Cover Story

Cracking the Elite Club

How can a country like Pakistan with such immense natural resources end up being a one-percent republic?

By Saad Amanullah Khan | January 2023

God has blessed Pakistan with a treasure trove of resources that can be the foundation for sustainable economic development. For instance, a large population size, huge reservoir of natural gas and minerals and a large agricultural land crisscrossed with rivers and canals, coupled with a youth bulge are such salient attributes which may have a significant influence on the economic development and financial growth of any country. However, the reasons why these key factors have not been adequate to make Pakistan an economic powerhouse point to something else.

It is unfortunate that even after 75 years of the country’s independence our rulers have barely addressed the key grassroots issues and failed to catch up with demographic concerns. As for example, Pakistan has one of the world’s highest out-of-school children populations and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimates this number to be over 22.8 million, which is equal to the entire population of Sri Lanka. One out of four citizens in Pakistan live below the poverty line ($1.9/day), tax to GDP ratio in the country is the lowest in the world and justice and quality healthcare is available to only a few people. To make things worse, the cost of doing business in Pakistan has skyrocketed, corruption in state institutions is rampant, sewage and industrial effluent are discharged and dumped untreated into rivers and seas, while our cities are amongst the most polluted in the world, and one can go on and on about the pressing concerns that fail the country every day.

Why would any sane government allow this to happen?
This only happens when the ruler’s vision has no link with that of the country’s fundamental principle and of its short and long-term development or collective well-being. It happens where the vision of the ruling parties is primarily focused on enhancing their own wealth and on creating and keeping up with a tainted system to keep them and their future generations in power. A vibrant, educated and developed country, on the other hand, does not suit their self-centred vision. Such leaders do not need an educated and enlightened nation which can understand and analyse and is able to enjoy freedom of choice by making independent and rational decisions.

Since the rulers are single-mindedly focused on making money by fair means or foul, therefore, the economic development of the country is compromised by devising short-term economic policies, and by leveraging nepotism in key appointments. No attention is paid to promote exports, enhance productivity, boost agricultural yield, or to scale up value addition in manufacturing. In a similar vein, no effective measures are employed to create an independent judiciary, sponsor skill development, provide quality healthcare, and to establish and promote a quality public education system.

The Midas touch: Interestingly, not everyone is suffering in Pakistan as a small group of individuals and their families with the Midas touch are able to turn everything they touch into gold. These are the select bureaucrats and politicians together with some military officials, who have been making the most of a time-tested formula to make heaps of money and thus have a life full of luxury and extravagance.

The formula was discovered and tested by the Greeks some 2,400 years ago. In fact, Socrates criticised it for a bevy of selfish individuals who gained power and wealth and won public support by using the power of rhetoric and then manipulated the laws, policies as well as the systems in place to benefit themselves. To remain in power, they destroy the link between accountability and delivery of their promises to the public through a well-conceived strategy of keeping the population illiterate, uninformed and below the poverty line. Yes by this analogy I am referring to the much-coveted democracy.

Majyd Aziz

Majyd Aziz
President UN Global Compact Network Pakistan

The influence, power, and privileges of the elite did not evolve in the last few years. The seeds took root some years after Independence. The landed gentry realized that their hold over lands and workers would only be possible if it ensures a united approach. This resulted in creating a close-knit nexus with the pillars of government as well as indulging in politics. There was also an imperative need to rope in the corporate barons and the media bosses. Over the following decades, this alliance has become an overpowering force and hence policies, decisions, and allocations are tilted in favor, and for the benefit of this special group.

Today, Pakistan is under their formidable grip. The citizens are in shackles and would continue to be under pressure. They do not have the critical mass to rebel nor do they want it. That is why the so-called “One-Percent” group has become a juggernaut, immune from all hassles and difficulties. The economic crisis, largely due to these Little Caesars, has negatively impacted the populace, while those who have their foot inside the corridors of power are tightening their clutches on the country. The “One-Percent Republic” is here to stay. Republic? Huh!

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