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Our westernised elite

By S. Akbar Zaidi | From the Newspaper

IN a rather long-winded article recently published in an Indian journal by one of Pakistan`s best-known liberal public intellectuals, the writer has analysed and detailed the divisions within Pakistan`s Army.

He differentiates between the Islamist trend in the army and in the ISI, with what one can only call the non-Islamist trend, rather than any nomenclature which could be used to define the army such as `modern`, `secular` or anything similar. His article gives details of recent events relating to the military in Pakistan — Osama bin Laden`s killing and its impact on the army, Saleem Shahzad`s murder, and so on — and at times seems critical of the military as an institution, criticising the opulence and corruption at the high command and senior-officer level. At times, one is not sure what exactly his politics is, and whether he is against the army`s role in politics in Pakistan, or whether he is soft-peddling the non-Islamist part of Pakistan`s military establishment.

This sense of confusion is highlighted by the fact that he states “it is difficult to be joyful at the prospect of the army`s division, disintegration and downfall. Should this happen, Pakistan and its people will have to deal with the much deadlier forces. The unfathomable hell of Talibanisation lies beneath”. He continues later, “democracy alone is not the solution to a country`s problems”. In important ways, this liberal public intellectual epitomises the soft corner that Pakistan`s liberal English-speaking elite has towards a modern and non-Islamist military, as well as this elite`s fears, disappointment and impatience with Pakistani-style democracy.

Although the composition of Pakistan`s military has changed completely from previous decades, with greater representation from the lower middle classes and the urban areas, Pakistan`s English-speaking elite still pin their hopes on the military. Not having read much history, for much of this elite, the Atatürk solution or the Turkish model of forced secularisation and modernisation of society, but particularly of the military, seems to be their key political and ideological position. Although most of the Pakistani English-speaking liberal elite would abhor the idea of joining the armed forces, they do feel that a modern military is their best defence against a rising wave of Talibanisation and of religious conservatism.

The support for Gen Musharraf, particularly in his earlier years, when he was CEO of Pakistan, best exemplifies that support for the military. It is important to state that it is not the military tout court which the English-speaking elite supports, but the non-Islamist elements in it.

Had Musharraf represented the Islamist bent in Pakistani society and in the military, he would not have been supported by this small, though influential, section of Pakistani society. Hence, the support for Musharraf and the opposition to Zia. This support for the military by this elite, goes beyond the simplistic notion that the military provides `stability` and thus allows business and accumulation as usual, providing an economic environment where the elite can carry out its activities easily. What is required by this elite is a force which stands up to social trends in society, and which it cannot tolerate, such as social conservatism and Islamism.

Because the military — and often the US — provide them with their main political allies, the messy game of democracy is not seen as the `solution to the country`s problems` by Pakistan`s English-speaking elite. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, democracy implies the right of equality, at least at the moment when the subaltern and the elite vote for their representatives. It is a great equaliser, theoretically at least, bringing lord and serf to the same level. And if democracy works well, over a period of a few decades, there is a greater shift in representation and in power to the middle and lower middle classes.

While the there have been notable cases of the English-speaking, westernised, elite bringing about democracy in their countries, this has been the exception rather than the norm. Power is seldom given up voluntarily, and Pakistan`s English-speaking western elite, barring a few individual exceptions, are made uncomfortable having to mix with representatives of the vernacular elite or the middle classes. Class ideology and all that it represents, is still fundamental to a sense of identity.

Having to deal and mix with the lower social classes, i.e. participation and a sense of equality, is one issue which affects this section of Pakistan`s elite, the other is the ideology of these largely religious socially conservative classes. For Pakistan`s western elite, certain lifestyle values and choices are sacrosanct and non-negotiable. This elite, living in their little oasis, ostrich-like, lament the fact that their lifestyle liberalism is threatened by `what is going on`, with numerous uncorroborated anecdotes being exchanged in their drawing rooms.

For the most part, Pakistan`s vernacular elite or its middle classes have a very different sensibility about permissible social values. This is not to deny the fact that many who belong to Pakistan`s middle class and to the lower middle class also aspire to the lifestyle liberalism of our westernised elite, but one would argue that they are far fewer in number and in force than those who prefer more so-called indigenous or culturally imbedded religious values. And while all may not be social conservatives, they are at a considerable social and cultural distance from the values of the westernised English-speaking liberal elite.

For Pakistan`s English-speaking westernised elite, liberalism is a lifestyle choice, not a political philosophy. They simply require certain so-called `freedoms` to be able to live their lives in a stupor. Politics, and especially democratic politics, in which they will always be outnumbered, be damned. For this elite, there is the army and there is the Taliban. The messy democratic politics of the majority non-elite is never an option.

The writer is a political economist.

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Vision 21 is Pakistan based non-profit, non- party Socio-Political organisation. We work through research and advocacy for developing and improving Human Capital, by focusing on Poverty and Misery Alleviation, Rights Awareness, Human Dignity, Women empowerment and Justice as a right and obligation. We act to promote and actively seek Human well-being and happiness by working side by side with the deprived and have-nots.

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