Elif Shafak, the award winning Turkish author sums up the limitations on human social capability in her story telling ‘Politics and Fiction’ in TED Talks. Being a child of many worlds, she was brought up in a traditional Muslim family by a single mother, in a country torn between its rich cultural values, instincts of preservation and desire to reach out to the developed Europe. She blends Western and Eastern traditions of storytelling with plots built around her characters comprising women, minorities, immigrants, subcultures, youth and global characters. Talking about the negative and often disastrous effects of social divorce she says, “If you want to destroy something in this life, be it acne, a blemish or the human soul, all you need to do is to surround it with thick walls. It will dry up inside… We’re born into a certain family, nation, class. But if we have no connection whatsoever with the worlds beyond the one we take for granted, then we too run the risk of drying up inside. Our imagination might shrink; our hearts might dwindle, and our humanness might wither if we stay for too long inside our cultural cocoons… We tend to form clusters based on similarity, and then we produce stereotypes about other clusters of people.”

Her storytelling is supported by anthropologists, sociologists and history. Cocooned societies and cultures invariably form the last file in the development ladder resulting in social inbreeding, backwardness and ghettos that could amuse tourism but resign generations to poverty, social apartheid, discrimination and crime. These hermit enclaves include religious, ethnic and cultural minorities, closed societies and sometimes countries that are sucked into these dynamics. Pakistan is no exception.

As the Aligarh Movement of the 19th Century dwindles into the 21st century, the entire body of Pakistan’s reasoning has become reclusive, enclosed in self-created shells, living in religious, sectarian, ethnic, social and political cocoons. As a result, like an acne surrounded by a circle, Pakistani society is drying up from inside and producing a culture whose majority does not wish to propel itself into the next and the next orbit to explore and become part of the environment outside. At the same time the empowered minority continues to draw circles around the majority ‘have not’, depriving them of any opportunities to challenge the status quo. Those who break out of this shell comprise a vast majority of turncoats and men of elastic conscience.

The Muslim enlightenment movement headed by the Mohammadan Education Conference that later morphed into All India Muslim League was a reaction to such inbreeding in Muslim minority enclaves surrounded by Hindu majority in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal. This was a small group of educated Muslims who despite being high achievers were not elitist. The modern educational objectives of the Aligarh Movement were to convert the Muslims of undivided India into elite educational class that would dominate upper strata’s of society improving socio-economic conditions. At point of history, preservation of the religious exclusivity was the forte of the Muslim religious parties, who opposed Aligarh and Qaide-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. At some stage after the famous Allahabad address by Allama Iqbal, the movement changes tracks from the socio-economic and political emancipation of the Muslim minorities to an exclusive Muslim identity. Despite Jinnah’s attempts at an enviable pluralism within a Muslim state spelled in his 11 August address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, the drift continued. Creation of Pakistan resulted in ghettoization of Muslim Minorities in India and tragically, the same fate for urbanised migrants in Pakistan who gave up whatever they had in India.

The above reference also applies to Non-Muslims of the sub-continent who voluntarily threw their lot with Pakistan.  Today, majority of them are encapsulated in urban slums, showing alarming signs of social inbreeding and cultural decadence. They own some of the best educational institutions but have the lowest literacy rate. The empowered minority has drawn circles around them as minorities, unworthy of key positions and political outcasts hanging with a thread to the political leaders who can decide their fate whimsically.

Urban planning stopped 60 years ago in Pakistan. As the economy grew, people migrated from rural areas to towns and cities for jobs. Rather than expand cities under a plan, slums were allowed to grow. Today all slums around the major cities of Pakistan are not only a reflection of socio-economic decadence but also the rising crimes. The mega city of Karachi and Islamabad the capital are practically ungovernable.

The idea ‘that was’ and the Pakistan ‘that is’ is a case study of a concept gone astray reflected in the ever increasing fault lines  build inside exclusive cocoons of varied description. These are the moths eating away at themselves.

Pakistan’s political system is preserved and persevered by political oligarchies that discourage inclusivity. Political clans with their economic interests abroad control these organisations and do not allow them to grow beyond a point where their interests get compromised. The foundation of this system was laid by political minimalist of the 40s with the landed aristocracy of Punjab, who post 1947 closed doors on the progressive Muslim Leaguers. They then joined hands with the military, bureaucracy and elements of religious right to frame a narrative built around exclusivism and drawing circles around communities of have-nots.  The entire equation was turned upside down. The political economy of religion began to take a new shape in Pakistan.

The western containment strategy of communism, found a worthy tool in this religiously inspired community that was successively exploited hand and glove with the local establishment. The entire phenomena developed its own parallel culture of economy, education, justice, governance and sometimes violence. The epitome is the militant culture in Pakistan. The system evolved under the eyes of the establishment who exploited it and chose to look the other war.   A situation has now reached that Pakistan’s external security is dictated by its internal dynamics.

Pakistan comprises many cocoons of the majority with walls around them at the mercy of the privileged to make decisions and policies that suit them and their masters of exclusivity, greed, opportunism and economic liberalism. As long as this cycle is not broken, Pakistan will continue to dry up.

n    The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist.