Skip to main content

Decolonise now

Aasim Sajjad AkhtarUpdated May 31, 2019

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

MOST Pakistanis, at least of the formally educated variety, have a limited understanding of colonial rule in the subcontinent and how significant a legacy it left behind. Perhaps it is because we are taught virtually nothing about the British Raj in school, and believe that we were subject to Hindu Raj before 1947 rather than the wide-ranging coercive and consent-generation mechanisms of British rule. That so many of us are wilfully ignorant is the most disturbing aspect of our colonial inheritance.

The British ruled the subcontinent for almost 200 years, and in that time established formal legal, administrative and coercive apparatuses that we inherited in 1947. They enumerated populations, mapped and codified land, and integrated what we now know as Pakistan into an imperial economy that spanned the globe. It is impossible to understand where we are today, and particularly the crises and contradictions that exist in this land without a reckoning with the institutions — formal and informal, economic, political and cultural — that the British left behind.

In recent days, Pakistan’s reputation of being a country at war with itself has been reinforced. The use of the big stick to silence various kinds of political opposition, the fact that our economy is teetering (yet again) on the brink of implosion, and the controversysurrounding a sitting Supreme Court judge who is line to become chief justice — all these developments, like so many others at different points, confirm that we have yet to live down our colonial legacy.

At the root of everything is the fact that the state remains an apparatus unaccountable to its people. More often than not, state institutions — particularly those responsible for administrative, judicial and policing functions — wield a big stick to keep ordinary Pakistanis in line. Quite simply, we remain subjects with formal citizenship rights only on paper. Yes, there are some who do not suffer the ignominy of name-calling, exploitation and violence. The rich and powerful amongst us get offered carrots, often very sweet ones. In short, the rule of colonial difference — to borrow a term from the renowned academic Partha Chatterjee — is still intact. Carrots where necessary, the stick otherwise.


We have yet to live down our colonial legacy.

Second, economic resources are not a trust of the people, and are extracted cynically by the state in cahoots with vested (domestic and foreign) interests. The actual beneficiaries of this systematic policy wax lyrical about improving the lives of the people whose labour and resources are being exploited. Where people speak up for themselves and say clearly that they are victims of an extractive logic, elements within their ranks are bought off whereas the big stick is wielded against the brave few who refuse to compromise and continue to speak truth to power.

Third, the law is itself a means of legitimating tyrannical rule. Remember that under the British there was no parliament representing the will of the people. There were certainly laws in force, but these laws were enacted by British administrators; ‘natives’ simply had to accept the language of ‘civilisation’ that accompanied legal enforcement, even though the more accurate term was ‘enslavement’. Today too our system of ‘justice’ is largely retributive and reinforces the privileges of dominant elites, and particularly state functionaries. A judge that calls dominant state institutions to account is essentially like a black sheep that is considered a threat to the herd.

When formal colonialism ended, there were approximately 300 million people spread out across the subcontinent, and it was only in the last couple of decades before the British departed that a significant segment of this population definitively broke with the myths about colonial rule that had been systematised over two centuries.

Today Pakistan’s population alone is 220m and a large number of Pakistanis have imbibed a worldview which precludes an honest, critical appraisal of where we stand as a society and the institutions that mediate our lives. It is supposedly unpatriotic to do anything other than blame foreign conspirators and their local collaborators for our problems.

In fact, it is the rich and powerful — this includes those at the highest levels of officialdom — that continue to defend a system devised by foreign rulers and sustained by local collaborators with the purpose of extracting resources from the land and enslaving the majority of people on that land to their dictates.

Indeed, for much of the non-Western world, the legacy of European colonial empires continues to loom large. In countries where this legacy has been acknowledged, there has been at least some progress in decolonising political-economic structures, and minds. In Pakistan, the imperative of decolonisation is as urgent as ever, and it is the most oppressed colonial subjects of all in Thar, Gwadar, Waziristan and Okara that are leading the way.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2019


Popular posts from this blog

SSG Commando Muddassir Iqbal of Pakistan Army

“ Commando Muddassir Iqbal was part of the team who conducted Army Public School operation on 16 December 2014. In this video he reveals that he along with other commandos was ordered to kill the innocent children inside school, when asked why should they kill children after killing all the terrorist he was told that it would be a chance to defame Taliban and get nation on the side. He and all other commandos killed children and later Taliban was blamed. Muddassir Iqbal has deserted the military and now he is  with mujahedeen somewhere in AF PAK border area” For authenticity of  this tape journalists can easy reach to his home town to interview his family members or   ISPR as he reveals his army service number” Asalam o Alaikum: My name is Muddassir Iqbal. My father’s name is Naimat Ali. I belong to Sialkot divison (Punjab province), my village is Shamsher Poor and district, tehsil and post office  Narowal. Unfortunately I was working in Pakistan army. I feel embarrassed to tell yo

CPEC Jobs in Pakistan, salary details

JOBS...نوکریاں چائنہ کمپنی میں Please help the deserving persons... Salary: Salary package in China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in these 300,000 jobs shall be on daily wages. The details of the daily wages are as follows; Welder: Rs. 1,700 daily Heavy Duty Driver: Rs. 1,700 daily Mason: Rs. 1,500 daily Helper: Rs. 850 daily Electrician: Rs. 1,700 daily Surveyor: Rs. 2,500 daily Security Guard: Rs. 1,600 daily Bulldozer operator: Rs. 2,200 daily Concrete mixer machine operator: Rs. 2,000 daily Roller operator: Rs. 2,000 daily Steel fixer: Rs. 2,200 daily Iron Shuttering fixer: Rs. 1,800 daily Account clerk: Rs. 2,200 daily Carpenter: Rs. 1,700 daily Light duty driver: Rs. 1,700 daily Labour: Rs. 900 daily Para Engine mechanic: Rs. 1,700 daily Pipe fitter: Rs. 1,700 daily Storekeeper: Rs. 1,700 daily Office boy: Rs. 1,200 daily Excavator operator: Rs. 2,200 daily Shovel operator: Rs. 2,200 daily Computer operator: Rs. 2,200 daily Security Supervisor: Rs.

A ‘European Silk Road’

publication_icon Philipp Heimberger ,  Mario Holzner and Artem Kochnev wiiw Research Report No. 430, August 2018  43 pages including 10 Tables and 17 Figures FREE DOWNLOAD The German version can be found  here . In this study we argue for a ‘Big Push’ in infrastructure investments in greater Europe. We propose the building of a European Silk Road, which connects the industrial centres in the west with the populous, but less developed regions in the east of the continent and thereby is meant to generate more growth and employment in the short term as well as in the medium and long term. After its completion, the European Silk Road would extend overland around 11,000 kilometres on a northern route from Lisbon to Uralsk on the Russian-Kazakh border and on a southern route from Milan to Volgograd and Baku. Central parts are the route from Lyon to Moscow in the north and from Milan to Constanţa in the south. The southern route would link Central Europe with the Black Sea area and