What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘development’? Do you think of high-rise buildings? Do you think of the hustle and bustle of a brawling urban city? Or are you reminded of all the amenities and conveniences that come along with an advanced economy?
Development, as we know it, has only ever had positive connotations, and, when it comes to Pakistan (and Pakistanis), we often find ourselves, our culture and traditions labelled as ‘backwards’ or ‘uncivilized’ as a consequence of being defined as an “underdeveloped” country. To understand why, we must both redefine development in Pakistan and understand the origin and symbolism of the words, standards and metrics used to describe the state of affairs in Pakistan.
Although a post-colonial state, Pakistan’s colonization has not yet ended. This is because the Pakistani people suffer from a chronic illness: a captive mind. This term, coined by Polish author Czeslaw Milosz, encompasses the concept that our thoughts and ideas are not as independent as we believe but are rather dominated by an external source.
In our case, we may be free from our colonizers, but the West’s hegemony clandestinely continues through the domination of our minds and thoughts. This subtle form of neo-colonialism is especially apparent in Pakistan’s policies. The vast majority of developmental policies in Pakistan subscribe to the eurocentric definition of development and progress.
These Western ideals of development often bring with them a false sense of progress in “developing” countries. Unregulated free-market structures, free trade, modernity, mass consumerism and production are all ideals of the neoliberal economic order and hence display the eurocentric definition of development.
Furthermore, the indicators we use to assess our progress with policy implementation are, once again, defined by Western institutions and standards. This proves to be an issue as a Western interpretation of problems in the global South has given rise to solutions that would only ever work in the Western world. Hence, these solutions inevitably fail to achieve their goals when applied in countries like Pakistan.
A 2016 study by Sarah Cummings and Paul Hoebink found that of the 2112 articles published in the field of development studies, only 14% of the authors were from developing countries that were the subject of these articles. This surprising finding exemplifies a “coloniality of knowledge” prevalent in the discourse surrounding development.
This power over information publication and dissemination means that the “discourse of development” is much less a discourse and much more a critique of a world deficient of European modernity and scruples. Perhaps the greatest threat from this hegemony over knowledge and information is the control of the narrative. This power over interpretation and labelling of who exactly is “underdeveloped” and what “underdevelopment” stands for is immensely exploited.
Intergovernmental agencies and international organizations use this eurocentric literature as justification and legitimization for their interventionist developmental policies. Take, for example, the IMF’s stringent conditions on Pakistan or the World Trade Organization’s rules for trade that promote a neoliberal economic order as opposed to economic prosperity for the country. These policies lack a cultural analysis and fail to consider the cultural pluralism present in an incredibly diverse country like Pakistan.
As it has become clear, these “development” policies serve the developed world more than the developing world. Modernization and materialism in the West have almost commodified the term “development.” That is why the rejection of contemporary modernity and materialism is necessary. That, however, does not mean rejecting modern medicine or discouraging human innovation and ingenuity.
We must go beyond our bounded rationality and realize that concepts outside of the sphere of what is considered “modern” (i.e., not modern), should not be labelled under such negative connotations. If we were to have our own enlightenment, perhaps we would finally be able to see that our traditionalist values, customs and norms hold within them the same logic, reason, effectiveness and efficiency we so dearly treasure in the West’s modern societal ethics.
How we define ‘development’ is critical to how we approach ‘underdevelopment’. It is important to remember that these labels and definitions can be interpreted in many ways. We, the Pakistani people, must first decolonize our minds before we begin to decolonize the major developmental policies in our country. By redefining ‘development’, we frame the issue, set the narrative and take back control of the interpretation of our country.
What we see in Pakistani policies and the minds of the Pakistani people is the dependence on Eurocentric ideals. The lack of literature from indigenous authors that are not influenced by Western authors is little to none. Without authentic and meaningful research, how can we possibly go about solving the innumerable issues that have plagued Pakistan since its inception?
By empowering our indigenous communities through capacity building in all forms, we can allow for their definition of “development.” We must redefine development in order to not depend on international governance institutions that seek to instill their ideology in incompatible people.
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