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Posts Tagged Prediction About Pakistan

The prophetic wisdom of Gunnar Myrdal:True Predictions on Pakistan in the Asian Drama-Almost 50 years ago


In next 50 years this pattern will not change unless Feudalistic/Industrialistic Forces and Power Centers Are Not Destroyed  







The prophetic wisdom of Gunnar Myrdal:Pakistan in the Asian Drama

Gunnar Myrdal: Pakistan following the pattern described by him almost 50 years ago

There are several aspects in Myrdal’s analysis of Pakistan in light of which he explains why Pakistan has not been that successful in its development aspirations. The lack of national purpose.

One of the most striking observations of Myrdal in regard to Pakistan is at the outset of his discussion on the chapter on Pakistan identifying “the lack of national purpose.” He comments: “Few modern states started their independent existence on such a tenuous basis and under such severe initial difficulties as Pakistan.” [Myrdal, 1968, p. 305] Such a view of statement might elicit quick reaction that there was a purpose: to embody an Islamic vision.

Myrdal recognizes the existence of such a purpose, but goes at great length explaining why it was so vacuous. “Behind the unfavorable circumstances of its origin was a fundamental predicament – the lack of a clear conception of the kind of state that should be created and the aims it should pursue. The struggle for Pakistan was exclusively concerned with freeing Moslems from Hindu domination.” [Myrdal, 1968, p. 306]. The statement with such substitution would read like this: “Behind the unfavorable circumstances of its origin was a fundamental predicament – the lack of a clear conception of the kind of state that should be created and the aims it should pursue.

Although in case of Pakistan Islam was used to justify the two nation theory in favor of a separate nation for the Muslims. Even cursorily, it is worth noting that Myrdal had very high regard for Islam. He writes very highly about Islam and its compatibility with the modernization ideals, and at the same time he recognized the cultural distortions of Islam as a received legacy at the popular level.This is important in the context of Pakistan because it is a Muslim majority country. Whether one views the role of religion in development and transformation of a society positively or negatively, it is undeniable that religion at the popular level has a deep and strong hold on the mass.

b. Lack of pre-independence planning

“The campaign for Pakistan … left confusion about the aims and policies to be pursued by the new state. … [T]he Muslim League in pre-independence times was so locked in the fight for partition that it never developed a social and economic program as did the Indian Congress. What the new state should do for its citizens – other than free them from Hindu domination – was left vague and uncertain. The political inclinations of most of the leaders of the League were probably similar to those of British conservatives a few generations ago; they wanted the new state to be secular and in some sense modern, not only in its formal political institutions; it should even be progressive, provided their privileged position was not jeopardized.” [Myrdal, 1968, p. 308]

While there were the 6, 7, and 11 resolutions as part of the pre-independence political campaign in East Pakistan, none of those sets of resolution amounted to a vision that had any bearing on it as independent nation, partly because those resolutions where designed for seeking autonomy, not independence. Although some still argue, with some validity, that the campaign for autonomy was merely a disguise for pushing the country to the brink of separation, facilitating the environment and mood for complete independence.

Similar to the experience of Pakistan, where the privileged class of the pre-independence period vigorously sought, fought for and succeeded in preserving and enhancing their privileges, primarily the big landlords and feudals in Pakistan [Myrdal, 1968, p. 234-235], the essential similarity lies in the motivation and campaign of the “privileged” class, whatever its composition or nature is, to preserve its reign.

c. The initial difficulty

Recognizing the importance of the initial difficulty faced by Pakistan, Myrdal commented: “Born in communal strife and political and economic chaos and bordered by hostile neighbors, the country’s mere survival as a political unit was remarkable.” [Myrdal, 1968, p. 305]. Among the aspects of initial difficulty, he included (a) the separation of the two wings of the country thousand miles apart with a hostile country in between; relatively less natural resources compared to India; inherited hardly any main offices of major firms, banks, or industry; and inherited fewer administrators, clerks, professional and business people, and skilled workers than India. [Myrdal, 1968, p. 305]

Pakistan inherited a disproportionately smaller share of the resources at independence compared to its counterpart in India Yet, quite similarly, Myrdal’s statement about the survival of Pakistan was “remarkable”, given the greater initial difficulty.


d. Lack of democratic leadership

In light of the modernization goals, as stated and embraced publicly by Pakistani leaders, democracy was to be the political norm. “As in the other liberated countries of South Asia, it was commonly agreed that Pakistan should be a democratic state in which fundamental rights and social justice were guaranteed to all and power resided with the governed.” [Myrdal, 1968, p. 312] Myrdal especially emphasized the point that as a part of pre-Independence vision, Indian leadership had a commitment to build a democratic tradition, unlike the Pakistani leadership. Even throughout the independence movement, Indian leadership fostered a more populist form of culture, rather than authoritarian leadership. Myrdal also makes a point as to how the charisma of Jinnah was such that neither he liked to be challenged, nor did anyone dare to. Those around him elevated him to “Quaid-e-Azam” (great leader) compared to a more down-to-earth title for Gandhi, the Mahatma (great souled), or to the ordinary people, Bapuji.

“[W]ithin the Indian National Congress the fundamental principle of government by discussion, with its correlatives of cooperation and discipline, had been established. Pakistan had far fewer leaders of similar caliber and less of a tradition of discussion among them. Jinnah not only became the permanent President of the Muslim League; he converted his position into a virtual dictatorship. … In India the Congress kept together after independence and preserved its popular following and, particularly in the beginning, a remarkable degree of centralized direction. It thus remained an effective political machine. … This had given the stability to government in India that Pakistan has not enjoyed.” [Myrdal, 1968, pp. 246-247]


e. National consolidation and emotional integration

For any kind of development a reasonable level of political and social stability and cohesion is a must. Myrdal’s perspective on this is contained in two different expressions: national consolidation and emotional integration. In regard to those who articulate the modernization ideals in the Asian Drama, in his view, “harbor within themselves sharply conflicting valuations. … In Western countries such differences also exist, but through a long process of national consolidation, or of what in India is called ‘emotional integration,’ these differences have tended to diminish. The modern democratic welfare states developed in the West during the past half century have a high degree of ‘created harmony’ of interests and ideals.” [Myrdal, 1968, p. 53]

In evaluating the experience of Pakistan in terms of national consolidation, writing more than twenty years after the independence and two years before partition, Myrdal wrote: “Any government in Pakistan that tries to engender national consolidation and development must cope with certain basic difficulties. It is a very poor country without a history of political identity or national allegiance. Its population is divided by widespread social and economic inequalities and its solidarity further strained by a geographical division into two roughly equal units whose principal tie is a common religion and a shared animosity to the large neighbor that separates them. Clearly, religion and resentment against a neighboring state are precarious foundations on which to build a modern state.” [Myrdal, 1968, p. 338]

Myrdal, quite empathetically, discusses the issue of indigenous languages and even the specific case of the Language Movement in East Pakistan. “No real ‘emotional integration’ of the new nations and therefore no secure national consolidation is possible as long as the members of the tiny upper class in charge of administration, law enforcement, and modernized business and industry communicate in a European language and the masses speak only their native tongue. … On rational grounds, therefore, increased use of the indigenous language must be part of the planning in all South Asian countries, both in the conduct of ordinary affairs and in businesses, governmental bodies, and, of course, schools and universities.” [Myrdal, 1968, pp. 81-82]

Pakistan went far beyond just a failure to recognize such needs. During the earliest days of Pakistan, there was a deliberate effort to impose a language on the majority of the country as a national language. The seed of emotional rift that was sowed by the leaders of Muslim League only inevitably grew with no genuine effort toward ‘emotional integration.’ Rather, economic as well all other policies in Pakistan were basically discriminatory particularly toward East Pakistan, where the majority of the country resided.

What is the Bangladesh experience? Well, almost business as usual. If Pakistan had a tenuous national purpose, the case of Bangladesh was no better. The hatred for Pakistanis, however, much justified in light of the two decades’ experience as one nation, has not proven to be a sufficient foundation for a better future in light of the post-independence experience of Bangladesh.

The country is falling apart from inside due to a serious lack of emotional integration both at the domestic as well as the regional level. The trauma of India-Pakistan separation after the British left has not healed and no genuine effort has been made from either side in that direction since 1947. The post-independence experience of Pakistan has not been toward an emotional integration. The most tragic fact about that is the way Bangladesh had to seek its independence in 1971. Even after 1971, Pakistan’s emotional integration is not in the positive direction: those who migrated to Pakistan from India and those who are “originally” from Pakistan are still killing each other. The post-independence direction of Bangladesh is not much different.

One of the most important rifts serving as a stumbling block toward emotional integration and national consolidation is indicated by the fact that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the leader of the Independence movement and the subsequent PM of Bangladesh, was brutally assassinated along with most of his family members. The ruling party, the same party of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is now at loggerhead with combined opposition, which has brought the country to a dead-end. Some observers even mention about a potential civil war.


f. Lack of constructive opposition

Myrdal attributes relative success of India, as compared to Pakistan, in regard to institutionalization of democracy to the leadership of India in developing a better political culture traceable even during the pre-independence period.

Pakistan’s case was different as we have already explained above. Due to the authoritarian culture of the leadership during pre-independence as well as post-independence period, the country is yet to see any genuine transition toward a stable and functional democracy. The last few “elected” regimes under Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and their internecine politics resulted into reassertion and reemergence of the military rule.

The political culture and experience of Bangladesh are similar. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and General Zia were assassinated, General Ershad was overthrown and then thrown into jail, Khaleda Zia’s elected government was brought down by the united movement of the opposition, and now the government of Sheikh Hasina is facing the tit from the combined opposition for the earlier tat. The people some time get tired of such farcical democracy as it seems that the common people of Pakistan are not that much bothered about the return of the military rule.

Reflecting on the nature and the conduct of opposition parties, whoever they may be at different times – call it the opposition culture – Myrdal wrote: “Even the most devoted friend of political democracy cannot see much hope for national consolidation and development in the fight being waged in the name of democracy by the present opposition parties.” [Myrdal, 1968, p. 341]

As Myrdal pointed out that the call for freedom from domination of the British and the Hindu could incite one group against the other, but “its positive value in creating national identity and purpose was to prove rather illusory” in Pakistan in post-1947 period. The case of Bangladesh, seeking freedom from the domination of the Pakistanis also, so far, has proved illusory “in creating national identity and purpose” conducive for a true development and transformation.

Interestingly, Myrdal was not very convinced that democracy has a bright future in Pakistan, given its past authoritarian history and culture. More importantly, he did not feel that, generally speaking, western-type democracy was a precondition toward development. Based on his analysis, he saw, in a somewhat paradoxical fashion, “the elites rather than the masses are the instruments of social change in the context of a paternalistic and authoritarian political structure” [Chossudovsky, p. 106]. Probably giving some credence to the notion of “enlightened despotism”, he wrote: “It may be doubted whether this ideal of political democracy – with political power based on free elections and with freedom of assembly, press, and other civil liberties – should be given weight in formulating the modernization ideals. … Experience has shown that, unlike other value premises, this ideal is not essential to a system comprising all the other modernization ideals. National independence, national consolidation, changes in institutions and attitudes, equalization, rise of productivity, rise and redirection of consumption, and more generally, planning for development can be attained by an authoritarian regime bent on their realization. On the other hand, the substitution of an authoritarian regime for a more democratic one gives no assurance that policies will be directed toward the realization of those ideals, or that, if so directed, they will be more effective.” [Myrdal, 1968, p. 65]

Those enamored with modernization ideals might not quite agree with Myrdal’s viewpoint as articulated above, but that is not probably because Myrdal is incorrect, but because at least the semblance of democracy is indispensable in modern times. Thus, even the military juntas who come to power through backdoors, the first thing they have to proclaim is their deep faith in democracy.

Somewhat sympathetically, Myrdal refers to Ayub Khan’s comment about the failed politicians: “They were given a system of government totally unsuited to the temper and climate of the country.” [Myrdal, 1968, p. 324] Myrdal’s own remark in regard to the Ayub Khan’s regime was even more revealing: “Thus what hope there is for progress in Pakistan must be attached to the present quasi-dictatorial regime: to its ability, despite its very narrow class basis, to advance national goals of planning, equality, and consolidation and to purse the state of corruption.” [Myrdal, 1968, p. 341] The ghost of Ayub Khan returned as General Musharraf in Pakistan, reinforcing Myrdal’s point.

Is the experience of Pakistan, especially the dysfunctional democracy, another confirmation of Myrdal’s prognosis that the politicians of Pakistan too are incompatible to a culture of functional democracy? Pakistan seems to have vindicated him, even posthumously. Would the case of Bangladesh be any different?



As enunciated in this paper, in light of Myrdal’s Asian Drama, there are certain real non-economic determinants or impediments to economic development that may cause a country to perpetuate in a vicious circle. Myrdal’s contribution in the field of economic development had most profound effect as development paradigms have shifted through several phases including basic needs approach and sustainable development. Unfortunately, many of the countries Myrdal chose as actors in his drama probably have not read the drama or have not read as assiduously as Myrdal himself strove to write. Myrdal passed away in 1987 and thus lived nearly two decades after Asian Drama was published. He was greatly disappointed by the general path followed by most of the countries included in Asian Drama. [Ethier, p. 84] For a true transformation of any economy, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, addressing the non-economic problems is critical. Although Bangladesh was not dealt with as a separate unit for his analysis, remarkably, as articulated in this paper, the experience of Bangladesh fits quite snugly into Myrdal’s analysis as simply a continuation of Pakistan’s experience.

Is there any hope? Well, Myrdal was only cautiously optimistic about Pakistan. Whatever conclusions Myrdal drew and opinions expressed were merely results of his most comprehensive analysis of development issues to date. Myrdal’s conception of Asian Drama was not like a staged drama with a predetermined end. Thus, there is hope.

Myrdal wrote: “In the classic conception of drama – as in the theoretical phase of a scientific study – the will of the actors was confined in the shackles of determinism. The outcome at the final curtain was predetermined by the opening up of the drama in the first act, accounting for all the conditions and causes of later developments. The protagonist carried his ultimate fate in his soul, while he was groping for his destiny. In life, while the drama is still unfolding – as in the practical phase of a study, when policy inferences are drawn from value premises as well as from premises based on empirical evidence – the will is instead assumed to be free, within limits, to choose between alternative courses of action. History, then, is not taken to be predetermined, but within the power of man to shape. And the drama thus conceived is not necessarily tragedy.” [Myrdal, 1968, p. 35]

  • Gunnar Myrdal
  • Karl Gunnar Myrdal was a Swedish Nobel Laureate economist, sociologist, and politician. In 1974, he received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with Friedrich Hayek for “their pioneering work …

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