Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 2

The great divide Monday, January 17, 2011 Asif Ezdi The writer is a former member of the Pakistan

Foreign Service. The sharply divided public reaction to the tragic assassination of Salmaan Taseer has brought into focus the class differences that separate Pakistans small affluent minority from the impoverished masses, as well as the growing polarisation between the two. The divisions are age-old but the threat of confrontation between the classes is new. It is no wonder that the rich are scared. But it is typical of their insensitivity to the sufferings and privations of the huge disadvantaged majority in their midst that while they sense the danger, they are not prepared to contemplate even minimal corrective steps that could affect their pockets. As is evident from the governments policies, the state acts as the servant of the privileged few in protecting their interests. Only a fortnight before Taseers murder, the government abandoned plans for a reform of the general sales tax that would have brought some of the tax-evading rich in the tax net; and two days after his assassination, the contemplated increase in fuel prices was rolled back, a step which would further swell state subsidies that mainly benefit the wealthy, in effect transferring money from the hands of the poor to the pockets of the rich. Both these steps were taken ostensibly to give relief to the poorer classes. But behind-the-scenes pressure from the privileged rich seems to have been the decisive factor. The gulf between those who came out to mourn Taseers murder and those who rallied to defend, even eulogise, Mumtaz for his act could hardly be wider. On the one side, there were small groups of well-fed and well-dressed men and women from the rich and privileged upper classes, the archetypes of the enlightened moderation brigade. The placards they were carrying were mostly in English, the language that they have adopted as an instrument to perpetuate their position. In the opposite corner of the ring are the angry masses, people from the poorer sections of the society, who bear the brunt of the economic squeeze and have to struggle constantly against sliding deeper and deeper into poverty. It is these people who demonstrated in their thousands and tens of thousands in defence of the law on blasphemy and hailed Mumtaz as a hero. The two live in the same country but they could well have come from different planets. They hardly communicate with each other and that is not just because of the language gap. From the cradle to the grave, they live in two different worlds. Class differences exist in most countries of the world but in few of them do the upper classes monopolise power, wealth and privilege as completely as they do in Pakistan. Not only do they possess the vast bulk of the national wealth, they also control all institutions of state government, parliament, administration and use that control freely to protect, consolidate and perpetuate their position. They are virtually above the law. They evade taxes, steal public money and shamelessly exploit the honest, hard-working citizens of the country. They systematically deny opportunities of education to the poor that could one day enable them to break the shackles of poverty. As a result, the chasm between the rich and the poor continues to widen. It is this gulf between the classes, the climate of festering social injustice and the seemingly unshakeable hold of a corrupt and predatory ruling class on the levers of power that lies at the root of radicalisation in the country. Our liberal elite has now gone into high gear bemoaning the rise of religious extremism but instead of holding this class responsible, they have been searching for scapegoats. Many of our commentators, especially those who write in our English language newspapers, have been projecting this phenomenon as a clash between moderates and extremists, between the secular-minded and Islamic fundamentalists, between progressives and reactionaries, between enlightenment and obscurantism and between narrow-minded clerics and those who believe in respect for fundamental human rights. This theme has also been echoed in the world press. The Washington Post wrote in an editorial on January 6 that the assassination of Taseer, an outspoken defender of secular values, was a reminder that Pakistan is engaged in a fateful civil war between democratic moderates and Muslim extremists and that the current government is the most reliably liberal force. The Financial Times

commented similarly that Taseers killing reveal(s) the sharpening divide between the forces of secularism and Islamic fundamentalism which are tearing at Pakistani society. Most Pakistanis would beg to differ. In their eyes, what characterises the present government is not a liberal or democratic spirit or some other high purpose but rampant corruption, cronyism, absence of governance, policy drift and a preoccupation with its own survival. A reputation for being corrupt, far from being a disqualification, has become a necessary condition for high offices of state, whether that of president, prime minister, minister or governor and for lucrative posts in government-controlled enterprises. The description of the PPP by the New York Times as a secular-leaning party is similarly wide off the mark. The PPP is simply the largest of the countrys dynastic feudal parties that seek to perpetuate the existing iniquitous social order. The party is currently championing a secular approach because it sells well in the West, upon whose support it depends to stay in power. Most of the other political parties are also coalitions of leading feudal families, business houses and mafias set up to grab power and share in the spoils. One of the leading lights of our liberal elite has faulted the army for maintaining an ominous silence on Taseers killing. This is simply weird. We rightly expect the armed forces to stay clear of politics and refrain from poking their nose in matters that are not their business. The murder of Taseer is one such matter and it is only appropriate that the military should have adopted a reticent attitude to it. What we should be castigating instead is the tacit alliance that past military dictatorships, including those of Musharraf and Zia, maintained like much of our liberal elite with the ruling classes to give a lease of life to the unjust social order that has been the bane of Pakistan. Zia made one miscalculation however from his point of view. He did not anticipate that the jihadis he created to support the Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation (an entirely worthy cause) and to prop up his personal rule (a thoroughly reprehensible aim) would one day turn against their creators and become a danger to the inherited feudal order. Far-fetched as it is, our American allies have weighed in with their concerns about the security of Pakistans nuclear weapons, much to the delight of their Indian friends. A story in the New York Times quoted an American official as saying that Taseers murder by one of his body-guards was one more reason to give pause when thinking about what could happen if a like-minded guard or scientist were to seize some of Pakistans nuclear materials. He seems conveniently to have forgotten about the rigorous personnel reliability program Pakistan has put in place for the safety of its nuclear assets. The vetting system in the police for security guards, such as it is, is not remotely as elaborate. Pakistans biggest asset is the resilience, resourcefulness and entrepreneurial spirit of its ordinary hard-working people. All they need to come up is, firstly, an opportunity to educate themselves and acquire the skills needed for building a twenty-first century economy; and, secondly, conditions in which they are assured at least a half-way decent recompense for their enterprise and labour. These have been denied to them by a rapacious and corrupt ruling class that lives off the sweat and toil of the masses. Much of our liberal elite has been a willing or unwilling collaborator in this huge rip-off. Their guilt is only slightly less than that of the ruling class.