Pakistan politics: The mythical feudal and the real elite

Published October 21, 2014
It is nothing more than a power grab for one group of elite from another. —Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro
It is nothing more than a power grab for one group of elite from another. —Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro

Reality is always hard to stomach. In the age of inflated self-worth and significance, societies start having delusions of grandeur. But when the delusions are questioned, the society either goes into denial or starts spinning a new narrative.

For the last two years, our people have been going through a process where there was initially a denial of the harsh realities of Pakistan, and then the passionate spinning of a false narrative. This narrative initially blamed the system, then blamed the government and now blames everyone for everything.

Too much time has been spent criticising this false narrative that many believe to be the truth. What has been ignored are the basic set of realities that Pakistan continues to face.

To start with, as much as I hate saying this, politics in Pakistan is not for the voter to decide.

Pakistan is a case of elite adjustment. It has never been a case where the voter will decide anything; the voters are simply not a significant enough part of the equation to leverage the situation.

Also read: ‘The real struggle in Pakistan is between the elite and the poor’

The form of governance does not matter either; be it a dictatorship or autocratic democracy, the political situation is a result of elite adjustment.

Hence, the purpose of whomever is in power is to protect and support the same set of economic and social interests. How they cover that up with initiatives and personal propaganda, defines the form of government we have.

The elite in this country are not feudal anymore. As much as the rhetoric would have us believe, the elite in this country are of two kinds; landed and capital. Most of the landed elites ended up diversifying and becoming capital elites.

And as that evolution happened, the word feudal became dirty.

The explanation for that would involve a complex interplay of various interests in an evolving society. To put it crudely, the elite who had expanded wanted to differentiate themselves from their primitive counterparts.

Nothing fires up and unifies people than hatred of a common enemy, which in this case, was characterised by the mythical evil feudal. That is why in popular rhetoric, even now, ending feudalism is always top of the agenda, while social equity and reduction of the income gap are conveniently forgotten.

Also read: Economic myths & our elite

The elite, like any group of people, are not a monolith i.e. they are not the same and in most cases, have competing interests.

The government, at any time is a reflection of which group of elites has the upper hand. Take for instance, the Mushrraf era, when the stock market barons minted money from an artificially stable economy and a fictitious boom.

Then came the Zardari era, where many elites had to skip town to save their businesses, while others expanded their holdings exponentially. And now in the Nawaz era, the very same elites that fled are making up for lost time under Zardari.

Those still missing out on the action are the people who minted money during the Musharraf era and are pushing for a ‘benevolent dictatorship’ by backing the likes of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, both of whom have been used (and dumped) as tools of such interests multiple times.

In essence, what we have in Pakistan are three groups of elites whose realignment forces changes in our form of governance. While the politicians and dictators might be the face of the operation, the brains are the elite and always have been.

Also read: Karachi's elite go bombproof

Given this context, it is heartbreaking to see the average person pretend as if their opinion matters.

It is heartbreaking to see that people genuinely think that removing politicians or changing the form of governance is going to have any impact at all on their lives or the lives of their children.

Unlimited amount of protest rallies, jalsas and sit-ins will still amount to absolutely nothing when one looks at the bottom line for the 99 per cent of the Pakistani nation.

In fact, what most of the public are doing is fighting a proxy war on behalf of one group of elite interests without actually knowing it.

This makes it all the more amusing when the foot soldiers of an elite economic conflict talks about ending elite privileges. It is embarrassing when the same groups of people will fiercely defend politicians who themselves are part of an economic elite group fighting for control of economic resources, so they can mint money off the public.

But the cruelest of jokes is the rhetoric around corruption.

The idea that corruption is intrinsic to the system is a cartoonish concept perpetually pitched to a naïve bunch of people who are desperately looking for explanations behind their own failures, that are originally caused by income inequality and absence of social justice.

This is the reality of Pakistan and most third-world countries. Hard facts are that this is not about democracy or dictatorship; it is nothing more than a power grab for one group of elite from another.

The reason Punjab matters every time is because that is where the majority of the power base is. So while it is appreciated that people show up and protest government policies, the reality is, it makes no difference to them in the long run, as they are just changing the group of people who will now be minting money off them.

The fight should be for income equality and social justice.

Corruption and all its rhetorical derivations are as outdated as the concept of the feudal holding the economy hostage in the age of the free market.



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