View Full Version : Creative destruction - Fahad Hussain - 5th November 2012

5th November 2012, 10:05 AM
If you are waiting for a new and improved Pakistan, don’t hold your breath.
For those among us who say the upcoming elections are a turning point in our short history, I say baloney. Better to be realistic than get excited over imagined tidings. Yes these elections are important, and yes it is critical that they are held in a fair and transparent manner. But no, they won’t usher in an era of major transformation in our society.
For this to happen, much more needs to happen than one electoral exercise. This something is not an event, it’s not a policy and neither is it mere intent. It is something deeper, slower and much wider, a journey towards a strategic transformation of society.
It is called creative destruction.
The first thing that needs to be destroyed is the traditional narrative in vogue now. A by-product of our turbulent political history since 1947, this narrative revolves around the Military versus Civilian cycle. It is replete with stereotypes of ambitious generals, corrupt politicians and a flawed and broken political system that is exclusionary in nature. This narrative extols democracy as an electoral goddess, and governance as a step child of this deity. Citizens figure in this narrative as passive individuals whose primary role is to vote once in five years and keep their palms stretched for alms. Often they are bombarded with promises of good things to come if only they support General X and Politician Y, thereby according him or her legitimacy to rule over them, in their name.
When the generals and politicians don’t deliver immediate results, the narrative descends to a base and superficial level, reducing national discourse to complaints like: “What has democracy given us?” Or “At least I had a better standard of living when a general ruled”, or “We need a strong man to sort everyone out.”
Caught in a vicious cycle of abandoned promises followed yet again by false hopes of a new land-of-plenty beyond the hills, Pakistanis trap themselves into passive bemoaning. Their collective ambition is firmly capped.
When ambition is scaled down, so are expectations. People accept certain things, big and small, as part of life in Pakistan, never to change. So leaders and voters internalise that police will always torture because that’s how ‘things are done in Pakistan’. They accept that rural areas will always remain undeveloped; that children of poor will stay out of school; that the elite will stay above law; and garbage will not be collected; that hospitals will remain filthy and expensive; that only the rich will run for office, and certain families will always lord over political parties. They accept that biradries will determine voting patterns and merit will never prevail; that feudalism and tribalism will not break down in form and substance and all Pakistanis will stay rooted in traditional, ethnic and provincial identities instead of seeing themselves first and foremost as citizens of the State of Pakistan.
In short, we are forced to believe that we will – forever and ever – remain a poor, underdeveloped, tradition-bound, agrarian society.
Politicians feed off this narrative like piranhas. So do generals and other societal elite. It suits them. This narrative divides society in a neat hierarchy where those who have all, will always have all because those who have nothing are made to believe they will always have nothing. That is how traditional backward societies are, and that is how – this narrative says – Pakistan will always remain.
This narrative must be destroyed. This traditional way of life must be destroyed. This social hierarchy must be destroyed. This backward societal and political structure must be destroyed. This elitist capture of the Pakistani State must be destroyed.
This is not empty Marxist rhetoric. This is a lesson of history.
Britain Glorious Revolution of 1688, France’s Revolution of 1789 and Japan’s Meiji Revolution of 1868 transformed these nations from medieval to modern states with pluralistic institutions, rule of law and wrenching of power away from the grasp of the narrow elite. Of the three examples, only the French Revolution had to undergo violent convulsions and a brief return to absolute power, but within eight decades it returned to a new social and political order.
In all three cases, it was not random destruction. It was creative destruction. The old order was destroyed to create a new order based on a modern restructuring of society.
Pakistan cannot afford a bloody revolution. Such a revolution would replace one elite with another, as happened in Russia in 1917, when the Czar – enjoying absolute power, was substituted with the Communists – enjoying absolute power.
We have crossed one hurdle: no one person or institution holds absolute power in Pakistan today. This is the beginning of the process which could lead to creative destruction. Such destruction, however, will not happen automatically, or with a gradual process of evolution. It will need to be pushed through with deliberate, calculated aggression by those who are shut out from the circle of the traditional, individual and institutional elite.
The upcoming elections will bring these traditional elite back to power (perhaps with some changes if Imran Khan succeeds). The change that Pakistan needs will not come through elections because this exercise will merely redistribute power among those who have remained perched at the top of the social, political and often economic pecking order.
The change will come through when we begin to differentiate between real and phony change. Change that we need – that we demand – is a change where every Pakistani is equal before law; a change where every citizen of this country enjoys a level playing field; where innovation, talent and entrepreneurship begin to drive society; a change where feudal and tribal systems start to collapse and a new era of equality, merit and excellence spreads from Karachi to Kashmore, from Lahore to Lasbela, from Rawalpindi to Rahimyar Khan.
The elite must lose if Pakistan has to win.