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Pakistan primed for class revolution

By Salman Haqqi

February 10th 2012

A thought came to mind as I stepped out of a shoe store. I had just spent more money on a pair of shoes than a large portion of Pakistanis have to survive on for a month.

Some of these people we know well. They cook for us, they drive us around, they clean our homes and take care of our every whim. These are the very same people who suffer the most from the skyrocketing inflation and the rise in food prices, but who also see the lifestyles of the people they serve improving.

It’s a thought that’s been bugging me constantly since I returned to Pakistan. I’ve found it hard to come to terms with the extent of inflation in the country and the explosive gap between the rich and poor.

Ever since the Great Recession of 2008, income inequality has become a global issue. People around the world have started to question the inherent immorality in our financial systems where the rules have not only been skewed to benefit those with money, but have created what Jon Stewart recently called a form of “incumbency” that ensures its perpetuity.

The central thesis behind the Occupy Movement has been to act as a pushback against corporate welfare, an unfair tax code and an expression of what many participants see as a system built on a foundation of financial and social inequality – essentially the feeling that it’s a system of the rich, for the rich and by the rich.

Pakistan, like most western governments, has an economy that is also in the hands of a few who also control the policies of government. And similarly, while the government may have the veneer of democracy, its decisions are actually taken without consulting the people of Pakistan.

It’s a country that has survived at the mercy of aid and loans by other countries — mainly the US — who have naturally leveraged this debtor-creditor relationship to benefit there own interests.

While in the US the argument may be about the one per cent and the 99 per cent, in our society it’s a minuscule fraction of the population — less than the one per cent — that controls the lion’s share of the wealth.

Wealth is a main determinant of power in Pakistan, where entrenched corruption of one sort or another is a way of life and where the wealthiest either see the poverty around them as a nuisance or are simply oblivious to it.

When Salman Taseer was tragically murdered by a member of his own security detail, a certain segment of the population championed Mumtaz Qadri as a torch bearer for those protecting Islam.

But there exists an element to Taseer’s murder that few people would like to admit, but it’s nonetheless worth considering. In my experience of talking to some of these people, a good portion of them admitted, in albeit in hushed tones, that it was also the symbolism of a poor man killing a rich man that appealed to them.

I wonder if that kind of class resentment resides in a much large portion of the masses. Rather, the question is how can it not?

Living in California I found out what it’s like when your life hangs on the paycheck at the end of the month. I worked retail jobs where customers would come in and spend twice what I made in a month in a single go. I felt the envy, the fascination, but I also felt that tinge of resentment. I got a taste of the life on the flip side of advantage.

In Pakistan, people seem to be at the whim of what Warren Buffet calls the “Ovarian Lottery” — the luck of having been born to your circumstances. Sadly, most Pakistanis come out on the losing end of it and worst yet, there’s no avenue to break the shackles of circumstance.

While our leadership is constantly embroiled in political farce over abstractions such as national security and sovereignty, Pakistan’s people are being crushed by the sheer struggle to survive.

We’ve spent untold billions on a nuclear arsenal, on one of the largest armies in the world, but at an inhuman cost. What good is sovereignty when the country cannot even feed its people? What good is a national defense when the country is disintegrating from within?

People are born to an unjust system without any opportunity, and the persistent unemployment of the youth is giving rise to resentment and unending frustrations, setting the stage for a violent explosion.

At what point will we have so trampled on, exploited and neglected our own people that they will resort to a bloody uprising? Or have we been so successful in extinguishing any form of hope that they’re resigned to accept their fate?

If the Arab Spring has taught us anything, it’s that people always have a breaking point at which they say “enough is enough.”

Those who don’t pay attention to history are destined to repeat it. The irony will be that if our country allows this go on — if ‘we’ let this go on —  we’ll be culpable in our own demise, and we will have deserved it.


Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan

Originally published by Dawn

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