The unenlightened elite —Nadeem Ul Haque

Excerpt: “Who offers the poor hope? Certainly not the government! Certainly not the donors with their minor employees! The liberal elite made big promises and delivered nothing. The promise of globalisation and liberalisation has rightly lost its lustre in the minds of the poor. Theatre, cinema, or any form of intellectual activity that will offer an alternative vision has been zoned out. Where should the poor look for a vision; who offers them hope; who offers them community; who gives them some opportunity; who gives them the vision of a just society? Think about it. It is the mosque and the maulvi. Mosques remain totally unregulated, need no zoning permission and have been actively encouraged by the state. Not surprisingly, the mosque is the only community centre for the excluded poor; the unregulated maulvi the only visionary. This is the unintended consequence of the greedy, unenlightened behaviour of our elite.”

Daily Times – Site Edition Friday, April 24, 2009

COMMENT: The unenlightened elite —Nadeem Ul Haque

Mosques remain totally unregulated, need no zoning permission and have been actively encouraged by the state. Not surprising, the mosque is the only community centre for the excluded poor; the unregulated maulvi the only visionary

Our great analysts (mainly columnists) never go beyond Zia-ul Haq and the political leadership to understand the causes of our political and social ills, especially the phenomenon of fundamentalism. This is why our politics and policymaking remains so uninformed. Superficial intellect is often satisfied with proximate causes.

What is needed is a deeper analysis based on social science thinking.

A starting point could be an attempt to look into the apartheid social regime we have created. Could the extreme degree of exclusion of the poor (basically the non-elite) be at the heart of our troubles? Here are some benchmarks:

Ask yourself: where do the poor live?

The poor are totally excluded from elite space; they are seen only as servants and the only place allocated to them in the cities are servant quarters.

Most of the population needs small — one- to two-room — flats. But where can they be put? Zoning laws in our cities do not allow this except on the outer reaches. Council houses in London exist side by side with expensive housing. Not so in Pakistan. The rich and the poor cannot mix. We cannot have high rises looking into the residences of the rich.

The rich want conveniently located polo grounds and golf courses, giant parks to jog in and, of course, nice big lawns for their parties. They want sleek, low-rise cities where their cars can move easily from their estates to their leisure activities — golf and polo. The rich want zoning laws so that there is no high-rise construction or congestion in their park-like setting.

Ask yourself: what do the poor do?

The elite policymaker, who is often an industrialist, looks to industrial parks and subsidies for employment of the non-elite; no matter that factory employment lags way behind employment in the services sector.

With technological advancement, no longer are giant factories employing millions of workers. Large numbers are now employed in construction, shopping malls, hotels and the leisure industry. But that is anathema to planners and zoners, who are from the elite civil service. All retail, warehousing, leisure and community enterprises, and the non-elite, are regarded as non-essential. These then expand informally on residential property. Limited development of these activities means less employment for the non-elite.

So what about entrepreneurship by the poor?

The poor have traditionally helped themselves by running street hawking businesses and khokhas (kiosks). They used to be around a few years ago. But administrations have become vigilant and do not allow these in rich areas. And, of course, there can be no zoning for them. Where is the space? We need wide avenues for the Porsches and the BMWs! We also need large urban tracts for golf courses, polo grounds and giant parks (lungs of the city). So let these people go to shantytowns in the outskirts of our cities.

How do the poor work their way out of poverty?

Traditionally education has been an equaliser. However, in the Pakistani apartheid system, this is not happening. The rich educate their kids overseas to leave the local education system in a permanent state of disrepair. Many years ago, driver Majeed declared quite openly his intention not to educate his son because Urdu-medium public schools do not offer children upward mobility even after years of education. Only a few days ago, talking to me a 26-year-old driver in Dubai cursed his over twelve years of Urdu-medium education from Pakistan that only qualifies him for menial jobs — a waste.

Does the state not help the poor?

Every now and then, politicians set aside a large amount and give it a donor-inspired name like Income Support Fund or Social Protection. Much bureaucracy, Land Cruisers, consultants and plush offices later, the poor get some minor rationing subsidy. Most often, it is some form of food coupons, cash transfers, a yellow cab scheme or micro-credit. How strange: give them food and capital but no place for entrepreneurship.

Interestingly enough, the state subsidy to industry is way more than the state has ever spent on the poor. And the subsidy to the industry goes directly into the pockets of the rich.

What about enlightened self-interest and noblesse oblige?

In history, enlightened self-interest has led the rich to invest in some social mobility. Philanthropy has set up universities and community infrastructure to level the playing field for the poor. Royalty always patronised intellect. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, philanthropy means building for the rich — country clubs, polo grounds, LUMS and Aitchison College: places for elite use that, for the most part, do nothing for the excluded.

As a footnote, the rich do not even visit the poor campuses to mentor and interact with the underprivileged. They have no time for these trivialities.

What about leisure and community for the poor?

Leisure and community are only for the rich. City zoning provides fully subsidised space for the elite to play golf, tennis and polo, even for rich schools, but there is not an inch of space for community and leisure for the poor. No public libraries, no community centres, no publicly provided football fields or even a basketball court for the poor. Even competitive sport as a vehicle for social mobility is completely ruled out as a result.

Why are the intellectuals so unconnected?

For years the government has been pushing a vision of fundamentalist Islam and frowning on liberal social science. Intellectuals have been driven out of universities and are now minor employees of donors, singing only the master’s tune. Recently, I asked a leading intellectual to write on a social issue. His answer: “I am a big time consultant now, I write only to drum up donor money. This will not fit in!”

Who offers the poor hope?

Certainly not the government! Certainly not the donors with their minor employees! The liberal elite made big promises and delivered nothing. The promise of globalisation and liberalisation has rightly lost its lustre in the minds of the poor.

Theatre, cinema, or any form of intellectual activity that will offer an alternative vision has been zoned out. Where should the poor look for a vision; who offers them hope; who offers them community; who gives them some opportunity; who gives them the vision of a just society?

Think about it. It is the mosque and the maulvi. Mosques remain totally unregulated, need no zoning permission and have been actively encouraged by the state. Not surprisingly, the mosque is the only community centre for the excluded poor; the unregulated maulvi the only visionary. This is the unintended consequence of the greedy, unenlightened behaviour of our elite.

Nadeem Ul Haque is former Vice Chancellor of PIDE. Email: nhaque_imf@yahoo.com

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “The unenlightened elite —Nadeem Ul Haque

  1. Monkey

    I was hoping there would be solutions at the end of it. Great piece, but most of know and understand that this is the principle cause of the rise in the popularity of Islamist forces.

  2. Monkey

    “most of us* know and understand…”

  3. PatExpat

    What is it with authors now? Why are their writings more like rants and populist sloganeering?

    The writer’s premise is sound but article seems like its written by the likes of Hasan Nisar of Chowraha fame (FYI: Hasan Nisar is an urdu columnist known for his populist outbursts about social problems in his columns and never proposes any solutions).

    For someone who works for PIDE and has ‘IMF’ in his email address, one would expect that author would approach the problem (write the article) in a very professional way. If no solutions are clear, at least the reader could be pointed towards a direction or directions.

  4. PatExpat

    Whats the author’s fetish with zoning? Zoning does not solve all the problems.

    London does have social housing policy. But London or UK is an exception. A lot of countries look after the poor without the social housing imposed on the builders. In some cases, social housing leads to trouble i.e., inner city ghettos and the so called ‘projects’ in US.

  5. poke

    Well nothing can more stupid than the reasons above for terrorism or vandalism & nothing is farther from the truth that it is the poor who support terrorism in the name of religion & better ones do not in fact poor get exploited as always under any condition.
    Look no further than Q & face the consequences
    OR
    seek knowledge , reject a divisive faith stand up to wrongs on any human irrespective of faith, culture etc .
    I mean the idea of pakistan was based on hate for hindus cultivated by rich , educated believers than poor believers

  6. Monkey

    Poke,
    What’s your point?

  7. monu

    we must install sultans and badshas to rule northern India and Pakistan. the people there are steeped in the culture of middle ages. let there be some who have great wealth and talent to set examples of gracious living and the rulers set examples of iron fisted ruling. ChandraGupta Maurya, Alauddin Khilji fit the prescription. india
    remained peaceful after the Brits put down the Mutiny with extreme savagery. social sciences based on western ideas should not be taught. Gandhi and his followers have created the turmoil we see today. if Hongkong loved to remain colonial why should not we. jawab do!!

  8. i always look for golf courses with well-maintained lawn and golf courses with very clean recreational area -.`