Post Colonial Society: Hamza Alvi

In his influential article on the state in post colonial society, Hamza Alvi argues that the original base of the post colonial state apparatus lies in the class forces existing in the colonial era Metropole. The task colonial state apparatus was to subordinate all the indigenous classes (indigenous bourgeois, the Metropolitan neo-colonist bourgeoisie and the landed masses) in the colony. It did not rest on any of these classes. On the contrary, the colonial power established highly developed military and bureaucracy to control these classes, thus the state apparatus was overdeveloped.

He further argues that if a colony has a weak and underdeveloped indigenous bourgeoisie, it will be unable at the moment of independence to subordinate the relatively highly developed colonial state apparatus through which the metropolitan power had exercised dominion over it. As an alternative, a new convergence of interests of three competing propertied classes will emerge. Under these circumstances, the bureaucratic-military oligarchy, that has a distinct relative autonomy, would play a role of mediator among these classes and will take a top position in the hierarchy of post colonial state. As a result, the state apparatus acquires relatively autonomous role and is not simply the instrument of any of these classes. Conversely, the demands and interests persist no longer contradictory.

Since, this idea was proposed by keeping in mind the political dynamics of post colonial societies of Pakistan and Bangladesh, therefore, my contention is to draw arguments in light of political and social changes in these societies. To draw the role of bureaucracy and military in the colonial era, I will rely on Hamza Alvi’s accounts and lectures of Dr, Yaqoob K. Bangash.

Bureaucracy and Military during Colonial era

Hamza Alvi mentions that in colonial India the colonial power established the powerful institutions of bureaucracy and military to subordinate other three bourgeois classes. Therefore, the state structure of India was overdeveloped. This rhetoric is somehow correct in regard of bureaucracy, as it was the main source of policy making and issue resolution.

The reason behind the supremacy of bureaucracy was that the colonial apparatus ensured the priority role of bureaucracy in solving the day to day issues of the masses- therefore, the masses accepted their authority. The other possible reason could be the psychological one as the politicians used to blame the bureaucrats in front of public to hide their own failures- so, the masses accepted the quality power of the bureaucracy.

He assigns with military the same role in colonial state apparatus as he assigns with bureaucracy. However, the modern researches show that the military, in first half of the 20th century, was not as powerful as portrayed by Alvi. In-fact, the military had no role in decision making as most of the policies were articulated by either parliament or bureaucracy. Moreover, the masses did not know the dominance of military in the state apparatus. Besides, with the beginning of the 20th century the numbers of military personnels in the Indian colonial army were dramatically reduced.

Therefore, it is plausible to say that the Hamza Alvi miscalculated the role of military in colonial state apparatus. Therefore, it can be assumed that if the state apparatus was overdeveloped than it would have been partially overdeveloped. In the next section, I will investigate, is there was continuity in the role of the bureaucracy? If not, then under which circumstances the military and bureaucracy took control of the state apparatus?

To answer these questions I will draw a chronology of events in post colonial Pakistan with the help of Hamza Alvi’s and Dr. Ejaz Hussain’s accounts.

Bureaucratic-military oligarchy and Pakistan

Muslim League, as being the vanguard of the movement for national independence, inherited the mantle of legitimacy. The Muslim League initially provided the façade of parliamentary government. However, Muslim League leaned heavily on the stature and authority of its leader, Quaid-e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who died soon after independence. Soon, it lost its bases and started to disintegrate dramatically. As a result, the powerful inherited bureaucracy took a central position. Even during his lifetime Jinnah preferred bureaucratic machinery over electoral politics as he “might have thought that a well trained civil bureaucracy would solve Pakistan’s various problems, such as the settlement of refugees etc.” (Hussain 2010, 280). The inherited military that was not fully developed at that time, adopted a strategic partnership with the bureaucracy to accomplish socioeconomic interests (Hussain 2010). Hamza Alvi calls this collaboration bureaucratic-military oligarchy.

Bureaucratic-military oligarchy manipulated and installed and barred the politicians and political parties. In 1958, the prospects of the approaching general elections posed a challenge to the supremacy of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy, therefore, it seized power by abolishing the institutions of parliamentary government. It’s noteworthy that the constitution was abrogated by ex military man-turned bureaucrat-turned politician Iskandar Mirza. And Later, Commander in Chief Ayub Khan assumed power.

But, at this juncture the bureaucratic-military oligarchy employed politicians to extract legitimacy from the masses and in the 1962 spoof democratic politics under Ayub Khan’s system of ‘Basic Democracy’ was introduced. Ayub Khan resigned in 1969 but left the reins of power securely in the hands of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy. President Yahya Khan promised restoration of constitutional government and an election was held in December 1970 which ended in the political crisis which culminated in the secession of Bangladesh.


The cross examining of colonial and post colonial state apparatus of Pakistan, depicts that it was a failure of politicians and political parties rather than the weakness of three exploiting bourgeoisie classes to avoid the supremacy of bureaucracy and military.

It is also apparent that there was not continuity in the bureaucracy’s principal role in post colonial state apparatus. Ironically, the political leadership itself invited the bureaucracy to adopt the role of the principal actor.

Hence, it can be concluded that the Hamza Alvi’s overdeveloped thesis is null and void on the basis of two arguments. First, he miscalculated the role of the military in the colonial era that makes the basis of his theory ambiguous. Second, despite his emphasis there was no continuity in the key role of bureaucracy and military in a post colonial state apparatus that makes his thesis illogical.


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