foreign policymakers in their handling of all other major issues such as internal security (approved by 36.46 per cent respondents) and Pakistan’s global image (endorsed by 37.17 per cent respondents). In fact, 37.29 per cent of the respondents think that the country’s global image has deteriorated as has its internal security because of the way foreign policy has been handled.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif offers prayers at the opening ceremony of a pilot trade project at Gwadar port | AFP
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif offers prayers at the opening ceremony of a pilot trade project at Gwadar port | AFP

The conduct of foreign policy is a means to achieve tangible objectives and secure a country’s interests. Issues ranging from Kashmir to economic development require that Pakistan’s foreign policymakers will continually be making hard choices and adjustments.

But informed discussions on foreign policy, like on many other issues of public policy, are sorely missing in Pakistan. The result is that we yield to populist positions which are a combination of hyperbole and spin. In recent years, Pakistani public’s worldview has been shaped by shallow discussions about foreign and security policies on television news channels and by cleverly planted news reports that pass as analyses. This is reflected in responses to our survey questions. What is in the news today is considered to be an all important issue – CPEC, for example – while more salient issues from the past hardly make it into our public’s imagination.

Imagine if this type of survey was conducted in the summer of 1998. Most people would have highlighted the May 1998 nuclear tests as the issue of ultimate importance for the country. Two decades later, there is only a passing mention of those tests. Perceptions and priorities are not permanent and fixed in foreign policy, and this survey proves so. An uncritical and uninformed public is a blessing for the elite.

The writer is the author of 'The Roots of Rhetoric: Politics of Nuclear Weapons in India and Pakistan' and has contributed to various journals and periodicals.


This special publication could not have been possible without the generous support of the British Council in Pakistan. Their financial commitment, editorial and technical input, and immense patience throughout its much delayed execution helped this project become a reality. It would never have seen the light of day without their invaluable contribution. We thank the British Council’s research and communications teams for their feedback throughout the entire process of this project, from forming the sample to designing the questionnaire and from collecting the data to analysing, and subsequently publishing, the survey’s results. As partners, we gave each other the intellectual space and mutually agreed on our critical concerns. Our almost unceasing exchange of ideas with the British Council team was a major contributing factor in bringing qualitative improvements to both the content and the design of this publication.

We would also like to acknowledge the support of a vast number of surveyors who worked tirelessly on and off the field to complete this very extensive, nationwide survey. Shaheryar Popalzai, working as a fellow for the International Center for Journalists at the time, helped tremendously in devising the required technological tools for this whole exercise. Without his help, we might have buried ourselves in reams and reams of paper.

We would also like to thank Saad Arshad for assisting in data cleaning and data presentation, Anusha Anam Mahmood for helping us clean the data and fact-check it, Asif Akhtar and Laila Rajani for assisting us with editing and proofing during the last phase of this project and Aliyah Sahqani for coordinating many parts of it.

We owe our utmost gratitude to the experts and researchers at the Institue of Research, Advocacy and Development in Islamabad and Punjab Lok Sujag who coordinated data collection in central and northern parts of the country. We would also like to acknowledge the contribution of Fareedullah Chaudhry and Dr Hafeez Jamali who worked diligently on the same assignment in the southern part of Pakistan.

This survey was first published as a special supplement along with the April 2018 issue. To read more, subscribe to the Herald in print.