Can Middle Class transform Pakistan? By Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

Middle Class is traditionally considered the harbinger of social change in societies. The most recent examples are bazaari’s (small merchants) of Iran that supported the Islamic revolution led by Imam Khomeini. Arab Spring was also spearheaded by middle classes. In the first example they were able to dislodge the status quo but were then discarded by the Islamic revolution and became subjugated by it. In the Arab Spring the result was not much different. The question then is will Pakistani middle class be able to lead the transformation of the country?

Political Scientists Francis Fukuyama wrote a two volumes work addressing this question of why certain societies have remained behind while others have progressed. First volume covers from classic times to French Revolution while the second volume covers the period from then to now. There are some interesting ideas presented in the book. Let me first share those with you before we move to discuss the situation in Pakistan. He has argued that rule by law is different than rule of law. For example, in USA the dominant force is rule of law. While on the other hand in China as well as in Pakistan we experience rule by law. In the first situation the state is impartial towards any particular segment of the society and adjudicate the judicial matters based on law without any preference for a class, race, sect or ethnicity. In the latter case law is used by elites of the society to safeguard their special interest.

Another idea presented by him is that democratic evolution that preceded nation and state building has not produced desired results. His finding is that in all those countries where a strong state was prevalent before emergence of democracy has performed well. When a democratic order appears in the absence of a strong State it produces patronage and clientilism in the society. Patronage is when politician offers incentives like public sector jobs to secure votes while clientilism is to provide benefits to a segment of the society rather than work for greater good. For instance US regulations to provide funds to ailing banks under the disguise of too big to fail was an example of clientilism.

In Pakistan after the independence, the delay in introduction of a constitution retarded formation of a State and the social contract that holds the nation together. This allowed emergence of an elite that comprised of military establishment, civilian bureaucracy, landed feudal, religious scholars and large industrialists/businessmen. Military/civilian bureaucracy and religious scholars largely rose from the middle class while landed feudal and industrialists were from upper classes. From the early years of our nationhood the elites from middle classes controlled the state and to legitimize their rule engaged in patronage and clientalism. This distorted the ethical and moral foundations of the state for which we are paying price today.

Feudal and industrialists then banded together to form political parties and sought control of the state. Bhutto despite his popular credentials was from feudal class of Sindh. The mistake he made was to alienate the industrial class that was his natural ally by nationalizing industries to undermine their political influence that they could exercise through control of the economy. These classes then retaliated to support General Zia ul Haq along with his other traditional partners civil bureaucracy and religious scholars.

From the get go General Musharraf allied himself with the Middle Class by promising far reaching reforms. But he failed to deliver and was thrown out by them through a lawyer’s movement which was also spearheaded by middle class. Emergence of electronic media provided another platform for the middle class to exert political pressure. Almost all anchors, editors, and journalists belong to this class. But even then some of them are not hesitant to support re-emergence of military which has been their traditional source of political power. Ex-bureaucrats coming forward to provide evidence against a democratic government and demanding installation of a technocratic government are motivated to seek direct power backed by military rather than work behind a military ruler.

Middle Class today retains complete control of military, bureaucracy, academia, media and small businesses. Despite this grip on major sources of power the country is in a decay both ethically and morally. In this situation it is wrong to blame politicians and feudal for the situation in the country. For feudal and industrialists, it is a matter of survival to control political parties because it is the only way they can survival as a minority in a nation. It is the failure of the middle class to build the nation rather than the other way around.

What should be done in this scenario? It is time for middle class to think whether they want the status quo to remain or want to transform the nation that eventually benefits everyone. They have to form a new social contract which is then implemented through a political platform that has mandate from the people.

The social contract we need to form should be based on certain well defined principles. For instance, we should all ensure and guarantee implementation of social justice so that there is no discrimination based on sect, class or ethnicity. We should strive for rule of law rather than rule by law. We should provide level playing field for all to have the ability to express their talent in pursuing a career. Being rich should not be a curse but at the same time rich should not be allowed to exploit the less fortunate by ensuring that there is equitable application of rule of law. State should exercise its powers to break monopolies and oligarchs so that prices are based on natural forces of supply and demand rather than through manufactured manipulation.

A nation is made of different segments of communities. Creating balance between these competing groups defines a stable and strong nation. State is the invisible structure that ensures that social contract is applied fairly to hold the nation together. We can create ten different constitutions but none of them will succeed unless and until all of us agree to practice it in letter and spirit. Deficiencies of the constitution can be removed through amendments but rejecting it altogether is wrong and destabilizes the nation.

Middle Class has to take the lead in nation building and fix itself first before demanding others to change. If we fail to achieve it then this nation will remain unstable and home to scripts and conspiracies hatched in foreign and our own cities.

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