Recently a conference was organized at the Urban institute in Washington Dc. The topic was Pakistan’s growing middle class. In a fascinating discussion spanning 90 minutes, the panelists shared some very interesting data with the audience. By 2030, 66% of the Pakistani population will constitute the middle class.
Ten years ago, TTP came into being after formally declaring war on the state of Pakistan. Ten years on the battle against TTP is close to being won but the war against extremism rages on. The last decade saw unbelievable blood spilled both of our security personnel as well as our citizenry. There will still be more.
Ten years ago a judicial movement was launched which ended up greatly weakening the military ruler of the time eventually leading to his resignation a year later. Since that time the senior judiciary has flexed its muscles and sent home two sitting Prime Ministers.
This country’s growing urban middle class, empowered judiciary and military whose current and future leadership for the next two decades will have bled and fought in a vicious war on home soil will hold the keys to what is to unfold in the coming years.
Our growing middle class may be conservative, right of center ideologically and as a result much reviled by our mostly former communist leaning commentariat, but global history suggests that collectively this middle class will increasingly start demanding better service delivery and governance. Many in this middle class like this country’s elite will continue to wish to evade taxes, especially amongst the traders but unlike the elite with safety nests abroad, this bloc will simultaneously aspire for better schools, hospitals, public transport and air to breathe in, here at home. With an existential water crisis looming, a solution for water will be forced upon by this bloc as it’s the cities which will first start to feel the pinch. This middle class may or may not lead to a better democratic dispensation in terms of liberalism and pluralism as that will depend on the quality of the new leadership that comes forth but what it will certainly do is start to dwarf and clash with the traditional power base of our ruling dynasties. Biradri politics, ethnic politics, myopic politics of patronage will rapidly start to lose its efficacy as the sheer numbers of this new bloc starts gaining meaning. Census results will be disputed, delimitations delayed, gerrymandering intensified, politics of divisions heightened but the grip of the dynastic oligarchies will continue to lessen and lessen.
Which brings us to the second part, an empowered judiciary. This factor alone has been and will be the biggest catalyst for change. Many still see them through the prism of the outdated civ-mil paradigm. Whether it’s the Bhutto hanging or the multiple PCO’s most have been unable to move beyond a stale narrative. 2007 changed things. Questions are being asked of people in power and people in power are being held to account while in power. This is unprecedented. Are these questions being asked across the board or treatment being meted out equally to all? Not yet. But the culture of the rule of law is on the rise and very soon there will be no holy cows. Other institutions captured by the ruling elite will start asserting autonomy more and more and once that reaches critical mass the edifice of power of the current system will come crashing down.
For the sacrifices leaden armed forces, the last ten years was a rite of passage that has fundamentally changed the military. This is a battle hardened, state rebuilding military that has lost so many of its best and brightest. Today’s rank and file much like their fellow Pakistanis wants a better future. Above all they don’t want the tremendous sacrifices of their comrades and loved ones to be in vain. They will want to see a strong and prosperous nation emerging which is not weighed down by oligarchs and mafias. Seeking power will not be the goal rather good governance and thriving of the state will. Whether any military should be desiring such things will be irrelevant as the dynamic of this military having shed so much blood will drive this.
These three factors and trends suggest bad news for the current system. Politics as usual will become unsustainable. The politics of entitled dynasties and the open plunder of state resources will no longer be possible. Imran Khan’s PTI is just the first of many new political forces that will emerge. PTI may have many of the same old faces but its about the way things will have to be done rather than the face doing it. If the PPP or PMLN manage to read the tea leaves and adapt accordingly they could be leading these changes as well. Institutions will start to matter more rather than individuals and families. This transition away from the status quo way of doing things to a more accountable and institutionalized governing structure will be messy, chaotic and take time. There will be hiccups and setbacks, given the power and resources amassed by the status quo in the last four decades. No messiah will emerge and fix things overnight. Nor will there be complete harmony between a non-monolithic middle class, the military and our judiciary. On the contrary there will be tremendous ongoing friction as we move towards the new equilibrium. However the dynamics of events and factors will get Pakistan there. Rule of law will gain strength, merit will gain credence, local governments will become stronger, service delivery will show marked improvement and the economy will grow robustly. It’s a matter of when not if with only black swan events potentially delaying this.
We have been through a very long dark painful night and aren’t completely out yet but things are starting to look bright. The darkest night for the status quo on the other hand is just getting started.