Nation states in a globalised world | Pakistan Today

Nation states in a globalised world

  • What the state ought to offer

“State is the biggest irrational concept that exists, even bigger than religion”, said a friend of mine once, who himself is a big proponent of free market and far-right politics. A student of economics and brought up in a privileged family, for him free market and the market driven neo-classical economy is the ultimate answer to the problems of human conditions. With this sentence, not only does he preach his thoughts to people who surround him, but ultimately, most of the conversations that he has with even the people who he develops an acquaintance with, end up more or less with the same statement.

“State is the biggest irrational and a construct of the capitalists, but free market is not the answer, communism is”, said by another individual who belongs to a middle class family, comes from the so called constitutionally defined backward area, but who had the opportunity to educate himself in the subjects of economics and politics. Another socialite, like the first example, always surrounded by people within whom his sermons are well known and where his words are to be taken seriously, his conversations more or less end with the same sentence. A proponent and member of international Marxist forum, tries his best, like his other peers, to bring about a mass proletariat revolution across the globe.

The month of Ramzan is to be considered holy in the state of Pakistan. And being an Islamic state, anything holy also becomes a business of the state as well. Therefore, during the month Ramzan, public eating is outlawed by the state with the legal code attached to such a degree that if one is caught eating in public, one is to be taken to jail or can be fined too. But, in the heart of the city of Lahore, in a park near main market Gulberg, live a few hobo families. Their roof is the tree spread over them and their bed either the dirt or the few patches of grass that are found seasonally. They earn their living by either hard labour jobs or by cleaning cars in the market. Each day they are witnessed both eating and drinking, in broad day light during the month of Ramzan, where in the market, the state makes sure that the food venders are not allowed to sell any food items an hour prior to iftar.

Teaching at one of the high fi schools of the city of Lahore, one thing is difficult to ignore that how both the students and the parents, including the teachers to most extent, are discontent with the state. In each essay given to the students on topics like poverty, education, power and so on, the writing always reflects grievances of how state ought to do things that it hasn’t been doing. Now, all of these students belong to either the upper middle class or the elite class. Each of these students are members of a particular social club, that also works as a civil club for them, providing them with different services and entertainments, that they believe the state ought to.

Last year, a death of a Pashtoon in the city of Karachi served as the cradle for one of the most prominent Pashtoon movements seen in Pakistan in recent history. Their agenda is to take what they think rightfully belongs to them and for this they have started to criticise the state. The leadership of this movement has been visiting city after city to mobilise the marginalised Pashtoon communities in order to pressurise the state to submit. Within this movement, another agenda, brought by the ethnic nationalist parties has also been forwarded, in order to undermine the Pakistani nation. The biggest weapon that they use is social media, and through it their efforts are highlighted by the international media.

Both Kothari and Chatterjee highlight that agents on both level, national and international, are threatening the position of the state

In all these examples, few things are evident; the state is not doing so well in the eyes of these people. Each example highlights a few things: the first two examples highlighting the globally driven narrative based on the idea of capitalism. The very first being the pro market economy and the second one, somehow deviating from the model, supporting the Marxist theory. The third example provides us an insight into the lives of the people, who are living on extreme periphery, who are somehow neglected by the state and who further neglect the state. The second last example provides an overview of the people who are coming from a privileged class of both the market oriented populous and the bureaucracy driven populous (the only people who can afford the fee) who are somehow more dependent on their clubs than they are on the state. And, lastly, the marginalised community of the Pushtoon, who have been so manipulated by the state that they have risen against the state, under the banner of their own ethnic identity.

Kothari, a political economist, talks about how the tussle between the state, the global economic forces and the grass root is continuously undermining and marginalising the traditional model of the nation and state. He argues that it is the pressure from the global economic forces, driven by the market economy, with their new world order, that wants to re-colonise the nation states. He adds that with this, the traditional outlook of a nation state, with this new world order and increasing influence of the globalised economy, cannot let the nation to exist in the same manner through time. The central authority of the state that started building the nations is now having a fall back from within, in correspondence to the globalisation, which is again impacting the stature of the state. The rise of periphery, the changing allegiances of the elites and movements that challenge the authority of the states are pushing the state towards the new world order (and for Kothari, the new world order is an authoritarian oligarchical structure). He argues that the nation states cannot persist, if they retain their original model, and advices that only a more decentralised approach and democratisation at the grass root level can help the state to survive. Chatterjee, another political theorist, also adds to this debate, while he defines the state as something that provides a narrative and services to the general public to maintain its existence. But he highlights that continuous exposure to the international media and the civil society replacing the state with services provision is making the public rethink on the role of the government and the state. Both Kothari and Chatterjee highlight that agents on both level, national and international, are threatening the position of the state.

Each example that is mentioned is more inclined towards Kothari and Chatterjee’s argument than the worldview that the state has built. The first two and the very last example provide the negation of what Pakistan ought to offer as a world view of a good Muslim and a perfect Pakistani. So, perhaps, one ought to take what Kothari has to say seriously. Perhaps in the changing world, especially when supra national organisations like EU and ASEAN by controlling the market economy of their respective region are taking the world into another phase, where the older unitary model of the nation state would have to evolve in order to survive and retain its authority, or it will be lost in the abyss of the new world order.