Pakistan is a ‘Soft State’ because it places expedience and negligence over principles and discipline in all walks of Pakistani life. So that if the citizens of Pakistan think that the zebra crossing on the road is a decoration, it is not the citizens’ fault for they have not been disciplined into thinking and behaving that it is a safe means of crossing the road. If the politicians of Pakistan lie and exaggerate this is because they do not have the self-discipline to behave in a more appropriate manner; and they know that if they transgress the norms of decency and honesty no punitive or disciplinary measures will be taken against them; and if these measures are taken, they will be able to circumvent these.

It is not the citizens’ fault if the food they eat is adulterated and of low quality (resulting in poor health), or they have to pay bribes to get things done; or are treated in hospitals which are hygienically substandard; or that they live in an environment which is filthy and to which they themselves have contributed in no small way; or the Azaan in Pakistan which is increasingly delivered not in the Arabic idiom but in local intonations and style.

These and other shortcomings in the polity of Pakistan can be attributed to the lack of discipline in the country, and ultimately to the ‘soft’ nature of the Pakistani state. As a postcolonial modernising state, Pakistan is soft as it has no determination or self-discipline to change prevailing conditions, attitudes, institutions and practices that are an obstacle to transform and modernize Pakistan through disciplinary practices. Thus its inability to eradicate corruption at all levels; enforce tax laws; effectively tax income from land; impose traffic rules and regulations, and so on. In short, implement through rigid discipline all the rights and obligations that are constitutive of a decent and modern (not Western) society.

The disciplinary practices are not imposed either because of the meagre resources of the state, or because of fear of retaliation or unpopularity among the population in general, and specific interest groups in particular. Here of course the imperial powers and Pakistani liberals would set in with their incantation (as they have in Iran) of the curtailment of ‘individual freedom and right of choice’. But Western powers suffer from historical amnesia; they forget their use of massive violence to discipline or obliterate their own populations on the road to ‘freedom, democracy and modernity.’ In fact one of the main reasons for the rise of Western power has been the discipline imposed on its society by modernising Western states and the emergence of self-discipline of its populations. It is ironic that most Pakistanis crave and lust after Western consumer goods, but do not wish to impose on themselves the sort of self-discipline that has resulted in Western processes of quality control, Research and Development, etc. The Pakistani state needs to inculcate into its citizens the discipline to consume what the country produces rather than craving for things produced elsewhere. In other words the state needs to restrain, curb and transform desire for consumption of its population which is appropriate to its best values and productive capacities.

Pakistan has all the ingredients to be a modern self-disciplined Islamic polity: In the mosques people display a self-discipline which is exemplary; but the same people behave in an anarchical and worse than lemming-like behaviour when out of the mosques. (Lemmings are animals that have an instinct to self-destruct themselves by jumping over cliffs – but Pakistani drivers are worse because not only do they wish to kill themselves but kill others too). What is self-discipline which the soft state of Pakistan has not been able to apply or inculcate in its population? A person is self-disciplined when he/she is defined to be member of a social, economic and political community and fully understands the norms, values and practices in behaviour that are considered to be generally accepted as being good or ideal by that community. Conversely, discipline means restraint – veering away from all that may be considered worth refraining from; for example not consuming Indian cultural practices even if one wishes to.

The need for the Pakistani state to transform itself from its current structure as a soft state through disciplinary processes is clear. But who will put these disciplining processes into motion? And who will discipline the disciplinarians? This ought to be a political party elected with a large enough mandate that implements legislation without fear of internal or external forces, and is not afraid of taking on clusters of power and obsolete cultural practices; nor fear of not being elected to power again. Some may consider what I have said above to be authoritarian. They must remember that underlying the freedoms, rights and choices prevalent in the West are disciplinary processes and self-disciplined individuals and groups which the state in the West has created. Just compare the traffic of Lahore with that of London.

The writer is a freelance columnist.