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Chattering Classes.

Summary: The Pakistani non-voting middle class represents a strange phenomenon, a category waiting to be defined in some seminal work on the social sciences. It will stay aloof from the political process and will be represented in no political party. But it will bay the loudest against plummeting national values and the pressing need for immediate change.

The members of this class will be living in the better-off parts of our cities. Their children go to 'English-medium' schools--and why shouldn't they when Urdu-medium education is in a state of crisis, and when mass education has never been a priority in the Islamic Republic?

There is nothing to doubt the sincerity, or call it the angst, of the non-voting Pakistani middle class. Its yearning for change is genuine enough. But since, as far as politics is concerned, its members are merely spectators, they are powerless to affect or determine the course of events.

Which doesn't prevent them from talking. In fact talk, often hysterical talk, and fulmination become substitutes for action. Foreigners wonder at our capacity for talk and its close cousin, cynicism, and our inability to translate some of that talk into action. There can be million-man marches against the Iraq war in New York and London but not in any Pakistani city. Because those who should be in the forefront of such activity are out of touch with the multitude.

And when the multitude votes in the PPP to power, or the PML-N, the non-voting middle class is aghast at the low intelligence of the Pakistani electorate. Over time this attitude fuels a contempt for the political process.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was no Ho Chi Minh. But he crossed class lines when he appealed to the masses and shaped his politics around them. So much water has flowed down our rivers but our non-voting middle class never forgave him for this sin. Even today when so many other problems have arisen, Bhutto remains the bete noire of this class. The inertness of the middle class leads to another surprising outcome: hysterical calls, whenever a civilian government is in place, for 'surgical' intervention to set right the alarming course of events, or the dire state of the nation.

This is dangerous territory. The power of 'surgical' intervention in Pakistan rests with only one institution: the army. Hence it is scarcely an accident that every military coup was not only welcomed but hailed by Pakistan's apology of a middle class.

For military folly the patience of this class is virtually limitless. But no sooner does the political wheel turn and a civilian government occupies the landscape devastated by military rule, the chattering classes come into their own and start railing mercilessly against civilian ineptitude. There is no denying civilian ineptitude. We have more than our share of it and our political parties and their leaders would benefit from a stint in purgatory or Chinese style re-education camps. But that is hardly the point.

There is no gainsaying the corruption marking Benazir Bhutto's two stints as prime minister. There is no denying the inadequacy defining the PML-N's stints in power. Who can deny President Asif Zardari's reputation or, arguably, his inadequacy for the office he holds.

But if there were those who argued in days gone by that Benazir Bhutto should be allowed to complete her term, and if there was a need to punish her or kick her out of office it should be done through the ballot box; and if there were some who said that throwing out Nawaz Sharif before his time was up was not a good idea; or if there are those who say that black as his misdeeds may be President Zardari should not be the object of any 'surgical' intervention it was not out of past love for Benazir or Nawaz Sharif or present love for Zardari but only to press home the point that 'surgical' interventions do more harm than good.

And that the curative powers of the normal political process, even if at times they appear tediously long, are more beneficial in the long run than any shotgun approach. After four military coups it might have been supposed that as a nation we were wiser on this score.

Surgical solutions yield no Ataturks or de Gaulles, at least not in our context. Let us be under no illusions on this count. They only lead to variations on the themes of Zia or Musharraf.

Two years of this dispensation are already over. Three years remain for the next elections--that is, if the heavens do not intervene in between. Bhutto formed the PPP in 1967 and it was only three years later that he was triumphant at the polls.

If there are people of sincerity and goodwill, and ability who want to re-do, rethink or remake Pakistan, they have these three years to organise themselves and make a difference where it matters---not in TV studios or drawing rooms but the slums of our cities and the dusty lanes of rural Pakistan.

Just as music comes from musical instruments, justice from courts, the cleaning of cities from efficient municipal services, and good food from a good kitchen, political change can only come through the political process.

For those worried about the state of Pakistan, there is no alternative to participating in the political process, apart of course from the march of the Triple One Brigade. And, surely, we don't want that, do we?

One more point: the lawyers' movement was the first occasion in our tumultuous history that parts of the non-voting middle class were shaken out of their habitual inactivity. This movement was something they could relate to and hence they were inspired by it. But then came a halt to this process that should have been carried forward when the movement's leadership committed the fatal error of boycotting the Feb 2008 elections.

After the elections the initiative lay not with the lawyers' movement, as it had done for much of 2007, but with the political leadership thrown up by the elections. And much as the chattering classes may wish to deny it, the restoration of the rightful judiciary happened not because of the lawyers' movement, by then in debt to the PML-N which was helping sustain it, but by the political process.

Aitzaz Ahsan, Munir Malik, Ali Ahmed Kurd, Tariq Mahmood, to name only these four, should have been in the present National Assembly. How the tone of this assembly would have improved.. Imran Khan too should have been in it instead of being a prophet in the wilderness as he is at present, his tone increasingly raucous as he points with strained finger to the promised land. India achieved independence, and Pakistan became a separate state, through the workings of the political process. No saviour will set Pakistan right. If Pakistan is to be rethought and remodeled, this will only happen through the political process. History leaves us with no other choice.

Ayaz Amir is a distinguished Pakistani commentator and Member of National Assembly (parliament). For comments, write to opinion@khaleejtimes.com

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Feb 23, 2010
Words:1194
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