By Saad Hafiz:
The British historian Arnold Toynbee wrote that all societies and civilizations have a cyclical course. According to Toynbee, the mark of a decaying and disintegrating society is the transformation of its ruling elite from a creative minority to a dominant minority. Creative minorities have drive and inspiration, do not need to justify themselves and simply act and achieve for the collective whole. A dominant minority is exclusively concerned with holding onto its power, wealth, and illusion of control. There is also growing consensus among political scientists and economists that nations thrive when they develop ‘inclusive’ political and economic institutions, and they fail when those institutions become ‘extractive’ and concentrate power and opportunity in the hands of only a few.
It can be argued that Pakistan has reached the stage of combining a fundamentally extractive system, an inbred autocracy, a fatally expensive military establishment, and growing social inequality. The masses had expected a fair political and economic deal in an inclusive Muslim majority state promised to them by the Muslim League elite led by Mr. Jinnah. Subsequent developments have ensured that instead of providing political and economic progress for all, Pakistan gradually turned into a narrow oligarchic state principally benefiting its selfish, self-perpetuating and parasitic elite. The state has been making excuses as a substitute for delivering economic and social benefits to its people ever since.
The secession of East Pakistan and the perennial issues in Baluchistan can be largely attributed to political and economic disparities which have made people feel that the chance of succeeding within Pakistan was a gamble not worth taking. Ironically, expatriate Pakistanis, even those that live with official discrimination, have proved that economic success is still possible given a near level playing field of opportunity, as they are in some instances, the most affluent groups in their adopted countries.
All societies have elites. If the elites allow newcomers to bring new ideas and evolve with them, then things are good. It is when the elites try to keep everything for themselves and keep everyone else out, they ossify and things start going downhill for everyone. Elites in all countries have more in common with each other than they do with poorer people in their own countries. The elites also have more access to other elites around the world than those in the middle and bottom have to those like themselves in other countries. It takes real commitment and skill for any nation, let alone the world, to keep the money and power from ending up the hands of the few. The American economist Thomas Sowell aptly describing the societal influence of global elites said, ”The welfare state is not really about the welfare of the masses. It is about the egos of the elites.”
While the notion that Pakistan stands anywhere near a precipice of social transformation will probably be laughable to most, it still may be worth examining the possibility that the entrenched Pakistani elite who control the levers of power can be persuaded to address the prevailing political and economics disparities in the country. Whereas most elite behaviour has some form of self-interest behind it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there self-interest has to be in direct opposition to the interests of the poor and development — there can be some convergence. The question is though, how can more convergence be brought about and how can it be capitalised upon to bring about poverty reduction?
There are different things which will encourage elites to take action on poverty for instance — positive and negative drivers which will encourage elites to spread the benefits of economic growth amongst the population in a way which will reduce poverty. A real positive driver exists in the form of education, as education is something which elites profess to value and believing as an opportunity for development. The concept of development itself is something which has a high degree of consensus amongst developing country elites, as a human resource based phenomenon and a phenomenon for which education is required to give it momentum. There is an affinity between human resources conceptions of development and pro-poor policies and that education can be used as a link between the two when interested parties are trying to develop persuasive narratives. Encouraging education could assist in gradually unlocking the human potential in the lower rungs of society.
While the spectre of violent change always exists, we are hopefully coming to the point of believing that taking an approach which encourages engagement and dialogue rather than outright rejection of elite positions, is a more constructive approach. We should also accept the fact that, each nation and society has to make an ultimate choice of its future, depending on its intrinsic collective material-human-intellectual strength, whether it really wishes to move ahead, or regress towards ruination.