State of indifference

Citizens of Pakistan are just making do with a make-believe moral system in a make-believe state. No wonder they display nihilistic ennui at the news of every attack as a habit

By Saeed Ur Rehman

We, as a nation, are acquiring new habits: we are getting used to violence, mayhem, gang rapes, mass murder, suicide bombings as everyday events. And what we are becoming too familiar with is against the very raison d’être of the state. The idea of the state emerged in the world, as theorised by Thomas Hobbes, as a reaction against the natural condition. Human beings created the institution of the state so that the institution will help them overcome the condition described as bellum omnium contra omnes, the war of all against all.

The idea was that the state would acquire an absolute monopoly over all forms of violence whether tribal, clannish or familial. A father could no longer beat his child nor a husband could thrash his wife. All forms of violence were going to be administered through the institutions of the state. The ownership of your body, private property, and your ideas could not be violated without the due process. This monopoly over violence exercised by the state was to bring peace to the entire collective of citizens. This was the contract between the citizen and the state. The citizens would pay the taxes and the state was to expend those taxes to distribute justice.

Slowly the idea of justice transformed into something even grander: some states started programmes to distribute economic as well as structural justice. Even hunger and illness were considered as violent phenomenon for the citizen. The state became the greatest equalising force in some societies. It protected the citizen from the cradle to the grave. It brought the indigent to the level of the elite by making the elite pay greater taxes. The accident of birth, in a poor family, was no longer supposed to inflict lifelong misery on any citizen.

Over the years, through the successful implementation of the basic ideas of the state, some entire populations became free of random violence. Monaco, Palau, Hong Kong, Singapore, Iceland, Japan, French Polynesia, Brunei, Bahrain, and Norway all have been able to reduce non-formal violence to the level that they all have less than one murder victim in every 100,000 citizens. This produces a social situation where the citizen owes the state safe or ethical. The citizen has grown up to be a fully unharmed adult because of the social contract and now he/she owes the same safety to the entire public sphere. This credit of safety gives the state the right to demand moral acts of its citizens.

The state can claim that it has been a good creditor of morality and safety and has kept its side of the bargain. The lender of safety can now levy taxes and demand safety of the public sphere. This is the reason why the state does not punish juvenile offenders. They have not received enough credit of safety yet and they are not fully enfranchised citizens. The same is the case with those adult citizens whom the state has not been able to protect from harm.

If a citizen who has led a precarious life commits a crime, the social contract is less binding because he/she has not received enough credit of safety. This was the reason Julian Assange was not imprisoned by the Australian justice system when he was arrested for the first time as a teenage hacker. The Judge showed leniency because of the “unstable personal background”, “the nomadic existence”, and “personal disruption that occurred” in the household in which Assange grew up. The Judge, a representative of the state was acknowledging the fact that the state had not been a good lender of safety to Assange.

What all this means for the social contract in Pakistan and how binding the social contract is for Pakistani citizens is quite obvious. The very basic principle that the citizen has to feel safe first as a child, then as a teenager, and then as a fully enfranchised citizen so that the state can later demand safety of the public sphere is not being followed by the state in Pakistan. In fact, the state of Pakistan has broken this contract many times and may have lost its right to demand moral behaviour from the citizenry already.

The state broke the social contract for the first time when it accepted bribes from the newly arrived citizens to assign them the evacuated properties of the fleeing Hindu population. The state also broke the social contract when it did not allow the majority of East Pakistanis to assert their democratic will. The state broke the social contract when the institution mandated for external security repeatedly conquered the parliament.

The state also broke the social contract when it declared some citizens to be inferior citizens because of their beliefs without asking them to pay half of the taxes. The state also eroded the trust of its citizens when it started producing informal militias for guerrilla warfare and started selling ordinary citizens’ capacity of violence to other states and became a client or a vassal state engaged in proxy warfare in the region.

How can the state demand moral behaviour without giving any credit of safety to its citizens? We the citizens are right when we display a nihilistic ennui and anomie at the news of every attack as a habit. We are getting used to broken promises. The state has violated the social contract so often that we have stopped expecting anything other than more broken promises. We are not surprised when we hear that the Taliban are attacking the jails, marketplaces, shrines, and schools. These enemies of the state were trained by the state.

In political theory, there is no difference between a criminal who arises from within the boundaries of the state and the soldier of the enemy state who attacks on the orders of another sovereign. What the Taliban signify for the social contact is this: any person who does not recognize the state of Pakistan as the sole arbiter of violence and the sole distributor is the enemy of the state. The irony is that some of these enemies of the state were originally trained by the state itself. That is why nobody can think or feel coherently anymore about the political institutions. The political and juridical ramifications are unnerving. The state used its own resources to undermine its own sovereignty and even marketed this shattered sovereignty as a capacity among the international bidders, other sovereigns.

Now the collective body of all the citizens is under threat. The policemen are involved in gang rape and they record their violence on video and show it to the parents of the victim and the judges are afraid of the perpetrators of non-formal violence. When the police arrest a car thief they pray that he is not a foot soldier of the Taliban because then the arresting officers are at risk. When the judge expects a jihadi to appear in the court, he usually directs a policeman to dress like a jihadi and appear in the court with a black or brown cotton sack covering the face. The judge is afraid of speaking in front of a blindfolded jihadi in case the jihadi recognises and remembers the voice of the judge and later on seeks revenge.

If the fully armed institutions of the state, the police, the judiciary, the army, are threatened by the non-formal sources of violence, the social contract is no longer binding for anyone. If the police and the army is not for the protection of the citizen, what right does the state have to levy any taxes? The state exercises its writ through its absolute monopoly over violence. That is what defines the modern state as the sovereign. In Pakistan, however, the sovereign state has many competitors and challengers to this monopoly over violence.

Hence, Pakistan has become a bazaar where competing sovereigns display their capacity to inflict violence. It can mean that there is in fact no moral responsibility and no accountability and nothing that is binding. If a citizen is still behaving morally, it just means he or she is being generous or magnanimous towards others around him.

All this leads to only one logical conclusion: we display nihilistic ennui so that we do not have to deal with the fact that there is no valid social contract operating between the state and the citizenry anymore. It is already a free for all. The citizens are just making do with a make-believe moral system in a make-believe state. Nobody knows when the charade will come to its logical conclusions.

The writer is concerned with all forms of freedom. His work is available at

Published in The News on Sunday

dated August 04, 2013