The Prime Minister Imran Khan has been on record multiple times stating that one of his aims is to turn Pakistan into a “welfare state”. From the government’s actions and his statements on the matter, one would understand that becoming a welfare state means that as a nation Pakistan would work towards the welfare of its own citizens and those of other countries as well. In other words, we would be a social welfare state.
The idea of a welfare state stems from our ideas of an Islamic state. According to a research paper titled Fiscal Policy and Resource Allocation in Islam, there is ample evidence in Sharia law to show that an Islamic state is, in fact, a welfare state. The Sharia law guarantees the protection of the people’s religion, life, mind, offspring, and property. Therefore, the economic aspect is one of the many others an Islamic welfare state comprises. It implies the State’s responsibility to eradicate poverty and ensure employment, promote stability in the value of money, to maintain law and order and equitable distribution of wealth as well as ensure harmonious international relations and national defence.
At present, Pakistan may be defined as more of a Security state. General (retired) Jehangir Karamat, former Chief of Army Staff (COAS) of the Pakistan army, defines a security state as one with “inordinate resource allocation towards defense at the cost of social welfare”.
Owing to our history, unresolved border disputes and internal security issues that we are still rooted in what Gen. Karamat called a “national security paradigm”. Our governance and policy making mindset is very deeply rooted in national security. Our history with war, inside and outside our borders, has developed such mindsets. Many believe and openly express their opinions on how the “establishment” influences almost all government decisions. These ideas may be founded on our history of multiple martial laws as well as a heavily militarized government during the Musharraf era.
The present Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) government has been the first to consistently state its wish to transform Pakistan into a welfare state, more specifically an Islamic Social Welfare State.
However, saying that there is a lot to be done before we may be able to claim this label would be an understatement. The current state of affairs leaves much to be desired. According to a paper by the National Defense University, the idea of an Islamic ‘welfare state’ is almost certainly unattainable. This is due to the fact that present-day economic systems do not support this goal. Communism is as good as dead and capitalism offers only selective welfare.
It has also never been defined what exactly an “Islamic Welfare State” comprises of. The Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan has compared the idea to that of the state of Madina. However, it should be noted that Madina was a city state. It operated in a much simpler time and within smaller parameters.
The closest present day example of a welfare state can be found in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey. With over a third of its budget dedicated to social spending, Turkey has labeled itself a ‘Welfare State’. However, this welfare does not necessarily align with Islam’s ideas of a welfare state. Islamic welfare is not defined by how much wealth is generated, but instead by the number of people suffering and by the minimization of suffering and destitution. Welfare in states like Turkey is more often than not selective i.e. it benefits only a few and fails to influence sustainable change in the long run.
Islamic welfare is different from contemporary ideas of welfare, which the World Bank defines with development and economic growth as absolute goods. “Poverty may not be a bad thing if everyone is relatively poor,” says Dr. Ejaz Ikram in his paper titled Welfare State and Islam: Can Pakistan be a Welfare State. Islamic welfare is more focused towards equality and the elimination of economic disparity. Dr. Ikram further states that the western idea of welfare is also not bad if a vast majority is the recipient of the benefits and it is ecologically sustainable; which of course is an ideal but unrealistic goal.
Transforming into a welfare state requires changes in the fundamentals that drive our economy and society. We would need to completely transition into a decentralized government. We’d need a complete revamping of our economic systems. We would also need to be much more economically sound than we are right now. A welfare state would grant all of its tax-paying citizens access to healthcare and education. Its citizens would not live with extreme economic disparity. It would also require a shift in attitude for us as a nation.
Pakistan becoming an Islamic Welfare State, whatever that may come to mean to us, is still a long time away. Before we can even say we’re on our way, we need to resolve our standing economic, social, governance and security issues. Only then could we get to working towards becoming a welfare state.