Why are the elites of Pakistan in denial?

Why Pakistan has failed to settle down as a nation-state with a leadership that is hard-working and intelligent

Dr Moonis Ahmar July 31, 2022
The writer is former Dean Faculty of Social Science, University of Karachi and can be reached at [email protected]

Global political and economic indicators have constantly reflected a poor social, political, and economic situation in Pakistan, but the country’s elites appear to be in denial. Pakistan is on the brink of an economic disaster with hardly $8 billion in foreign exchange reserves; a trade deficit of $50 billion; inflation at 18%, exports of a meagre $32 billion and the dollar reaching nearly 245 along with fuel, gas, electricity, food, and medicines price hikes. The thin line between failing and failed states can be crossed when the elites who wield power are in denial and disregard the crisis faced by the country.

It is worth analysing how Pakistan, which is home to nearly 220 million people, a nuclear state, and holds geo-strategic power transformed into an economically fragile and politically unstable state. Despite facing the trauma of disintegration, five decades ago, Pakistan was able to turn around and re-emerge as a promising country. PIA, Steel Mills, WAPDA, railway and other public sector organisations were performing well. However, the erosion of work ethics, corruption, nepotism, bad governance, and the absence of rule of law contributed to the worsening of the economic predicament. Should the elites be held responsible for derailing the economy, governance, and politics of Pakistan? Does the public deserve equal blame for the societal degeneration? There appears to be a gap in the problems of the elite and the rest of the population.

Today, many developing countries that gained independence after Pakistan are better off in terms of economy, governance, politics, and rule of law. One cannot help but wonder why Pakistan has failed to settle down as a nation-state with a leadership that is hard-working, intelligent, committed and visionary. India gained independence along with Pakistan and has now become the world’s 5th largest economy. South Korea, which was a failed state, is now the world’s 10th largest economy. In October 1949, China underwent a communist revolution and experienced a series of turmoil is now the world’s second-largest economy. Even countries like Malaysia and Singapore, which were backward, and poor are now better off. And Bangladesh which a former US Secretary of State termed a basket case is now much better off than Pakistan because of its economic performance. Lastly, the UAE which gained independence in 1971 can match any developed country. Unfortunately for Pakistan, it seems that there is no light at the end of the tunnel because the elites remain indifferent to the real issues whilst the masses lack both awareness and capability to rally against the corrupt elites.

Despite having an abundance of brilliant and hardworking people, the feudal, political, business, bureaucratic and security elites are not interested in pulling the country from the brink of disaster. Nearly ten million overseas Pakistanis send more than 30 billion dollars to Pakistan annually. They are growing frustrated with the irresponsible and imprudent attitude of elites who have taken them for granted and are not interested in sacrificing their perks, privileges, and benefits for saving the present and future of Pakistan.

One can come up with three arguments to analyse why the elites of Pakistan are not committed to the betterment of their country and how can people turn around things. First, the elite and popular perceptions on major national issues i.e., economics, politics, and governance contradict one another. Rampant price hikes of essential commodities including fuel, gas and electricity are affecting 98% of the people. Only the privileged class, which is a small proportion of the population is least concerned about the dangerous impending situation. The government claims to have raised the prices of utilities per the International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal. However, this is raising concerns over an economic default, and acute shortages of petroleum products, electricity, gas, and food items. The elites controlling the financial institutions of Pakistan are unable to redeem the consequences of price hikes and instead take superficial measures to give relief to the poor. There is certainly a parallel between Pakistani and Sri Lankan elites as both led their countries toward an economic breakdown. However, Sri Lanka is much smaller than Pakistan in terms of population and territory and its default only affected the region. If Pakistan defaults, it may have a spill-over effect.

Second, Pakistani elites have established their safe havens abroad and are least bothered about the country’s economic collapse. Here it is worth considering the failure of the masses to take a firm position against the elites who have driven the country towards economic collapse and subsequent default. When the masses are just as indifferent as the elites, the outcome is bound to be destructive with far-reaching consequences. The masses have failed to challenge the feudal culture, authoritarian mindset, and corrupt system and instead accepted the unbearable economic conditions.

Finally, there is no quick fix solution to prevent the impending economic disaster, political instability, and bad governance unless the elites of the country transform. Instead of focusing on safeguarding their privileged status, they must concentrate on pulling the country from the brink of economic collapse; forging unity to ensure political stability; taking serious steps to eradicate corruption and nepotism and adopting good governance, rule of law, adherence to merit and improve living standards. Otherwise, the elites wielding power will be held responsible and accountable if Pakistan becomes a failed state in the domestic and foreign policy arena.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2022.

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