Review of “Political Survival in Pakistan” (Anas Malik)

Political_Survival_in-PakistanBy Isaac Kfir

(Re-Published from Contemporary South Asia, 21:4) Anas Malik’s Political Survival in Pakistan: Beyond Ideology is a useful addition to the burgeoning literature on political survival specifically in relation to weak states. Drawing on the 2003 volume edited by Bueno de Mesquita et al. (The Logic of Political Survival. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press)), Malik’s approach is to infuse macro forces into a micro-level analysis, as a means of understanding strategic calculation by key agents among the military, civil bureaucracy, landlords and business. In doing so, Malik offers a unique interpretation of Pakistan’s political culture, leading him to argue that “interest,” as opposed to ideology, is what drives Pakistan’s political leaders and their challengers.

When interest is applied to political survival, what becomes clear is that in “certain cases, one policy option may help ensure an incumbent leader’s political survival yet be suboptimal for most citizens, while another option may provide more benefits to more citizens yet be risky for the incumbent’s political survival. In such cases, the incumbent’s policy choice is usually the latter” (p. 3).

Malik’s thesis recognizes the existence of a three-sided relationship: poor extraction keeps the state weak and governance poor; this leads to the persistence of a quasi-state where legal oversight is limited and which in turn ensures that extraction policies remain poor and governance weak. Principally, Malik’s prescription is that to help Pakistan move from weak to strong state status, it must engage in tax reform, land reform, and provincial devolution.

Focusing on leadership decisions vis-à-vis extraction and how these are affected by international shocks, such as the outbreak of war or the loss of international credit, Malik argues that leaders and challengers in Pakistan were and are able “to manipulate key rules for political survival” (p. 29). Malik in Chapter 2 explains why Pakistan is a weak state, though one with a fractured and yet “strong society” following Migdal, who concentrated on social control and the subordination of people. In the next two chapters, Malik examines extraction strategies before moving to an analysis of key political choices by challengers.

In looking at extraction policies, Malik primarily focuses on taxation. He asserts that political leaders do not seek a robust tax system because they are apprehensive about the political risks that would come should they try to implement such a system …

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