Elite Capture

The elite class represents a privileged segment of society that tries to impose its will and believes in serving its vested interests at the cost of the majority.

By Dr. Moonis Ahmar | November 2023

Since the creation of Pakistan, the country has been under the influence of the elite. From the word go, Pakistan has been unable to eradicate feudal and tribal culture. It has miserably failed to strengthen democratic institutions, allowing a wriggle room for the elite class to make the most of social injustice lurking in the guise of equality. The elite belongs to the chosen few, whether in bureaucracy, military, clergy, or business. Consequently, the power structure of Pakistan came under the influence of the elite class, which only cared for its gains and privileges and seldom tried to mitigate the widespread poverty, under-development, social backwardness, and the rest of the ill that characterized Pakistan.

What does the elite refer to, and how an elite culture is established? Why was Pakistan unable to replace the elite culture with a way of life adopted by most people? Why are the people of the privileged class oblivious to pressing issues facing the country, and how could their influence be mitigated? These are the questions raised by those who are highly concerned about the underperforming economic and ongoing political crisis in Pakistan, threatening the country’s very foundation.

The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations defines the elite as a “broad-based term used to identify a minority out of a total population. In ordinary usage, the term often connotes superiority. Elite is simply a descriptive term for individuals and groups found at the top of a particular hierarchy.”

Composed of influential people with financial and political resourcefulness, the elite class represents a privileged segment of society that tries to impose its will to serve its vested interests at the cost of the majority of the population.

The Oxford Dictionary defines the elite as “a select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society.” As the Encyclopaedia of Britannica describes, the elite tends to be “small groups of persons who exercise disproportionate power and influence. It is customary to distinguish between political elites, whose locations in powerful institutions, organizations, and movements enable them to shape or influence political outcomes, often decisively, and cultural elites, who enjoy a high status and influence in non-political spheres.”

Coming back to Pakistan, the concept of elite capture became popular during the regime of President Ayub Khan when a total of 22 families, which possessed enormous wealth and had a considerable influence, dominated the country’s power structure, especially post-1971. The mushroom growth of the elite soon turned into a well-organized mafia with a subtle division based on ethnic lines.

In the formative phase of Pakistan, to ensure their tutelage over the power structure, the nexus between Mohajir (Urdu-speaking people) and the Punjabi elite denied the role to the Bengali population of the then East Pakistan. The Mohajir elite’s systematic marginalization occurred during Ayub Khan’s regime, notably when the federal capital was shifted from Karachi to Rawalpindi and then to Islamabad. After the break-up of Pakistan, during the regime of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Sindhi elite gained prominence but got marginalized after the Zia’s martial law imposition in 1977. During Zia’s 11-year period, the Pashtun elite worked together with Punjabis as its junior partner to rule over the country’s power structure. Clergy also got a boost during the regime of General Zia-ul-Haq, as he patronized religious parties and groups to help them enter the country’s power structure.

Read More

One thought on “Elite Capture

  • November 16, 2023 at 12:57 pm

    Well written