It’s alliance of the powerful against the poor
March 30, 2012
The bulk of GDP is spent on defense, retirement of loans and the salaries of inefficient and highly corrupt bureaucracy. Only 3% is spared for the welfare of the poor and the low income groups which, ironically, are the largest contributor to the national kitty
“The problem is not to hold elections but to create political organizations,” wrote Samuel P. Huntington, the well-known sociologist and commentator on American foreign policy towards the ‘modernizing’ states, in his Political Order in Changing Societies. This book seemed much relevant to Pakistan at the time it was written (late 1960s) for it rationalized the rule of General Ayub Khan by insisting that there was no other way than dictatorship to control a state where political institutions lagged behind economic development.
Huntington’s assertions proved true as soon after Ayub regime came fell, the country fell apart. But five decades after the situation has almost reversed. The Election Commission has reported registration of 182 political parties at a time when the economic growth swings merely between 2-3 percent. But the central problem, Huntington sought to address by writing the above-mentioned book remains alive even today: the civilian governments fail to govern.
The regions which now comprise Pakistanexperienced 100 years of the British rule but the priority of the colonial masters here was different from the rest of their empire in India. They wanted to recruit youth for the defense of the Raj and use its fertile soil to feed the rest of their empire. The British promoted feudalism whereby almost free labor (constituting landless castes) was provided to the landed aristocracy to produce grain and spend wealth acquired in such a way on the foreign made luxury goods; they were encouraged to purchase property in Britain and educate their children there. To ensure the system works well, the commissionarate system was introduced to quell dissidence as co-opted with the DCs in exercising their revenue and magisterial powers.
The Quaid did tell bureaucrats that their rule over the people had come to an end with the birth of Pakistan; he duly suggested the political class, the bulk of which constituted landed aristocracy, that Pakistan had to be a modern and progressive state where the people, regardless of their castes and creeds, would be the real rulers. But contrary to his advice, authoritarianism gained ground with every passing day after his death.
For almost seven years after Pakistan’s independence it could not be decided as to where the sovereignty should rest. When it was done and the nation had its first ever Constitution in 1956, the religious groups were made the arbitrators of the people’s fate — please refer to the contents of the Objectives Resolution and its status of being the preamble of the Constitution.
The bureaucrats and military ruled the country for the most part of our history, perfectly aided by the religious right, till America had its 9/11 and got its heart changed. The Obama administration happens to owe the credit of linking American aid with the subjugation of military and its accessories to the civilian authority, for the first time in the history of Pak-US relations.
Now even if parliament happens to exercise unquestionable authority over the rest of the institutions of the state now, does it necessarily imply that it rests with the people? The answer to this question can be found in the patterns of spending of democratic governments on different sectors. The bulk of GDP goes to defense, retirement of loans and the salaries of inefficient and highly corrupt bureaucracy. Only 3% is doled out to poor and the low income groups who are the largest contributors to the national kitty.
It is true that the US aid and its favors, through manipulation of international financial institutions, did put countries like Pakistan on the path of economic development but the same was accompanied by dictatorial rule for the sake of political stability. Probably Huntington did not have the courage to rationalize the rule of General Zia who though brought the desired political stability but set the country surely on the perilous course — it was actually this dictator who transformed Pakistan into an anti-liberal state while being an ally of free world in its struggle against communism.
Now, after the US has given commitment not to support dictatorship in Pakistan again, it is not doling out dollars to Islamabad as well. While economic downturn persists and there are no visible resources to even regain the achievements of General Musharraf era, we have so many chattering objects to jeopardize the political stability. The way the sagacious president has found — read it political reconciliation — has only resulted in the alliance of the powerful against the poor and the marginalized. How long this strategy works?To know this, we should wait till the general elections are held and a hung parliament comes into being – any time after the budget.