ONDON: Former finance minister and estranged PML-N leader Miftah Ismail on Friday delivered a presentation at an event in London, where he spoke about the pitfalls of elite capture in Pakistan and how these are represented across the spheres of business, politics, judiciary, military and bureaucracy.

The event was jointly organised by Bloomsbury Pakistan, SOAS Pakistan Discussion Forum and SOAS ICOP Student Society.

At the beginning of his talk, Mr Ismail spoke at length about the challenges faced by the country, and the fundamental issues that are keeping Pakistan from becoming an economically robust country that is part of the global supply chain.

Mr Ismail pointed to the vast difference between the elite schools of the country and the remainder of the matric and government schools across the country, pointing out that nearly all the senior judges of the Supreme Court and half of the cabinet during Imran Khan’s tenure were from Aitchison College.

Former finance minister says country suffers from ‘elite capture’

He said because of the huge gap between the quality of education given at public and private elite schools, whether an individual speaks English or not becomes a gatekeeping function.

“I believe in free markets, but that doesn’t work in Pakistan where my son, who goes to the best university in the world that money can pay for, is competing with my driver’s son whose options for education are limited,” he said.

He also criticised the structure of the political class, saying that families dominate politics and that the family ceiling is the glass ceiling. He also pointed out the elite capture of the industrial sector, where he said “10 groups control 38pc of the industry”.

“Pre-nationalisation, if there was concentration of wealth in the country, today it has not lessened. The faces [of the elite] have also not changed.”

Mr Ismail said, “The people who were the richest in Pakistan 50 years ago are still the same. In America, it’s no longer just the Rockefellers and du Ponts who are rich. You have people like Bill Gates. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, nothing changes”.

He pointed to the bureaucracy and military, which he said draw from the middle class but eventually at the senior officer level perpetuate the same culture of elite capture.

“The military officers live a very separate life from the ones that jawans live,” he said.

He said together all these groups “maximise their privileges”.

“The Pakistani state is ineffective because the elite are happy the way they are. We have the most ineffective governance in the world,” he said.

Mr Ismail said that the circular debt in Pakistan has been worse off after every government. “The country has seen martial law, democracy, hybrid, very hybrid, but one thing we haven’t seen is improvement.”

He pointed to the country’s rapidly growing population as one of its most compelling problems, and said every government has failed to tackle it.

He also said that one major factor keeping the country from being an economic success is terrorism.

“From all airlines coming to Pakistan, we have gone to no one even wanting their crew here overnight. You don’t see foreigners in Pakistan, if they don’t visit our factories and shops how will they buy our products? That’s why Pakistan is left out of the global supply chain.”

To achieve economic growth, Mr Ismail said Pakistan must have a “governing philosophy”.

He added, “When the sugar industry or textile industry asks for subsidies, how does the government decide whether to give it?”

“The government should ask: Will it be conducive to economic growth and will it help with social justice? If we do this right, we will create a Pakistan we can be proud of.”

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2023

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