One Country—Two Pakistans—Poses An Existential Threat To Its Integrity – OpEd


Economic and security challenges, followed by abject poverty and rampant illiteracy, are Pakistan’s Most Dangerous threats to its integrity and independence, but the ruling elite class has, so far, hardly sensed such an existential threat, which is pushing the country gradually into a black hole. 

In fact, over the last 75 years, we have divided the country politically, economically, and socially into two parts and created two Pakistans. One is the “minority elite’s Pakistan”, whose geography is mostly confined to well guarded, Posh gated areas of the big cities like DHAs, Behria towns, cantonments, lofty towers and smart housing societies. They have their own highly modern and equipped education, health, sanitation, and social systems. They enjoy all amenities necessary for a peaceful, luxurious, happy and prosperous life.

The ruling class, both military and civilian, bureaucrats, political and judicial wizards, and business tycoons come from those areas. They have developed their own culture and ways of luxurious life style. All legislative, executive, and judicial powers are in their hands. They dominate parliament and all four provincial assemblies. They head all institutions of government and, in fact, run the country. All state institutions, including the constitution and parliament, are in their service. They enjoy all perks and privileges, including security of their lives and properties and exemption from tax on the cost of taxpayers. They are the owners of the national exchequer and formulate financial policies to serve their interests. They have invested abroad and enjoy dual nationalities. 

On the other hand, we have “majority Pakistan”, whose population is poor and illiterate. They live almost exclusively in slum areas of the big metropolitans and rural areas of the country without proper education, health, sanitation, drinking water, gas, electricity, roads, or means of livelihood. The majority of them live in abject poverty, insecurity, and illiteracy. Aristotle has rightly said that “poverty is the parent of revolution and crime,” a durable truth that applies to the “majority Pakistan”. Bad governance, the absence of the rule of law, and the misguided priorities of the elite ruling class are hurting those poorest in that part of the country. The population living there is suffering from Frustration, alienation, and desperation, which are causing social unrest, rising terrorism, and forced emigration. They live under the discriminative economic and social laws. They are rudely ignored and exploited by the government functionaries.

An elite-dominated and class-ridden and accountably free system and a lack of political representation of the impoverished, as well as social and economic exclusion, are mostly the reasons behind the bed governance, extreme poverty and illiteracy in this part of the country. The chronically deprived majority is usually invisible in public and political discourse, and they have no say in the whole governance system except during election season. Significantly, the state has utterly failed to impose a good governance system, including a fair taxation system, in “majority Pakistan”—many influential taxpayers with access to the power structure avoid paying taxes that could pay for investments in justice, infrastructure, and education. 

According to UNDP, poverty and deprivation in that part of Pakistan remain significantly high—around 38% of the population, or about 88 million people, live in multidimensional poverty. Multidimensional poverty encompasses not only monetary deprivation but also the inaccessibility of healthcare, education, and other amenities, such as clean drinking water, for vulnerable communities across Pakistan. 

This part of Pakistan has been slowed down in enhancing human capital development through improved access to healthcare, modern education, and nutrition (especially for children); developing infrastructure; and advancing the financial sector, all key drivers for poverty reduction, enhancing the literacy rate, bringing more than 80 million out-of-school children into the education system, and inclusive growth. It is not a surprise that the Global Development Index consistently ranks Pakistan in the bottom quartile. 

The recent economic meltdown has badly affected “majority Pakistan” whereas “minority Pakistan” has benefited from the current economic crisis. Inflation has soared; jobs are scarce, and increases in food and fuel prices due to unanticipated factors like the devastating floods, the war in Ukraine, and stringent IMF loan conditions, as well as an alarming surge in terrorist activities in Baluchistan and Kyber Pashtunkhawa, are causing real pain to the poorest only in this part of the country. These dreadful conditions coupled with an army of unemployed and unskilled youths, an exploding population, pose an existential threat to National integrity and sovereignty unless there is an urgent shift in national priorities from security to welfare by powerful circles in policy making bodies with out further loss of time.

Pakistan has had little success in anti-poverty and anti-illiteracy efforts because of the monopoly of power enjoyed by the civil-military and landed elites. It controls the country’s resources and is not interested in massive structural reforms in the whole governance system. Of course, there is no magic wand for ending poverty and illiteracy, but countries like China, India, and even Bangladesh have successfully reduced imbalance in their countries, reduced poverty, and improved literacy by creating inclusive, broad-based, across-the-board prosperity for their citizens. These countries have progressively increased the economic and social well-being of their citizens by providing equal representation and opportunities to all segments of society, narrowing gaps between the haves and have-nots, and implementing structural reforms in their political, economic, and social systems aimed at improving the quality of governance and regulation, controlling corruption, improving financial and institutional management, promoting inclusive growth, and reducing inequalities. 

Pakistan is mainly an agricultural country; agriculture constitutes 20% of the GDP, employs about 42% of the workforce, and feeds over 60% of the rural population. Yet, agriculture has not provided food security or reduced rural poverty because of unequal land distribution and access to water. In this regard, the current civil-military leadership has taken some steps to mobilise available resources and potential for boosting the agriculture economy and other allied areas. This is an attempt in the right direction, provided the programme is long-term and implemented in the interests of the public rather than the elite class. Further Military involvement in economic activities may temporarily mitigate our economic emergency by a few months or years because, in the past, the military has managed to suppress the symptoms of the economic emergency, but the real disease remains untreated. Therefore, long-term economic structural reforms are required for a reduction in poverty and the elimination of illiteracy in “majority Pakistan”. 

In addition, Pakistan has been slow in enhancing human capital development through improved access to healthcare, modern education, and nutrition (especially for children); developing infrastructure; and advancing the financial sector. All these key drivers are prerequisites for poverty reduction and inclusive education. 

Pakistan appears to be fast sliding into the category of a failing state, with no serious attempt being made to arrest the drift and revive the country on the pathway to a modern democratic, educated, and economically developed state. Mostly because state power continues to be dominated by the security establishment and a small power elite, there is little hope of the country achieving political and economic structural reforms and stability. The danger is that Pakistan may plunge deeper into instability after the scheduled elections in the current year due to the reckless power game without respect for constitutional and democratic norms that is going on between the establishment and political elites of the country. 

Pakistan’s problems are political in nature, not technical. The concentration of power within a small elite—particularly in certain key domains such as land relations, state bureaucracies, corporate strongholds, and the security apparatus—is the primary reason for unprecedented economic and security crises and continued bad governance; therefore, in the wake of the worst kind of economic and security challenges, the ruling elite’s heartless lack of concern for the impoverished is a hazardous course. Such a mindless act is a dangerous national security threat to the integrity of the country when the “majority Pakistan” consisting of the poor and marginalised, is shut out, alienated from the governance system, and replaced by “Frankenstein monsters” . This happens due to elite failure because the military, political, judicial, bureaucratic, capitalistic, religious, and media elites, a minority in this country, determine the destiny of the majority by controlling the structures of power, money, and the ideological and cultural narrative in the country. 

Furthermore, Pakistan’s judicial system is now in a state of chaos, badly polarised, and characterised by a lack of coherence, consistency, and predictability in legal decision-making. This is judicial anarchy. Judicial anarchy is dangerous because it erodes public trust in the justice system, undermines the rule of law, and leads to distrust, instability, confusion, and unpredictability in the application of the law. Judicial anarchy leads to impunity for highly corrupt and powerful individuals and groups and an increase in crimes. Judicial anarchy leads to economic instability because investors lose confidence in the country’s legal system. 

For Pakistan to effectively move forward, its ruling elites must take immediate steps to reduce the gas between the haves and have nots and confront the country’s internal hurdles, particularly political, economic, and security challenges, head-on. This requires substantial restructuring of education and social infrastructure and a commitment to the constitution, good governance, and a true democratic federal form of government free from the tyranny of majoritarianism and the exploitation of minority elites by providing equal access to education, healthcare, and equal employment opportunities to the deprived majority of Pakistan. It must be a top national priority. Otherwise, social unrest and rebellion against the state could become an insurmountable challenge in the near future. 

Last, a piece of advice for the ruling elites: no doubt, every country has an elite class that wants power to be concentrated in their hands alone, but they still don’t want to be perceived internally and globally as a humiliated elite that pushes their nations towards failure. The problem with our elite class, both civil and military, is that they display short-term tactical brilliance to look after their narrow interests and sustain their rule by hook or by crook, but so far they have not developed strategic sense or greater ambition to sustain and increase their elite power through necessary pro-public national reforms and policies that could lead them to be perceived in the country and abroad as a respectable ruling elite. 

Sher Khan Bazai

Sher Khan Bazai is a retired civil servant, and a former Secretary of Education in Balochistan, Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected].

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