Pakistan case study (part of the ‘Inequality and Governance in Unstable Democracies’ programme)

Pakistan continues to struggle with persistent regional, local, ethnic and gender inequalities in economic development. These inequalities date back to Colonial Rule, which ended more than seventy years ago.  In addition, the country’s political system has perpetuated political inequality manifested in a high incidence of political control exercised by dynastic families in comparison to other polities for which data is available. These experiences of political and developmental inequality are matched by low levels of trust in civilian political and administrative institutions and high degrees of social polarisation.

In the Pakistan case, we study the long-term causal impact of colonial village institutions that extended property (economic) and voting (political) rights broadly instead of limiting them to a narrow oligarchy on contemporary underdevelopment at the village level. We also examine the channels that underpin the ensuing differences in village level development, in particular whether they are driven by differences in wealth, different levels of land inequality or by shaping the nature of local politics.

We also study the potential of institutional reforms on eroding dynastic persistence. This is an important contribution because the existing focus of the global literature has been on measuring the incidence of dynastic political control and understanding the channels that underpin its persistence. This research contributes to an emerging literature that examines the impact of different reforms on mitigating political inequality. We use a novel dataset of family membership of all national and provincial electoral candidates in Pakistan from 1970-2013 to study the impact of electoral reapportionment and the introduction of education minimums for legislative candidates on dynastic persistence in Pakistan.

Finally, we study how the economic shock caused by the COVID-19 outbreak shapes income and wealth inequality at the community level and how this, in turns, affects polarisation, institutional trust and the incidence of coercive exchanges within communities in Pakistan. This study analyses the role of public social assistance programmes and initial levels of social and wealth inequality in mediating the relationship between the economic shock, inequality and institutional trust.


Adnan Khan

Professor at LSE

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Ali Cheema

LUMS and IDEAS, Pakistan

Cory Smith

PostDoc Researcher

Michael Callen

Associate Professor at LSE

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Patricia Justino

Professorial Fellow

Sayaf Naseem Iqbal

Project Coordinator at IDEAS

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Shandana Khan Mohmand

Cluster leader and Research Fellow

Recent work