Discipline and politics – 16 May 2023

System that has failed to deliver has actually delivered a monster in the shape of a destructive-minded population

Chickens are coming home to roost. The pampering and instigation of the educated elite and the frustrated youth in the name of politics has led to a charged cohort of population, amenable to no reason and logic, pandering only to blind hatred and calumny. This hatred has been sedulously nurtured through populist narratives and promises of a utopia that would deliver the deprived masses of all their sufferings. The political economy of an elitist state has led to an elite capture that allocates the bulk of resources to the elite and leaves crumbs for the masses. As a result what we have is a frustrated, angry and badly educated non-elite that is champing at the bits to attack any visible or invisible symbols of privilege.

The country is in the grip of a poly crisis where the social, economic and political downslide has combined to cast a sepulchral gloom over the future of the country. The young and frustrated non-elite is asking a simple question. What is our future in a country dominated by the rapacious elite? Or put another way: what is the future of the country where the same tired old faces are trotting out the same trite slogans of hope and salvation? The hope was kindled for some through the “Promised Messiah” narrative supported by the state for over a decade. Project Messiah’s denouement was in 2018 when a charismatic leader promised moon at the hustings.

The promises made by Imran Khan were too good to be true considering the structural problems of economy and the entrenched privileged position of the extractive elite. Every country of the world has an elite capture but what Pakistan had was the wrong kind of elite capture. While countries in the world had a right kind of elite capture where the elite earned through productive investment in export oriented industries, in Pakistan the elite earned through non-productive investments through state patronage. Pakistan had a Westminster polity based political system geared to pander to the needs of an extractive elite. It was a system where the MPs got elected to get enriched and kept the Prime Minister hostage to their extractive agenda. The flow of the public goods therefore to the public was stymied by such an extractive political system.

On social front the society was being stratified on sectarian, linguistic and ethnic lines due to selfish agenda of political elite and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. The resulting social disharmony therefore fueled social unrest, extremism, organised crime and an indiscipline that grew out of a loss of trust in national politics and governance. The burgeoning population of the country that is the single most destructive factor gobbling up national resources is adding to the steady rise of an angry and deprived young cohort. Poor investment in education added to the malaise which produced a steady supply of poorly educated specimens which could be used for agitation and militancy in the absence of jobs and productive employment.

The above sums up the problems of a country that needed discipline more than politics to be productive and economically solvent. The Chinese economic miracle and the economic metamorphosis of once laggard economies like Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and South Korea was a consequence of moral, political and economic discipline. In our neck of the woods the populism, revanchism and elitism trumped rationalism, diplomacy and politico-economic discipline needed for real progress. Our economy missed the industrial stage to jump from agrarian to services stage without making even services sector productive enough for us. The resulting industrial vacuum made us an import dependent consumer economy with an ever widening hole between import and export earnings. The above realities slowly caught up with us as we lost our rent earning capability after closure of geo-political projects.

What the statesmanship demanded was a sober appraisal of the real problems and the sensitisation of the frustrated masses. What the country needed was a clarion call for hard work and discipline both by the elite and the non-elite. What was done instead was to shy away from hard work and go for phantasmagoric promises of millions of jobs and housing units and a guillotining of the extractive and corrupt elite. It was a clever artifice to keep the charged masses in tow for political mileage but a poor remedy for resolving the real issues. What the country needed was an economic emergency where the youth donned Dungarees to work in factories to produce exportable goods. What it got however was a channelisation of the youth towards social media’s virtual reality that could earn them quick buck. A battle of narratives was encouraged channeling the anger of the frustrated cohort towards political opponents.

When the fantastic promises of accountability, jobs, housing and the economic revolution failed, the mismatch between the reality and the make believe world of social media projection led to further rise in public frustration. The frustrations of the youth and the poorly educated non-elite were being felt by PTI when it was thrown a lifeline through a vote of no confidence. The resulting victim narrative and attacks on state institutions have led to further indiscipline and loss of focus on real issues. The vandalising of public property, torching of ambulances, arson attacks on Radio Pakistan buildings and residences betoken anarchy and indiscipline. What the country needs is a discipline and education emergency with a hold on politics for an appreciable time.

This system that has failed to deliver has actually delivered a monster in the shape of an undisciplined and destructive minded population that is long on hate and short on work ethics and morality. The social media sparring has created a bubble of virtual reality where lies, accusations and pornography stalk the impressionable and the gullible alike with poisoned barbs of unreality. A dysfunctional libel mechanism of our justice system compounds the anarchy. Discipline first and politics second is the need of the hour.

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