Re-conceptualizing Urbanisation and Developments in Small Towns
What the great political scientists historically did was to study the laws of motion of capital in their societies and then theorized about them. For any good social science output; it is important to be both empirical and theoretical in good proportion and closely observe the patterns of change and continuity and transformations in your society and write about them. In Pakistan, if there is one indigenous social scientist who has consistently written about multifaceted social transformations in Pakistani society with a great deal of rigour and originality; it is the renowned architect Arif Hasan. Today, in this article, we are going to use a brief Jstor piece on Small Towns (2009) co-authored by Arif Hasan on history and development of small towns in Pakistan; though this brief piece is originally a part of a long report by Arif Hasan and Mansoor Raza; we are going to focus on the available Jstor brief part of it.
We are also going to refer to some analysis of political economist Akbar Zaidi on urbanisation as it appears in his voluminous book “Issues in Pakistan’s Economy” (2015) and this urbanisation discussion is based on the path-breaking work of Reza Ali on redefining the rural-urban divide and we have written about Reza Ali’s work in the past in another space.
The World Bank indicators state that only 37% of Pakistan’s population lived in urban areas in 2021. This World Bank indicator seems to be based on the Population Census of 2017 that states that 36.44% of Pakistan’s population lived in urban areas with a population density of 260.88 per square mile for the whole of Pakistan and the annual average rate of population growth being 2.40 between 1998 (when the last census took place) and 2017; according to the Bureau of Statistics document.
This is in contrast with the theorization about the extent of urbanisation in Pakistan by Akbar Zaidi based on Reza Ali’s work. Zaidi thinks that between 60 to 70% of Pakistan’s population lives in urban areas in contemporary Pakistan compared to 18% in 1951. This huge difference in estimation is due to the rigid ways the Bureau of Statistics demarcates the urban versus rural divide compared to the dynamic ways Reza Ali and Akbar Zaidi have analysed it. Though, we will discuss the nuances of this debate some other time again in the future; suffice it to say that Reza Ali states that “the urban/rural divide appears as a gradient, rather than a dichotomy” in “Estimating Urbanization” (2013).
Urbanization has spread to many peri-urban areas that are officially marked as rural. Reza Ali says that many of these are “urbanizing areas” which do not meet the criteria of fully urbanized areas but they are not rural either. If an area has a minimum of 50,000 population, an overall population density of 250 persons per square kilometer with 400 persons per square kilometer population density in its “urban core”, and it is situated in the 75 minutes drive away from the city of 100,000 or more; then this area is “urbanizing area” and not rural.
All of this is interesting in a way and shows the changing transformation of small towns in Pakistan. Arif Hasan says that the governance and sociology of small towns has been recorded since 600 BC.
Before British colonization; there were three types of small towns. One type were the market towns that were situated on river sites or on the top of floodplains as agriculture was in operation in the floodplains. In these market towns; merchants traded in agricultural produce and textiles based crafts. The second type of towns were situated on regional trade routes that linked the Indus Valley to the Central Asia and Middle East by camel caravans and seasonal movement of nomadic clans. These towns had artisan-based industries. The third type of small towns were somewhat larger and fulfilled the functions of both the above-mentioned towns and had good architecture that is now in the state of disarray.
The colonization of India by the British destroyed the governance, economy, and sociology of these small towns. According to Arif Hasan, “Due to colonial rule the trade between South/Central Asia and the Middle East came to an end, and locally manufactured goods were replaced by European products. The creation of perennial irrigation systems (canals) led to the death of agriculture in the floodplains and the production of enormous surpluses of wheat and cotton which were exported to Europe, while the railway built as an alternative to river navigation economically ruined a number of river- port cities. Exploitation of forests and mining for commercial purposes by the state ended the control of communities over these resources.”
The British also controlled the working and middle classes by creating a land-owning class as per Hasan’s analysis. However, this view is quite different from Dr Waseem’s research in his recent comprehensive work of his life where he says that the roots of the middle class in Pakistan go back to the colonial structures.
Arif Hasan in detail discusses the objectives behind the colonization of India as it impacted life in small towns and the rest of regimes and society in India, “Development brought about by the colonial regime in India had four main objectives: to exploit existing natural resources to serve the needs of industrialization in Britain; to increase agricultural production in response to the demands of industry and domestic consumers in Britain; to prevent the development of an indigenous industrial sector in India, and limit or destroy existing industrial activity; and to increase the revenues of the empire.”
Arif Hasan further says, “The British enacted a number of laws in support of these development objectives. As a result, a large proportion of natural resources, such as forests, lakes and mines, were taken over from the old feudal order and local communities and became the property of the colonial state, thus enabling their large-scale commercial exploitation. Laws also limited industrial activity and even artisan-manufactured consumer items. In addition, laws were framed which aimed at preventing the expansion of the merchant and entrepreneurial classes.”
After independence, Pakistan inherited small towns who were the intersection points between the rural and urban areas. They were dominated politically by the property-owning class and bureaucracy. During the Green Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s; these small towns grew bigger due to the inflow of population from the rural areas and agricultural extension services were introduced and new players came into the play. The role of the middlemen became important.
However, due to the revolution in communications and transport from the 1970s onwards; the importance of small towns has decreased as producers in the rural areas now can be directly in touch with their customers in large cities. The role of the large cities has become more important and they have taken over the many of the functions of these urbanizing small towns. WTO has further incentivized corporate farming. A few agricultural producers cooperatives are trying to resist this onslaught of globalization. Quite a many light engineering industries have closed down in the erstwhile small towns.
The work of the above-discussed social scientists on urbanisation, re-conceptualization of the rural versus urban divide, and history, governance, sociology, and decline of small towns shows that it is important to be fully well-versed with the societal, political, and economic transformations both in history and in contemporary times to do good research.
Published in DailyTimes By Foqia Sadiq Khan 23 July 2022