Enticing the people-By Ayesha Siddiqa

PERVEZ Musharraf is now gone and many believe he is history. Perhaps the former military dictator thinks otherwise. Some people argue that the reason he is not leaving the country is because he intends to wait a few months when people begin to miss him and want him back.

He is probably calculating that people will soon get frustrated by the indecision of the civilian regime and remember the list of deeds he mentioned in his last speech.

Clearly, the former general made an effort to draw a wedge between the newly elected rulers and the people by projecting himself as part of the middle class. In doing so he deliberately juxtaposed himself with the political class that has traditionally been depicted as consisting of feudal landowners and big business.

The former president foresees a time in the near future when people might get frustrated on several counts such as the fate of the judiciary, selection of the new president and the fate of the coalition. The political parties will possibly have to blame themselves for some of the frustration. The coalition wasted a lot of time getting rid of the general, and that worked to his advantage rather than to theirs.

It is true that the regime is being noble in not trying him but asking questions is another issue altogether. It would be only fair to out-manoeuvre him by at least talking about issues that are critical to Pakistan.

For example, what happened to the US aid the contract for which was signed in 2003 and according to which Pakistan was to get $600m? The American government and think tanks claim that the US has given Pakistan $1.7bn annually. According to the information provided to parliament, US largesse comprises $300m in economic aid and $300m for the military.

Subsequently, after the earthquake an additional $50m was given but it still does not amount to over a billion dollars. The Pakistani government has never denied it and it would be interesting if the former president is questioned about the money in greater detail.

Asking such questions is important before the former president tries to assert himself. His speech indicated that he has already tried to connect himself with the people. Incidentally, many people subscribed to the theory of Musharraf representing the middle class while he ruled the country. I remember a discussion with the famous Pakistani poetess Fahmida Riaz a couple of years ago in which she explained her reasons for supporting the military dictator. Her point of view was that he was not part of the feudal class but came from an educated, working middle-class family.

Ms Riaz had even forgotten about her own experience under a previous military dictator. For her Zia was bad because he had brought the mullahs on board, a trend which was reversed by Musharraf. Incidentally, even the bulk of the Indian population sympathises with Musharraf on the basis of his middle-class legacy.

The underlying assumption is that educated and liberal middle-class families can bring progress to the country which other groups cannot. But is that really the case? And did Musharraf represent the middle class?

It is a fallacy to treat the former general as part of the middle class, just as it is to classify the military elite as part of the middle class. The aforementioned assumption is based on the lower middle-class and middle-class linkages of the bulk of the military personnel. A result of the indigenisation of the officer cadre during the mid-1950s was the increased induction of men from the lower middle and middle classes.

The point to remember, however, is that class orientation changes after officers become part of the organisational elite. A similar thing happens in the civil bureaucracy. It is not hard to come across civil and military bureaucratic households where officers, their wives and children are either embarrassed of grandparents who appear less sophisticated or consciously pretend to have no link to their origins.

Such behaviour is part of an effort at upward social mobility. The military generals and senior bureaucrats are no different from the rest of the ruling classes who keep a careful distance from those below them. The organisational machinery is used in different ways to especially enrich those at the top.

Gen Musharraf with his declared assets worth approximately Rs500m emerges as more than a member of the middle class. His 50 acres of land in Bahawalpur have the facility of a farm-to-market road; a good supply of water and about a dozen paramilitary personnel to guard the land round the clock. These men were supposed to guard the land and look after the date palms planted on the farmland. However, the family responsible for tilling his land did not even get access to medical facilities.

Other senior officers enjoy similar comforts that are not available to ordinary soldiers who are granted land in areas they do not belong to. Such facilities are not provided to landless peasants who are often given land by different governments as part of political patronage.

The ruling elite may develop differences over the distribution of resources or the question of who will have greater power. But the fact of the matter is that they have common interests. The state bureaucracies are organisations where entry is not denied on the basis of one’s class. But the organisational promotion system is then used for social climbing for the comparatively more capable. Once the officers reach the top they integrate with the rest of the ruling elite. There is then no difference between the feudal landowner, a general, a federal secretary, a big industrialist and a big businessman.

The liberal values that Musharraf and his supporters boast about are part of the tradition of the ruling elite or the post-colonial administrative and military structures. General Ziaul Haq was an anomaly that happened to Pakistan also because Islamabad’s external partners during the 1980s such as the US allowed him to breed greater ideological conservatism that could help fight the war in Afghanistan.

Once the need was over, the Pakistani state and its military machine were encouraged to revert to older traditions, and the gap created in the period when Ziaul Haq was at the helm was bridged. So, socially, Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Pervez Musharraf represent the same tradition that many refer to as a sign of middle-class values.

There is also no evidence that the middle class itself is the key to solving the problems of Pakistan’s elite politics. It would be sadder still to let Musharraf launch himself at any point in time as the answer to the needs of the common man. We will have to keep searching for the answer to the ills of our system.

The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.


Source: Daily Dawn, 22/8/2008

Leave a Reply