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January 24, 2021

Betrayed by the elite


January 24, 2021

Does the ruling elite of Pakistan have any idea that it is becoming a threat to the country’s survival, if it does not drastically change its ways? And I am not going into the tedious business of defining this elite. It is there. You know it.

A clichéd question, perhaps. You could say that it has resounded through our history. But I am responding to the burgeoning anxieties of this specific moment. Among other things, we have this Broadsheet affair that reveals a lot about the imbecility, incompetence and duplicity of the ruling elite.

In fact, it seems unreal in the context of how the business of state is conducted at the higher echelons. While the Broadsheet saga was born in the year 2000 when Pakistan was under military rule, it has come alive in the aftermath of a verdict of a British court and dramatic disclosures made by Kaveh Moussavi and some other characters.

Essentially, the focus is on the accountability charade that the rulers have played for the past two decades. We have evidence here of how corrupt politicians have their uses in the event of an undemocratic intervention and why accountability is genetically a sinful exercise.

As for the gory details of the Broadsheet affair, there is a lot in the media and so much more on social media. It holds your attention like a murder mystery, with a host of suspects. In an allegorical sense, the entire ruling elite has blood on its hands, irrespective of the divide on the political plane.

Now, with Broadsheet in the forefront of the political discourse, a lot is happening on the sidelines that also reflects poorly on the performance of our rulers. However, little attention is being paid to the sufferings of the ordinary people during this second wave of the pandemic. Their capacity to deal with the rising tide of adversities is undermined by a number of factors, including a socio-economic system that is tilted in favour of the powerful and the rich.

For instance, a survey conducted by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics revealed last week that over 20 million people had lost their livelihood because of lockdowns and the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic. One finding was that ten percent people experienced severe food insecurity – going a day (or days) without eating. There are details of coping strategies such as taking loans or selling property that would be hard to visualise in human terms. As many as 50 percent had to switch to lower quality or quantity of food.

These and other statistics about our social realities that are projected as impressive graphs and colour-coded tables tell only a part of the story. The human dimension of these facts generally remains out of sight of the rulers. They, the rulers, live in a bubble and their behaviour and their activities show their lack of empathy for the people at large.

When it comes to evaluating the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, on top of the abiding deprivations of the underprivileged sections of our population, there is one area that is not adequately comprehended or reported. Even globally, the issue of mental health in these difficult times has become very prominent. Our situation is truly dire.

Buried in the pile of political reporting, there is a steady string of under-reported stories that reveal the mental condition of our society. We get reports of parents killing their own children and committing suicide. Family disputes often lead to violence and murders. Our health system is evidently not equipped to take care of patients who suffer from depression and other psychiatric ailments. On the other hand, the overall situation tends to worsen their illness.

The point really is that in recent times, Pakistan’s social development has continuously suffered and we have international surveys to certify this trend. In most respects, Pakistan is at the bottom of South Asia. This ignominious debacle is a comment on how we have been governed. Is this not an indictment of a gilded elite that this poor country is obliged to afford?

In August 2016, Marc-Andre Franche, outgoing country director of UNDP, gave an interview to the Business Recorder that was published after he had left Pakistan. The heading of the interview was: “The elite needs to decide; do they want a country or not”.

Talking about the country’s socio-economic problems he had closely studied for four years, he summed up: “If there is one thing I leave with, it is a sense that the only way a critical change will happen in Pakistan is when the elite of this country, the politicians and the wealthy sections of the society, will sacrifice their short-term, individual and family interest, in the benefit of the nation”. One of the points he made was that it is harder to tackle inequality than it is to tackle poverty.

In his view, Pakistan “will not be able to survive with gated communities where you are completely isolated from the societies”.

In July last year, in the midst of the pandemic, outgoing World Bank country director for Pakistan, Illango Patchamuthu, wrote an article to express his views in a rather mild and cautious manner. Recalling his first visit in the 1990s, he said that the problems faced by Pakistan’s people are largely the same as they were 30 years ago while over the same period people of South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and China have increased their incomes seven-fold.

He wrote that he was leaving Pakistan with three thoughts for a brighter future. Briefly, the first is that Pakistan must put its women first. Second, fiscal space is required to ensure that Pakistan is able to spend on its people. And the third is the issue of inertia in decision making.

Actually, there is no dearth of judicious advice on what Pakistan must do to make progress. One would like to believe that our rulers are also aware of this advice. But they seem to have been blinded by their own vested interests. At the cost of Pakistan's future.

The writer is a seniorjournalist.

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