The Origins of Authoritarianism in Pakistan

Working Paper

Published By

CDDRL Working Papers

October 2009

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What ails the Pakistani polity? Since its emergence from the detritus of the British Indian Empire in 1947, it has witnessed four military coups (1958, 1969, 1978 and 1999), long periods of political instability and a persistent inability to consolidate democratic institutions. It also witnessed the loss of a significant portion of its territory (East Pakistan) in 1971 following the brutal suppression of an indigenous uprising in the aftermath of which some ten million individuals sough refuge in India. The flight of the refugees to India and the failure to reach a political resolution to the crisis precipitated Indian military intervention and culminated in the creation of the new state of Bangladesh.

Pakistan's inability to sustain a transition to democracy is especially puzzling given that India too emerged from the collapse of British rule in South Asia. In marked contrast to Pakistan, it has only experienced a brief bout of authoritarian rule (1975-1977) and has managed to consolidate democracy even though the quality of its democratic institutions and their performance may leave much to be desired.

A number of scholars have proffered important explanations for Pakistan's failure to make a successful transition to democracy. This essay will argue that all the extant explanations are, at best, partial and incomplete. It will then demonstrate that the roots of Pakistan's propensity toward authoritarianism must be sought in the ideology, organization and mobilization strategy of the movement for the creation of Pakistan.

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