Po­lar­i­sa­tion blow­back

The Pak Banker - - Front Page -

TWO in­ter­linked is­sues have dogged and be­dev­illed Pak­istan’s growth. These are: The im­per­a­tives of a se­cu­rity state which has re­sulted in the po­lit­i­cal dom­i­na­tion of the mil­i­tary and the di­ver­sion of a large share of re­sources away from crit­i­cal ex­pen­di­tures on so­cial ser­vices; de­fence ex­pen­di­ture is in ex­cess of $35 per capita as against $24 per capita on ed­u­ca­tion and health com­bined, re­sult­ing in al­most five sol­diers for ev­ery doc­tor and three teach­ers for two sol­diers.

Al­most half the pop­u­la­tion has been de­nied ac­cess to de­cent ed­u­ca­tion, health and skill-en­hance­ment ser­vices and the good gov­er­nance that gives the less priv­i­leged classes a stake in the ben­e­fits of eco­nomic growth as op­posed to that founded on pa­tron­age and the fam­ily into which they were born.

b) The self-serv­ing po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic, mil­i­tary and civil bu­reau­cratic elite have re­sisted giv­ing up the slight­est of priv­i­leges to main­tain their hold over the key so­cial and eco­nomic in­stru­ments of power, re­sult­ing in the cre­ation of a highly un­just so­cial or­der. It has been re­luc­tant to cre­ate a more equitable so­ci­ety in which the less for­tu­nate seg­ments of so­ci­ety have equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity for so­cial mo­bil­ity. This has cre­ated a cri­sis of le­git­i­macy of the state and its in­sti­tu­tions. It has been un­will­ing, even in its own en­light­ened self-in­ter­est, to con­trib­ute on the ba­sis of ca­pac­ity to bear the as­so­ci­ated burden the re­sources re­quired for a fairer so­ci­ety, am­ply re­flected in a tax-to-GDP ra­tio of less than 10 per cent.

There has been a steady de­cline in the qual­ity and ef­fi­ciency of gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions and the cov­er­age and qual­ity of pub­lic ser­vices avail­able to the cit­i­zenry. As a re­sult, ‘poverty’, mea­sured in terms of ac­cess to, and qual­ity of, ba­sic so­cial and eco­nomic ser­vices that would en­able so­cial mo­bil­ity, has be­come more se­vere than the poverty in­di­ca­tors es­ti­mated on the ba­sis of nu­tri­tional in­take.

In the rev­o­lu­tion un­fold­ing in the shape of the knowl­edge-based road to growth we are hor­ri­bly di­vided over how so­ci­ety should be moulded. The type of ed­u­ca­tion avail­able to dif­fer­ent seg­ments of so­ci­ety has fa­cil­i­tated this division of mind­sets.

In­stead of ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems be­ing a uni­fy­ing fac­tor by pro­vid­ing equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for so­cial mo­bil­ity (as is the case in most so­ci­eties) there are the elite schools, pri­vate schools for the lower- and mid­dlein­come groups and poorly en­dowed and man­aged gov­ern­ment schools for the poor­est.

The prod­ucts of these in­sti­tu­tions are sep­a­rated by con­crete walls and not equipped to par­tic­i­pate on largely equal terms in eco­nomic growth. More wor­ry­ingly the abil­ity of the econ­omy to ab­sorb this youth with lim­ited skills has wors­ened over the last five to six years be­cause of a growth rate — av­er­ag­ing be­low three per cent — fail­ing to ac­com­mo­date even half of the an­nual ad­di­tion to the labour force.

The un­skilled, un­em­ployed young men or those with­out steady jobs and with lit­tle pro­tec­tion from the ex­cesses of the law-en­force­ment agen­cies and their sur­ro­gates do not have enough stakes in this en­trenched sys­tem. They have been left to fend for them­selves by the rich whose ac­cel­er­ated progress has sharp­ened the dis­par­i­ties in in­comes and wealth at a time when the econ­omy is stag­nat­ing.

The share of house­hold in­come of the poor­est in­come group has shrunk from 8.4 per cent in 1970-71 to un­der six per cent and that of the rich­est in­creased from 41.5 per cent to in ex­cess of 50 per cent, re­flect­ing the de­gree of per­ma­nence in po­lar­i­sa­tion for struc­tural rea­sons.

Con­se­quently, the coun­try stands dread­fully po­larised be­tween the haves and the have-nots and be­tween mod­ernists and tra­di­tion­al­ists with their rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent world­views fuelling re­sent­ment and ha­tred against the pil­lars of the state and the in­iq­ui­tous sys­tems and struc­tures. That a young man opts to be­come a sui­cide bomber to de­stroy all sym­bols of af­flu­ence and state power can par­tially be ex­plained by his lack of a stake in such a sys­tem.

Wors­en­ing the im­pact of these ad­verse developments is the con­tin­ued in­ad­e­quate at­ten­tion to the re­al­i­ties on the ground, which is be­ing lost rapidly by the lib­eral and sec­u­lar schools of thought to Is­lamic re­vival­ists in the coun­try. The lib­er­als are fast be­com­ing a mi­nor­ity in the coun­try as the bat­tle for minds, ideas and hearts is be­ing lost.

I do not agree with those who ar­gue that the as­cen­dancy of reli­gious ex­trem­ism fos­tered by two decades of ac­tive pro­mo­tion and sup­port of such forces by un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive state agen­cies can be checked sim­ply by with­draw­ing state pa­tron­age and un­fet­tered democ­racy.

The growth of madres­sahs and the gains in strength of the Is­lamists can largely be ex­plained by these out­comes. Not only are those en­rolled in these madres­sahs en­dowed with some read­ing and writ­ing skills (that the pub­lic school­ing sys­tem has failed to de­liver), they also pro­vide food, cloth­ing and shel­ter and cater to their spir­i­tual needs.

The ar­gu­ment that since there are less than five per cent of chil­dren en­rolled in these madres­sahs we should not ex­ag­ger­ate their power fails to cap­ture the dan­ger that un­der­lies this de­vel­op­ment. There are now close to 2.5 mil­lion ‘students’ in madres­sahs be­ing brain­washed by il­lit­er­ate ped­dlers of odi­ous dog­mas, many of whom will soon be wield­ing guns and sup­port­ing these ide­o­logues.

The moth-eaten, frag­ile and crum­bling Pak­istani state will be sim­ply in­ca­pable of tam­ing these mil­lions of armed re­cruits of hate and dark­ness, es­pe­cially with their ideas pen­e­trat­ing and find­ing res­o­nance within key in­sti­tu­tions of the state. The fear of their abil­ity to si­lence crit­ics is ev­i­dent from the pub­lic re­ac­tions of most of the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship fol­low­ing the at­tempted murder of brave Malala.

Fur­ther­more, po­lit­i­cally am­bi­tious grad­u­ates from hum­bler so­cial classes would be wel­comed by the re­li­giously in­clined po­lit­i­cal par­ties whose mem­bers and lead­er­ship comes from sim­i­lar so­cioe­co­nomic backgrounds. They pro­vide these young as­pi­rants op­por­tu­ni­ties to as­pire for lead­er­ship roles that would not be open to them in the main­stream po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

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