Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pakistan's Political Class And The War of the Elite

Ayesha Siddiqa, the well known author of "Military, Inc." has written a very insightful piece for BBCUrdu.com, arguing that Pakistan is ruled by a small elite that disregards the wishes and the best interests of its average people. I absolutely agree with Ayesha Siddiqa, that Pakistan has been and still is ruled by a small elite consisting of feudal lords, military officers, industrialists, and bureaucrats (and, I add, some nefarious clerics colluding with them).

While this piece does a great job of painting a fairly accurate picture of the situation in Pakistan, it stops short of telling you how to change it and empower
the ordinary people of Pakistan. In my humble view, the way to change is to let the middle class continue to grow in size and strength, as it has in the last 8 years.

According to Teresita Schaffer, a Pakistan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The emerging urban middle class is very important to Pakistan’s future, but by themselves, they are not numerous enough to swing elections or spearhead a major social movement.”

The size of Pakistan’s expanded middle class is in fact debated. Tara Vishwanath, the World Bank’s lead economist for South Asia, said 5 percent of Pakistan’s 160 million people — or roughly 8 million Pakistanis — appear to have moved from living in poverty to being part of the lower middle class between 2001 and 2004. She said data being collected this year was needed to confirm whether the increase was permanent.

While there are no precise figures, Pakistani political scientists estimate the upper and middle classes may now include 10 to 20 percent of the population.
I believe that, with a stronger and larger middle class, the elite will be forced to concede power, as has happened in many societies that have transitioned from feudal to industrial societies in the last 100-200 years.

India is, perhaps, the only exception to this rule. The reasons cited for this exception are many. But the two that come to mind immediately are:
1) India's Prime Minister Nehru ordered and implemented real and extensive land reform that limited land ownership to no more than a dozen or two acres per family in India. This action emasculated the feudal class and freed the rural people to choose their leaders without fear of persecution. In sharp contrast to this, the feudal families in Pakistan own tens to hundreds of thousands of acres.
2) India is so vast and diverse that it is extremely difficult for any military to rule it for any period of time.
So the Indians have chosen to support democratic institutions, in spite of the fact that Indian democracy has not served the vast majority of its people well. They have understood that the alternatives are far worse.

So, as a general rule, transition to industrialization being an essential component for democracy, the industrialists are a necessary evil to free societies from the clutches of the feudal system and let the average people become educated enough to think and act in their own best interest.

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