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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Elephants in the room: Bureaucracy & the Privileged Classes?

M Zafar Khan Safdar |

The gradual erosion of social infrastructure, endemic poverty and the growing inequality between the regions undermined the civil society and accelerated the trend towards militarization in Pakistan. Gender-related crimes of various nature, social and religious intolerance, different educational system, population explosion, food security, socio-economic instability, health-care, law & order, unplanned rapid urbanization, controlled media and crippled democracy, external war threats with neighboring states and much more are priority issues in Pakistan.

A substantial proportion of the population remains deprived of even the minimum conditions of survival; however, ‘powerful institutions’ are engaged in glorifying their existence. A recent study shows that as much as 64 percent of the population does not have access to piped drinking water. The percentage without ‘safe’ drinking water is probably larger since piped drinking water frequently carries bacteria. Almost 47 percent of the people are unable to consume 2100 calories a day per person.

Political incompetence is not but overambitious unelected ‘powerful institutions’ are the real cause of the steady decline of democracy in Pakistan.

The housing situation is so bad that 81 percent of the housing units have an average of 1.7 rooms which are inhabited by an average of seven persons. The literacy rate is low and the standards of those few who make it to college or universities are plummeting at a dizzying pace. The overall consequence of these features is a growing pressure on a fragile democratic polity. A significant section of the population perceives that there is nothing in this growth process for them, which is a factor in the resurgence of sub-national groups.

Consequently, a new conflict is emerging between centralized state structures and a polarized polity, which is associated with a heightened level of violence in society. Failure to devise a strategy that could come to grips with this development crisis has been an important factor in social polarization and the resultant difficulty in strengthening democratic institutions, particularly a culture of democracy. In recent years the polarization of society along religious, political, ethnic, communal and regional lines has been accompanied by an undermining of social values through which diverse communities had lived together in a pluralistic society.

Read more: Five biggest challenges facing new Pakistan PM Imran Khan

The social polarization is now fueled by violence and various forms of banditry which have reached a scale that threatens not only the credibility of political institutions but raises the question of whether governance based on a centralized state structure is feasible at all. Political instability is scaring away foreign investment and hurting the economy. Back in the 60s, Pakistan was one of the fastest growing economies in the developing world and it was destined to rise up the economic ladder. In 1965, GDP per capita of Pakistan was $116. The countries which were lagging behind us in the 1960s have overtaken us a long ago.

Today Pakistan’s GDP per capita is around $1,600 whereas GDP per capita of China and South Korea are around $8,123 and $27,538 respectively. Politicians are commonly blamed for the politico-economic crisis and are viewed in isolation, sans regional comparisons, to argue that our politicians and democratic system carry exceptional faults, which must be fixed via exceptional means. Comparisons are done ineptly with developed states to condemn our system. In the 1990s, an unelected ‘powerful institutions’ overtly dismissed assemblies, often following concerted campaigns by loyal analysts and journalists to paint the illusion of a complete meltdown of the system.

We have elephant in the room but no one is ready to realize, ignoring and behaving obliviously, and if we keep overlooking, Pakistan will be the ultimate loser.

Since 2010, things have become more covert with no unnatural dismissals of assemblies, but only of prime ministers via dodgy verdicts. Political incompetence is not but overambitious unelected ‘powerful institutions’ are the real cause of the steady decline of democracy in Pakistan. Over seventy years of an establishment-dominated political order, whether directly or in cooperation with civilians, has acted as a speed bump to a prosperous, democratic and politically stable Pakistan.

Personal pursuits of power by implying corruption, nepotism and dishonesty have not helped to rebuild institutions but damaged it further. More unfortunately, the judgments and the accountability process we see today, in which favorites are being forgiven while those not falling in line have their due share of trials and blackmailing of different kinds. We had been at many political turning points before, only to see them turn into nothing. Yet anarchy, insecurity and a lack of consensus on all vital issues characterize the domestic scenario.

Read more: Bloomberg thinks Pakistan will be an over-performer next year

The benefits of development have been unevenly spread, and mostly have accrued to the privileged classes. Egotism has been the primary concern of successive governments in Pakistan, and the trend has been maintained to this day. We live in an era marked by rapid economic, technological and social change around the world but not ready to cope with the changing global scenario. We are not even ready to bring sustainable change within. We have elephant in the room but no one is ready to realize, ignoring and behaving obliviously, and if we keep overlooking, Pakistan will be the ultimate loser.

M Zafar Khan Safdar is Ph.D. in Political Science. His area of specialization is political development and social change. He can be reached at zafarkhansafdar@yahoo.com and tweet@zafarkhansafdar.The Views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.