By Zubeida Mustafa
THE message that emerged loud and clear from the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf’s massive rally in Karachi on Sunday was that people want a change.
Responding to this palpable public sentiment, Imran Khan made promises that appear to contradict one another. We will not go out with a begging bowl, he said. The country will be a welfare state, he added. Yet his prized acquisition, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, was adamant that the nuclear programme would be protected at any cost.
The PTI leader is cashing in on the despondency of the nation. He focuses on financial corruption to which he attributes all our evils. Correct. But there are other forces also at work that are rarely analysed. Such an exercise would expose the complicity of the political and intellectual elites, which include the PTI’s leadership, in the crime against the nation.
In these difficult times all would do well to study the underlying features of Pakistan’s political economy. In this context, the book to be read is the recently published ‘Balkanisation and Political Economy of Pakistan’ by Yousuf Nazar. The publication bears a stamp of credibility as it carries a preface by Dr Mubashir Hasan, whose credentials on such matters are unquestioned.
Yousuf Nazar, an economist with experience in international finance, paints a stark picture. “Pakistan is actually polarised between corrupt and decadent elites and a disillusioned, apathetic, under-employed and poor population…. There is vertical polarisation between the social classes and horizontal polarisation between the regions and ethnic groups.”
The small opportunist elite class has historically been a willing and useful ally of the US which has used this friendship to control Pakistan to promote its own ambitious scheme of gaining world hegemony. Washington launched its wars on Afghanistan and Iraq to consolidate its hold over these regions, which it eyes for their strategic location and natural resources (mainly oil).
This is a book dedicated to “those 60 per cent-70 per cent Pakistanis who live in poverty and survive on less than two dollars a day” and who have been exploited by the elites — the army, the political establishment and the privileged class that is the beneficiary of the largesse doled out by the rulers.
Where do the rulers get this largesse from? It is what the Americans give as military and economic aid to keep these classes happy. The elites in turn ensure that no harm befalls American interests. Regrettably, the people of Pakistan remain the losers. Foreign aid is procured in their name, but they are not the recipient of even the crumbs that fall from the table of the rich. They are, on the other hand, branded as extremists to project an image of their being at the heart of the problem in Pakistan.
Yousuf Nazar postulates, “Pakistan’s greatest challenge is not extremism. It is whether it can transform itself from a security state that continues to behave with a Cold War mindset…. The army’s most powerful external ally has been the United States, particularly its defence and security establishment. Internally, the religious right-wing parties and big media have been its two principal allies while the military establishment has historically protected the interests of the rural and urban elites to ensure their support.
“Until and unless this axis of trouble, that is the axis of the army, the United States and the right-wing, is broken, neither the reconstruction of the Pakistani state nor the so-called democratisation of Pakistan will alter the fundamental nature of the security state or bring peace or prosperity to Pakistan … [The] elites have little interest in the reconstruction of the state because they have the most to lose if power is truly exercised by the people.”
This would explain the key features of our state and society today: lack of opportunities for good education and healthcare for the masses, undue emphasis on creating and sustaining a highly militarised security state which is intensely weaponised, a stratified society in which the rich enjoy all the privileges and perks while paying few taxes and where the poor have no access to even their basic rights. This also explains why the Americans are willing to pay massive sums as aid and loans that serve as the debt trap in which Pakistan is locked.
It is ironical that the country is now paying more in debt servicing (interest and principal) than what it is receiving as foreign aid. According to Nazar, in 2009-2010 the total official aid flow to Pakistan was $4.1bn. In the same period, the government paid $5.1bn in debt repayment. Thus a huge debt burden has been allowed to build up — mainly to buy arms — and not because we need to borrow for our economic survival. This dependence suits the US since Pakistan remains in its grip.
One could well ask if the dramatic events in Islamabad these days will cause this pattern to change.
Yousuf Nazar’s take on that is interesting. “In the historic context, anyone who becomes powerful in Pakistan and has disagreements with the Americans falls out of favour with them. So Kayani’s case is no different. The issue has become more serious and urgent because the defence establishment (Pentagon and the CIA) have a greater say in the Middle East/AfPak matters today and have often pushed their agenda. But is the Pakistan Army leadership proceeding towards a very independent course of action? I doubt that. Are they playing hard ball? Yes. Is there a lot of posturing for public consumption and then resumption of business as usual scenario? Quite likely.”
Let us wait and see.