Umair Jalali talks about the salient features of Pakistani society
Over the last seven decades Nuances of Pakistani social matrix society has emerged as an interesting mix that is quite different than it was predicted to be. While Pakistani society is ethnically diverse yet its over arching feature is its adherence to Islamic values. Pakistani social order consists of a majority of people living in the rural areas though what are highlighted in Pakistani media are problems pertaining to hyper-urbanization. It is generally acknowledged that Pakistani economic development has remained quite constant though it has never entered the ranks of economically rich countries. However, since the last few years Pakistani economy has experienced a downturn that is considered the outcome of decades of living beyond means. Amidst socio-economic uncertainty a middle class could be seen emerging but the presence of an elite control is clearly visible that has gained advantages construed as disproportionate. This lop-sided economic arrangement has pushed a large number of people below the poverty line that is often commented upon.
Pakistan was conceived as a distinct Islamic state and it was expected Islam would provide a coherent focus for national identity, a focus that would supersede the country’s considerable ethnic and linguistic variations. Although this aspiration has not been completely fulfilled, Islam has remained a consistent and potent presence and its relevance is never questioned. There was a conscious effort to Islamicise society in the 1980s but it was noted that during the 1990s, Islamic discourse was found to be less prominent in political controversy. The religious parties that played an important role the political field, their eminence and its public approval and acceptability waned considerably though such parties still function in the country and they are also represented in parliament. The impact of religious following in the country has ensured tremendous dissipation of liberal thinking and it is very rare that the national mainstream supports causes espoused by a minority.
Pakistani social structure is male-dominated though gradually the female segment of the country is coming up. Pakistani society is an ethnic mix comprising of regional diversity that follows diverse cultural traditions and speak different languages. The social mainstream of Pakistan is influenced by regional and ethnic loyalties though such adherence is mostly concerned with the average individual than about national loyalties as majority of all such groups believes in national integration and associates itself fully with the country. Nevertheless, it is widely noted that ethnic mixing within each province has contributed to complicating the social and political relations in the country and such differences play a considerably important role in the national political arena. Such differences were exploited by a succession of military dictatorships but the civilian political elements have consistently tried to resolve regional differences and bring them into the national mainstream.
The ever-present and dominant characteristic of Pakistani social system is family orientation that is underpinned by personal interest. Pakistani society is greatly addicted to status consciousness and unfortunately such tendency takes precedence over public good in Pakistan. This is precisely the reason that most laws and regulations are abided exclusively according to a person’s social clout rather than due process and pursuance of education and career progression depends more upon connections or wealth than on ability. The influential official machinery is paid a pittance but the privilege of employment in the government ensures that they become wealthy and enjoy a very high standard of living. Failure to develop civic-minded citizenship is also evident in public administration and imbalanced government spending. The bureaucracy, a legacy of the British colonial period, has not modernised sufficiently to incorporate new technologies and innovations despite efforts by the government staff colleges.
The family orientation is prevalent even amongst the members of so-called westernised elite that feels no qualms about adhering to the exploitative system of nepotism and feels rather proud about it. The inner core the Pakistani society is the unit of family that is still considered the most potent source of identity and it also provides protection whenever required. Individualism is subordinate to family life and society members prefer to live within the family ambit. In most cases, children live with their parents until marriage and sons often stay with their parents after marriage forming a joint family. Consequently, the Pakistani society values household as the primary kinship unit and exist within its parameters. The household unit has the tendency of existing over generations and every generation considers it to be the prime means of social existence and it is very rare that this unit is bypassed.
Pakistani society highly values descent and it is patrilineally devolved and by virtue of this pattern of existence all male ancestors are considered part of the family unit and accepted as relatives. The larger formation of such living pattern is known as biradari or a group of male kin and this unified system plays a significant role in social relations. The influence of this larger unit is very strong and often determines the behaviour and conduct of most of its members in all socio-political matters. This system happens to be an over-arching presence in the country particularly as this is the dominant theme in the largest province of the country. In most cases this patrillenial formation serves as a combined mutual aid society and welfare agency and provides succour to its members without the constraints of the social status of its members. The unity of this system is kept intact by accepting sacrifices that individual members, willingly or unwillingly, renders for the larger benefit of the unit.
In this patrillenial arrangement, its female members play a crucial role through maintaining relations with their natal families throughout their lives. It is mostly mentioned that the degree of involvement with maternal kin varies among ethnic groups and among regions of the country. In this context the family ties are greatly valued with brothers governed by a code that makes them to be affectionate towards their sisters and take care of their interests. The role of husband in Pakistani society still holds plenty of clout within the lives of the womenfolk of the country and most women accept the ascendancy of their life-partners. In this context, the offspring are expected to take care of their parents and stay loyal to them. The brothers are required to take care of their sisters even when they are married and holding separate households. Marriage in Pakistani society is considered glue in cementing socio-economic interaction and it is still an arranged system in which a majority of the people willfully agrees. The married couples remain loyal to the family orientation and prefer to maintain family ties through thick and thin.
However, it is noted that Pakistani society lacks social development and has also lagged considerably behind in terms of economic prosperity. The living conditions of majority of Pakistani society have not improved since decades and the socio-economic regression has increased due to unfettered increase in population. The Pakistani social matrix is widely recognised to be extremely resilient although its patience has been stretched to the limits. Nowadays, it is frequently pointed out that Pakistani society needs urgent measures aimed at furthering its economic development and that its lack may threaten the national cohesion. TW