India has a long history of postcolonial thought and political action that has been consistently critical of the North Atlantic west. This tradition has only died down with the rise of the BJP in India, where economic expediency is trumping anti-imperialistic action. The Non-Alignment movement during the Cold War, India grouping with Third World countries in the UN and WTO as well as a long rhetoric of non-interference, are examples of how anti-colonial sentiments after 1947 found themselves take shape as political action. Nehruvian socialism was not a product of Soviet influence but a reaction to colonisation. This was upheld by the political system, found echoes in the constitution and became part of public discourse.
Similar things didn’t happen in Pakistan. While today, while Indian experts think about what action must be taken at forums like the UN Security Council, their thinking is filtered through the lens of India’s socialist legacy, even when what they desire for India is power and regional dominance. There is a clear remembrance of and negotiation with the colonial past. Something that is missing in Pakistani intellectual circles and how policy vis a vis the west has been made in Pakistan since 1947. Where is our postcolonial angst? How did we forget that our territories were under foreign control for two hundred years, and some our most repressive laws, like the Frontier Crimes Regulations are colonial legacies that needed to be ripped out many years ago.
The British were here, then they left, and that’s the end of it? We haven’t yet processed this as a nation- what being a colony meant for our political growth and survival. The fight for independence was firstly a struggle against British occupation before it was a resistance against Hindu/Indian domination.
Ammar Rashid in an article for The Daily Times called this “Pakistan’s postcolonial amnesia” writing that, “Many of Pakistan’s economic and political inequalities can be traced to the colonial period. The persistence of feudal structures and mass landlessness is rooted in colonial land administration, including legislation like the Punjab Land Alienation Act of 1900 that restricted the transfer of land from agricultural to non-agricultural classes, perpetuating the economic power of the landed elite while strengthening its political role as the principal intermediary between the state and the disenfranchised peasantry.” And “perhaps most significantly, one of the enduring realities of Pakistani political life, the dominance of its military over political power is also directly traceable to the nature of the colonial state, whose need to ensure security for its economic extraction and political control necessitated the development of an administrative and security apparatus far more developed and powerful in comparison to the agrarian society it was imposed upon.”
Thus one reason we do not have strong anti-imperial sentiments is because the imperial structure of the Raj was replicated in the Pakistani state, while India was able to break it down and remake something different. Colonisation made it easy for people to be governed, and the Pakistani state in the 1950s decided it would do what was easy, rather than what constituted freedom.
But there is another deeper reason for why Pakistan never had a strong home grown anti-imperial socialism. The areas that constituted former West Pakistan were politically inexperienced. British India went through sixty-one years of autocratic rule with some elections, followed by twenty-eight years of democratisation though Indians never enjoyed full internal self-government, even at provincial level, under British rule. Additionally, some Indian provinces were autocratically ruled by chief commissioners up to independence. Within India, group representation on central councils reflected a growing emphasis on religion and powerful elites, generally princes and land-holders were nominated to the central legislature without religious consideration. After 1909 British officials prioritised religion in allocating council seats. While the Congress had electoral experience since 1861, Muslim League only came onto the scene in 1906. Muslims as a group got unofficial membership of executive councils in 1919. While quotas for religions admittedly pitted the Congress against the Muslim League after 1906, they also brought Muslims into the political game. However, a lack of experience of representative politics meant a lack of awareness of what actually democratic freedom meant in say Balochistan or FATA (and the better these areas could be controlled after independence). The pre-exiting military-bureaucratic used this colonial blueprint to establish the Pakistani state.
It there was a Left, it was repressed. Anti-colonialism then, meant rebelling against an undemocratic state after independence. States doesn’t survive on revolutions; they survive because of how dissent is controlled. Either it is shut down, or it is competed with in a democratic public space. Our colonial legacy meant there was too much of the latter and too little of the former and we never stepped out of the mindset of obeying the master with shiny nice boots.
Our problems started way before our first military coup and way before the American’s used us for its Cold War win tally against the Russians. Thus when someone says, “oh but the British built our railways”, and, “oh but they made good schools and taught us English”, it is hard to convey how much life and money we lost to that grand railway system and how we forgot our own languages- because no one talks about our colonial baggage anymore. Our colonisation convinced us that we couldn’t deal with democracy, that democracy was not for us, and that we could not develop indigenously as a successful state without the help of the western civilisation.
The writer is studying South Asian history and politics at the Oxford University and is the former Op-Ed Editor of The Nation.