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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Pakistan needs leaders, not social movements

According to Amjed Jaaved, UNDP's diagnosis of economic inequality in Pakistan is correct. However, it cannot be changed as there are no leaders who can effectively mobilize a social movement in Pakistan.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has just launched its third National Human Development Report, 2020. This report is titled “The three Ps of inequality: Power, People, and Policy.”

The first report (2003) was about “Poverty, growth, and governance”, and the second (2017) was about the topic of “Unleashing the potential of a young Pakistan”. All the reports aptly identified Pakistan’s problems. But, it remains questionable whether the UNDP’s freebie wisdom was adequately availed of.

Read more: How a UNDP report exposed Pakistan’s economic malaise

It makes galling, tough down-to-earth observations about the status and sources of economic inequality in Pakistan. It bluntly states, “Pakistan’s rich and poor live completely different lives.”

The gulf between the lifestyles of the rich and the poor is obvious from their per capita income, schooling, and other indicators. The feudal aristocracy and industrial robber barons together enjoyed privileges of whopping Rs. 1094 billion. The feudal enjoyed Rs. 370 billion while the business tycoons enjoyed Rs. 724 billion.

Being perched in Pakistan’s parliament, they ensure that Pakistan’s taxation system remains regressive. The feudal elite of only 1.1 percent of the population owns 22 percent of the country’s farm area. On the Human Development Index, Pakistan ranks, undeniably, 154th out of 189 countries and territories surveyed.

Read more: Pakistan ranks below India, on UN’s Human Development Index

Sources of inequality

According to the UNDP, multifarious “inequality” in Pakistan is the cumulative upshot of three factors: “power, people ad policy”. The UNDP defines power as “privileged groups that make use of loopholes, networks and policies for their benefit”.

In common parlance in Pakistan, they are called “mafias”. For instance, “sugar baron” Jehangir Khan Tarin, the estranged PTI stalwart, is being pilloried in the media as an avaricious shark. But, in actual fact, his only offense, yet to be established, is merely that he used his influence to extract financial benefit.

Read more: Allegations against Jahangir Tareen: Criminal breach of trust, financial fraud and money laundering

It is eerie that both Pakistan’s prime minister and the chief minister of the Punjab province had approved the departmental summaries benefitting sugar barons in billions. During the Ayub era, a network of 22 nouveau rich families came into being via favours received from the Ayub government.

The UNDP perceives people in a wider context. It defines them as “the deeply embedded belief system that encourages bias against social identities like raw gender, religion, or caste among others”.

“Policy” refers to “the systems and strategies that are either ineffective or at odds with the principles of social justice”. Within the framework of the three Ps defined, the report focuses on “not only inequality of income but also inequality of opportunity”.

Read more: Poor and the rich in Pakistan are living ‘poles apart’: UNDP report

Limitations of a “social movement” 

Only a “social movement can be the primum mobile to change the status quo”.  The sine qua non of a social movement (like Arab Spring) is: (a) A campaign or a public effort making claims on an authority. (b) Means of political action. (c) A public representation of cause’s worthiness, unity, members, and commitment (Charles Tilly, 2004).

It is unlikely that any “social movement” could turn the existing oppressive status quo topsy-turvy unless it is violent that pushes the movement into the domain of a revolt or revolution.

Read more: Pakistan needs a bloodless revolution – Farid A Malik

Though Gandhi was a mediocre student and a failed lawyer, he astutely perceived the revolution-averse psyche of the Indian people, including those now in Pakistan.

He reasoned (a la Tolstoy’s A Letter to a Hindu) that Indians themselves allowed themselves to be colonized for their own material interests, otherwise, there was no way 30,000 “rather weak and ill-looking Britons could enslave 200 million vigorous, clever, strong, and freedom-loving people.”

Read more: Excerpts from Jinnah-Gandhi letters

Gandhi exhorted people to purify the soul of India of Western materialism through non-cooperation with the British government. He scoffed at Indians for nurturing selfish thoughts of personal material gains generated by the perverse ethos of modern civilization.

He lamented that Indians handed over control of their nation to the foreign exponents of materialist lifestyle. They had become sly sycophants and willing servants of the Empire thereby proving to the world that they were morally unfit to serve the country.

Read more: Have Muslims in India fallen prey to the caste system?

No social movement sans leadership

A leader is to people what a fuse is to a pack of dynamite. The crux of the leadership crisis in Pakistan is that post-partition “leadership” fell like windfall fruit into laps of dynasties or elites.

According to some accounts, Quaid-e-Azam was extremely disappointed to see post-Partition leaders at helm of government in Pakistan. During the last few years of his life, he kept telling his visitors, including Liaquat Ali Khan, at his sickbed at Ziarat (Quetta) “Pakistan was the biggest blunder of my life.”

Read more: How Pakistan’s political leaders failed Quaid-e-Azam

The Quaid thought that the Muslim League leaders around him were “base coins” (khotey sikkey) and the “legal tender” was in pockets of his adversaries. Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas corroborated this view. He remembered that once Quaid-e-Azam had said “What is Muslim League? It essentially comprises three of us; me, my sister, and typewriter.”

Historian Mubarik Also confirmed this view. In one of his articles, Dr. Mubarak Ali mentioned in passing that Mr. Jinnah used to claim that he had founded Pakistan with the help of his typewriter and stenographer.

Read more: Governance in Pakistan: where have the leaders gone?

Pakistani sand-dune leaders

Today, Pakistan has no leader like Quaid-e-Azam, with a world view, no storyline of sustained committed struggle to an ideology.

M.J.Akber rightly observes, “The [Pakistani] political leaders act like sand dunes. They move in the direction the wind blows.”

Read more: Op-ed: Pakistan’s politicians are just ‘sand-dune’ leaders without a view of life

John R. Schmidt agrees, “The mainstream political parties in Pakistan can best be viewed as patronage networks, whose primary goal is seeking political offices to gain access to state resources, which can then be used to distribute patronage among their members.”

Why it is so? Stanley A. Kochanek unpuzzles the conundrum by pointing out, “Parties in Pakistan are built from the top-down and are identified with their founders. The officeholders are appointed by the leader. Membership rolls are largely bogus and organizational structure exists only on paper.”

Read more: Political parties: a necessity for transitional democracy in Pakistan?

According to Saeed Shafqat, “Most political parties are non-democratic in their structure, character and outlook. The process for leadership selection is not by election, but by nomination.  Political parties have no links with policy process as personalities rather than issues matter.”

Minds without ideas

The opposition delights at the incapacity of rulers to deliver the goods. While criticising rulers, the opposition presents no alternative proposals. Parties without alternative proposals are minds without ideas.

There is no tradition of political parties having shadow cabinets with a bagful of alternative policies in Pakistan. The political empty-mindedness is obvious from the successive vision-less federal budgets.

These stereotyped budgets are regressively heavily loaded with taxes, sparing the mafias. The budgets dish out to the people is whatever cooked up by ministerial babus (bureaucrats).

Read more: Op-ed: Pakistan’s problematic political culture

In their hearts, the so-called leaders, on the both sides of the aisle, know that the voters have little choice. They would vote either for the one pseudo-party or the other.

The bitter truth

It is only the UNDP that dared to pinpoint the mafia cannibals in Pakistan. However it fell short of probing the origin of the feudal lords and the industrial robber barons.

The bitter truth is that the scions of the British-raj created a class of “chiefs” in the post-’mutiny’ period and during the Second World War, and they are still ruling Pakistan. The mafias in legislatures would never allow abolition of their privileges or undertake progressive taxation.

Read more: Asad’s taxation policy might be a blunder: Economy expert

The UNDP’s diagnosis of Pakistan’s economic malaise and suggested panacea of “social movement” is correct. But, there are no leaders to steer a movement in Pakistan.

The voter is apathetic. Does he remain a silent spectator to the overthrow of his “elected” governments? So it is, as the autocratic governments do nothing by way of welfare of the common man.

Read more: Opinion: Tragedy of Pakistani State, Society & Democracy

The whole world is fighting the pandemic with vaccines, testing, and treatment. But Pakistan is on autopilot.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been writing freelance for over five decades. He has served the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan for 39 years. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies and magazines at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka et. al.). He is the author of eight e-books including The Myth of Accession. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.