‘Change’: an attractive term, which can easily fascinate the gullible ones into blind following and force the tougher ones to question their inclinations, if not totally abandon them. But the term ‘change’ is as evasive as it is old, as applied to cultural, social and political settings. Slogan of change is ominous, threatening to the existing social setups and has the capability to challenge a prevalent political order. History tells us that high hopes of prosperity and a better future are always attached to the concept of change while the chaos that lurks in the tides of change is either downplayed or never mentioned.

The phenomenon of change, when left to its natural course, is a slow and tedious process which often exhausts the impatient ones. Many of such impatient superficial advocates of change, when run out of energy and motivation, that kept them going this far, either give up or look out for easy alternatives. This is when, upon feeling the pulse of such followers, charismatic leaders try to redefine the goals to an expedited change and keep the hope alive. To bring constructive and progressive change, it is necessary to understand the working of the social and political milieu of a given setup, otherwise nary a change can be brought. Unfortunately, for Pakistan, there has been a lack of understanding about how the Pakistani state and society functions and what structures, limitations and principles guide its practical working. For this reason, all efforts to deeply change the established structures and workings of the state and society are either miscalculated or misguided.

The stability of Pakistani society is controlled, and to some extent ensured, by the patronage networks that are deeply entrenched into the very structure of state. This patronage based social and political order is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing as it provides an access to state resources and services which, in normal situations, is an uphill task. Disposing state responsibilities consists of compromise, negotiations, threat of violence, selective violence and consistent invocation of laws governing the state. Pakistani state, to borrow from Anatol Leivin, is a ‘negotiated state’ rather than the ‘Hobbian Monolithic Leviathan’ state.

Perpetual patronage networks keep the state running despite its inefficiency and corruption. Change of governments – and even of regimes from military dictatorship to democracy or from democracy to military dictatorship – means nothing more than miniscule changes in who heads the patronage networks. It somehow also determines who can have access to the vast resources of the state. So, all the struggles, no matter how revolutionary the language or how sincere the intentions, always end up in displacing some of the patronage network and replacing it with some elements of its own.

The patronage networks are a curse in a way that it leads to the inefficiency and rampant corruption in the services provided by the state. Part of and access to the patronage networks will move the state into guaranteeing your basic rights. Meritocracy is a distant prospect that is floating above the well-entrenched and organized patronage networks. Any efforts that try to upset this order of things meet with a forceful opposition that in the end cow down the intensity of such efforts.

Why are these patronage networks so entrenched and well-established that not even multiple successful efforts have been failed to dislodge them? The answer lies in the political culture of Pakistan. State is not seen as a meritocratic vehicle that is bound to dispense with basic services and avoiding conflicts. It is rather looked upon as a tool to be employed willfully to complement the social prestige and status. Both social factors and historical reasons can be attributed as the cause for institutionalizing this political culture.

The British used to reward the loyal ones by appointing them to different government positions and hence a new class of elites was born as a result of this policy. The British, as small they were in number, always fell back on local traditions mixed with selective use of law and threat of violence to resolve conflicts and maintain stability. Shrewd administrators as they were, negotiations were always used to keep the violence, if it erupted, out of swirling. Monopoly over violence is the hallmark of state which often is used to implement the law. It was in most cases the last option for the British administration as frequent violent confrontation between alien occupiers and local population would have made the administration an object of loath and would have certainly reduced the British stay in India by – to be cautious – a couple of decades.

Pakistani society has tightly-connected communities and the notions of honor and social prestige of an individual or the family are tied with the political power of the whole community. Serving the community regardless of the laws or considerations of fairness is still considered a virtue, a virtue that is deemed essential to the well-being of immediate family and extended community. These communities form parts of the patronage networks at whose disposal is the large state machinery. Feuds and battles of social prestige are fought through instruments of state.

All efforts at changing the state’s fate only target the facade of the state, i.e. the apparent nepotism, corruption and inefficiency of state. The labyrinth of patronage networks that lies behind the veneer of state functioning often escapes the attention of both the genuine efforts of change and also of the slogans that are raised in the name of it. Unless there are movements or political parties that challenge the dominant attitudes towards state and unless the social notions of prestige and honor are not dissociated with the amount of access to state patronage, all slogans of change are mere rhetoric, and all efforts to change the way the state works are bound to be frustrated by the entrenched patronage networks.