Pakistan's Poverty Bomb and the Hypocrisy of Elite Classes

11/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Pakistan has been in the news for quite some time and for all the bad reasons. Islamic militancy has become the biggest problem of the country and eroding the very roots of the nation. Although many people blame the terrorist attacks on the twin towers and its fallout on Afghanistan as the major cause behind the terrorism, there are deeper repercussions of this whole phenomenon. The biggest issue of Pakistan, apart from terrorism, is poverty; an absolute poverty (both of these are actually interlinked). Unfortunately, Pakistan is one of those countries where corrupt political and military establishment has ruined the country despite the presence of immense natural resources and manpower.

A country of over 176 million people and around 796,095 sq. kilometers of land is not able to even feed its own population despite the fact that nearly two-thirds of the country's population is employed in agriculture. Although there are bumper crops every year, most people are unable to get enough food. The reason for this shortage of food: immense hoarding methods employed by industrialists and food processing industry in connivance with the government. Pakistan is currently facing a huge crisis of sugar where people have to pay around 70 cents for a kilogram of sugar. The government is providing subsidized sugar and flour at some points and one can see long queues of people waiting for their turn in the scorching summer heat.

Poverty has reached to such alarming levels that 18 women and children died in a stampede during the distribution of free food in Karachi. The situation is nothing short of a mini-famine and can soon transform into the horrible disasters of Somalia and Rwanda, if conditions remain the same. One naturally thinks at this point about the competence of the government and those billions of dollars donated by the international community for poverty alleviation (this is apart from the billions given to fight terrorism; government is asking billions more in aid). The massive financial embezzlement of the current and previous governments provides an easy answer to that question.

Pakistan ranks 136 in Human Development Index (HDI) out of 177; the country has spent billions in making the nuclear bomb but is unable to provide basic necessities of life to its people. More than two-thirds of the population earns less than $2 a day. More than half of this is unable to earn even $1 a day, especially those living in villages as they often work as bonded laborers. With a low literacy rate of 55% and poor spending on health and education, Pakistan is surely on the path of destruction. Landlords enjoy great political power in Pakistan and always clinch the top political positions; The Bhuttos were feudal and so is the current president and prime minister of Pakistan. Most political parties represent the interests of land lords and industrialists with the exception of MQM (though its fugitive party chief is nothing short of an urban feudal lord). Democratic process is corrupt and a common man is unable to gain enough political momentum to represent the masses.

Pakistan is one of those unfortunate countries where the elite classes have virtually taken over every aspect of life and have left no breathing space for the public. Even the media, which can prove to be a source of activism and hope for the people, is hostage to brutally rich landlords, corrupt industrialists, so-called activists (themselves belonging to strong political or industrialist families), champions of human rights (themselves biggest violators of human rights) and so-called young revolutionaries (coming from elite classes with Ivy League education; common Pakistanis, on the other hand, cannot afford to pay even a couple of dollars to get enlisted in a government school). They exploit common people on one hand and make lame claims about the sufferings of the downtrodden on local and international media.

Being myself from a lower middle class family and experiencing all these troubles first-hand, I know the feelings of people when they see these people blabbering about the conditions of the common people. They ask a very simple question about the moral standing of these rich classes. If they are so sympathetic to the cause of the poor, why don't they distribute their huge fortunes among the public; this can at least help in the social uplift of some people. A common Pakistani is fed up of religious extremism and exploitation by the rich classes; it is sort of a volcano that is about to explode anytime.

There are, however, no chances of a revolution as the Pakistani nation is embroiled in ethnic and political differences and does not have any cohesive properties. Only religious parties are able to exploit this situation in their favor and are able to recruit a large number of poor mercenaries (by doing some charity work as well). The only solution can be a massive spending on health and education by the international community and this aid should go directly to the masses instead of filling the coffers of the Pakistani civil and military establishment. An unjust infatuation with India and massive spending on defense is detrimental to the growth of Pakistani economy.

President Obama is pressing Congress to approve a $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan; the major chunk of this money would be spent on health and education. Although the Pakistani government is trying hard to become the sole beneficiary to this aid, Americans should not repeat their old mistakes of stuffing the personal bank accounts of corrupt Pakistani establishment. Instead, they should have a strict auditing of this aid and it should be delivered directly to organizations working in these sectors (that too being run by 'real' Pakistanis, not some elitist non-governmental organizations).