It is a frequent complaint that Pakistan is manipulated by elites having a deadly stranglehold on the country. There is more than a grain of truth in this complaint as the country consistently faces the disastrous consequences of the hold of the elites. There is hardly any doubt that the nature of elites in Pakistan is partly coercive and partly economic with a peppering of populist tinge that goes up and down with their level of influence. There is a need to understand this curious phenomenon and bring to fore its machinations.
The colonial empires encouraged elites that were instrumental in perpetuating their rule. In historical evolution, decolonisation took place that apparently denoted a transfer of sovereignty, whereby the authority over a territory passed from a foreign, culturally different regime, to indigenous groups who took over the government under the banner of national self-determination. But this process carried in its wake multiple meanings as it was more than just a sequence of political events and a change of status in terms of international law. Decolonisation entailed change in structural dependencies and is defined as a transformative process operating in almost all spheres of life and on all levels of society.
The process of decolonisation meant a widespread transition from colonial to postcolonial situation entailing involvement of individuals and social groups that shaped it. These individuals and groups struggled and fought for independence, others tried to retard or suppress it, while still others simply tried to accommodate to the fundamental changes in the political, economic, social, and cultural realms as best as possible. These groups and individuals became the agents of this change and in most cases they managed to change the course of history.
It was quite natural to witness such groups transforming into elites having command over certain resources in a given social entity. These can be political support, economic power, or symbolic resources such as communication or knowledge. Elites were vital in mediating and driving the complex processes which ultimately led to decolonisation. At the same time there were also elite groups who lost influence and power or who were deprived of old privileges while others had to re-invent themselves in new surroundings.
Given the diversity of elite groups and their actions within different settings and regions these elites and their descriptions vary but indigenous elites in colonial contexts emerged in the context of a complex interplay of conflicting promises and constraints of the colonial project. They were confronted with ambivalences, contradictions, and paradoxes in the field of governance, the economy, education, religion, and social organisation. Parallel to them existed co-opted traditional elites, whose social background was usually grounded in regional hierarchies who competed for influence with newly emerging anti-colonialist elites who were largely Western-educated and situated within an urban environment.
These elites were anything but a socially coherent group; however, they were usually united in their aim to achieve hegemony. What form independence should take and in which spatial configuration the independent country should materialise was, however, not so clear and the future of independent countries was dependent on the course the combination of these elites took. In the decolonised world, nationalist leaders and elites accepted the spatial order colonialism had imposed. Originally politically marginalised and suppressed by colonial powers and oftentimes by co-opted indigenous elites as well, nationalist modernisers came to embody the very contradictions they addressed: they aimed at a revolution in a political and institutional sense, thus overcoming European-imposed structures.
At the same time they wanted to create nation states in the European sense; that is, forge states that based their legitimacy on the notion of a unity of culture and territory. This, in turn, required the re-invention of tradition. Cultural and historical markers of identification were necessary in order to broaden the social basis of nationalist modernisers and to mobilise largely rural populations for the nationalist cause. Strangely enough, nationalist modernisers rarely opted for a social revolution as well. Ethnic nationalists, usually active alongside or in opposition to nationalist modernisers, frequently opted for the return to an imagined past.
While nationalist modernisers were overwhelmingly in favour of a strong, centralised state, ethnic nationalists were federalists. Some envisioned the creation of states based on notions of common ethnicity, language or culture. Everywhere they remained unsuccessful because they were not able to overcome the contradiction between an imagined tradition and the realities of spatial and political units created by the colonial state. Traditional elites wielded great influence in the late colonial period and during decolonisation.
Nevertheless, the fact that social revolutions did not occur testifies in many locales and settings to the continuing influence of the landed class as representatives and legitimising groups of national discourses. Quite often, they continued to serve as symbols of invented traditions and thus facilitated the construction of modern states and societies. Their importance as providers of spiritual security in a time of revolutionary political change was likewise considerable.
In the case of Pakistan migration filled the gap created by the lack of Europeans and the migrants became part of the local elites though they were later replaced by indigenous groups that gradually became strong enough to assert their positions. The result was that the country unwittingly became a playing ground for different groups that slowly solidified as elites and started monopolising national affairs and continues to do so. TW