Lawrence Ziring on Pakistan
The Nation
19 May 1996
Lawrence Ziring is one of the leading American experts on South Asia, particularly Pakistan—a subject on which he has published extensively. Pakistan will be half a century old. But many of the problems that we had inherited from our colonial past, or which have been created mostly as a result of the wrong-doings of our successive rulers, have aggravated. Prof Ziring’s judgment of our political history is quite impartial.

The other day, I met Prof Ziring in Islamabad, where he attended a seminar on Kashmir. He has feelings of hope and despair about the country’s future. To him, the current rivalry between the Government and the Opposition has put the country in an extremely difficult set of circumstances. Politics of confrontation is taking place at the cost of socio-economic development. Is there any way out of the existing quagmire?

Prof. Ziring hits at the roots of the political system: “The political system has to be inclusive, not exclusive, of people. Power must be shared. Political forces must assert themselves. The country’s rural mindset has to merge with the urban mindset. This is a marriage that will be productive. Pakistan must not fear change, and its leaders are the vanguards of change. The political process has to take its required course so as to meet the requirements of the New Age. Let the people play a larger role in the process of national development.”

According to him, Pakistan has shown the capacity to manage what many countries have failed to. The best thing is that Pakistanis know what their problems are and how to tackle them. The main problem, Prof Ziring argues, is that Pakistani leaders have not shown the required political will to reconcile their difference and look beyond their petty interests. “The country has also been confronted with an identity crisis since independence due to ethnic differences. It was the same factor that led to a civil war between the former East Pakistan and present Pakistan,” he says.

Prof Ziring argues that the main issue following East Pakistan’s dismemberment was whether the units contiguous to one another transcend provincial identities and accept one Pakistani identity. Unfortunately, the identity crisis came to the forefront once again. The divisive elements continued to flourish. If in the 70s, the challenge came from Pushtuns and Balochis; in the 80s, it came from the Mohajirs. The country-wide feelings of secession, Prof Ziring believes, are “not the same as they were before 1980. But there are other geopolitical and social cross-currents. For instances, those originating form strife-ridden Afghanistan, which are challenging the integrity of the state.”

Moreover, in his opinion, the crisis of identity is still there. The issue is again the same: “Why can’t the people of Pakistan consider themselves as being Pakistanis first and then associate themselves with the other ethnic or regional identities. The paradox in the case of Mohajirs is that the very people who had created Pakistan have challenged its integrity.” Prof Ziring favors a purely political solution to the ethnic strife in Karachi. To him, fear does not create a community. “People must have the confidence that their legitimate ambitions are best served in a community with diversity. The application of force is not the solution. There has to be a synergistic relationship between the government and people. The role of the government is not to divide people but to bring them together.”

Pakistan, according to him, is still in the process of trying to forge a national mindset. This again is due to the continued political instability. The whole notion of civil society is missing. Karachi is under siege, something which must be a cause of concern not only for the people of Pakistan but also for those of the rest of the world. Being a metropolitan port city, Karachi is most relevant to post-Cold War trends towards global economic integration. Karachi is a test case for the rulers and the country will flourish or flounder on what happens there.

Prof Ziring has spent most of his life teaching Political Science at the Western Michigan University. A former president of the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, he has also taught at Columbia University, University of Dhaka and Administrative Staff College in Lahore. Some of his renowned works are: The Ayub Khan Era: Politics in Pakistan, 1958-1969; Pakistan: the Long View; The Subcontinent in World Politics; and Pakistan: The Enigma of Political Development.

In his books, the idea that Prof Ziring emphasizes the most is that democratic culture cannot be transferred from one country or civilization to another. He does not seem to be supportive of the existing democratic process in Pakistan, since too much corruption, inefficiency and misuse of resources goes on in the name of democracy. He has a firm belief in democracy as a system and a philosophy. At the same time, however, he also argues that democracy is a relative term and one has to look at the cultural context of a particular society to determine how it can solve its problems through democratic means.