In one of my previous pieces, “Pakistan’s Political Culture — Genesis and Prognosis”, published in this space on November 5, 2019, the role of the elite or ashhrafiyya was discussed. The stranglehold of the power-elite in politics, government, and media or in the markets is seen with unkind negativity by the common man and intelligentsia. Although one is conscious that the ashhrafiyya despite so much dislike also has some merits — it’s a trend-setter in the society, it’s a vanguard of political, economic, religious and cultural life and identity and represents a nation. The ashhrafiyya’s leadership role assumes more importance when society is stratified into a minority power-elite and a vast sea of poor citizenry with a very small middle class. The problem occurs when this ashhrafiyya is corrupted — as is the case with us — when money without morals becomes their raison-d’être; power irrespective of potential becomes their wanton quest; privilege and patronage without obligations is their sole purpose of existence; and when they cloak personal interest as national interest. In any societal hierarchy, the common man is at the lower tier of social ranking below the ashhrafiyya. So when the ashhrafiyya is corrupted, the society is jolted at its moorings and then it’s a free for all situation. In today’s Pakistan — like elsewhere — the ashhrafiyya is represented by the political leadership; the top echelons of clergy, senior bureaucracy — civil and military, media moguls, business leaders and the top judiciary. The manner this elite class has conducted itself so far is reflective of what to expect in the future, and that leaves a lot of room for introspection.
Being trend-setters means leadership of the ashhrafiyya in guiding the common man, in setting personal example(s) of irreproachable standards of conduct and behaviour that serve as benchmarks for the society at large. In the absence of such an ethos, society drifts and the citizenry is rudderless. The ultimate casualty is the loss of national confidence and self-esteem. The various, frequent and continuous storms in Pakistan’s tea cup are a sad testimony to this phenomenon. In the absence of a true ashhrafiyya or in the presence of a corrupted and compromised ashhrafiyya, the national state of affairs in the perceptual domain — if one shies from reality — is sad at best and hopeless at worst.
The repeated blunders by our power-elite are continuously causing embarrassment to a nuclear Pakistan and its over 220 million hardworking citizens. We are represented by a lot that ostensibly has no morals, scruples and principles other than self-enrichment, perpetuating of dynastic privileges and clinging to the corridors of power at all costs.
The recent saga of the army chief’s extension in tenure is a vivid reflection of the complex and not very constructive interplay among the various elements of ashhrafiyya. The government, judiciary, military and above all the media — unwittingly “perhaps” as far as the government and judiciary are concerned and wittingly as far as media goes — created an environment that seized the citizenry for days in disbelief and subjected the power-elite to utter ridicule. One had to read the commentary on social media and watch the endless circus on multiple TV channels — with an army of analysts and hysterical anchors — to fathom the crisis. It was a pity to watch the running commentary over court proceedings, like a cricket match with anchors asking absurd, comical and skittish questions. Everyone, irrespective of the credentials, had an opinion on the legality and constitutionality of the matter.
As a sad consequence, the saga left the state and society bruised, intelligentsia humiliated, citizenry directionless and national confidence shaken. Some among us may justify it as egalitarianism of the “system” or the rightful over-reach of judicial activism. The fact remains that this totally unnecessary and absurd tamasha (spectacle) badly tarnished the national image and wasted precious time, resources and effort for days that could be devoted to national development Pakistan so badly needs. If that is how those at the helm of affairs think and behave… we better take a deep look at how this country would be run. If this was a solo incident of its kind, the common people including the taxpayers would look the other way but there is a long list of such crises and self-inflicted injuries — at the taxpayers’ expense — that the citizenry has to contend with. We are making our state and society a laughing stock, and this is not a harsh prognosis.
There were all kinds of theories and opinions in circulation, from the court wanting to pick at the government for procedural lapses to sympathising with the notion of civilian supremacy over the armed force, the culpability of the government, the machination of hostile powers and the personal ambition, etc. Truth be damned. When “some” main pillars of the power-elite don’t act in unison, in a diligent and dignified way and or within the imperatives of national interest and image, the rumour mill is the largest beneficiary. Without succumbing to self-flogging, one hopes we will not have a new crisis soon in order to give some respite to our worried and stressed citizenry. Under cynicism, one may deduce that our innate weakness of demography and a less competent and capable ashhrafiyya precludes us from thinking, acting and performing high. To some we are pygmies wearing oversized boots who are only good at mohallati (palace) conspiracies.
Advice is demeaning to a lot that considers itself “aql-e-kul” or bestowed with the absolute wisdom. Yet in order to forestall any future storms in the national tea cup, it’s about time all segments of the ashhrafiyya rose above petty, personal, biradari (clan), corporate and or organisational interests; steered this great country with the passion and integrity it was created with; added some grace, decency and maturity to the national discourse and avoided the pitfalls of indispensability; used media with the care it demands and harnessed its power for the benefit of the downtrodden giving them hope rather than heartache. Let the future generations extol us for our dignity, principles and morality, rather than a vampire-like quest for power, relevance, money and material, through all means possible. Let we be guided by the virtues of barapan or grace when at the helm of affairs because the alternative — getting swept away by a deluge of public hostility that will only leave embers and ashes — is too scary. The street, in a truly hostile mood, is bent upon forcing a halkapan or fall from grace of the power-elite worldwide. With continuous indignation at the hands of the power-elite, the ashhrafiyya-loathing have-nots of 21st century Pakistan — who are socially much aware, politically savvy and mobilised by social media — may spring a surprise and rise not necessarily in the spring but also in the autumn, summer or winter. Long live Pakistan!
Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2019.
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