The elite and secularism in Pakistan

AasimAcademic, activist and commentator Aasim Sajjad Akhtar of the National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan writes a new article for JCA.

His article, “Dreams of a Secular Republic: Elite Alienation in Post-Zia Pakistan” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2016.1193214) examines the so-called secular-religious divide in Pakistan in class terms. The abstract is:

Since the onset of the “war on terror,” an apparently irreconcilable “secular-religious” divide has come to the fore in Pakistani society with ostensibly deep historical roots. In this article the “divide” is critically interrogated through an historical-sociological analysis, including detailed interviews with a small sample of both “secularists” and leftists who do not subscribe to the “secular-religious” binary. The article emphasises that substantive social changes have taken place over the past four decades, coeval with the erosion of a relatively insular structure of power dominated by the secular, Westernised successors to the British. The concomitant rise of a “nativised” middle class has both been cause and consequence of the old elite’s steady retreat into its private ghettoes. The latter’s growing alienation from wider society – including the realm of formal politics – has been accompanied by growing alarmism about the increasingly illiberal and hyper-religious character of the mass of the population. Elite alienation has intensified since 2001, making the “secular-religious” divide a self-fulfilling prophecy. Notwithstanding its protestations, however, the elite remains the major beneficiary of the prevailing structure of power, and a meaningful transformative politics – both secular and responsive to the material deprivations of ordinary people – remains conspicuously absent.

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