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The absence of trust

How it’s taking a toll in Pakistan.

Written by Khaled Ahmed |
Updated: July 12, 2014 12:50:59 am

How it’s taking a toll in Pakistan.

On Sunday, June 8, the Taliban attacked the Karachi airport and killed 18 security personnel. All 10 attackers were killed in the battle that ensued. Most TV reporters and anchors, who took it upon themselves to interpret what was being reported live, did not miss the opportunity of pinning the terrorist attack on “foreign countries”, the label regularly given by derelict police officers to India. Then the Taliban, led by a psychopath named Fazlullah, announced that they had done the deed.


But the retired military officers who appeared on TV to comment on terrorism were not blindsided in the same way as the police officers. Their accusations, however, were based on a professional lack of trust all armies are taught to cultivate: “Don’t look at the expressed intent of India; look at its perceived capability.”

The message is: don’t trust India if you have to frame a strategy of national security. (This applies to all armies of the world.) The United States and Israel are thrown in as allies of India and, therefore, rated equally dangerous. If you are a strategist, think black and white and lean on nationalism to avoid intellectual accountability; strategy won’t work if it is shot through with intellectual relativism.

But politicians with their uncertain survival kits can’t afford to be so Manichaean. They tend to “trust” the enemy and its expressed intent and ignore its concealed “capability” of “assured destruction”. That is why in India and Pakistan, military officers tend to think poorly of politicians and will exercise pressure through popular opinion to ignore their policy directives of “peace”. In India, army officers are more inclined to favour the warlike BJP; in Pakistan, they like the religious parties, whose seminarians fight the jihad of covert war to set at naught the theory of military balance of power. The world, after that, is “asymmetrical”.

Some nations are warlike and have no use for trust. Some nations are trading communities based on trust. Armies created by warlike nations are different from the armies created by trading nations. In one case, they are instruments of national pride; in the other, repositories of national gratitude. In the first case, the lack of trust as a communal trait makes economic function difficult. In today’s economically interconnected world, trust as a national trait must be cultivated even if it goes against the grain of the warrior willing to die for honour.

Trust was described first as social capital, that unquantifiable sector that relies on faith among individuals, encourages networking and results in coordinated action needed for competitive economic function. In addition, “trust” yields good governance, better education, lower crime and increased civic participation. Civil society is the matrix within which trust functions as a value. Civil society is the mediator between the state as a coercive apparatus and the citizen, and it can gel around political parties, human rights organisations, professional guilds, etc.

Within this networking, there is the function of trust. Let us imagine that it grows out of man’s transcendence of the animal sense of territoriality. The “other” is not seen as hostile, but presumed to be benign. This is trust. A tribal society or a society less socially advanced will have a low level of trust. An analogy with dogs will be apt. The stranger will be approached with suspicion, then his behind will be sniffed, so to speak, before some kind of acceptance is allowed.

Is there an easier definition? If smoking is prohibited by the state, I will stop asking people for permission to smoke in a place where smoking is specially allowed. However, if the state does not ban smoking, it will be a measure of social trust if I take permission from neighbours before I light up. The “courtesy” that I show to other individuals in circumstances of non-coercion is actually my trust in the “other”. I trust that the “other” is not hostile and therefore deserves the same kind of attention that I would normally give to my tribe or family.

In our daily life, such “borrowed” words as “sorry” and “please” , etc, interspersed in Urdu or Hindi, point to the fact that “trust” is still strange to us. Some of us may feel humiliated if forced to use the Urdu translation of “sorry” and “please” in the contexts that the Western man uses them. Without translation, their direct use in Urdu sounds correct in all cases, even when expressing anger and rejection. It may be interesting to analyse whether the use of the English “shut up” in Urdu is actually popular because of its residual effect of politesse, since the Urdu version would be deemed more offensive.

There is no doubt that in the West there is a kind a trust in individual transactions that one does not always find in Pakistani society. At least, society offers an uneven manifestation of it. For instance, in Punjab, where the urban individual is still rural and “warrior”, it is minimal — people don’t trust the “other” enough to enter into firm commitment (commitment is an important part of trust) and end up delaying payment for goods bought.

On the other hand, in Karachi, where businessmen belong to traditionally trading communities, mostly from Indian Gujarat, trust is fundamental to economic success. The “warrior” has less trust than the “trader”. The latter has to trust in the “other” for the transmission of his goods under contract. But trust has to be individual, not communal, if it is to yield economic advantage to society.

Regulation is an important concept for trust, which is often misunderstood. Our economies are “over-regulated” because regulation here tacitly confesses to low trust, but regulation actually should remove the risks an individual takes by being “trusting”. Pakistanis who succeed in business in the West after failing in Pakistan at times don’t understand that the main factor in their success is trust.

When they try to repeat their success in Pakistan, they find two inhibiting factors that they often do not separate — one is the lack of trust in civil society, which they quickly ascribe to individual dishonesty; the other is the lack of trust of the state, which they identify with red tape. When asked to analyse what they have gone through, these foreign-based Pakistanis prefer to end the discussion with broad accusations of degradation of morality. They also cannot explain why a person unable to perform honestly in Pakistan performs honestly when removed to the West.

Pakistan encompassed populations that were fundamentally non-trust-based and warrior in their background. When religion became strong, it did not introduce the trade-ethic like Protestant Christianity in the West; it simply reinforced the warrior tradition, which is an enemy of trust. (In the West, ethic came as a result of the break-up of the Church and the rise of Protestant Christianity. Max Weber actually noted that the European South had no business ethic because it was Catholic.)

Pakistan relies on religion to form the “good Pakistani man”, but no one cares if this product will be a good trader. Most care is focused on creating the man who will respond to the shibboleth of jihad that destroys trust. Maybe the world will succeed some day in weaning Pakistan from ideology. Trust will return and peace and prosperity will reign.

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

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