Divided Rule

Salman Tarik Kureshi on the continued relevance in today’s Pakistan of the Diarchy system introduced by the British Raj

Divided Rule
Readers who remember their high school history lessons may recall the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms of 1919. The ‘Montford’ Reforms, as they were dubbed, were introduced by Mr. Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India, and Lord Fredric Thesiger Chelmsford, Viceroy of India, to bring a measure of power-sharing into the administration of the Raj. They brought about a system of dual government, known as Diarchy, for the provinces of British India.

Under Diarchy, the executive branches of each provincial government were divided into “authoritarian” and “popularly responsible” sections. The first was composed of executive councillors, appointed by the Crown. The second was composed of ministers chosen from among the elected members of the provincial Legislative Assemblies. The various subjects of administration were divided between the councillors and the ministers, as “reserved” and “transferred” subjects, respectively.

Despite many developments between 1919 and independence, the habits associated with Diarchy remained in place, at least in the regions which came to form Pakistan. Here, independence burst upon us almost unexpectedly, with the attendant Partition bloodbath of 1947 and the massive dislocation of the two-way migrations. Our early years of nationhood saw the emergence of what the late Hamza Alavi identified as the dichotomy between the highly developed and organized civil and military institutions created by British rule in the Indian Subcontinent, the “steel frame of the administration”, and the much lower levels of development of political forces.

Lord Chelmsford, Viceroy of India at the time of the Reforms

In India, the Congress Party, crafted by Nehru and Patel into a powerful political instrument of the national bourgeoisie, succeeded in establishing the primacy of democratic political institutions. In Pakistan, where the national bourgeoisie was weak and lacked an effective political organisation, this did not happen. Here, political parties, peopled in the main by representatives of the administratively backward rural elite or by populist spell-binders of dubious intellectual depth, failed to gain control over the real wielders of power. The civil-military oligarchy assumed an autonomous role, independent of the interests of the dominant local classes, resulting in a dichotomy between a weak ‘political’ structure of control and a stronger ‘administrative’ structure.

The groups who actually work the levers of the state are all part of the same nexus: bureaucrats, professionals, so-called technocrats, the judiciary, and their sword arm the professional soldiery. These ‘administrative’ groups can be counterpointed to the ‘political’ groups peopled by aspiring business classes and the dwindling feudal gentry – controllers of wealth, but not necessarily of power.

The 1958 government of Field Marshal Ayub Khan unabashedly established the supremacy of the ‘administrative’ oligarchy, viz. the military-bureaucratic establishment. Ayub’s military regime was clearly and firmly underpinned by bureaucrats like Fida Hussain, Altaf Gauhar, M.M. Ahmed, Qudratullah Shahab, and others, not to mention jurists like Manzur Qadir and A.K. Brohi, and even judges like Mohammed Munir. These were the successors to the steel framework of the former colonial administration, or, as I had earlier termed it, the Babu Brigade. The civ-mil distinction, so beloved of op-ed writers, is actually a false one.
Examples of political figures like Mujib, Bhutto, Benazir, and now Sharif – who, in one way or another, seriously threatened the unwritten writ of the ‘administrative’ over the ‘political’ structures – are sobering

The eventual collapse of Ayub’s regime in 1969, and the subsequent disintegration of Pakistan in 1971, brought the ‘political’ structure under Bhutto into the driving seat. But Bhutto made too many enemies and his government was brought down in 1977. An extraordinary kind of political see-saw was seen to emerge, with now the ‘administrative’ structure (Zia, Ghulam Ishaq, Musharraf) on the ascendant, and now the ‘political’ structure (Benazir, Nawaz, Zardari, Nawaz, Khan). The smooth, democratic transfers of power in 2013 from the PPP to the PML-N governments (despite media-amplified sore-loser noises from the PTI) and then somewhat shakily to the PTI in 2018 suggest that the locus of power has for once remained where it constitutionally belongs. But has it? Or is this just window dressing?

I need to take my readers back into history to look at the different ways that the feudal and military classes evolved in Asia and in Europe.

In medieval Asia, the nobility – as, for example, the Zamindars and Mansabdars of our Subcontinent – were creations of the largesse of all-powerful, despotic monarchs. It was a largesse that could be withdrawn at any time and which, in any case, could not be passed on to their descendants. No permanent baronial estates meant no permanent bodies of standing armies, only the troops brought to muster, as required by the Maharaja, or Sultan or Shahenshah. Asiatic kingdoms were immense in size, as compared to the principalities and statelets of Europe. More important, there was a comparative measure of peace at the centres of these big Asian empires. Therefore, there was less incentive to develop and improve military technology or methodology.

In Europe, the evolution of the feudal state was quite different to that of the despotic state in Asia and the Subcontinent. Power in European countries was divided between the three, often antagonistic, entities of the Crown, the Church and the hereditary feudal Nobility. This trichotomy has been a positive force in Europe’s socio-political evolution, leading to division of power, arrangements like the Magna Carta, the formation of Parliaments and progress brought about due to internal competition between the three Estates. Not so in the vast lands of Asia and the Subcontinent, which lacked an organized Church, and where all-powerful, despotic Monarchs parcelled out feudal estates to such nobles as they favoured or denied them to those they did not.

The British Raj strengthened the administrative aspect of the state over its political institutions

Thus, compared to their Asiatic counterparts, the baronial houses of Europe had a relatively autonomous character and a measure of permanence over the generations. Their soldiers had to fight: not only in the wars of a perhaps distant monarchy, but also sometimes against attempted incursions by that very monarchy upon baronial privileges, or against neighbouring barons with land-grabbing ambitions. With the introduction of distinctive liveries for their men, the barons of Europe evolved not only uniforms, but permanent standing armies, which were, at any point in time, either drilling or fighting in the continuous internal and external wars that European history has known. Thus, European countries evolved the professional standing armies of today.

Then, the Europeans gained supremacy over Asia, erecting the massive structures of their imperialist enterprises over the teeming millions of our older, less vigorous civilisations. Instead of the contentious but vital trichotomy of power in Europe, their administrators took advantage of the centralized despotisms they found here, creating, among other entities, their own dependent feudal class and suppressing unapologetically any emerging native trading or business bourgeoisies. When, in the twentieth century, elements of a bourgeoisie nevertheless managed to start gathering strength and flexing popular democratic muscles, devices like the Montford Diarchy were contrived to give an appearance of power-sharing.

As history has shown, the Montford Diarchy was always heavily loaded in favour of the Raj. And the same is true of the modern Diarchy under which we live in Pakistan. The examples of political figures like Mujib, Bhutto, Benazir, and now Sharif – who, in one way or another, seriously threatened the unwritten writ of the ‘administrative’ over the ‘political’ structures – are sobering.

However, even this one-sided dichotomy has its own limitations and, in any case, situations do evolve bit by bit until there is a transforming leap. This is a subject that I will explore in another article. For today, I will close with the question of whether or not our present Prime Minister has the vision, perception, grit and finesse needed to see us through these changing times.