An Analysis of the Political Behaviour of the Pakistani Society

By: Dr Irfan Shahzad

In the Light of the Theory: Hierarchy of Needs by Abraham Maslow

If we analyze the Pakistani society as a case study, we find them divided into different political sects, inspired by ideologies, manifestos or proper to say, slogans of different parties. They are affiliated with their political parties more sentimentally than politically. Their unconditional and questionable loyalty to their respective political parties and leaderships is a surprising phenomenon. We find that in every election, some active members of the political parties get killed in mutual conflicts and scuffles. In this article, we try to analyze the political behavior of the Pakistani society with respect to some of their most peculiar features in the light of the theory propounded by renowned anthropologist Mr. Abraham Maslow (1908–1970). This theory well explains the factors which build up such behaviour.

Abraham Maslow presented a model of the hierarchy of human needs. According to this model, man chooses to behave in a certain way under the influence of five basic needs. These needs emerge in order. One comes to the fore after the gratification of the preceding need. The hierarchy of needs occurs in the following order:

  1. Physiological needs (food and drink)
  2. Safety needs (security, shelter)
  3. Love needs (need of family, friends, etc.)
  4. Esteem needs (self-respect, honour)
  5. The need for self-actualization, (realization of one’s distinct abilities or identity etc.)

Maslow writes:

Human needs arrange themselves in hierarchies of pre-potency. That is to say, the appearance of one need usually rests on the prior satisfaction of another, more pre-potent need. Man is a perpetually wanting animal. Also, no need or drive can be treated as if it were isolated or discrete; every drive is related to the state of satisfaction or dissatisfaction of other drives. (Maslow, A. H. “A Theory of Human Motivation”. Psychological Review, Vol. 50 (4), Jul 1943, 370-396. 370. Do: 10.1037/h0054346)

It means that unless the physiological needs are fulfilled, other needs are not fully realized. We see, for example, that the starving individuals get ready to sacrifice their lives to get a little food and drink. Even they do not hesitate to kill others for that. It is only after the gratification of physiological needs that an individual feels need for safety, security and shelter. Love need comes at the third place. Love in hunger and insecurity feels cumbersome. It gives its true colour when the first two needs are fulfilled. We notice that individual get ready to sacrifice or compromise their need of self-esteem (fourth in the hierarchy of needs) to earn bread, to achieve security, and to win or to save their love. In other words, self-esteem need is subservient to the preceding three needs. A man’s esteem need comes to the fore only when the first three are gratified; only then, he gets ready to fight for his honour. In this model of hierarchy of need, the need of self-actualization comes at the last when all the other needs are fulfilled. An individual, after gratification of his all four needs, starts to feel free to peruse his ambitions or goals to make himself and the world realize, how distinct he is in his person and abilities.

However, this order of needs may be disturbed for the involvement of certain factors for some individuals. This is discussed in detail in the works of Maslow; one can consult for the complete comprehension of his theory. Our concern, here, is to see what guidance, this theory of the hierarchy of needs gives us to understand the political behaviour of our society.


In this model of hierarchy of needs, the physiological need comes first. The  Pakistani society, despite being an agricultural country of fertile lands and  water, suffers from utter poverty. Over half of its population lives under the  line of poverty. Their basic physiological needs go unfulfilled. So, we find in  the history of politics of Pakistan that the first breakthrough under the  political hegemony of the Pakistan Muslim League was made by the  emergence of the Pakistan People’s Party with the help of its slogan, Rōtī, Kapṛā or Makān Māng Rahā hay Har Insān, (Bread, Cloth and Shelter are the demands of every man). It succeeded to turn around the favour of the people, who were otherwise loyal voters of the Pakistan Muslim League, the founder party of Pakistan. This slogan drove the nail aright. It directly addressed the physiological need of the poor Pakistani society. This was an apt slogan, invented after studying the Pakistani society. However, ironically, after scores of years wasted, the same demands are still unfulfilled and the slogan is still alive and attracts the poor people with the same enthusiasm.  Poor need this slogan, but this slogan needs poor, too. Both are the allies to each other and both seem to remain alive for each other.

We observe that the proponents of this political slogan, after coming into power, got interested in meeting mainly those needs, which mattered them, i.e., the esteem need, the safety need and the need of self-actualization, which come later in the hierarchy of needs. We see that they got busy in the making of the atomic bomb (safety need), and making a Muslim bloc (esteem need, self-actualization) and dealing with religious conflicts (self-actualization). The rulers paid little attention to the alleviation of poverty, which was the hallmark of their election campaign. This was because the physiological needs were not a personal problem of the elite class, from which the rulers belonged. They were gratifying their own needs.


Same attitude goes with the Pakistan Muslim League (N). It comes into power with the slogans, which address the basic needs of the people, for example, to provide them cheap bread, drinking water, employment, business facilitation, to end the power shortage within months (all belong to physiological needs) and to  end the terrorism (safety need, second in the hierarchy). The people go crazy after these slogans and promises. We find the voters of this party in the seventh heaven during the election campaign, believing and making others believe in the promises of their leaders.  But as soon as, their leaders come into power, their prior concern is observed to construct roads and transport. While their actual slogans of employments, facilitation for business, etc., go into the backdrop. Why do they love to build roads and transport? The answer is because it matters them. These activities belong to their personal business and their business community (source of their physiological need), moreover, these activities satisfy their need of self-actualization, when they see concrete buildings, their names engraved on them, and they feel that they have made their names lasting forever, as did Shāh Jahān, the Mughal ruler, who built Tāj Maḥal to commemorate himself (Self-actualization). While, what concerns the poor people comes later in the hierarchy of their own priorities.

PTI is the third trend setter in the Pakistani politics. The PTI’s agenda of changing the system and to bring social justice falls in the category of self-esteem which comes at the fourth place in the model of the hierarchy of needs. A nation groping for basic needs is not easy to realize that the solution of their problem lies in social justice and not just in the superficial measures to fulfill their basic needs. I make the point clear with an example. It is a common phenomenon that employees often forebear and tolerate the disgrace, insult and humiliation inflicted upon them by their authorities, just to save their job, which belongs to their most basic physiological need. But, if some person is secured in his physiological needs, he seldom tolerates any disgrace to his self-esteem and honour. The same goes with the psychology of Pakistani nation. They are more concerned about their physiological needs; it was not easy to make them realize that the problem of their solution lies in the fulfillment of a need (justice) which comes later in the hierarchy of needs (self-esteem).

Px23-058 PESHAWAR: Nov23 – Chairman Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf Imran Khan addressing the protestors during a sit in demonstration against the Drone Attacks, on Ring Road. ONLINE PHOTO by Ubaid Raza

We observe that it took PTI almost 18 years to make a sizeable  portion of the Pakistani society realize the importance of their  agenda, but, still the overwhelming majority of their voters belong  to the well to do classes of the Pakistani society, whose do not  have  to deal with the problem of physiological and safety needs.  Their  concern, now, is to save their self-respect (esteem need).

Maslow’s theory goes with natural human instinct. Instinct and  logic seldom go with each other. For example, if you have got a  peculiar fear of darkness or loneliness, you feel that despite your  logical arguments regarding the baselessness of your fear, you find yourself unable to eliminate the element of fear from your psychology. And if a little noise produces while you are in darkness or alone, you feel panic. The same goes with the people of Pakistan. Their physiological needs are not fulfilled, moreover, they are facing problem of security need, too, due to the terrorist activities, so, they are a prey to two basic needs, which come first in the hierarchy of needs, therefore, their instinct inclines towards the slogans and promises of the leaders that address their physiological and security needs, even if the people are logically understand that the permanent solution of their problems does not lie there. This is what it is.

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5 Responses to "An Analysis of the Political Behaviour of the Pakistani Society"

  1. Amjad Khan says:

    Nice Analysis

  2. Abdullah Malik says:

    Well expressed sir

  3. عدل گیلانی says:

    The table of basic needs given in this article, is the central and prime point of this article. as far as the matter of prioritization of needs, its not our concern, nor government’s. political circumstances decide that which one is to be picked first.

  4. Aqib says:

    You rightly said that Imran Khan broke the silence and gave the wake up call, but unfortunately he nothing have to deliver, rightly to say He failed to deliver(satisfaction of physiological needs of people).

  5. Dr Irfan Shahzad says:

    Thanks for the appreciation. Let me know if there is room to improve.

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