The Potential Nationalist-Conservative Alliance In Pakistan



Any given society is represented by different schools of thoughts, often taking the form of ideologies. These various expressions, often known as liberal, socialist, nationalist, and conservative, represents pathways through which individuals, ethnicities and nations, attempt to adapt and present their response to the constantly changing environment around them. However, the important thing to consider is what is perceived as causing change, because that has an influence on the type of response that is formulated.


In this context, PoliTact has noted in previous analyses that the prevailing ground situation in Pakistan has caused the political space for liberals to shrink considerably, as the nationalists and different brands of conservatives are gaining ground. This obviously has implications for the future politics of the country. It was also noted that this trend is not unique to Pakistan and the same is occurring in the Middle East. The flux in the global balance of power is influencing the international institutions and international relations, and this in turn is also impacting the local politics.

Let’s briefly look at the interplay of these political forces. Since the end of World War II, the liberals, socialists, nationalists and conservatives in the Arab world have had their ups and downs. For the most part, their political maneuvering was the outcome of tensions between the socialist and capitalist models that were playing out globally. For example, it resulted in the creation of the Arab Socialist Baath Party in 1947, a coming together of nationalist and socialist forces against western imperialism that called for Arab unification. It later split in to Iraqi and Syrian factions. These same influences were also acting out in Egypt, causing Gamal Abdul Nasser to play a leading role in the formation of the Non-Aligned movement and nationalization of the Suez Canal Company.

Generally, the nationalists in the Arab world were more accepting of socialist influences emanating from the Soviet Union. The conservatives, on the other hand, have had an uncomfortable political existence. They were looked upon with distrust, as waiting in hiding for their chance to revive the Ummah and the Khilafat. This in turn impacted the strategies of nationalists, who exploited the fear of global powers from the conservatives.

In case of Pakistan, since its creation, nationalists have remained closely linked with the liberal forces. However, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was considered a nationalist and a socialist. As prime minister of the country he nationalized all major industries. He was also responsible for initiating Pakistan’s nuclear program. Socialist forces have also had a varying degree of influence in various parts of the country.

The institution of the military has usually played a pivotal role in balancing these different influences, and continues to in places like Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan. In Turkey, the army was the protector of the secularism that was adopted under Ataturk. In Egypt and Pakistan, it usually choreographs the liberal, socialist and conservative responses, so that they do not get significantly out of line from what would be acceptable globally. However, due to factors like the war on terror, local corruption, and lack of governance, the political landscape is changing considerably and appears to be heading towards being unmanageable.

For the first time, the institution of military itself is under threat and is having to adjust itself to the change in public sentiments, as represented by the Arab Spring style uprisings. Events of Egypt have shown that moderate Islamists are rising and if the military attempts to micromanage the direction of the revolts, the rage of the street could very well turn against it. Furthermore, the emergence of new global power centers, such as China and Russia, means that these militaries can no longer be relied upon to continue providing the kind of secular outlook the West has desired.

These new ground realities dictate that the nationalists in the Arab world and Pakistan that have previously swirled around socialist and liberal forces, would be formulating their agenda around the popular politics being practiced by the conservatives.

In the case of Pakistan, the evolution of civil-military relations in Turkey provides an interesting parallel. In Turkey, the civilian government has taken on the conservative and Islamic outlook as the military has retreated. In case of Pakistan, it’s ironically the present civilian government that has adopted a secular outlook. It is quite possible that under pressure from events such as NATO Mohmand Attack, the nuclear-armed military of Pakistan takes on an increasingly conservative outlook. The West, however, dreads this scenario.

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