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Pakistan Lecture Series 2008

Akbar Zaidi

University fo Wisconsin - Madison, April 10, 2008

The Future of Democracy in Pakistan: Often called a failed state, overwhelmingly Muslim, ruled for the most part by the military, a country with nuclear weapons, actively involved in the war on terrorism, Pakistan is a site which offers complex, complicated and conflicting scope and possibility, both as theory and as example, of how numerous factors determine political and economic futures. The recent impartial and free elections, a rare occurrence, offer yet new possibilities, building on its history and structural and institutional determinants. This lecture will examine the possibilities that emerge from these elections and what they mean for Pakistan, South Asia and the US.

S. Akbar Zaidi is a Karachi-based political economist who has written a number of books on Pakistan and on its place in South Asia.

Note: The following four PLS speakers listed on this page all presented at the same conference at Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC on march 29, 2008. More information about that event can be found here.


Hassan Askari-Rizvi

"An Overview of Political Transformations Today"

This talk will address the history-making socio-political transformations that Pakistan has undergone during 2007-2008 which has tilted the political balance in favor of civilian political forces and societal groups. This transformation has to be viewed as a turning point in the on-going struggle between authoritarian governance and democratic aspirations. Many factors contributed to this transformation but the current change is yet to be institutionalized; there may be more confrontation in the future. The possibility of stagnation or reversal of the change cannot be ruled out, although the forces of authoritarianism will face more challenges than was the case in the past. Civilian and political forces have gained confidence in their capacity to effect changes in the political system by collective action which amounted to breaking-out of the state of helplessness created by the long years of military domination of political and societal processes and its expanded role in the economy. The following major factors contributed to this change: the suspension of the chief Justice on March 9, 2007 and the movement by lawyers and civil society groups for his restoration, the red mosque incident, the controversy on Musharraf's re-election, the return of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the election campaign and assassination of Benazir Bhutto, reaction of the politically active circles and political parties against Pervez Musharraf's decision to suspend the constitution, and remove the judges and institute constitutional amendments to secure his presidency. These developments led to the electoral setback for the pro-Musharraf political leaders in the general elections in February 2008. The election results have provided the political leaders and civil society groups with an opportunity to retrieve the initiative from the military-bureaucratic elite. Now they will have to establish stable and efficacious government to address the problems afflicting the Pakistani society.


S. Akbar Zaidi

"The Politics of Economic and Social Change in Pakistan: Class, State and Transitions"

There is little doubt that Pakistan has been transformed from what was once called a "feudal" state, to what is now a middle-income state, where social groups such as the middle class, now dominate the social and economic scene. As social transformation has taken place over the last few decades, the nature of politics and contradictions within society have also been undergoing change. Aspiring groups, inside and outside of the main political mainstream, have become far more articulate and active, whether in the form of civil society or in the form of collectivised interest groups. What is interesting to investigate in the case of Pakistan, is whether these economic and social changes have also resulted in sharp divisions emerging in terms of visions of the future in terms of ideological choices, largely represented in some spectrum of what one can broadly term "Islamicised" futures. Moreover, with the military also now a dominant player in the economy, questions about where and how civilian interests and visions about the state of the future of Pakistan come into conflict with a militarized state, are worth investigating, as are growing economic links with foreign countries and the growing influence they have been having on Pakistan's politics. The discussion will highlight some recent economic and social developments and try to examine their consequences on social and political transformations.


Bushra Aitzaz

"The Judiciary and Political Transformations in Pakistan"

The judiciary had been a focal point of action taken by the Government of Pakistan this past year. The lawyers' movement, led by Aitzaz Ahsan, has played a powerful role in pushing the state's adherence to the Constitution and rule of law as well as mobilizing people in support of restoration of the judiciary following the imposition of the Emergency on November 3, 2007. This talk will review the role played by the judiciary and the lawyers' movement - with a focus in particular of events of the past year - in affecting political transformation and analyzes the potential role each may play in the new political setup in Pakistan.


Aasiya Riaz

"Pakistani Media and Political Transformation"

The February 18 General Election tells a spectacular tale of the road to political maturity in Pakistan. The independent news media in Pakistan is considered a veritable source in changing political fortunes in Pakistan. But has the independent media been a cause or a catalyst in this political transformation? Touching briefly on the media effects theory, especially media's effect on democratisation, the paper argues that the media played the role of an amplifier in a society that stood poised on the issue of "Rule of Law" following the March 09, 2007 attempt by Gen. Musharraf to dismiss the Chief Justice of Pakistan. Not only March 9 catalysed a political movement that came to symbolise the decades-long struggle for constitutionalism and created an unlikely hero in the Chief Justice of Pakistan, the polarized Pakistani society witnessed a change: regardless of politically partisan considerations, people began to emphasise principles over prudence. The paper outlines the crucial role played by the media in bringing the issue out in the open and keeping it alive while discussing the challenges it has been facing in carrying out this mandate. In this struggle, individual dissidents (TV anchors and analysts) became cult figures as media houses (owners) became vulnerable to state intervention. These individual dissidents improvised ways to reach out to public and played a crucial role in sustaining the struggle. Alongside this muzzling by the government, the influence of the media on political transformation increased with number and quality of ties existing between the media and the civil society.