The notion of civil society has become popular in Pakistan as well, and is used mainly by nongovernmental groups urging the state to fulfil its duties. With this they play a crucial role in the social space between citizens and the state, a space that is generally associated with civil society.
However, other groups that operate within the same social space are not perceived as part of the realm of civil society, and are therefore not regarded as legitimised to represent citizens’ interests.
The article argues that the reason for this dichotomy can be found in the groups’ relation to the idea of the modern nation state – which in turn is based on modernization theory. By subscribing to the basic principles of the modern nation state, the ‘visible’ civil society groups accept the
paradigm of modernisation as it develops specifically in Europe. The ‘unvisible’ part of civil society also struggles for a modern state, however, its frame of reference is not the same, as it is mainly informed by critical experiences with the performance of the modern state. This is shown by a critical analysis using the theoretical approach of multiple modernities. The article argues that within the specific and fragile postcolonial nature of Pakistan, a broader understanding of civil society is required not only for analytical reasons, but also to open up the legitimate political arena of debates on Pakistan’s future development.