08172017Headline:

Equality by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

All men are born equal is the doctrine promoted by religious edicts. But political reality is far from it. Social and economic standing of parents provide a distinct advantage to a child as compared to the one born to disadvantaged ones. The aim of a state is to provide a level playing field to these children with varying degrees of advantage. Education is a great equalizer and provides opportunity of an upward mobility to a child by expressing his own unique talent. When a young man graduates from a university the other factor that creates level playing field, by the state, is provision of an employment through equal opportunity, access to start-up capital and continuous skill development.

Pakistan unfortunately is failing in both these equalizing factors thereby increasing the divide between haves and have not. Our public schools are in pathetic condition even in large cities because of poorly skilled teachers, that are usually hired out of merit, and misuse of resources provided to primary and secondary schools. For a poor family, that has 3-4 children, it becomes an economic hurdle to enroll them in private schools. In rural areas situation is even worst. It produces degree holders that lack confidence or knowledge to be suitable for competitive private sector jobs. It is because of this inability they look for government jobs in lower pay scale. Public sector jobs, even superior civil service, are filled through influence and bribes thereby damaging the capacity of the departments to deliver. In private sector there are limited number of jobs because of lack of investment. These high value jobs are filled by graduates of premium schools like IBA, LUMS, NED, NUST and GIK to name few. Graduates of other higher education institutions are left with residual jobs with reduced chances of upward mobility. If a youngman wants to start a business it is prohibitively risky. Average start-up capital to establish a small business range somewhere between Rs.300,000 to 500,000 which is one year salary if it fails. In USA, on the other hand, a business can be started with the risk of only two to three months salary. This means that if a youngman fails in business, on average 80% of all new businesses fail, he can get out of debt fairly quickly in USA as compared to Pakistan. Lowering of economic risk to fail is important to encourage more people to try establishing a business which can make the economy more dynamic.

The question that comes to mind is why there is no progress in education and career progression in Pakistan? The answer lies in the structure of political parties because it is the politician along with bureaucracy that sets the policy direction. Our policies are elite centric because there is not a single political party that has representation from the middle and lower middle classes of the country. Look at the leadership of the three major parties. Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari and Imran Khan never worked in their lives for a nine to five job. They can never understand the feelings and sentiments of a person that has to struggle day in and out to survive and progress. It is because of this lack of empathy they make pretty speeches in jalsas but are clueless when people ask them about concrete plans for uplift of lower segments of the society.

Since top leadership of these three parties are elite of the society their friends that they gather around themselves also belong to same class. Look at the second tier of the three national parties. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Jahangir Khan Tareen, Ch. Sarwar, Aitzaz Ahsan, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Raja Zafarul Haq, Ishaq Dar, Shahbaz Sharif, Ahsan Iqbal, Qaim Ali Shah just to name few. None of them belong to middle or lower middle classes. In today’s Pakistan it is next to impossible for an honest man to rise to the ranks of top leadership of a political party. There is some semblance of merit in smaller parties especially MQM and JI. But in these parties the individual is bound by the party so much that he/she can hardly express their candid views on a policy matter.

But this is not where it ends. Those in the second tier then promote their friends and family in the third tier. Look at the profile of candidates that participated in local government elections in KP and the aspiring candidates in Punjab and Sindh. A vast majority of them have relations with office bearers at the central and provincial levels of their party. District and provincial bureaucracy is also controlled by the extended network of the politicians. This means that our government and political parties are structured to serve the interest of 3-5% of our population. This has resulted in the widening of class divide and erection of barriers for anyone to progress socially and economically.

This shutting out of middle and lower middle classes are creating a frustration that was capitalized on by military generals in the past. But instead of resolving the crisis it has added to the distortion. In the 1970s PPP and Tehrike Istiqlal and more recently Pakistan Therike Insaf (PTI) were supported by down trodden segment of society to create a political platform for their voice to be heard. But because of wrong policies of Chairman Imran Khan that platform is now increasingly shut off as well when the party decided to open gates for turn coats from other parties.

The only solution that seems viable to me is to institutionalize political parties by invoking the laws that govern political parties. We have been struggling inside PTI to use these laws to prevent the party from falling in the hands of political elite. So far we have had limited success but the struggle is still on. We are confident that eventually we will prevail and return the party to its ideological roots and its rightful heirs. We also hope that our activism in PTI will inspire members of other parties to force their leadership as well. But if we fail, and that is a real possibility, the next alternative will be a bloody revolution that will result in not 100s of thousands but millions of lives lost. It will spare no one. If you don’t believe this just look to our West and the Middle of the east.

The geopolitical environment is turning favorable for Pakistan. But our internal distortions will be a burden that will hamper our progress. We need to organize the nation in a manner that offer good prospects to all its citizens. We should all aspire to ensure that accident of birth should not become an insurmountable hurdle for social and economic progress of a citizen.

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