In my Dawn article of March 28, 2017 on our pressing problems, I had picked elite politics as our biggest or mother problem. But if there is a mother, there must be a grandmother too. So what is the mother cause of the elite politics that has plagued us since ‘47?
Social and TV talk reflects a common but wrong view that inept leaders are aliens who have captured our politics. This then produces the mirage of an easy remedy: If we eliminate the few people which have misruled Pakistan since eternity, we can free beloved Pakistan from corrupt politics. The way to do this for the gullible though educated is via ruthless trials of politicians under the army and then fair polls producing better leaders. The crude-minded (again educated folks) even advocate executing all politicians on day one sans trial. Sadly, such is the coarse, superficial view of politics among many educated folks.
But the roots of elite politics go deep into society. Even if we bar all current MPs from running and hold fair polls, similar people will still win. To give a twist to PPP’s line “how many Bhuttos will you eliminate; more Bhuttos will keep emerging”, one can aptly say “how many inept leaders will you eliminate, more will keep emerging”. Like many regional states, Pakistani society is currently designed to faithfully produce mostly inept leaders. Its corrupt politics emerges from and reflects society itself. This may shock pious, patriotic Pakistanis indoctrinated about our manifest destiny as an Islamic fort. But if we discard such rosy lenses, we can see that Pakistani society has entrenched traits which perpetuate elite politics and hence misrule.
Firstly, it is deeply fractured, horizontally along ethnic and religious lines and vertically along class and caste lines. This restricts the society-wide flow of the trust and solidarity so critical for having just rule. The fractures cause loss of energy, mistrust and friction across sub-groups. Secondly, we mainly produce low-end goods. Under capitalism, the type of goods a society produces decides its morality and politics, in line with elite needs. In high-end economies (conventionally defined), capitalist elites require stability via the rule of law and educated labor which also serves as consumers. Thus, they share a bit more with labor and impose a merit-based, low-crime logic on society in line with their material needs.
In low-end economies, economic elites require not meritorious but docile, cheap and loyal labor and suppliers to produce low-end goods. Rule of law doesn’t suit them. Thus, elites impose the logic of lawlessness and personal loyalty on society. These elites hog politics too to further their economic interests and impose the same logic there. Voters too don’t look for honest leaders but patrons who will take care of them based on social networks.
This is the structure of Pakistani society. Its economy has changed hugely from its rural roots in 70 years but the logic even in urban sectors is still the same. Most people, rural or urban, are employed in sectors run under such logic. Thus, strong currents come from the core of our economy to keep politics as it is. A small professional class operates in a merit-based enclave and craves for the same society-wide. PTI largely represents this class and its rise shows this class is now influencing politics. One sympathizes with its aims but not the proposed means and unrealistic expectations of major change quickly. Governance cannot be improved by eliminating a few hundred corrupt politicians artificially but by upgrading the economy, for they will soon be replaced by similar persons if the economy remains unchanged. Politics changes not from moral sermons but economic imperatives.
But economic progress of course is stymied by misrule. This produces a vicious circle that can only be broken if economic progress happens despite misrule. So such progress must be strong enough not only to overcome the drag of misrule on it but also to drag governance forward. This sounds impossible but is actually only difficult and hence slow. So CPEC is an opportunity created despite misrule. State ineptitude means we will not get the same benefits a better ruled state may from the $50 billion. But still some progress will occur which will improve governance a bit. But given Pakistan’s size, it will take many CPECs and decades before merit becomes its dominant economic force and produces more just rule. Merit and justice will slowly change from being optional morality to economic necessity for elites.
Things will improve a tad faster if middle-classes support social movements for just rule. But unluckily they usually view civil society as western stooges and prefer to instead align with the army for salvation. But the army is part of the problem, not solution as far as governance goes. Army rule has never given the major economic change that would improve governance but has produced huge societal conflicts which have made society even more fractured and ungovernable.
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