Pakistan is arguably the world’s most important fragile state, but many of its problems are not well understood. Security problems dominate headlines, but the country’s real troubles more often than not float beneath the surface unknown even to those trying to help the country.
A good example of this is the issue of social exclusion. Although it receives almost no attention internationally, social exclusion—in its various forms—plays a major role in the country’s problems. By systematically disadvantaging large portions of its population, Pakistan’s elites reduce the legitimacy of the state, encourage extremism against it, weaken the impetus to enhance public services, and contribute to long-term demographic and environmental threats.
Horizontal social exclusion is one of the two most important drivers (with weak government) of state fragility worldwide, yet rarely receives the attention it deserves in international discussions of fragile states. Whereas vertical inequity between individuals plays a major role in debates on development, horizontal inequity between groups is often not even measured.
A recent Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center (NOREF) Policy Brief on social exclusion in Pakistan is therefore a very welcome addition to the literature on the country. By outlining the country’s main axes of social exclusion and how they affect stability and governance, it does a great service to anyone working on the country. I strongly recommend the analysis part of the paper both as a backgrounder for those working on Pakistan and as a case study for how social exclusion affects fragile states in general.
Clare Castillejo, the author, highlights four types of identity-based social exclusion:
- The political and economic exclusion of some regions (such as Balochistan) by the political center
- The exclusion from access to land experienced by much of the rural population
- The profound exclusion and violence faced by religious minorities
- The exclusion of many young people and women
Caste (or kinship) is also an issue in the country, as it is in neighboring India.
These groups combine to make up almost half of the country’s population:
Some estimates suggest that around 40% of Pakistan’s population experience significant political, social and economic exclusion based on their identity (e.g. religion, kinship group, language), their location or their gender. Such multidimensional disadvantage prevents these groups from participating in political life, accessing resources, claiming rights or influencing the institutions that shape their lives. These patterns of exclusion are perpetuated by state institutions and are intimately connected to Pakistan’s traditional power structures and patronage-based politics.
This has directly fed into the violence that plagues parts of the country:
Patterns of exclusion overlap with regional, ethnic, sectarian and class identities, heightening group perceptions of injustice. For example, in Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), grievances about regional exclusion are a major driver of insurgency. Similarly, exclusion based on ethnicity and religion fuels violence in Karachi, Southern Punjab and elsewhere.
It also helps elites maintain their domination over the country (and give them an incentive to resist many of the reforms needed):
High levels of exclusion perpetuate the elite and unaccountable governance that is the major cause of Pakistan’s fragility. . . . [The country has] a narrow, elite-based political settlement and a state that does not act in the interests of its population. . . . While mechanisms of exclusion are different in each case, the result is to deny citizens a voice, perpetuate elite governance and increase fragility.
A small elite (by some estimates consisting of as few as a thousand people) has long used its power in a self-serving way, starving the government of revenue, undermining the rule of law and caring little for how most of the population live. . . . The weakness of politicians and political parties greatly limit the capacity of governments to push through much needed reforms in areas such as taxation, energy and public administration. Dependent on placating a wide number of actors through patronage, too many top officials prefer to act to protect their own interests – or that of their clansmen and supporters – at the expense of the country.
Echoing this, the NOREF Policy Brief explains why it is so hard to reduce social exclusion:
[Attempts at reform are] likely to be strongly resisted by the military, political and traditional elites. Moreover, the religious and conservative social norms within many Pakistani communities – which are strengthened by the spread of extremist ideology – pose a serious barrier to addressing religious- or gender-based exclusion.
I was less satisfied with the recommendations section. While I agree with its suggestions to enhance “horizontal networks” and “to help excluded populations form alliances,” I am skeptical of her focus on the promotion of citizens’ rights as a way to deal with high levels of horizontal inequality in fragile states. This may work in countries with strong institutions and a history of strong citizenship, but is unlikely to have a significant impact on Pakistan.
I would instead focus much more on the power relationships that drive exclusion. Steps that could be made to rework these include: 1) support decentralization (which Clare does recommend) which would dissipate the drivers of regional social exclusion; 2) invest in the development of more independent monitoring organizations (IMOs) to analyze government performance and pinpoint the systemic weaknesses that disadvantage certain parts of the population; 3) strengthen the ability of the middle class to influence politics by encouraging electoral reform and investing in groups that agglomerate networks of people in pressure groups and give them greater ability to hold leaders accountable; 4) strengthen political parties such that they are less personality driven and based on a patronage network and more organizational and policy based; 5) train the media to make it more responsible and socially focused; 6) fortify small-to-medium sized companies (which will increase the size of the middle class) by increasing their access to financing (as USAID has done with its Pakistan Private Investment Initiative), training, export markets, innovation, and the corridors of power.