there is no alternative platform

It’s fairly common to see the idea put forward that an alternative political platform needs to be developed which replaces religion as the dominant rallying point for politics. The way I see it there are several problems with this

1. alternative platforms built around issues like the economy, justice or foreign policy are subject to certain constraints which are often out of control of the politicians concerned – especially a relatively powerless political class like our own. Foreign policy has been pretty much controlled by the military establishment and its interaction with the US since the 80s. So any party that came to power promising an independent foreign policy (unlikely anyway) would be embarrassed and thrown out pretty soon. The state of the economy too is dependent on issues largely out of a government’s control – international commodity prices and the internal security situation.

2. For people concerned with things like the public debt and the rising budget deficit, the idea of a political platform based on poverty alleviation, low prices, subsidies, relief, cheap health care and education is a very expensive proposition which Pakistan’s current finances – burdened as it is with the huge cost of the defence budget, existing PSE subsidies, debt financing and other government spenidng – just don’t have the cash for. So any party that came into power promising some kind of welfare state would also be unable or extremely unlikely to deliver. Of course if you believe that a welfare state / socialist revolution is self-sustaining and finances are not an issue, then that’s another issue.

In the meantime you have religion which promises an ideal condition and has an unchanging appeal, unaffected by changing economics or conditions on the ground. In fact, the worse things get materially, the stronger the appeal of religion seems to be. In other countries, nationalism based on geographical location or ethnicity is a relatively neutral concept. Even in relatively patriotic countries in the US, geographical/ethnic nationalism is not something that inspires revolutions the way that religion does in Pakistan. So not only do you have religion as a rival to any other political platform, it’s a rival that’s virtually unassailable and all other alternatives are weak, uncertain and unlikely to deliver.

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