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April 6, 2017

Conflict and coercion


April 6, 2017

The use of coercion as the main governing tool by a state is unacceptable – whether under democracy, military rule or monarchy. A quick look at history shows several examples where the clergy and other such segments were used as the primary tools to legitimise the repressive rule of the monarch. While armies and militias may prove fruitful in quelling small resistances, consent is the only way to deal with conflicts in a contradiction-ridden society.        

A society – under any form of control – is naturally susceptible to contradictions, being made up of various groups and classes.   The word ‘rule’ itself cannot be defined without implying the ruler and the ruled as entities. A successful state, like any other ruling body, tries to keeps these contradictions within bounds through various institutions.

A successful governance model though is one that relies more on institutions of consent than institutions of coercion. But, quite like the general practice, democracy in our country too is only means to befool the masses and create the illusion that they are a part of the system.

When the growth of any group within the ruling elite reaches a stagnation point, conflict within society increases, aggravating the contradictions between not only the ruling and ruled classes but also between the governing classes and institutions. In such circumstances it is but natural for more powerful institutions to take the driving seat – but not without chaos ensuing.

As Marx said: “Ruling ideas in every epoch, hitherto, are the ideas of the ruling classes”. Ideas – including laws, morals, values and other principles used as a means to convince the masses to submit before the state – are the primary force that keeps the conflicts from sharpening. Educational institutions, the legislature, the judiciary and other such institutions are all included in these necessary governing forces.

The irony though is that when the crisis of stagnation hits powerful institutions or groups within the power structure, their eagerness to increase their influence brings them into conflict with the institutions of consent.

It is in this light that we need to see the recent arrest of Dr Riaz Ahmed, former president of the Karachi University Teachers Association. Dr Riaz’s arrest is not a random event but a consequence of the contradiction brewing between the institutions of education and state authorities since 1984, when a ban was imposed on student unions.

When Gen Ziaul Haq captured power his regime faced a massive resistance from students, especially in Karachi. The biggest institution in the city, the University of Karachi, was among the first to be handed over to paramilitary forces. This was followed by a similar course of action in universities across Sindh and Balochistan – and continues till today.

And now, when education is practically being imparted under the watch of the gun, the need to still arrest teachers and students in such a manner only tells us that the conflicts within the ruling groups have sharpened to an alarming level.

Arrests, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and extra-constitutional and special powers bestowed upon institutions clearly suggest that the ruling elite has been forced to go beyond its own laws to protect the status quo. Unfortunately, those in power are still unable to see that the more coercive they get, the more difficult it would be for them to establish consent.

Another dimension that Dr Riaz’s arrest points to are the layers of conflict the state is wrapped in. The way matters have been handled led to cases such as that of Dr Hasan Zafar Arif being a cause for concern. Instead of understanding the situation and acting accordingly, the state used more coercion, leading to even the staunchest critics of the MQM – like Dr Riaz – to speak against excesses.

Now a fourth layer of conflict can be seen to emerge with the arrest of Dr Riaz and the silly charges levelled against him.             Other options have been done away with, and coercion appears to be the only option left for the state to bring things under control in some provinces.

The confrontation between the federal and Sindh governments over the post of IG Sindh as well as the absolute silence of law-enforcement agencies and others over countless notices issued during the hearings of petitions relating to missing persons clearly tell that the institutions responsible for maintaining civil order are themselves in disarray.

Given the direction things are moving in, the legislature which is the most important bargaining body of a state will soon become a rubber stamp – if it has not already become one!


The writer is an educationist and
former central organiser of the National Students Federation (NSF).

Email: [email protected]