Aggression-prone Pakistani social matrix

ByM Ali Siddiqi

writer who contributes to leading periodicals


January 7, 2023

Aggression-prone Pakistani social matrix

M Ali Siddiqi talks about a
psychological malaise

Aggression-prone Pakistani social matrix societal mainstream is decisively tilted towards bellicosity and this attitude unfortunately has been specifically garnered and cultivated in the land. It is widely acknowledged that Pakistani polity has been conditioned in militaralistic terms that have been integrated with political culture. The image of Pakistan is built as an underdog bravely struggling against the forces arrayed against it. This basic tenet of the existence of Pakistan is described as a fighting set of people who cannot be subjugated and are strong enough to stand against any power in the world. In Pakistan the view has been popularised that the triumphal use of force confers greater acceptability and brings political success, therefore the policy makers create a situation in which war always remains a possibility.

The policy makers and final decision makers take care to encompass both endogamous and exogamous features, to explain both pressures and desires within states and aspects of their interaction. In this scenario it becomes more than clear that conflict may also serve government interests on both sides of the established divide. Many analysts agree that such nuance is an ideal form of thought-process to justify the monopolisation of power, policy shifts and mobilisation of resources.

The problem in this connection is that there is no easy measure of aggressive intent. To assess it by counting the frequency and, in some way, measuring the intensity of conflict is only of limited value, most clearly because it does not consider bellicosity that does not lead to it. It is difficult to assess, certainly in any readily measurable fashion, the degree to which bellicosity and conflict are crucial, indeed integral, to particular governments, societies and states, and in addition, to work out relationships between these particular categories. Nevertheless, it is possible to analyse both the composition and the culture of governing groups in order to ascertain their military interests and militaristic ethos. This can be seen as helping explain the resort to war.

The political climate in Pakistan is always kept on the boil and it is misleading to treat aggressive intent and the response to foreign powers as separate. It is also taken care of that the very bellicosity of a government or society is used to encourage the polity to scapegoat foreign powers and peoples, and to emphasise reports of the international situation that favour a resort to force. This psychological preparedness is a major cause of conflicts and aggression. In this context the policy makers ensure that bellicosity remains a constant, at governmental, societal and systemic levels and this is one of the cardinal principles followed in Pakistan.

The prevailing ethos of such a politics encourages a situation in which war is always an option and this helps to increase the tension in any state of affairs. Furthermore, this socio-political context locates the role of economics. As military gain also connotes economic benefit in terms of wealth, economics is, of course, a factor, but such benefit has to be considered more in terms of the interests of the governing elite than of any abstract consideration of national gain. These interests are as much psychological as financial. In addition, the nature and causation of change in aggressive intent are difficult to assess. One tempting analogy is that of sociability, the notion that individuals as they grow and mature become aware of the views and interests of others, accept self-discipline and become integrated into their community.

The wider social implications of this approach can be extended to include political groups not otherwise integrated into the mainstream of social patterns and practices. It has become more than clear in Pakistani context that there is a relationship between social system and aggressive intent that was linked to economics and environment and a trajectory that was associated with social change. Such an interpretation places a premium on internal rather than external causes of war, on war as a product of domestic forces rather than the international system. It should be borne in mind that large-scale group fighting, a crucial feature of jingoistic practices, is the definition of war and more specifically, that a dichotomy of hostility and war is not a helpful way of viewing relations between and within many states.

To refer to aggressive intent as a necessary condition for war is not, therefore, to confuse cause and effect but to assert that in many circumstances the two are coterminous and that both are descriptive concepts. The jingoistic elements help explain why some disputes lead to war and others do not, and why, in particular, some governing elites accept, and even welcome, risk, which is important in establishing why particular situations lead to war. Similarly, the willingness to accept ambiguity and compromise varies greatly and this willingness is of growing importance in disputes as the action-reaction process reveals incompatible goals. Aggressive intent encourages a practice of hostility in which issues are treated as at once intractable and symbolic, and, thus, as encouraging bellicose attitudes as well as, more specifically, steps towards war. The transformation of disputes into crises and of crises into war depends not so much on the dispute in question as on how it is perceived.

In this connotation bellicosity is crucial to the point that having a reason to fight does not necessarily entail action and it is necessary to explain the latter as much as the former. Furthermore, the use of the concept of bellicosity, in part, overcomes the unhelpful distinction between rationality and irrationality in motivation and conduct. Aggressive intent can be regarded as both, or either, a rational and an irrational response to circumstances. Such an argument, also, helps address the suggestion that while cultural factors act as an enabling force in allowing wars to happen, they do not cause them and that, instead, politicians have to want to go to war for some perceived benefit to the state.

It is more than obvious here that any explanation of war in a non-deterministic causal fashion depends on the reasoning of the participants. Such reasoning may well be deemed irrational by another view of rationality. However, the adequacy of explanation based on reasoning depends on the character of the evidence. This also involves interpretative issues, while, even if a particular episode can apparently be explained, it is difficult to translate either conclusion or method into an explanatory form which offers generalizations, predictions or universal concepts. The multiple nature of bellicosity – being an emotion, a system of, and approach to, reasoning, and an action – not only makes for ambiguity but also ensures that the problem of evidence is especially acute.

The above stated ambiguity suits the policy makers who can conveniently use in many forms ranging from shifting the blame to assigning exigency reasons for their policy without realising that the countering forces are well-aware of the stratagems they devise and are perfectly capable of preparing equally harmful policies. Such a game is seen being played since many decades that has endangered the existential tenability of the polity but the perpetrators are no inclined to review their orientation. It is getting very cumbersome to control the dangerous angles deployed by such policies for which heavy price is required o be paid but how long the collective endurance will last cannot be predicted. TW


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