The dominant features of Pakistan’s ruling elite are their
arrogance, excessive pride, an autocratic mindset, a tendency to flaunt their
wealth and a deliberate indifference, if not disdain, towards the common man.
The elite comprise: (1) higher echelons of the military and civil
bureaucracies, in that order, (2) feudal lords and tribal chiefs, and (3)
wealthy industrialists, business magnates, drug barons and smugglers.
This triumvirate has been for decades playing the game of musical
chairs for power and pelf, but ensuring at the same time that no outsider ever
gets anywhere near their domain. They have networked into a self-serving,
Z.A. Bhutto, the feudal lord from Larkana, in his lust for power
stirred up the emotions of the public by calling them “the fountainhead of all
power”. The extensive public response to his call astounded even himself; it
reflected the outburst of the pent up emotions of the public. Riding on the
crest of the massive agitation, he climbed into the seat of power by deposing
two military dictators, one after the other. His oft-repeated empathy for the
downtrodden, despite its sincerity being clearly open to question, did give the
poor a sense of self-esteem but an unforgivable offense to the elite. He was
sent to the gallows in a debatable murder case. The common man could merely
squirm, on his hanging, under the jackboot. Yet, years later, when he got the
opportunity to vote, the same devalued common man elected his deserving or
undeserving daughter to power not once but twice.
Benazir realized soon after assuming power that she could not
survive politically by rubbing on the wrong side any sector of the
well-entrenched elite, the brass in particular. While the problem-ridden common
man, the voter, looked up to her for the mitigation of his plight, she
concentrated on what her husband called ‘the pleasant pastime of making money’.
On occasions, her arrogance surpassed that of her father.
The Sharifs, who succeeded her by paving the way to power with
grease money, exceeded her in denuding the public exchequer and taking the
country to the brink of bankruptcy. One of them betrayed his conceit by blurting
out that he felt like a Mughal prince or ‘subedar’.
In the US and Europe, there is no elite, no VIP in the Pakistani
sense of the terms. The rule of law applies equally to all and sundry. Not long
ago, the German Foreign Minister was cited for parking his car at the wrong
place; he paid the fine. The Swedish premier routinely drove to embassy
receptions in his own car. Our VIPs –not to speak of the VVIPs- can park their
cars in the middle of any road, pay no bill or tax, take bank loans without
surety, never be punctual at any public function, call back PIA flight after
take off, ride in half a dozen official cars at one time, get even a second wife
without the legal permission of the first. If a pedestrian is run down by their
car, the police report may cite the dead man for jay walking.
Law making in the country is done often through ordinances; for,
privilege motions take bulk of the time of the Assemblies. The sense of
self-importance of the members, mainly feudal lords, is so acute that it gets
offended quite easily inviting a privilege motion. The only time they really
work hard is when they are fighting for more perks and privileges.
Not unoften, the parliament gives the impression of being a zoo of
monkeys run by the inmates.
They are clear-headed - ‘clear’ standing for ‘clean’. That
explains why they approach every issue with an open mouth. They have either no
conscience or refuse to listen to it; they cannot take advice from a total
The feudal spirit that permeates the society now has spawned the
dynasty system in the political parties too. The Muslim League, the PPP, the
ANP, BNP, PKMAP, and JUI are all controlled by dynasties! Benazir went to the
extent of getting herself declared as the ‘Chairperson for Life’ of the PPP so
that she could hang on to the leadership till her son Bilawal comes of age. That
is feudalism at its worst! If Murtaza Bhutto had no pretension to being the
legitimate heir to his father’s political mantle, he might still be alive today.
Let us now have a quick look at the history of elitism in the
Weak political leadership, after the founding fathers, Jinnah and
Liaquat, allowed the Civil Service to emerge as the dominant class. For over two
decades, governance of the state remained largely with them, even during the
Ayub era. They did indeed a commendable job following the service ethics of
pre-partition days. Pakistan became an epitome of socio-economic progress.
Bhutto deprived them of their independence and constitutional
rights by knocking off in his 1973 constitution the guarantees given to them in
all earlier constitutions. The civil servants, thus placed at the pleasure of
the Prime Minister, turned into sycophants and sought security in pelf, which
they could get through the abuse of their powers. They joined the corrupt
elements in the army and the landed gentry that had started wielding political
Pakistan inherited a land tenure system dominated by Zamindars and
Jagirdars. Successive governments failed to carry out meaningful land reforms.
The ones announced with much fanfare by Ayub and Bhutto were long on rhetoric
but short on results. Not only that, the landlords, who had come to dominate the
political field, secured exemptions from income tax, guarantees of lucrative
prices for their produce and substantial subsidies on agricultural inputs.
The Ayub era gave rise to the military elite class through grants
of agricultural lands in newly developed Guddu and Kotri barrages in Sindh,
allocation of urban plots in various Defense societies, and executive jobs in
A new category joined the group during the Afghan war. That is of
the smugglers of weapons, and the drug barons. They may not be in the
parliament, but have a good number of surrogates there.
This is briefly how the rapacious elite came into existence. The
crisis has already reached a stage where the leaders constitute the major part
of the nation’s problems. Highest number of those elected regularly to the
national and provincial assemblies belong to the upper feudal class. Their
continuous appearance on the political scene is due to the well-entrenched
tribal and feudal setups where chances of broader participation by even
mainstream political parties are remote until these feudal lords assure them of
The non-party elections of Gen. Zia enervated further the main
stream parties while strengthening the hold of these tribal and feudal elements.
His protégé, Nawaz Sharif, pandered to this class, subjugated the civil
bureaucracy, terrorized the judiciary and showed a community of interest with
the rich, but miscalculated or mishandled the most important component of the
ruling elite –the army. He could not domesticate it.
The decade of Gen. Musharraf’s military rule and the PPP/Zardari
rule since then have strengthened further the hold of the ruling elite over
almost all levers of power in the country. Higher echelons of the judiciary and
the electronic media have been playing the role of the opposition in the
parliament. The meek, self-serving “friendly opposition” has abdicated its role
as an adversary in the parliament, and have instead embraced avidly the offices
given to them in the central and provincial seats of power.
The feudal spirit continues to permeate the society. No wonder,
the urban luminaries emulate the rural aristocrats by donning highly starched
white Shalwar Khamiz, sporting flashy wrist watches, walking with a swagger with
a team of body guards in train, and being driven on the paved and carpeted city
roads in a 4-wheel Pajero jeep!
Can the society, the people at large, continue tolerating
indefinitely such false and pretentious values and suffer for long such an
antiquated elitist system? Nature is said to abhor the status quo as much as
illogicality. One sincerely hopes that the forthcoming elections will set right
such distortions to some extent at least. Let there be some light in the life of
the common man!