American politics and the upcoming presidential election have been roiled the last several weeks about the economy.
No, no, not the economy after all, but whether we'll bomb Iran to prevent them from having the Bomb™.
No, no, not the Bomb™ after all, but whether our society should provide free contraception to all who desire it.
What? That question being short for, "what the hell?"
You will pardon me, I hope, for being a little late to the party. Giants such as Mark Steyn and James Lileks have gone before me, and I doubt that I shall add any humor to the equation. I also shall not use naughty words to describe women who wish that all should have free contraception on demand, as I still live in fear of my eighty-one year old father who would shame me, then deck me and wash my mouth out with soap for uttering such words.
But I do want to pass on an observation that has not been discussed prominently elsewhere.
Some have said that one reason we are discussing contraception is because the Democratic party leaders are so worried about election 2012 that they must refocus the average American voter onto a wedge social issue instead of the bread and butter issues of the economy. If you haven't yet noticed, President Obama inherited a troubled, struggling economy mired in a recession, and has managed to make it worse. It wasn't easy, but he's done a bang-up job of it. His stimulus bill was to cut unemployment but unemployment is up and the working force is down. The spending, the corruption behind the spending, and the lack of results from all the spending combine to make this election one of hand-waving for the Donks. They'll talk about almost anything else -- oh look, over here, shiny! -- because they understand that the truest path for the Republicans this November is to keep in mind the hoary rule once uttered by James Carville: it's the economy, stupid.
That is a partially true but not completely explanation, because the contraception issue is one that seems to have been put forward with a great deal of care, starting with a debate question from George 'Sparky' Stephanopoulos several months back. All this for a lousy election?
So yes, the contraception issue, of course, isn't about contraception at all.
It's not about preventing conception. But it is also about something more basic than just one election.
It is about power and the march to power. It is about the need to remove or at least compromise those who prevent success in the coming revolution.
In any left revolution, be it progressive, bolshevik, socialist, fascist, national socialist, maoist, or bolivarian, it is necessary as part of the march to power to knock down organized religion. The Catholic Church competes for the hearts and minds of people and does so effectively, as do the evangelical (not the squishy mainline) Protestant churches and the synagogues and temples of other religions. But more than many, the Catholic Church is organized and can use its hierarchy to generate an effective message of opposition. It stands in the way.
So at some point the revolution has to take on the Church or lose. Socialists today understand the power the Church had in Poland in the 1970s, in Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 1980s, and in Venezuela today. The current revolution will not make the mistake of allowing the Church to survive long-term.
If the revolution is strong enough to take out the Church directly, it does so. But if not, it has to take on the Church in ways that compromise the Church's moral authority and organization. It's rather Alinsky-like, eh?
Hence contraception today. This is no mistake on the part of the revolutionary left employed within the Obama administration. They understand that contraception is a popular issue, far more so than abortion, and that most people either favor widespread availability or are libertarian enough to say that it isn't their personal business what others do. Many Catholics use contraceptives despite Church teaching. Combine it with the health-care issue and it's a two-fer, since it now shows the 'popularity' of ObamaCare.
So the contraception issue is the wedge used to loosen the grip of the Church. By forcing the Church to back down it shows the Church to be impotent and unable to defend its moral authority. That pays off when the revolution takes its next step to knock the Church back further: as one example, the use of ObamaCare to force Catholic hospitals into performing abortions. Think that isn't coming? Think again: give them time, and they will find a way to bully the Catholic charities into toeing their line.
If the Church pushes back? How can it? Yes, it can publish and talk, but the compliant mainstream news media will dilute that voice, if not silence it altogether, and push back with opinion pieces and editorials. That is already being done. The Church can preach from the pulpit, but that's a limited voice in these days of low Sunday attendance. It can work levers of power, but government officials, even at the local level, are not as amenable and accessible as they used to be to Church power.
The Church could take action. But the laws are murky, court actions take forever, and there are legal risks to the Church. What if a federal court says that yes, the government does indeed have the right to order the Church to provide contraceptive coverage to its employees? Then the Church is really in the public relations and legal soup.
What action is left? Civil disobedience, of course, but that pits one master against another, the progressive, Alinsky left. Imagine the Church saying (for example) fine, force us to violate our principles and in response we'll shut down our secular operations. How long would it take Obama, Holder, and Sebelius to push back -- for example, to obtain a court order to seize a closed Catholic hospital? All in the name of the public, of course, for the 'good of the people'. This will, they think, rally the people to them instead of to the Church. That's the power that is needed to go forward. That is the power that will cow the critics other than Rush Limbaugh, and they have other plans for him.
That this is being done in an election year is important to rally the hard Left base to Obama, of course. But it is more importantly being done as part of a longer-term strategy to harass and eventually neuter the Church and send a clear message to other foes. It is a sign that Obama and the progressives in his administration are increasingly confident that they will win, have a second term to finish their transformation -- their left, progressive revolution -- of America, and so they want to make progress where they can and when it can be done.
This is no mistake, no misguided policy, and no one went off the reservation. It is deliberate, careful, and far-reaching.
Africa's religious divide is visible from space. Satellite images show the browns and burnt yellows of the arid north giving way to tropical greens as the view moves from north to south.
The coloured frontier slices through Nigeria in the west through Sudan, reaching the Indian Ocean in Kenya. To the north lie Mohammedan lands, to the south the religion is predominantly Christian.
I travelled across that line in 2001, shortly after 9/11, driving from the Nigerian capital Abuja to the historic city of Sokoto, scene of Thursday's failed attempt Curses! Foiled again! to rescue Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara.
Then, I was welcomed with astounding hospitality. It may have been Ramadan and a time of fasting for the locals, but a hungry traveller could find flat bread and hard boiled eggs at any time of day. And there was even beer at dinner time. Time and again I was told that the largely Sufi Mohammedans of northern Nigeria shared my horror at the events in the US two months earlier. The only blip was a photo I spotted of the late Osama bin Laden ... who is now beyond all cares and woe... pasted to a bus, which my hosts explained away as a remnant of a time when no-one imagined the true horror of al-Qaeda.
Things have changed since then. The religious divide has become a faultline.
Religious riots have claimed hundreds of lives in Nigeria in cities such as Jos, where murderous gangs in 2010 sought out Christians they believed enjoyed social and economic advantages.
Samantha Lewthwaite, widow of one of London's 7/7 bomber, is thought to be on the run in Kenya having joined up with members of a Somali-linked terror cell.
And Boko Haram ... not to be confused with Procol Harum, Harum Scarum, possibly to be confused with Helter Skelter. Currently wearing a false nose and moustache and answering to Jama'atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda'Awati Wal Jihad, or Big Louie... -- "Western education is harmful" in the local Hausa language -- has developed its links with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, shifting its tactics to include targeting Westerners and launching terrorist attacks.
So what has gone wrong?
In the past year, intelligence officials believe al-Qaeda has been badly damaged in its Pak boltholes. Bin Laden was killed on May 2, and senior commanders have been targeted by an intense barrage of drone strikes. As a result, they have begun a migration to safer climes -- Yemen, Somalia and North Africa, among them.
There they will find many of the factors that made Pakistain a haven for a decade: governments that struggle to impose their will on remote corners of their territory; long, mostly non-existent borders; and a patchwork of local disputes that can be manipulated and fitted into an anti-Western narrative that justifies terror attacks.
At the same time, vast stockpiles of weapons have simply disappeared from Libya since the downfall of Colonel Qadaffy. In addition, Tuareg fighters who once pledged allegiance to the Libyan leader have returned to Mali, reigniting a simmering war.
An influx of al-Qaeda leaders and missing crates of anti-aircraft missiles is a recipe for disaster. The first casualty could be the centuries-old trading sultanate of Sokoto. Reports suggest Boko Haram has its sights on Sultan of Sokoto Sa'ad Abubakar III, angry at how much power is invested in a single individual.
Nigeria is still a long way from the bloody insurgency that has brought so much pain to Pakistain. But it would be a tragedy for its religious differences -- and the peaceful, moderate population in the north -- to be exploited by foreign Islamofascists from outside.
Imran Khan ... aka Taliban Khan, who isn't your heaviest-duty thinker, maybe not even among the top five... , Pakistain's cricketer-turned-politician, tells the story of how he once took his father-in-law Jimmy Goldsmith to Wazoo in the remote tribal areas to dine on succulent roast lamb. Such a visit by a Westerner is impossible now. I hope Sokoto does not go the same way.
Pakistan is where Muslims slaughter Christians without consequence. Nigeria is over 50% Christian, and well-known for the Biafran War, during which Christian Igbos gave the British-funded and -supported Muslim-led government a good run for its money in a secessionist war that lasted 2.5 years, despite being outnumbered 5 to 1. (Britain's allies were the Soviet Union, China, Syria and Africa's Muslim countries).
Ines Fernandez Ortega has been seeking justice for a rape she has maintained was perpetrated by Mexican Army soldiers ten years ago this month.
The case was presumably closed last week when Mexican Secretario de Gobernación (SEGOB) or interior minister, Alexandro Poire publicly apologized on behalf of the government of Felipe Calderon Hinojosa for the assault.
In nearly every case when government officials offer an apology to groups of individuals for past grievances, it is for grievances in which the facts are undisputed and sometimes when, aside from compensation, it is the only thing a government can offer. Perpetrators of human rights atrocities who have passed on cannot be brought to justice because they have died and their families cannot be held liable.
The rape case of Ines Fernandez Ortega matches none of these cases, yet despite that, an apology is the only semblance of justice that can be offered by the Mexican federal government, in or out of court.
Continued on Page 49
[Dawn] OVER the years, despite repeated bouts of military dictatorship, Pakistain has remained a relatively open society. Even with spooks running around unchecked, people have expressed themselves pretty openly, both privately and publicly.
In large measure, this has been due to the incompetence of our bureaucracy. Few cops and spies are very enthusiastic about surveillance duties. More often than not, they file their poorly written reports that go unread, and pile up in some dusty government archives, never to see the light of day.
But all this is about to change. According to an international tender floated by this government, it is aiming to acquire technology that will enable it not just to block websites at will, but to read our emails and monitor all Internet traffic.
As we know, computers don't get tired, or wander off for a cup of tea. George Orwell wrote about a technological dystopia in his futuristic novel 1984 where citizens were constantly watched. Pakistain seems about to leapfrog into the world of Big Brother while still at a pre-industrial stage.
This ham-handed attempt at censoring and controlling the Internet has drawn derision from all those concerned about the free flow of information. While this initiative professes to protect us from pornographic and blasphemous content, the reality is that it seeks to surreptitiously invade our privacy.
Over the last 15 years or so, we have become increasingly dependent on the Internet for communications, information and entertainment. Twitter and Facebook are used by millions of young Paks to keep in touch with family and friends, and have opened up a whole new world. This world is about to change as petty officials can cut users off, or read private messages, at will.
Ironically, this crude attempt to control and censor the Internet is being financed by the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Fund. This fund is fed by a percentage taken from the revenues of telecom firms, and was intended to finance scholarships in information technology, as well as research and development. It was never meant to pay foreign companies to help the government in censoring the content on our screens.
A year or so ago, there was a gauche attempt to curb emails and text messages that ridiculed the government and its leaders.
Articles denouncing the initiative appeared around the world. Hopefully, this effort will meet the same fate. And if Sana Saleem's campaign succeeds, it well might. This brave young blogger, and founder of 'Bolo Bhi' [Speak Up], has been tireless in her attempt to block the government's crude censorship policy. [Readers can follow her campaign at www.bolobhi.org.]
She has been widely quoted in the international media, and has approached Western firms manufacturing equipment suitable for the government's requirements to boycott the $50m tender. Many of them have agreed not to bid. Reporters Without Borders, the Gay Paree-based organization, has written to the prime minister, urging him to withdraw this decision.
The argument that by blocking access to many websites, the government will shield us from 'indecent' content, does not hold up to scrutiny. The reality is that there are millions of sites out there. Short of completely cutting Pakistain off from the wired world, it is not possible to insulate us from the free-wheeling anarchy of the Internet.
Those who created the system that now connects hundreds of millions across the globe always intended it to be a free and open space. This freedom gives it the energy that has placed it at the centre of communications and instant information. If the government blocks one site, a dozen or more pop up. And those who know how can easily get around crude artificial barriers erected by insecure states.
This government's model is the Great Firewall of China that routinely blocks thousands of websites the government deems unsuitable, or will damage the Communist Party's reputation. But China is a dictatorship, while we claim to be a democracy. In a free society, citizens have the right to privacy as well as access to uncensored information.
True, these rights are not absolute, and in certain security-related cases the state has the authority to place individuals under electronic surveillance. But this intrusion is seldom unchecked and in democracies it normally requires judicial approval. For an elected Pak government to acquire these totalitarian tools is inexplicable.
However, the man who has no enemies isn't anybody and has never done anything... this latest attempt at controlling information is in line with what we have seen recently. When the BBC aired 'Secret Pakistain', a two-part documentary that purported to establish the close links between the ISI and the Taliban, the country's cable service providers blocked the British channel. Thus, many Paks no longer have access to this widely respected news service. To imagine that Pakistain's cable operators were so outraged by the documentary that they independently decided to cut off the BBC is to miss what our intelligence agencies have been up to for years. And there are no prizes for guessing which agency is behind the BBC ban.
Then there was the court-directed blocking of Facebook that cut millions of Paks off from their favourite social networking site. Protests in the media led to its withdrawal. Gen Musharraf, too, attempted to gag the media, but even shooting the messenger could not save him at the end.
Insecure leaders and governments are the ones that try the hardest to censor news and keep an eye on their citizens. On the pretext of safeguarding public morality, they seek to control the free flow of information.
Despite our loud and raucous claims to piety, a survey found that the highest number of hits at pornographic websites originated from Pakistain. Erecting a firewall is unlikely to change this reality in a society where hypocrisy is a way of life.
It is true that many websites carry objectionable material. While researching my book, I trawled through a large number of jihadi websites that were shocking in their calls to violence. And yet I would not advocate that they be blocked or taken down.
After all, nobody forced me to access them.
And ultimately, this is what free choice is about: the ability to decide what to read or watch is central to any democracy. As long as I am not hurting anybody, I should be at liberty to log on to any site I wish to without some petty official deciding it isn't good for me. So would the government please save this $50 million, and spend it on something more worthwhile?
[Dawn] They are no more. The clutches of death deprived dozens of innocent people of their right to live a long full life.
The abrupt end of life, under most violent and tragic circumstances, has turned them into numbers: 15 dead in Beautiful Downtown Peshawar's February 22, 2012, bus stand kaboom; 41 dead in Parachinar's terrorist attack; four dead in Peshawar cop shoppe attack; and five dead in Nowshera kaboom.
Their bereaved family members, friends and enemies would, though, recall them by their names, for many among newspaper readers and television viewers they have slipped into the memory databank as mere numbers.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa ... formerly NWFP, still Terrorism Central... information minister said after the Nowshera blast that his party had lost 550 party workers in various terrorist attacks.
Mohammad Israr, Sabz Ali, Tariq, and Mohammad Hussain, all ANP workers, are the latest addition to the tally after they fall victim to the Nowshera roadside kaboom blast approximately 17 minutes after Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti was flown in a helicopter after addressing the party workers.
According to the government's tally, the country has lost 35,000 civilians. Perhaps, it requires to update its much repeated figure of 35,000 lives lost to militancy, all carrying an equal price tag of Rs300,000 in compensation for each of the victims.
Moslem and Abdullah could see only 8 and 12 springs, respectively. They might have slipped from the readers' mind who read the new stories of their death. They have been lost to the barbarity of criminal hands who planted a deadly bomb that destroyed a Peshawar bus terminal on February 22.
Their deaths did not attract reaction from the official quarters or the civil society in strongest possible words. The carnage of Parachinar, too, could not jolt the society's conscience in the manner it should have. The smoothness with which three jacket wallahs entered a heavily manned Peshawar cop shoppe exposed our vulnerabilities, but no one raised voice for naming the names for the administration's failure. The chief minister flew in and out of the Nowshera public meeting venue amidst tight
security, but what happened to Israr, Ali, Tariq, and Hussain.
No questions being asked, it seems complacency has penetrated deep into the social order.
Perhaps, the society on the lam has become prone to shocks after having suffered so many terrorist attacks during the last ten years. The killing of an X-number of people in, an every other day, terrorist attacks has, apparently, left so deep an imprint on the minds and consciousness of the many that people have started taking it as an usual happening, nothing extraordinary.
The fact, however, remains clear: they have not fallen victims to the causes of their own making. They died because of the incapacities and inefficiencies of those who are responsible and paid to protect them.
In their deaths they demand: they should not be taken as mere numbers, heads must roll, and responsibilities must be fixed to save countless others who are at risk of meeting the same sorry end in identical circumstances.
Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti and Governor Masood Kausar are expected more to do than expressing condolences. People want them to reach out to them. Extraordinary situations necessitate unusual responses from those in power. Leadership role does not give a right to govern, it requires greater responsibility. Good leaders are remembered for serving their people,
steering them out of problems.
Nothing can be more disappointing than hearing the Peshawar's top cop during these past few days. Altaf lamely said after the February 22 kaboom that such attacks could be expected anywhere since the war on terror had been going on.
He could have done better by explaining the preventive measures he has taken to thwart future attacks. Cops are viewed by people as their saviours. They are trusted for their valour, professional skills and ability to protect citizenry against all odds.People have a right to be told about the 'effectiveness' of police checkposts that have been thrown around the city to curb the terrorists' entry to the capital city. Those at the helm of affairs should accept their failure, at least.
The 'vitality' and 'dynamism' of the middle class in Pakistan are channelled into ideological aspirations that negate the modern state
The economist says the middle class anywhere in the world is a factor of dynamic growth: a growing middle class means the country will post good growth rates. But for the non-economist, no two middle classes may be alike. In Pakistain, the middle class is conservative, just like India's; but unlike India, it is ideological, anti-American and pro-Taliban.
The Indian Constitution informs the attitude of the Indian middle class, which is tolerant of secularism. In Pakistain, the Constitution inclines the middle class to desire sharia and consequently prefer the 'harder' sharia of al Qaeda to state ideology. It is the sentinel of the unchanging character of the medieval state presented as a utopia by state ideology.
Many factors are common between India and Pakistain. The middle class lives in the city and votes rightwing. The BJP gets its vote in the city; the Congress Party gets it from the rural areas. The PMLN gets its vote from the cities of Punjab; the PPP gets it from the rural areas of Punjab and Sindh. In Bloody Karachi ...formerly the capital of Pakistain, now merely its most important port and financial center. It may be the largest city in the world, with a population of 18 million, most of whom hate each other and many of whom are armed and dangerous... , the middle class is conservative but its 'secularism' is strongly tinged with ethnicity, which means it is being unnaturally blocked from its internal dynamic by the leadership in exile of Altaf Hussain.
Today, Musharraf is the most hated man by the class that he created with his consumerist economics
The middle class of Punjab hates the middle class of Bloody Karachi and Hyderabad. Can we call the latter an 'unnatural' middle class? If Altaf Hussain had not dictated its conduct, wouldn't it have persecuted the Ahmadis and other minorities or acquiesced in their persecution just like the middle class of Punjab as influenced by Pakistain's Constitution? Or wouldn't its lawyers - the vanguard of the middle class in the country - have celebrated the killers prowling the land under Blasphemy Law the same way as the lawyers of Punjab?
Economist Ijaz Nabi writes: 'Sensible economists argue that what really matters for economic and political stability is the size of a country's middle class. Societies with a large middle class find non-violent means of resolving conflict. This hastens recovery from political and economic crises and deepens confidence. Such countries are durable destinations for investment and prosperity...Political instability threatens this system of governance and therefore is anathema to the middle class'.
The plaint about Pakistain is that it is a nation-state without a nation. It actually points to the ideology that advocates the concept of umma, importing the instability of other states into itself, and making it vulnerable to the idea of an imagined utopia, thus creating a middle class dissatisfied with an imperfect existential state
Political scientists too agree. They think that the state was created out of a need for security - mainly of property rights - and law and order. But if the state inculcates concepts that militate against the nation-state itself, its middle class is bound to be moulded by it. The plaint about Pakistain is that it is a nation-state without a nation. It actually points to the ideology that advocates the concept of umma, importing the instability of other states into itself, and making it vulnerable to the idea of an imagined utopia, thus creating a middle class dissatisfied with an imperfect existential state. The result is a middle class unhappy with status quo, which is a contradiction in terms of its conservative definition.
Here comes the cruel bite of additional irony. The middle class bulge in Pakistain was created under the decade of General Musharraf, an apparently non-ideological ruler finally rejected by the Army for calling off jihad. Today he is the most hated man by the class that he created with his consumerist economics.
Economist Nadeemul Haq of the Planning Commission gives us the tiding that, in proportion to the total population, Pakistain's middle class is twice as big as India's. He defines the middle class thus: 'Pakistain is now more urbanised with a larger middle class than India as percentage of the population. In 2007, Standard Chartered Bank analysts and State Bank governor Dr Ishrat Husain estimated there were 30 to 35 million Paks earning an average of $10,000 a year. Of these, about 17 million are in the upper and upper middle class, according to a recent report'.
[box3]The political scientist will add that the middle class is the pillar of a state's nationalism. State education targets it and resultant indoctrination embeds the designated enemy in the minds of the middle class population more than the other two polarised segments, the rich and the poor. The most prominent symbol of nationalism - which invariably aspires to war through the designation of an external enemy - is the Army.
Consequently, the middle classes of Pakistain and India focus on military preparedness as their favoured feature of the nation-state. In Pakistain it was the PMLN that completed the cycle in the production of the Army's ultimate symbol - the atom bomb - while the PPP was always suspected of 'capping' the nuclear programme. In India, it was the BJP whose more declaratory policy on the bomb pushed the country into becoming a nuclear power.
Some people have studied the nexus between the Army and the middle class but may have neglected all the causes behind why the middle class celebrates every time there is an Army takeover following a chaotic civilian interregnum ruling on the basis of middle class values.
The explanation may lie in the composition of the officers' corps in the Army, which is overwhelmingly middle class. First of all let's be clear about the distribution of population in South Asia. Over 60 percent of the population here lives in the countryside unlike most Arab states where the ratio is reversed. In Pakistain, the province of Punjab contains the largest number of cities, urban centres, where the middle class lives. Since Punjab's population is 60 percent of the country's population, the Army is composed of Punjabis up to 80 percent. Even the Navy, which should normally absorb coastal populations, is composed almost exclusively of Punjabis.
A Punjabi middle class Army must be informed with middle class values. A website under the heading of Pakistain Defence (http://www.defence.pk/) has the following observation to make about how the Army is now informed by Punjab's middle class values: 'The Islamisation of the Army plays into the hands of the Taliban. Islam is meant to be the unifying force, primarily to fight the kafirs of Hindu India. The process of Islamisation was boosted by Gen Ziaul Haq when he upgraded the status of the unit mullah and required him to go into battle'.
The 'vitality' and 'dynamism' of the middle class in Pakistain are channelled into ideological aspirations that negate the modern state. Moulded by religion, the nationalism inculcated by the state is upheld in full measure only by the middle class. The middle class and the Army are mutually empowering each other. The middle class officers in the army constantly remind the Army of neglected ideology by trying to stage coups, from Zaheerul Islam Abbasi, the creator of Hizbullah, to Brigadier Ali, the agent of Hizbut Tahrir ...an al-Qaeda recruiting organization banned in most countries. It calls for the reestablishment of the Caliphate... Today the attitude of the state of Pakistain is dictated by what the middle class thinks under democracy and dominance of the media. TV channels are all Urdu after an effort to start up English-language channels failed because the middle class rejected the values they were suspected of purveying. Urdu conveys the middle class worldview. The Urdu press carries the middle class message which simply cannot be translated onto the pages of English-language press. Urdu is the language of Pak nationalism, not English.
The Mighty Pak Army forgets strategy and thinks of honour because it is middle class in composition. It is honour which isolates, as first explained by Plato when he looked at the 'hubris' of the hero in Greek tragedy. Today Pakistain's favourite foreign policy edict is honour. South Asian middle class abroad is created after financial improvement of the migrant families. The Indian expat is rightwing, religious and pro-BJP. The Pak expat too is conservative-religious and pro-PMLN and pro-Imran Khan ... aka Taliban Khan, who ain't the sharpest bulb on the national tree... . The difference is lack of assimilation in the case of the Pak expat.
Lack of assimilation of the expat Pak middle class is its preoccupation with the umma and the resultant agitation it brings from extra-nationalist causes. The other responsible factor is the inability to teach acceptance of host cultures: Mohammedans don't suit themselves to circumstance; they must suit the world to the diktat of their faith, making Islam the religion of dominance.
Continued on Page 49
About six months ago, the Pakistain Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) in Islamabad published a paper by eminent demographer Dr Durr-e-Nayab, which estimated the size of the middle class in the country.
As Dr Nayab postulates, to answer that question one first has to define what one means by middle class. She starts off by looking at standard economic definitions of what constitutes the middle class and applies a range of these definitions to the data to see how Pakistain fares. She uses 15 formulae, ranging from the definition of the middle class as those with 75 to 125% of the median income, to expenditure from $2 to $20 per person per day, to double the poverty line. Her results differ widely, ranging from a finding that there is no middle class in Pakistain, to the finding that 60% of the population can be defined as middle class.
Dr Nayab then goes on to develop a weighted composite index, which goes beyond income-related measures and includes variables such as education (at least one person in the household should have a college degree for the household to be classified as middle class); house ownership and availability of utilities and sanitation facilities; movable assets (ownership of some consumer durables); and the nature of occupation of head of household or principal earner (manual or non-manual).
It is hard to see how a group that spends a fifth of its food expenditure on a staple can also be an engine for growth
This composite index yields results that seem more intuitive Dr Nayab found that in 2007/08, 41.9% of the population of Pakistain belonged to the "lower-lower class" or to be more blunt, the poor. This proportion rose to 55% when only rural areas were considered. Aspirants to "middle-classism" constituted 23% of the population, while "climbers" who are likely to get there constituted another 15% or so. The "hard-core" middle class remained small at 4.3% of the population. But Dr Nayab's multiple classification of middle class makes more sense sociologically, as it seems more realistic to think of the middle class itself as a series of "layers."
The upshot of all this is that under Dr Nayab's construction of an expanded middle class that is defined not just by income, but by certain social features also, 35% or about a third of Pakistain's population can be considered as falling into this category (we are leaving out the lowest class and the aspirants here, as well as the privileged). That means that the middle class in Pakistain consists of about 60 million people - a sizable number indeed. Further, Dr Nayab postulates that this number has been growing over time, so one should expect this number to keep growing, possibly at a faster rate than the rate of growth of the population.
The implications of this finding are enormous. If, as sociologists and economists believe, the middle class is at the vanguard of change in any society, and indeed propels progress, than Pakistain is positioned well to make the proverbial "great leap" forward. Politicians like Imran Khan ... aka Taliban Khan, who ain't the sharpest bulb on the national tree... , whose support base is said to be largely centered around the urban middle class, should also be heartened.
The problem arises when Dr Nayab's findings are interpreted in a purely economic/income centric framework. Many of the commentaries on the paper have been effusive about how Pakistain's middle class of 60 million constitutes a formidable market, and is a boon for manufacturers and service providers. After all, consumers who can afford to buy toiletries, consumer durables, acquire a range of assets, and want to spend on the occasional entertainment are the backbone of any economy. Growth in China and India has been predicated, along with growing export volumes, on the size of the two countries' domestic markets.
But as Dr Nayab is at pains to point out, her classification of the middle class is not by income alone - in fact she stresses the need to make a distinction between "middle-income" and "middle class." In her classification, the 35% who fall into the middle class may or may not have the disposable income needed to generate a spurt in aggregate demand.
Nevertheless, the paper has an optimistic tone and a positive message. According to its findings, Pakistain has a larger middle class (in terms of proportion of the total population) than India (where the size of the middle class is estimated to be about 25%). This in itself is an interesting finding given that Pakistain's annual average GDP growth rate from 2000 to 2007 was 4.7%, while India's was 7.7%. But this result (that Pakistain's middle class is bigger than India's in terms of proportion of the population) was also touted in an earlier study by the Asian Development Bank (in a paper by Natalie Chun). If we believe that, then given that India's (apparently smaller) emerging middle class is repeatedly touted as a growth engine in economic literature, Pakistain too should experience some of the positive impacts of this development.
As is often the case in this country, the problem is that what the data shows is often contradictory in itself, and is not borne out by what one observes on the streets.
Although Dr Nayab has added on non-money metric measures to her composite index, her core data is still expenditure based. The HIES dataset of 2007/08, which was the one used by Dr Nayab, showed that poverty incidence in Pakistain was of the order of 17% (at a time when poverty in the US, admittedly using a different yardstick, but nevertheless; was estimated at 15%). But the same dataset also shows that the third income quintile (which would roughly correspond to the middle class) allocated 21% of its monthly food expenditure to the purchase of cereals alone. It is hard to see how a group that spends a fifth of its food expenditure on a staple (as opposed to spending on meat, milk and vegetables for instance) can also be an engine for growth. Real wages declined after the mid 2000s, and unemployment was stagnant. Support prices had not been raised then, as they were post 2008 (a move that undoubtedly benefited rural incomes). None of this meshes with an emergent, prosperous middle class or for that matter, a significant dip in poverty.
Having said that, researchers are constrained to use whatever data is available to them, and to do the best they can. Dr Nayab has made a significant contribution to the literature by using a sound methodology, and doing a robust analysis. It is a pity that the raw data does not hold up when scrutinized..
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A multi-volume chronology and reference guide set detailing three years of the Mexican Drug War between 2010 and 2012.
Rantburg.com and borderlandbeat.com correspondent and author Chris Covert presents his first non-fiction work detailing
the drug and gang related violence in Mexico.
Chris gives us Mexican press dispatches of drug and gang war violence
over three years, presented in a multi volume set intended to chronicle the death, violence and mayhem which has
dominated Mexico for six years.