By Khaled Ahmed
Origin of our national mindset
The Army is composed of Punjabis up to 80 percent. Even the Navy, which should normally absorb coastal populations, is composed almost exclusively of Punjabis.
The ‘vitality’ and ‘dynamism’ of the middle class in Pakistan are channeled into ideological aspirations that negate the modern state
The economist says the middle class anywhere in the world is a factor of dynamic growth: a growing middle class means the country will post good growth rates. But for the non-economist, no two middle classes may be alike. In Pakistan, the middle class is conservative, just like India’s; but unlike India, it is ideological, anti-American and pro-Taliban.
The Indian Constitution informs the attitude of the Indian middle class, which is tolerant of secularism. In Pakistan, the Constitution inclines the middle class to desire sharia and consequently prefer the ‘harder’ sharia of al Qaeda to state ideology. It is the sentinel of the unchanging character of the medieval state presented as a utopia by state ideology.
Many factors are common between India and Pakistan. The middle class lives in the city and votes rightwing. The BJP gets its vote in the city; the Congress Party gets it from the rural areas. The PMLN gets its vote from the cities of Punjab; the PPP gets it from the rural areas of Punjab and Sindh. In Karachi, the middle class is conservative but its ‘secularism’ is strongly tinged with ethnicity, which means it is being unnaturally blocked from its internal dynamic by the leadership in exile of Altaf Hussain.
The middle class of Punjab hates the middle class of Karachi and Hyderabad. Can we call the latter an ‘unnatural’ middle class? If Altaf Hussain had not dictated its conduct, wouldn’t it have persecuted the Ahmadis and other minorities or acquiesced in their persecution just like the middle class of Punjab as influenced by Pakistan’s Constitution? Or wouldn’t its lawyers – the vanguard of the middle class in the country – have celebrated the killers prowling the land under Blasphemy Law the same way as the lawyers of Punjab?
Economist Ijaz Nabi writes: ‘Sensible economists argue that what really matters for economic and political stability is the size of a country’s middle class. Societies with a large middle class find non-violent means of resolving conflict. This hastens recovery from political and economic crises and deepens confidence. Such countries are durable destinations for investment and prosperity…Political instability threatens this system of governance and therefore is anathema to the middle class’.
Political scientists too agree. They think that the state was created out of a need for security – mainly of property rights – and law and order. But if the state inculcates concepts that militate against the nation-state itself, its middle class is bound to be moulded by it. The plaint about Pakistan is that it is a nation-state without a nation. It actually points to the ideology that advocates the concept of umma, importing the instability of other states into itself, and making it vulnerable to the idea of an imagined utopia, thus creating a middle class dissatisfied with an imperfect existential state. The result is a middle class unhappy with status quo, which is a contradiction in terms of its conservative definition.
Here comes the cruel bite of additional irony. The middle class bulge in Pakistan was created under the decade of General Musharraf, an apparently non-ideological ruler finally rejected by the Army for calling off jihad. Today he is the most hated man by the class that he created with his consumerist economics.
Economist Nadeemul Haq of the Planning Commission gives us the tiding that, in proportion to the total population, Pakistan’s middle class is twice as big as India’s. He defines the middle class thus: ‘Pakistan is now more urbanised with a larger middle class than India as percentage of the population. In 2007, Standard Chartered Bank analysts and State Bank governor Dr Ishrat Husain estimated there were 30 to 35 million Pakistanis earning an average of $10,000 a year. Of these, about 17 million are in the upper and upper middle class, according to a recent report’.
The political scientist will add that the middle class is the pillar of a state’s nationalism. State education targets it and resultant indoctrination embeds the designated enemy in the minds of the middle class population more than the other two polarised segments, the rich and the poor. The most prominent symbol of nationalism – which invariably aspires to war through the designation of an external enemy – is the Army.
Consequently, the middle classes of Pakistan and India focus on military preparedness as their favoured feature of the nation-state. In Pakistan it was the PMLN that completed the cycle in the production of the Army’s ultimate symbol – the atom bomb – while the PPP was always suspected of ‘capping’ the nuclear programme. In India, it was the BJP whose more declaratory policy on the bomb pushed the country into becoming a nuclear power.
Some people have studied the nexus between the Army and the middle class but may have neglected all the causes behind why the middle class celebrates every time there is an Army takeover following a chaotic civilian interregnum ruling on the basis of middle class values.
The explanation may lie in the composition of the officers’ corps in the Army, which is overwhelmingly middle class. First of all let’s be clear about the distribution of population in South Asia. Over 60 percent of the population here lives in the countryside unlike most Arab states where the ratio is reversed. In Pakistan, the province of Punjab contains the largest number of cities, urban centres, where the middle class lives. Since Punjab’s population is 60 percent of the country’s population, the Army is composed of Punjabis up to 80 percent. Even the Navy, which should normally absorb coastal populations, is composed almost exclusively of Punjabis.
A Punjabi middle class Army must be informed with middle class values. A website under the heading of Pakistan Defence (http://www.defence.pk/) has the following observation to make about how the Army is now informed by Punjab’s middle class values: ‘The Islamisation of the Army plays into the hands of the Taliban. Islam is meant to be the unifying force, primarily to fight the kafirs of Hindu India. The process of Islamisation was boosted by Gen Ziaul Haq when he upgraded the status of the unit mullah and required him to go into battle’.
The ‘vitality’ and ‘dynamism’ of the middle class in Pakistan are channelled into ideological aspirations that negate the modern state. Moulded by religion, the nationalism inculcated by the state is upheld in full measure only by the middle class. The middle class and the Army are mutually empowering each other. The middle class officers in the army constantly remind the Army of neglected ideology by trying to stage coups, from Zaheerul Islam Abbasi, the creator of Hizbullah, to Brigadier Ali, the agent of Hizbut Tahrir.
Today the attitude of the state of Pakistan is dictated by what the middle class thinks under democracy and dominance of the media. TV channels are all Urdu after an effort to start up English-language channels failed because the middle class rejected the values they were suspected of purveying. Urdu conveys the middle class worldview. The Urdu press carries the middle class message which simply cannot be translated onto the pages of English-language press. Urdu is the language of Pakistani nationalism, not English.
Pakistan’s army forgets strategy and thinks of honour because it is middle class in composition. It is honour which isolates, as first explained by Plato when he looked at the ‘hubris’ of the hero in Greek tragedy. Today Pakistan’s favourite foreign policy edict is honour. South Asian middle class abroad is created after financial improvement of the migrant families. The Indian expat is rightwing, religious and pro-BJP. The Pakistani expat too is conservative-religious and pro-PMLN and pro-Imran Khan. The difference is lack of assimilation in the case of the Pakistani expat.
Lack of assimilation of the expat Pakistani middle class is its preoccupation with the umma and the resultant agitation it brings from extra-nationalist causes. The other responsible factor is the inability to teach acceptance of host cultures: Muslims don’t suit themselves to circumstance; they must suit the world to the diktat of their faith, making Islam the religion of dominance.
Courtesy: The Friday Times