The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Authoritarianism in Pakistan

Fri, August 14, 2009

Within less than a year of gaining independence, Pakistan’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, died of
tuberculosis, providing a stark contrast to the stable and competent leadership enjoyed by India during
the same period. In an article in the current issue of Policy Review, Zoltan Barany traces the
historical antecedents of Pakistani and Indian divergence, accounting for the emergence of
authoritarian military and civilian rule in Pakistan. He argues that Pakistani authoritarianism can be
largely explained by going back to the historic roots of dysfunctional politics: the legacies of
British rule which affected Pakistan and India in disparate ways, the partition of British India to
what became India and Pakistan, and the formative first decade of independent statehood. Particularly
significant, in the immediate years following independence, Pakistan’s military leadership found the
imperatives of survival and state-building too demanding to stand aside and let politics run their
course. The Pakistani experience, Barany asserts, “supports the argument that the fate of political
transitions is frequently determined in the first few years after the fall of the ancien régime.”
Burdened by a history of incapable, divisive, and corrupt military and civilian rule, Pakistan, “the
key to the satisfactory conclusion of the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan,” Barany writes, “is
on course to become an Islamist state, not just an Islamic one.”

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