Pakistan’s first military dictatorship launched the Basic Democracies scheme in 1960, after a bloodless coup that dissolved political parties and legislative institutions. Naqvi’s essay considers how the architects of the “BD system” reconceived the Pakistani nation in response to the ends of martial rule, namely, the permanent empowerment of the postcolonial executive. Naqvi theorizes the BD scheme as an extraconstitutional system of governmentality that produced the Pakistani citizen ambivalently—as an authentic yet nontranscendent subject of the nation. He further shows how the Basic Democracies scheme rationalized the state’s negation of wider channels of democratic participation by nationalizing the parochial as an expression of the true “genius” of the Pakistani people. Such attempts to fragment and reassign the experience of national solidarity, he contends, drew inspiration from the racial assumptions of the colonial state in a postcolonial context marked by uncertainty about the form of Muslim national solidarity. Moving between programmatic literature on Basic Democracies and nineteenth-century colonial debates on the reform of local self-government, the essay traces the genealogical and comparative significance of the following question: Can a nation in which democratic participation is confined exclusively to the local level continue to feel and act as a nation?

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