The UNDP recommends a social movement” to end “inequality” in Pakistan


The writer is of the view that the UNDP’s diagnosis of economic inequality is correct. It is the “privileged classes” that are fetters to equality of power and opportunity in Pakistan. The way out to bring about “equality” is to bulldoze “privileged classes” to pave the way for the foundation of an egalitarian society. The author thinks it is well nigh impossible for two reasons. One, there is no leader in Pakistan to steer a “social movement” powered by an ideology. Two, the Pakistani voter is apathetic to contribute his moitié to a change-oriented movement. 

The United Nations’ Development Programme has just launched its third National Human Development Report, 2020. This report is titled “The three Ps of inequality: Power, People and Policy” The first report (2003) was about “Poverty, growth and governance”, and the second (2017) was about the topic of “Unleashing the potential of a young Pakistan”. All the reports aptly identified Pakistan’s problems. But, it remains questionable whether the UNDP’s freebie wisdom was adequately availed of.

The third magnum opus report

It makes galling, tough down-to-earth observations about the status and sources of economic inequality in Pakistan. It bluntly states, ‘Pakistan’s rich and poor live completely different lives’. The gulf between the lifestyles of the rich and the poor is obvious from their per capita income, schooling and other indicators. The feudal aristocracy and industrial robber barons together enjoyed privileges of whopping Rs. 1094 billion. The feudal enjoyed Rs. 370 billion while the business tycoons enjoyed Rs. 724 billion. Being perched in Pakistan’s parliament they ensure that Pakistan’s taxation system remains regressive. The feudal elite of only 1.1 per cent of the population own 22 percent of the country’s farm area. On the Human Development Index, Pakistan ranks, undeniably, 154th out of 189 countries and territories surveyed.

Sources of inequality

According to the UNDP, multifarious “inequality” in Pakistan is the cumulative upshot of three factors: “power, people ad policy”. The UNDP defines power as “privileged groups that make use of loopholes, networks and policies for their benefit”. In common parlance in Pakistan, they are called “mafias”. For instance, “sugar baron” Jehangir Khan Tarin, the estranged PTI stalwart, is being pilloried in the media as an avaricious shark. But, in actual fact, his only offence, yet to be established, is merely that he used his influence to extract financial benefit, It is eerie that  that both Pakistan’s prime minister and the chief minister of the Punjab province had approved the departmental summaries benefitting sugar  barons in billions. During the Ayub era, a network of 22 nouveau rich families came into being via favours received from the Ayub government (Lawrence J. White, Industrial concentration and Economic Power in Pakistan; Shabbar Zaidi, Rich People, Poor Country).

The UNDP perceives people in a wider context. It defines them as “the deeply-embedded belief system that encourages bias against social identities like raw gender, religion, or caste among others”. “Policy” refers to “the systems and strategies that are either ineffective or at odds with the principles of social justice”. Within framework of the three Ps defined, the report focuses “not only inequality of income but also inequality of opportunity”.

UNDP”s panacea: “Social Movement”

Only a “social movement can be the primum mobile to change the status quo”.  The sine qua non of a social movement (like Arab Spring) is: (a) A  campaign or a public effort making claims on an authority. (b) Means of political action. (c) A public representation of cause’s worthiness, unity, members and c commitment (Charles Tilly, 2004).

Limitations of a “social movement” in Pakistan

It is unlikely that any “social movement” could turn the existing oppressive status quo topsy-turvy, unless it is violent. That pushes the movement into the domain of a revolt or revolution. Though Gandhi was a mediocre student and a failed lawyer, he astutely perceived the revolution-averse psyche of the Indian people, including those now in Pakistan. He reasoned (a la Tolstoy’s A Letter to a Hindu) that Indians themselves allowed themselves to be colonized for their own material interests.  Otherwise there was no way 30,000 `rather weak and ill-looking Britons could enslave 200 million `vigorous, clever, strong, and freedom loving people (Stegler, 2000).  Gandhi exhorted people to purify the soul of India of Western materialism through non-cooperation with Britishgovernment. He scoffed at Indians for `nurturing selfish thought of personal material gains generated by the perverse ethos of modern civilization.  He lamented that Indians handed over control of their nation to the foreign exponents of materialist lifestyle.  They had become `sly sycophants and willing servants of the Empire thereby proving to the world that they were morally unfit to serve the country. 

No social movement sans leadership

A leader is to people what a fuse is to a pack of dynamite. The crux of the leadership crisis in Pakistan is that post –Partition `leadership’ fell like windfall fruit into laps of dynasties or elites.

According to some accounts Quaid-e-Azam was extremely disappointed to see post-Partition leaders at helm of government in Pakistan. During the last few years of his life, he kept telling his visitors, including Liaquat Ali Khan, at his sick-bed at Ziarat (Quetta)”Pakistan was the biggest blunder of my life”   (Jinnah bashing, the Print December 26, 2019).

The Quaid thought that the Muslim League leaders around him were `base coins’ (khotey sikkey) and the `legal tender’ was in pockets of his adversaries (Shorish Kaashmiri. Boo-e-Gul, Naala-e-dl, dood-e-chiragh-e-mehfil, pp.317, 419-420). Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas corroborated this view. He ` remembered that once Quaid-i-Azam had said “What is Muslim League? It essentially comprises three of us; me, my sister and typewriter.”

Historian Mubarik Also confirmed this view. `In one of his articles, Dr Mubarak Ali mentioned in passing that Mr. Jinnah used to claim that he had founded Pakistan with the help of his typewriter and stenographer’.

Pakistani sand-dune leaders

Today, Pakistan has no leader, like Quaid-e-Azam, with a `world view’, no `story line’ of sustained committed struggle to an ideology.

M.J .Akber rightly observes `The [Pakistani] political leaders act like sand dunes. They move in the direction the wind blows’ (MJ Akber, In Pakistan Today, Mittal Publications, New Delhi, p. 216). John R. Schmidt agrees, ` The mainstream political parties in Pakistan can best be viewed as patronage networks, whose primary goal is seeking political offices to gain access to state resources, which can then be used to distribute patronage among their members’ (Schmidt, The Unravelling, Pakistan in the Age of jihad, pages 36-37). Why it is so? Stanley A. Kochanek unpuzzles the conundrum by pointing out `Parties in Pakistan are built from the top-down and are identified with their founders.  The officeholders are appointed by the leader.  Membership rolls are largely bogus and organizational structure exists only on paper’ (Interest groups and Development, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1983, p.64). `Most political parties are non-democratic in their structure, character and outlook. The process for leadership selection is not by election, but by nomination.  Political parties have no links with policy process as personalities rather than issues matter’ (Saeed Shafqat, Contemporary Issues in Pakistan Studies, pp. 247-256).


The opposition delights at the incapacity of rulers to deliver the goods. While criticising rulers, the opposition presents no alternative proposals. Parties without alternative proposals are minds without ideas

There is no tradition of political parties having shadow cabinets with a bagful of alternative policies in Pakistan. The political empty-mindedness is obvious from the successive vision-less federal budgets. These stereotyped budgets are regressively heavily loaded with taxes, sparing the mafias. The budgets dish out to the people whatever is cooked up by ministerial babus (bureaucrats).

In their hearts, the so-called leaders, on the both sides of the aisle, know that the voters have little choice. They would vote either for the one pseudo-party or the other.

Feudal aristocracy and industrial robber barons

It is only the UNDP that dared pinpoint the mafia cannibals in Pakistan. However it fell short of probing the origin of the feudal lords and the industrial robber barons. The bitter truth is that the scions of the British-raj created a class of “chiefs” in the post-’mutiny’ period and during the Second World War still ruled Pakistan (Zahid Hussain, `House of feudals’, April 1985 Herald). The mafias in legislatures would never allow abolition of their privileges, or undertake progressive taxation.

Concluding remarks

The UNDP’s diagnosis of Pakistan’s economic malaise and suggested panacea of “social movement” is correct. But, there are no leaders to steer a movement in Pakistan. The voter is apathetic. He remains a silent spectator to the overthrow of his”elected” governments? So it is, as the autocratic governments do nothing by way of welfare of the common man. The whole world is fighting the pandemic with vaccines, testing and treatment. But Pakistan is on autopilot.

Amjed Jaaved
Amjed Jaaved
Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.


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