A tale of two Tatas

Pakistan should develop an elite body that can partake in elite conversation, have organic connections to the country.

Arif Rafiq August 08, 2012

Nestled in the green valleys of Waziristan are ‘factories’ that build small, innovative bombs that are used to kill civilians, power brokers and security personnel in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Miran Shah, Mir Ali and Makeen, one will find what is probably the world’s greatest concentration of terrorist organisations — incubators for the world’s next great jihadi start-ups. In the Gujarat city of Chharoti, 2,000 miles southeast, is a factory building the world’s smallest car, the Tata Nano, a no-frills entry vehicle for the developing world’s new entrants to the middle class. These factories exist in the same subcontinent and their people share historical and civil ties. But these two areas, these two Tatas — the Taliban-Administered Tribal Areas and the Tata-driven India Inc — might as well exist in two separate worlds.

Perception is reality and so for all intents and purposes, these two sub-communities are a part of two different worlds: the former being part of what geo-strategist Thomas Barnett calls “the non-integrating gap” (places that resist global interconnectedness and do not assimilate to the system’s norms) and “the new functioning core” (places that have joined the old core in economic interconnectedness and play by the system’s rules).

By Waziristan, I am referring not to the native civilian population but to the nexus of local and non-local militants. It is completely unfair to use Waziristan to represent Pakistan as a whole but that is the way the world sees it.

Moreover, militant-occupied Waziristan is pulling Pakistan away from the global functioning core. This distancing is amplified by both a hyper-nationalism in urban areas that focuses on grievance at the cost of responsibility — on how Pakistan has been wronged by the world, instead of how it can make the world right — and an obscurant conservatism that has closed the Pakistani mind.

In the same vein, India Inc.’s achievements mask the dark reality that confronts the country’s majority. Left behind by corrupt governance and growing social inequity is India Stink, the India that many conveniently choose to ignore. It is the India where 65 per cent of the population lacks access to improved sanitation (compared with 52 per cent in Pakistan), the India where 50 per cent of the population practises open defecation (double the rate of Pakistan) and the India that is tied with Pakistan for the lowest life expectancy in South Asia (excluding Afghanistan).

India’s strengths should not be allowed to mask its weaknesses. The reverse is also true. It would be a mistake for Pakistanis to dismiss India’s ambitious and accomplished business and intellectual elite. They are brand ambassadors for their country. They now have a seat at the expanding global club of rule-making. And though it’s not quite a front-row seat, at least, they’ve got admission.

Pakistani elites don’t fare quite well in comparison. They are given temporary admission because they are seen as courageous outliers in a country gone mad. At home, they tend to be viewed with great suspicion. They’re generally dismissed as traitors who are part of an anti-Pakistan conspiracy. Something as simple as photos of them in Davos or Washington can serve as the smoking gun. But it is these individuals who can help fight the perception, the unfortunate and inaccurate contrast of incredible India and pathetic Pakistan and India the integrator and Pakistan the pariah.

Pakistan needs to develop an elite body that can speak the global language, partake in elite conversation and yet, have organic connections to their country. There is a global governance system to be shaped. Power dynamics are shifting. Ongoing and emerging challenges need to be confronted. Pakistanis must generate voices that can shape the debate on the evolution of collective security, conflict intervention, sustainable development and a host of other issues.

Those who join the super-elite, as Chrystia Freeland describes, tend to become trapped in a self-contained bubble. But the danger of producing rootless cosmopolitans without attachment to the homeland should be no reason for self-isolation; rather, it should provide motivation to pioneer in making exceptions to the rule.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2012.

Facebook Conversations