Main Page





India & Pakistan...



home.jpg (6816 bytes)


home.jpg (3800 bytes)


home.jpg (6503 bytes)


home.jpg (6695 bytes)

Women Studies

edu.jpg (8984 bytes)

Issues in Education

home.jpg (7893 bytes)

Literature & Scholarship


Parables of Love


About Us


Mr I. A. Rehman (Pakistan)

2 Civil society and political/institutional change

I. A. Rehman | Nitai Mehta | Sadiqa Salahuddin | Sri Ram Khanna | Akhtar Hameed Khan | DISCUSSION


I do not include the religious obscurantist groups as a part of the civil society because the civil society by definition accepts discourse, accepts possibility of changing your views, accepts the principle of dynamism of growth and evolution whereas religious groups begin by denying evolution, by denying change, by forcing rigid formulas whether they are applicable or not.

I am afraid I have not been able to give you any examples of the civil society’s impact on politics because I feel that the task before us is not the measurement of the impact of the civil society but first to ponder how to form the institution of civil society and secondly how to establish them in a manner that they do not function as associations but perform the essential task of a social movement.

We are fond of describing Pakistan as a land of contrast, and one of the greatest contrasts is in the area we will be describing in a moment.

It is not possible to apply civil society term to a mass of people who occasionally set themselves a single-point agenda. They may come together to secure freedom from colonial rule, to replace dictatorship with a representative government, or even to overthrow an oppressive socio-economic order, but anti-colonial movements, struggles for restoration of democracy or even revolutions are in the nature of short-term popular fronts. They may succeed or fail or they may partly achieve their objective [but] their impact is transitional.

You can have a non-military regime that raises slogans to uphold the civilian rule against military dictatorship and yet be in confrontation with the civil society.

The civil society’s role presupposes a degree of permanence and dynamism. It is only those movements which have the capacity to monitor their own objectives that qualify as civil societies.

When Ayub Khan passed university ordinances or when he created national press trusts or Writers’ Guild he was close to Mussolini’s tactics of turning the civil society into an appendage of state system.

Political parties should also interact with the civil society because if they do not then the state will not.

Mr. I. A. Rehman focused on the impact of civil society on politics in Pakistan, "or the lack of it".

Democracy did not evolve in the case of Pakistan through change in the relationship between the people and the government as this was a state created by the people in full consciousness of their democratic rights. "And we started under this compact to form a federal state governed in accordance with the parliamentary principles in accordance with the constitution."

Mr. Rehman pointed out the basic problem as "a Constitution which does not represent the will of the people" but rather a political design imposed upon the people by a single individual who had no sanction except of brute force. Even though the constitution at present may represent certain principles reached upon through consensus it nevertheless "casts the state and the people in adversarial roles."

Another peculiarity which needs to be taken into account is that the people have attempted on several occasions to correct the political codes of the state.

Mr. Rehman summarises this aspect through the history of Pakistan in the following points:

  1. In the early years, the mandate of the people was not respected but the facade was maintained. The people did not get what they had been promised and what they had fought for.
  2. Then a military adventurer came and imposed his own ideas about a controlled democracy. His system was tested and suffered for a decade and then rejected by the people. But did the people get what they had fought for?
  3. Another praetorian regime took over, it conceded some of the points the people were asking for, but on some other issues it was so obdurate that the resultant conflict was resolved only with the dismemberment of the state.
  4. Then a new beginning was made but again, in terms of slogans that were derived from the people. And again it didn’t work.
  5. Another military adventurer came and he imposed his will on the people.
  6. Since his death the people have elected representatives four times but the constitution framed by Gen. Zia-ul-Haque is still in force and the essential features of an authoritarian state persist despite many changes over the last ten years.

Mr. Rehman raised several questions out of his overview of the fifty years of Pakistan:

  1. Can the popular movements for restoration of parliamentary democracy be described as attempts of the civil society’s attempts to secure its role in the political affairs?
  2. Does the present dispensation accord with a civil society’s political ideals of a parliamentary federation?
  3. If not, is it possible for the civil society to secure its due from the custodians of state power?

Mr. Rehman suggested that the term civil society has been used in Pakistan rather quite carelessly. The apparent reason for this seems to be that the military rule has been so frequent in this country that everything that is non-military gets the description of "civil." While it is true that certain elements of the civil society contributed in the movements against Ayub and Zia but this does not give a picture of a civil society that should not only wake up "to its fire brigade role in the moments of distress but should also be active in all seasons and is able to discharge its functions more or less on the basis of a social movement."

In mature democracies civil societies and democratic systems develop side by side, in fact in some cases the civil societies emerged first and actually exerted pressure for the birth of democracy. Not so in Pakistan, where the institutions of the civil societies have been usurped by the state directly or indirectly. Our authoritarian rulers have tried to … hegemonic interests in two ways. First, by making laws that restricted the functioning of the various groups of professionals and concerned citizens in the civil society and second, by imposing state nominees on their associations. (The one group that has escaped their attention is that of landlords, and that for the obvious reason of their hold over the state power.) "When governments change the head of the bar councils, media organisations and literary academies change… One can give several examples of how the state has encroached upon the institutions of the civil society."

There have been signs to show that the civil society in Pakistan is conscious of its rights and position. But the state has steadfastly refused to negotiate, for instance in the examples of Hudood Ordinance, Anti-terrorist Law or the situation in Karachi.

Mr. Rehman noticed that it is quite difficult at the moment for the civil societies in Pakistan to function as social movements – "where university teachers are forbidden to express views on political issues and where NGOs are required to eschew politics, and the state tells whether a Muslim woman can marry of her own will or whether she cannot"

Mr. Rehman also cautioned that their is a limit to the role of the civil society: the main vehicle for the expression of the people’s wishes will always be political parties.

TOP ||

Hit Counter HOME | Chronicle | Pakistan - India   | History | Religion | Iqbal | Cinema | Women Studies
Issues in Education | Literature and scolarship | Parables Of Love | Contact | About