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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Pakistan’s tale of unfair elitism and opportunity disparity

In Pakistan, the economic disparity not only translates into defining a person or community’s lifestyle but in essence also effectively makes them live in different countries. With different education, health, and living standards, along with access to legal services as well as rights and privileges being granted.

Continued peace, unity, and progress of a nation necessitates access to opportunities and growth to every citizen, or at least to the majority of them, which in turn yields to a collective belief in hard work, struggle, and ambition to succeed. Ensuring the deliverance of equal opportunities and economic benefits in essence is one of the primary objectives of a state to keep its citizens content and committed to its (state’s) growth. In Pakistan, these factors are important to note when measuring prosperity.

Tedd Gurr’s Relative Deprivation Theory suggests that when there is a significant difference in the expected earnings and lifestyle in comparison to the actual earnings, it could fuel conflict and civil unrest. One can exemplify the recognized need of mainstreaming Baluchistan, a region which, for long has remained significantly underdeveloped, contributing to the penetration of insurgent factions.

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Understanding the matter better

The societal gap between different classes would increase over time, creating unbridgeable gaps, which would in turn lead towards alienation of classes and increased frustrations amongst the suppressed classes of the society.

A recently released United Nations Development Program (UNDP) National Human Development Report (NHDR), economic privileges of over $17.4Bn accorded to the political elites, military elites, feudal landlords, and the corporate sector. . The total amounts add up to roughly 6% of the entire national GDP. This exhibits a large-scale disparity and economic injustice at the structural level, where the government itself is invested in promoting disparity

The biggest benefactor of these economic privileges in Pakistan is the economic sector, which in form of various tax cuts and exemptions as well as a reduction in other input costs consumes about $4.7Bn in terms of the privileges. Secondly are the richest 1% population of Pakistan, which own about 9% of the total income of Pakistan and the third were the feudal landlords who, despite their population amounting to a mere 1.1% of the total population retain the ownership of about 22% of the total arable land in Pakistan. It’s important to note here that these classes maintain a strong representation in the national parliament, which is something that enables them to influence, alter and perhaps discourage the policy initiatives aimed towards progressive tax and revenue collection systems.

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Representation of the classes involved in benefitting from the unfair privileges in the national parliament creates a paradoxical situation, where the parliamentarians are engaged in doling out privileges that in turn benefit themselves. Comprehending the magnitude of control and influence of the elite classes over the governmental apparatuses enlightens us about the inherently restrained and incapacitated system, unable to effectively respond to the challenge of disparity, as this itself is engaged in the business of propagating it. The report recognizes these deeply entrenched structures of powers and states that “it would almost take a social movement” to be able to displace these structures.

Where Pakistan went wrong?

In Pakistan, the economic disparity not only translates into defining a person or community’s lifestyle but it in essence also effectively makes them live in different countries. With different education, health, and living standards, along with access to legal services as well as rights and privileges being granted. Economic disparity creates two different worlds within a country, and with the shrinking middle class reduced to 36% in 2019 from 42% in 2009, the challenges are of increasing concern to Pakistan, which if remains unaddressed could lead to turmoil and conflict.

A story by Leonardo Sciascia puts the issue of disparity and probable response to it clearly, where “Antimony”, who is a Sicilian Sulphur miner gets drafted by Mussolini to fight in the Spanish Civil. The experience of engaging in war politicizes “Antimony”, who comes to see the difference between a ‘Civil War’ and war amongst nations, and defines it as such:

“A civil war is not a stupid thing, like a war between nations, the Italians fighting the

English, or the Germans against the Russians, where I, a Sicilian Sulphur miner, kill

an English miner, and the Russian peasant shoots at the German peasant; a civil war

is something more logical, a man starts shooting for the people and the things that he

loves, for the things he wants and against the people he hates; and noone makes a

mistake about choosing which side to be on …” (Sciascia, 1986, p. 189).

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If the economic disparity remains unchecked in Pakistan, it’s very likely to further increase in the coming years, which would, in turn, intensify the class stratification and resultantly conflicts as well. Concrete measures must be taken at the policy as well as practical levels, ensuring the provision of comparable economic and growth opportunities to the people belonging to all classes of society, which would, in turn, encourage a cohesive development of the society and bridge the gaps between the rich and the poor. While on the other hand, disparity leads to frustration and disbelief, paving the paths of conflict, internal instability, and turmoil, something a state should avoid at all costs.

 

The writer is a research analyst, freelance writer and a graduate in International Relations from National Defence University. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.