The middle class debate

Published: April 1, 2012
The writer is a former vice-president of the World Bank and a former caretaker finance minister of Pakistan

The writer is a former vice-president of the World Bank and a former caretaker finance minister of Pakistan

There is a debate both inside and outside Pakistan about the size of the middle class in the country. I had suggested in an article written some time ago for Dawn that the size of the middle class was about 40 million. At that time the country’s population was about 170 million. If my estimate was correct, the Pakistani middle class accounted for a bit less than 24 per cent of the population. This did not seem to be an unreasonable estimate for a country at Pakistan’s stage of development. I had used a simple back-of-the-envelope type of calculation to reach my estimate, which used the World Bank’s income distribution numbers for Pakistan that provided the shares of income for the upper and lower deciles of population and for the quintiles in between.

Based on considerably more robust pieces of analyses carried out by several Indian scholars, it was determined that the Indian middle class accounted for some 40 per cent of that country’s population. This meant that some 500 million people in India could be said to belong to this economic and social class. While the Indian estimate generated considerable excitement among western businesses, my estimate for Pakistan provoked some controversy. At a conference held in Belagio, Italy, some participants from the US doubted my numbers, suggesting that it was a very high estimate. Why this questioning when a much larger one for India was readily accepted?

The answer is simple. There is a group of scholars in the US who believe that the endgame has been reached for Pakistan as we (and they) know the country today. They believe that Pakistan is now ripe for takeover by Islamic radicals. Once they have succeeded in overthrowing the current political and social order, they will go on to establish a regime not too different from the one that has been governing for the last several decades. Such a regime, like the one in Tehran, will be hostile towards the West, in particular towards the US. It will also be much more dangerous being in possession of a large nuclear arsenal — now believed to be the fourth largest in the world — a radical Islamic Pakistan would pose a serious threat to the US, and by implication, to the state of Israel.  The West should, therefore, be prepared to take action to prevent such an unpleasant outcome. It was, however, not specified exactly what action should be taken.

The middle class estimate, such as the one I had offered, countered this line of thinking. It was recognised that the middle classes normally are more inclined towards modernity than other classes. In this context it is worth quoting from Francis Fukuyama’s recent article in Foreign Affairs.  He writes: “It is most broadly accepted in countries that have reached a level of material prosperity sufficient to allow a majority of their citizens to think of themselves as middle-class, which is why there tends to be a correlation between high levels of development and stable democracy”. He accepts the fact that there can be deviations from this path, as has been the case in Iran and Saudi Arabia, but that is explained by their enormous oil wealth which they can use to obtain the loyalty of the middle class. The Arab Spring has shown — he maintains — that the middle class can be mobilised against any kind of dictatorship including the theocratic ones to which the followers of radical Islam aspire. What stands in the way of the nightmare seen in Pakistan by some American scholars is the middle class. If it is large enough, their fear is unfounded and no action is needed. The academics advocating that the West should be prepared, don’t like this conclusion to be reached since it is likely to breed complacency amongst policymakers.

More serious work has been done on the size of the middle class in Pakistan since I wrote my article. In a recent contribution by the economist Sakib Sherani to Dawn titled “Consumption conundrum” (March 23), he presents a much higher estimate than I had provided, both in terms of the size of the middle class in Pakistan and its proportion in the total population. “I updated the figure arrived at earlier, making one crucial adjustment: for the estimated size of Pakistan’s undocumented (or ‘black’ economy). The adjusted figure for the middle class is a staggering 70 million people, or 40 per cent of the population”, he writes. This brings the Pakistani situation closer to the one that is generally accepted for India.

A large Pakistani middle class will keep Pakistan moving on a relatively liberal path in terms of its economic and political development. This class is also influenced by the members of the large Pakistani and Muslim diasporas, particularly in the US. The Pakistani middle class is well-represented in the various diasporas dispersed across the globe. Notwithstanding the European and American fears about the penetration of radical Islam into these communities, large segments of these populations have picked up the liberal economic, political and social values of their host populations. This makes the diasporas more modern and secular than the native populations from which they are drawn. With the development of communication technologies in recent years, the Muslim communities in the West are not only in touch with their homelands, they are also influencing the populations from which they come from.

We know from the several case studies that have been carried out to understand the dynamics of the Arab Spring, that the diasporas had a deep influence on the events leading up to the uprisings in the streets and the public squares. Prominent members of the diasporas are now prominently engaged in the political restructuring of countries such as Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. In Pakistan, Imran Khan’s rise has the support and financial backing of the Pakistani diasporas in Britain, the Middle East and North America. I think it is safe to assume that Pakistan’s development will be deeply influenced by its middle class, which is not likely to adopt the radicalism on offer by various groups such as al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2012.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (50)

  • Whats in the name.
    Apr 1, 2012 - 11:22PM

    If that is indeed the case why don’t they top in categories like the country to send tourists abroad, to France, Australia, South America Africa etc or even Malaysia,(rather than illegal immigrants), they hardly figure in the list. If indeed 40% is middle class then why is that Pakistan is the hotbed of terrorism. Isn’t Middle class supposed to be secular no matter which country they belong. Also the best way to know about the consumer consumption and to gauge the middle class numbers is by Food & Beverages (F&B) companies, FM-CG (fast moving consumer goods), also automobile companies as well as electronic goods manufacturers like refrigerators, TV sets, Mobile phones etc. They are the best judges. So the best way to judge is to see the no of the above materials sold versus the population of the country and come to a conclusion, rather than doing it academically.

  • Ali Tanoli
    Apr 1, 2012 - 11:55PM

    I have seen few strange things in the white genes they are great rabit mind clever when u tell
    them about indian poverty, hunger, unemployment, indian govt data about peoples out of poverty that 1234 rupees a month maker laborer in india not poor called they westren not gonna believe you but they believe those prepaid t.v anchors like charli rose for lying about
    lybia, iraq, iran, pakistan, saudia arabia if u offered them good money job then every thing is good in these countries. westren media dont see 40% indian dont have enough food and homes there is around 200 millions indians who never seen bulb light at night what more to say…..
    @what in name,,,
    sir/madam we in pakistan were not too bad till 1990.Recommend

  • Falcon
    Apr 1, 2012 - 11:58PM

    Very well written article. Your observations are well placed. I think one of the issues that US is still boggled by is the popular feeling of anti-American imperialism in general in Pakistan and how is it possible despite the presence of such a big middle class chunk; the solution to that lies in them introspecting their own policies more than challenging these numbers. As much as we Pakistanis are to be blamed for our emotional stance, so much are Americans to be blamed for their lack of insight and foresight pertaining to complexity of the region.


  • BlackJack
    Apr 2, 2012 - 12:16AM

    @Whats in the name.:
    There is no connection between the middle class and secular orientation – secularism is a relatively new concept while the middle class has existed for a long time. Classical Marxism places the middle class between the ruling class and the proletariat. For most of us, the middle class is an upwardly mobile, better educated (and often salaried) class of individuals/ households – their contribution towards a nation’s economic prosperity is their human capital, and increasing consumption of goods and services as a result of rising income levels. I agree with the writer that the middle class in Pakistan should be at least the same percentage as India (40%) given that Pak has a slightly lower Gini coefficient indicating a lower level of economic inequality in society.


  • Apr 2, 2012 - 12:20AM

    Over the last two decades, Pakistan has continued to offer much greater upward economic and social mobility to its citizens than neighboring India. Since 1990, Pakistan’s middle class had expanded by 36.5% and India’s by only 12.8%, according to an ADB report on Asia’s rising middle class released in 2010.

    The ADB report on Asia’s rising middle class confirms that Pakistan’s middle class has grown to 40% of the population, significantly larger than the Indian middle class of about 25% of its population, and it has been growing faster than India’s middle class.


  • Max
    Apr 2, 2012 - 12:31AM

    I have some apprehensions in accepting the statistics in both countries. It is true that middle class has grown in both countries, but so is the population pressure. That is where the issues of purchasing power, and equity comes in. Next time I am in Pakistan, I will take Mr. Burki and show him the poverty and its scars.Recommend

  • Senman
    Apr 2, 2012 - 1:43AM

    This is perfect example of “low-esteem”, the author of the article and the comments by Pakistanis below are more concerned about matching or greater than India rather how to improve the lives of Pakistanis. Even you can claim 100% Pakistan is middle class why are you bothered about what western nations think? bet you will be happy if the western nation doubted India’s estimation.


  • Mohammad Ali Siddiqui
    Apr 2, 2012 - 1:53AM

    History is witness that the middle class people are among the first people among the masses and welcome a positive change.

    The apprehensions of US think-tanks or the US government is far from reality.

    In Pakistan the middle class people are striving very hard to break the shackles and I am hopeful that in the coming year there will be a positive change and the middle class people will be able to rule the country according to the aspirations and desire of the Father of the Nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.


  • musheir
    Apr 2, 2012 - 2:06AM

    materialy pakistan may have a large middle class due to large remittances from abroad but socially and educationally it is very small indeed


  • Falcon
    Apr 2, 2012 - 2:36AM

    I agree with your assertion on poverty but I think that is what Sakib Sherani (the popular economist cited in the article) has also discussed in detail in his article published in Dawn, that the challenge we are facing now is the growing discrepancy between middle class and under-privileged segments of the society and we need to devise more effective ways for re-distribution of resources. Because as you would agree, the least economically and politically powerful segments of society are most vulnerable to economic shocks.


  • anonymus
    Apr 2, 2012 - 2:49AM

    I am having difficculty to accept authors assumption that Pakistanis living in USA are liberals. This is far from fact. this whole discussion is on assumption without any hard where census is tainted and forged how can you draw calculations?


  • Naresh
    Apr 2, 2012 - 3:28AM

    Mr. Burki,
    I refer to the following Article dated 02 November 2010 :
    “” rel=”nofollow”The middle-class millions.
    In it you have stated : If Pakistan today has a population of 175 million people, then those in the middle class numbered 52.5 million. This was a simple enough calculation.
    The Figure of 175 Million for November 2010 is as erroneous as the Pakistan Population Clock which has Estimated Population of Pakistan on Apr 1, 2012 as 179,154,427 whereas the Preliminary Report of the Pakistan Census 2011 as reported in the Pakistan Census states a Figure of 197,361,691
    As such Pakistan’s Per Capita Income for FY 2010-2011 based on a Population of 175.31 Million being given as US$ 1,254 works out to about US$ 1,114.
    This reduction in Per Capita Income would correspondingly reduce the Number of Pakistan’s Middle Class.

  • Prakash
    Apr 2, 2012 - 3:31AM

    The number juggling for proportion of middle class does not give an idea of the modernity of Pakistani society, when you find namaz before the departure of PIA plane and the whole Pakistani Cricket team doing Namaz before start of game.Pakistani Diaspora is indulging in Islamic terrorism in US and Europe also- not only in neighboring Afghanistan and India. Was Faisal Shahzad ,Time square bomber not from Middle Class and a part of diaspora earning $50K as Business Analyst?


  • SaudiRules
    Apr 2, 2012 - 4:04AM

    “It was recognised that the middle classes normally are more inclined towards modernity than other classes….. In this context it is worth quoting from Francis Fukuyama’s recent article in Foreign Affairs. He writes: “It is most broadly accepted in countries that have reached a level of material prosperity sufficient to allow a majority of their citizens to think of themselves as middle-class, which is why there tends to be a correlation between high levels of development and stable democracy”.

    Pakistani middle class is an exception to the above rule/postulation. Unfortunately, pakistani middle class is equally radicalized as madrassa educated poor.Recommend

  • dev Maiti
    Apr 2, 2012 - 4:35AM

    Is this the same middle class which decided to rain rose petals on Taseer’s killer?


  • Max
    Apr 2, 2012 - 5:31AM

    What need to be observed and fixed is the growing income inequality, weak rather ineffective
    Taxation regime, massive transfer of money to foreign banks/countries, etc. The aveage Pakistani is still standing at the same intersection where he was about forty fifty years back. The situation is no better in India. The problem is that moment you say something about India, the Indian reader of this newspaper goes nuts, as you see in some comments above.. One has to look at things more objectively than rallying around Taranga (Indian flag). There is an expression if you cannot take heat, get out of the kitchen.


  • Alam siddiqui
    Apr 2, 2012 - 6:07AM

    The author is painting a very rosy picture. With the albatross of radical Islam around its neck, our country is bound to sink lower and lower into jihadi pain never seen before. And without the oil wealth that puts a floor for Iran and Saudi Arabia on misery, our next stop is much lower. Much much lower!! Sudan here we come…


  • Zeeshan
    Apr 2, 2012 - 6:22AM

    “hey will go on to establish a regime not too different from the one that has been governing for the last several decades. Such a regime, like the one in Tehran”

    I would prefer that over this


  • Raja
    Apr 2, 2012 - 7:11AM

    Howsoever unpleasant it may be to most of us, the connection between middle class and progressiveness is pretty nebulous. Not for nothing has the phrase ‘middle class morals’ acquired a negative connotation. We, the middle class will pretty much sell everything down the river. Society is best advised not to trust us and take us for granted


  • Falcon
    Apr 2, 2012 - 8:56AM

    Firstly, a Muslim praying is not an expression against modernity just like a person doing pooja in the morning (Indra Nooyi – Pepsi’s CEO is a case in point) is not a cave dweller. Secondly, Saleem Shehzad was an exception, not representative of the broader Pakistani diaspora living in US


  • Rajeev Nidumolu
    Apr 2, 2012 - 10:02AM

    There is no correlation between middle-class and liberalism, secularism , progressive outlook and modernity . Right wing BJP in India is an organization predominantly of middle class . Right wing movement of neoconservatives in USA is based on middle class. Hitler and Mussolini were supported by middle class.Westerners try to grossly overestimate the size of purchasing power of Indian Middle Class. Increasing purchasing power of consumer luxury items in India is driven by huge underground unaccounted economy headed by corrupt bureaucrats, kleptocrats and politicians


    Apr 2, 2012 - 10:31AM

    Sir, Pakistan’s estimated population is 200 million. One of the indication of percentage of middle class is literacy rate (by standard definition, not by Pakistan’s own definition), Human Development Index and consumption pattern in the society of gadgets.

    PS- I take any data released by Pakistan with a pinch of salt because of a pattern of wide spread fudging of figures going on in all sections of the society, for instance, percentage of people below poverty line assessed by the UN was not allowed to be released by Pakistan citing fudged figures generated by Musharraf regime.


  • Ravish
    Apr 2, 2012 - 10:35AM

    India has a far lesser gini index than pakistan, so India’s middle class is far more in percentage terms. Plus it is India that has enjoyed 8% growth over the past decade lifting millions from poverty to the middle income group. The same cannot be said about Pakistan which had a far lower growth rate and topping that with a greater fertility rate. These figures are for everyone to see through a simple google search. It is upto you to decide.


  • hbk
    Apr 2, 2012 - 10:55AM

    why express tribune is so obsessed with secularism and liberalism?? in a survey conducted about 10 years ago by a foreign agency 98% pakistanis said that they wanted shariah law to be imposed in pakistan and this percentage can be no less even today because the society is too radicalized today thanks to the so called war on terror. i belong to the upper class and i also want shariah law in pakistan. an american funded newspaper cannot deviate me away from my religion.


  • Arijit Sharma
    Apr 2, 2012 - 11:38AM

    @Riaz Haq: In your enlightened opinion, is there anything that India is doing right ?


  • Sohail
    Apr 2, 2012 - 11:48AM

    If you are looking for more on this topic, please read what the CEO of Nestle in Pakistan had to say about the size of market in Pakistan in comparison to some big countries.


  • BlackJack
    Apr 2, 2012 - 11:52AM

    Since your post directly contradicts mine, allow me to rebut. India’s Gini coefficient is around 37 while Pakistan is 33 (higher indicates more inequality). Second is that lifting millions from poverty alone has no short-term impact on the middle class, as this segment still remain part of the working class, and are in the lower strata of the economy. Third, the reason that the 8% growth does not really impact the Gini.C is that the rich are growing richer faster than the poor are (our Gini coefficient is rising). Fourth, this comparison of coefficients only works for nations with approx the same GDP per capita (like India and Pakistan); Afghanistan has an even lower Gini.C than Pakistan, but probably has hardly any middle class to speak of.


  • geeko
    Apr 2, 2012 - 12:56PM

    @Whats in the name.:
    The middle-class is not “liberal”, that’s a general misconception held by a lot of peoples, in fact, the middle-class is categorized by a politically conservative stance (see Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America), esp in economically fragile societies like our Pakistan (“we don’t want change, as change means perhaps the loss of our acquired privileges”), only the upper-class adopts a liberal framework in order to perpetuate its socio-economic domination.

    That’s why an Islamist/BJP supporter is never a bourgeois nor a poor, but from an “educated”, middle-class background.


  • abhi
    Apr 2, 2012 - 2:13PM

    I think the porblem is not praying, the problem is public display of it. Many of these people who display their faith publically are hardly God fearing people, they involve in all illegal and immoral activities (e.g. cricketers fixing the matches) but they will be on forefront of doing sajda on field.


  • jade
    Apr 2, 2012 - 2:36PM

    The west is not willing to accept anything good about Pakistan because; it is a huge muslim country with a large and well equipped army and thus a possible threat to Isreal, and it has done whatever it could to bring bad name to itself (using terrorism in India and Afghanistan). West is putting its money on India because; it has a large consumer market and it can be used as an ally against China.


  • Surya
    Apr 2, 2012 - 4:03PM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    “We in Pakistan”??? last time i checked you were American/Pakistan/Arab/god-knows-what-next?? Your english seems to be “too good” to be an American as claimed by you..your comments never seem to make any sense as always..


  • observer
    Apr 2, 2012 - 4:38PM


    Saleem Shehzad was an exception, not representative of the broader Pakistani diaspora living in US

    Given the context, I believe you meant Feisal Shahzad. But then he is not the lone ranger that you make him out to be, we also have Daoud Gilani aka David Headley and his partner in crime Tahawwur Rana.


  • Z.Khan
    Apr 2, 2012 - 5:50PM

    I would strongly disagree with the author as he never defined what he meant by middle class. The size of the middle class always depends on how it is defined, whether by education, wealth, environment of upbringing, social net work, manners or values, etc. These are all related, though far from deterministically dependent. The following factors are often ascribed in modern usage to a “middle class”
    Achievement of tertiary education.Holding professional qualifications, including academics, lawyers, engineers, politicians and doctors regardless of their leisure or wealth. Belief in bourgeois values, such as high rates of house ownership and jobs which are perceived to be secure. Lifestyle, manners, place of education, occupation and the class of a person’s family, circle of friends and acquaintances and cultural identification.

    In a country where dangerously a high number of bogus voters are registered how one can trust the data released by any organ. Few months back I visited India and confronted the same question. 40% figure is safe figure for India. Later went to Ghana and confronted the same question the figure was 10%. Turkey has 70% as middle class. As per my view, if all factors are considered honestly with truth, the middle class of Pakistan is not more than 15%..


  • geeko
    Apr 2, 2012 - 6:22PM

    lol, you just copied the Wikipedia article about “Middle class”, great job, but you’re right in the sense that its definition can be purely economical (purchasing power, relation to the national income, …) or nearly “holistic”, incl. different cultural attitudes and behaviours (working towards the acceptation of “bourgeois”, liberal values, …)

    But I believe that in both India and Pakistan, without playing the silly game of the ‘who has the bigger one (middle class, that is)’, there’s just a widening disparity in the capital repartition because of structural inequalities (I’m sure if you’re from KP 15% seems too much, whereas in Punjab it seems a bit too less.)
    I think the national average floats around the 35-40% marks, as the “specialists” point out. Sounds reasonable to me.

    Also, some put Africa’s middle class at a staggering 300m souls… says a lot.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Apr 2, 2012 - 6:28PM

    @Z kHAN,
    U think other countries dont mix up data just look it how much truth peoples speak in U.N.O
    if we put lie detector front of bush and collin powell or miss rice i think it gonna break machine from middle..
    which line u dont understand maybe when i said 200 millions indian dont have elect water sanitation facility at all.


  • Bazai
    Apr 2, 2012 - 7:04PM

    It is an interesting article, but we have to understand things in the right paradigm. The major concern in Pakistan is the disparity along the provencial and ethinic line. The number of middle class in Punjab and urban sindh might be true 40%, but the situation in FATA, Balochistan and rural Sindh is deteriorating. It doesn’t only feed nationalist and religious insurgencies, but also significantly affecting the law and order in other part of the country. Pakistanis’ should put thier own house in order and forget about India for a while. Our obsession with India will push us toward more sinister policies at home and abroad.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Apr 2, 2012 - 7:16PM

    I think writer forget to write that in pakistan 40% peoples are below the any poverty line right now and they cant even feed themself or there families its like they became a beggers and its a shame for all the crooks of holy land.


  • Rajeev Nidumolu
    Apr 2, 2012 - 8:44PM

    Indian Planning Commission recently has lowered the threshold for poverty. Anyone who earns more than 28 rupees a day does not qualify to be called poor. Now we have suddenly poor people earning more that 28 rupees a day are elevated to middle class. This is juggling of figures. The real fact is none of the south asian countries have been able to eliminate extreme poverty despite 64 years of independence. There are more more people in Indian subcontinent compared to SubSaharan Africa. Westereners are looking for markets to sell products.


  • Ayesha Khan
    Apr 2, 2012 - 9:40PM

    @Sohail: “If you are looking for more on this topic, please read what the CEO of Nestle in Pakistan had to say about the size of market in Pakistan in comparison to some big countries.”

    You should also know that most of Nestle Pakistan’s revenues come from selling milk. In India there are milk farmer’s co-operatives like Amul that pass on the profits to the farmer rather than the profits going to multinational. It is not as though Nestle is selling chocolates or Maggi noodles in higher proportion to Pakistan compared to larger cuontries like India.


  • Apr 2, 2012 - 9:53PM

    Middle class is defined as those individuals or households that have income high enough that one third of it is left over after paying for food and shelter. On this basis in the rich and high cost countries the proportion of middle class is less than in developing countries. In USA it is 45% as compared to India 65% and China 62%. On this basis Pakistan having 40% is too low. It actually is close to 50% or even more.


  • Ayesha Khan
    Apr 2, 2012 - 9:57PM

    @Author: Your central hypothesis is that higher the proportion of middle class in a society, lower the proportion of radicalized population. It looks like that hypothesis itself may not be valid in Pakistan’s case due to certain other factors
    1) a rentier army that gets the country involved in all kinds of wars that have nothing to do with Pak strategy like the Afghan jihad and now the WoT – just so it can get some free weapons from US. It does not consider the radicalization that happens in the society as a result.
    2) funding from KSAn countries to push the Salafi version of Islam through madarsas which preach hatred against other Islamic variants including Barelvi Sunnis as well as Shias.
    3) The deliberately distorted history being taught in schools creating hatred towards non-Muslims
    4) State tolerance if not outright encouragement for jihadi training camps as long as they are directed towards India or Afghanistan. We have people like Assad Durani stating in writing that using non-state actors as an instrument of foreign policy is legitimate.
    5) Legal system (prosecution plus judiciary) unable to prosecute terrorists successfully

    I bring this up because EVEN IF Pakistan has a higher proportion of middle class by no means can anyone say that Pakistan is not radicalized. Even Imran Khan admitted as much in an interview on an Indian channel. Examples abound:
    1) Lawyers showering rose petals on Qadri killer
    2) Hazara Shias being routinely targetted
    3) members of banned outfits openly conducting jalsas in the nation’s capital.
    4) Kidnapping and forced conversion of Hindu girls
    5) Girls schools being bombed
    6) Aalims coming on TV and propagating against polio drops


  • Ali Tanoli
    Apr 2, 2012 - 10:06PM

    I was watching a news and one Rickshow Driver make a cry when he said that he eat at those free kitchen provided by Saylanis or any other charity in karachi he said if he start eating in restaurant then his children cant eat or go to school and its a pakistan new midle class.


  • Mirza
    Apr 2, 2012 - 10:32PM

    I agree with you 100%. In addition the middle class is not just being a reactionary rightwing but historically a sellout to the rich and powerful. Of course in social sciences there are exception and are not absolute truths.
    Pakistanis in the US are not liberal. In fact they have been heaviely voting for Republicans till after 9/11. After 9/11 when they faced tough interrogations they had no other option but to turn toward Democrats. Still there are many rich Pakistanis in the US who vote their pocketbooks and go with Republicans.
    If being liberals means they do not behave like many European Muslims and are more integrated in the society then it may still be an illusion. They do not do it by choice but due to their economic needs, a characteristic of middle class.
    Thanks and regards,


  • Shakky
    Apr 2, 2012 - 10:46PM

    Mr. Burki writes that: “A large Pakistani middle class will keep Pakistan moving on a relatively liberal path in terms of its economic and political development.” Two problems which he ignores in his analysis. Firstly, if Pakistan’s middle class is so large, then why isn’t the country moving on a relatively liberal path? Either the middle class is not so large as he posits or it is not really a middle class and is instead more of a cattle class which is prodded in directions that are picked by self-aggrandizing feudals and equally sinister and dangerous mullahs, both of whom lead the country in directions that best suit their corrupt short term interests. A defining characteristic of the cattle class is that it cannot think outside the medieval frameworks which have been imposed by the feudals and mullahs.


  • Ayesha Khan
    Apr 2, 2012 - 11:09PM

    @observer: “Given the context, I believe you meant Feisal Shahzad. But then he is not the lone ranger that you make him out to be, we also have Daoud Gilani aka David Headley and his partner in crime Tahawwur Rana.”

    Good point. I would add some addiional examples of radicalized Pakistani middle class people: The people who were involved in the London train bombing. The masterminds of 26/11 in Mumbai (Qasab ay not be part of middle class but I am pretty sure the master minds were.The Lahore Bar council people who ruled that Shehzad drink cannot be served in the canteen because owner is Ahmadi. The lawyers who showered rose petals on Qadri.


  • Suzy
    Apr 2, 2012 - 11:28PM

    The Pakistani diaspora in Britain is the most radical, fundamentalist and extremist group of Muslims in the wester world.


  • Apr 3, 2012 - 5:47AM

    There’s a conspiracy to invade Pakistan because Western economists doubt the author’s estimates of size of the Pakistan middle class. Got it. Glad our economists also act to protect our sovereignty.


  • Z.Khan
    Apr 3, 2012 - 5:19PM


    First of all utilisation of available recognized international terms to define the middle class is not forbidden in my dictionary. Reproduction of few terms if labelled copying of article is left to your and to readers imagination. Now coming on to main point. You consider,
    “I think the national average floats around the 35-40% marks, as the “specialists” point out. Sounds reasonable to me” I once again dare strongly to disagree to you as well to those writers who claim so. It is an important factor and should be taken seriously by all those who want to compare the country internationally. Again I would request the author as well all readers to ponder on the definition of a middle class. No one can isolate it exclusively to money or education. Ethical, social and human values also play important role in it. Take the example of Turkey which has 70% middle class. Ghana 10% and Germany has 87%. In these three countries middle class individual or family has reasonable means of transport either two wheeler or a car. Reasonable house or apartment to live. Sufficient to eat common food items including meat etc. Can afford reasonable clothes as per the requirements of weather. Can afford once a year holidays either with in or outside country. Minimum 9-10 years of schooling and can read and understand news papers and governmental documents. Enjoy clean water and 24 hours electricity. Entitled to health facilities without any discrimination.Well aware of social and civic values. Know the basic human rights and have the courage to stand for it. Show above 50-60% participation in elections. Can mobilize the society against any thing violating the civic rights. Ensure each organ of the government works with in its perimeter.
    Aforementioned are just few characteristics or traits which I myself have personally observed in the middle class of these three mentioned countries. Germany is most developed. Turkey is developed/developing and Ghana is poor and developing. Now compare the Pakistan in the light of these mentioned areas. And here I am in a position to challenge any one that in the light of aforementioned criteria Pakistani middle class is not more than 15%.


  • Prakash
    Apr 4, 2012 - 8:40AM

    Religious observance is personal matter , but if Namaz is offered in Government Airlines like PIA and National Cricket team in Full view of Public is offering Namaz and Non Muslim players like Kanaria have to stay away- it shows the religiosity of the whole society and can not be called modern and tolerant to other religious belief. Faisal Sehzad is not exception most of the terrorist incident in whole world has some connection with Pakistan.


  • razi mallick
    Apr 25, 2012 - 10:45AM

    This a very good article though contrary to the general perception of the scholars in the western world and even in some circles of Pakistan. I was just browsing to find difference between Pakistan and India based on different social and economic indicators. I had found just two indicators of internet users and remittance of the two countries when luckily I found the third indicator of the size of the middle class.

    In Pakistan internet users are 20 million compared to 100 million in India whereas remittances are $12 billion and $58 million respectively. India population is more than six time to that Pakistan. .Adding the third indicator of the size of middle class in both countries unbelievable picture emerges that, despite of political instability in Pakistan, its performance appears to be no less than that of India, despite of the bad governance in Pakistan.


More in Opinion