ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Alliance of State and Ruling Classes in Contemporary Pakistan

This article explores how the elite or ruling classes construct and maintain their position of privilege and power in Pakistan’s unstable political and economic environment. 

This article examines the structure of Pakistan’s ruling classes, their relationship to the state, and how the nature of these relationships have shifted significantly in certain regards over the past 40 years, whilst remaining surprisingly constant in others. In contrast to the work of Akbar Zaidi (2014: 51), who has argued that Pakistan is “a long way from the classical structuralist or even Marxist formulation of the Pakistani state dominated by landlords, industrialists, and the metropolitan bourgeoisie,” I argue that Pakistan is not such a long way from these formulations as may initially be supposed. Rather, these ruling classes have allied themselves with the bureaucratic-military oligarchy to the extent that the families of each of these interest groups now interpenetrate and overlap so that, in many instances, these families and the institutions they represent, are almost indistinguishable from one another.

This article begins where much of the national discourse regarding the role of the state in Pakistan begins, by revisiting the foundational work of the influential sociologist, Hamza Alavi, regarding the relationship between the state and the ruling classes within the postcolonial nation. I then examine more recent scholarship that reconfigures Alavi’s conception of this special relationship. This oeuvre of scholarship poses an interesting challenge, but one that is usually peripheral to scholars of political economy: How do the elite factions of ethnically diverse postcolonial nations create alliances? And, what is it that holds these diverse elites together? Focusing on the theoretical aspects of this challenge, the article then examines the process of strategic family alliances amongst members of the ruling classes, and concludes with my own evaluation of the nature and structure of this relationship in Pakistan today, based on the findings of ethnographic research conducted between 2013 and 2015.1

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