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Will the flood wake up our elite?

The writer is a lawyer and political commentator based in London

Can the floods wake up the elite from their slumber?  If it doesn’t, a bloody anarchic revolution could most certainly be on the cards. Many of us have written about how little the elite give back to Pakistan’s masses and if that trend were to continue unabated a breaking point would not be far. With the merciless deluge that has engulfed our country, that breaking point is now here. From what I can see through TV reports is that the anger is raging and palpable  — and rightly so.

Although the current disaster is not of the government or the rich man’s making, nature’s ruthless umbrage falls, once again, disproportionately on those least fortunate. With misery all around us, it is Pakistan’s elite who are in the best position to help, if not for the sake of those wronged then for their own sake, to avoid that bloody revolution that would harm them more than anyone else. This is the subject of a letter written by well-known businessman.

I was recently made privy to the contents of this open letter, written in Urdu, under the title “Pakistan ke ameer tareen khandanon ke naam khula khat”. Addressing some families and individuals specifically, mostly businessmen and his personal friends, the writer acknowledges that Pakistan’s super-rich are indebted to the masses and must give back or face terrible consequences. His prescription is an appeal to form a “fund for the Pakistani awam” which would help rehabilitation efforts by ensuring free food disbursement, building small hospitals and vocational training centres. Citing the example of Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank, he suggests creating micro-credit schemes. In order to set up the fund, he calls upon the super-rich to donate Rs50 million each and then top it up with Rs2 million per month. Once functional, the fund would ask for further donations from those who may not be super-rich but in a position to give. Alluding to the French and Iranian Revolutions, he makes an emotional appeal.

NGOs have done much work in Pakistan, filling important gaps where the government has abdicated. Nevertheless, Pakistan remains one of the countries with the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in the world.  This means that though Pakistan’s elite have contributed significantly to charities, they have evaded paying their due share in taxes. I have often wondered why that is and have come up with a couple of explanations.  Charities and NGOs have a better track record than the government. Their work is more visible on the ground and their funds less susceptible to corruption. Also, taxes are anonymous while charities celebrate their donors and founders. The concept of the benefactor and the indebted, so prevalent in our country, is sustained by charity but non-existent in a system funded by taxes. Expectation from the government is premised on entitlement, but relying on private charity fuels indebtedness.

We are stuck in a vicious cycle. The government is incompetent, corrupt and under-funded. The super-rich refuse to pay taxes, barring notable exceptions such as the honourable Jahangir Tareen. Thus we are left with no option but to resort to charity and call upon the very elite who have not otherwise shouldered their responsibilities.  The businessman’s letter, with its humble tone and good intention, must be lauded.  But do the businessmen trust each other any more than the government? Do they have the will to work together on a mega-project to rebuild lives? We are in a very tough spot. It may already be too late to avoid that dreaded bloody revolution. But if there is a way out of this, it can only rest on unity and discipline. Faith we have never quite been short of. A public-private partnership whereby donors collectively agree on a committee to oversee fund disbursement, working in cohesion with local NGOs as well as the government machinery may be the only way out of this crisis.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2010.

Ayesha Ijaz Khan August 15, 2010

Reader Comments (30)

  • Great analysis, yes its anarchy out there, because the Elite (Feudal) have not remained so feudal after the floods. Some are left, and they too will be victim of their own oppression as food prices go high and the food go missing in the coming days.

    S. Ali Raza 3 months ago
  • In a society where privilege and entitlement are considered sexy, everyone strives to become part of the “elite”, who seem to get away with contributing nothing, while exploiting everyone else as their birth right. We are far from criticizing the tax dodgers, because as a society we aspire to attain the same position one day.

    Syed Nadir El-Edroos 3 months ago
  • The elite in this country have no connection or feelings for either the people or their sufferings. One of the icons of lawyers movement Mr Aitzaz Ahsan has left for India alongwith many other prominent PPP leaders and members of the so called civil society like Iqbal Hyder for a peace conference, while millions are made homeless and death toll rising to near 2,000. The President of Pakistan went on an extended foreign tour of UAE, France, UK and Syria accompanied by his children, while people faced death, starvation and misery. Punjab Minister for Law is on a foreign tour to Norway. On 18 Aug the President will proceed once again to Moscow, for a preplanned tour to sign a treaty already finalised. The Foreign Minister could have done the needfull, who was so insensitive that he found nothing wrong to perform the opening ceremony of a fashion boutique and get photographed with models. Do these people understand the significance of these symbolic acts which show utter disregard for the people of Pakistan. May I ask them that why the UN Gen Sec is visiting Pakistan, because he wants to personally express his sentiments in our hour of distress, while our own leaders find nothing wrong in proceeding on foreign junkets. He could have sent his deputy or UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Why is Senator Kerry coming,- for the same reason to win the hearts and minds of the people. It is the insensitivity and brutal disconnect of the elite that is shocking.

    Mir Tassadaq 3 months ago
  • Hope they wake up, before it is too late. They live in their own world impervious to what goes on in common Pakistani life.

    Amjad 3 months ago
  • Ms Ayesha Khan, I tend to agree with you on the main point, namely a bloody revolution. Who knows its time maybe near at hand. While shopping in downtown Rawalpindi some 40 years ago, I had requested my wife who was with me, to look around and see the lot of the vast majority of people around us shabbily dressed, in poor health and with downcast faces, and had opined, ‘if these people decided to be done with us en masse, who can stop them? She kept quiet.
    Between then and now the agony of the people has gone too far. May Allah intervene and save us. May we not face retribution, as happened time and again on this earth to cleanse it from evil.

    John Donne 3 months ago
  • Ayesha,even if our Elite do wake up,their eyes will be “wide shut”. After having to queue up (their other miseries aside) for basic food items for hours,now our dear President has shown them another queue to line up in…CNIC!!For God’s sake,if we can’t lessen the burden on their broken backs let us atleast not further add salt to their wounds.

    rehan 3 months ago
  • Nice piece, but why drop the name of Jahengir Tareen (sugar mill owner ?) in the middle of your article ? – struck me as odd.
    In the present environment even the honourable are looked at with suspicion and the people are not to blame for this.

    parvez 3 months ago
  • 1. It is instersting to find that a relationship between the elite and the victims of flood exist. I did not know that. In a country where government is empowered to collect taxes and then disburse to various departments to run the affairs of the state, disparaging the elite is a funny idea. It is the duty of the state to take of its citizens and not of the elite. Every year, floods and other natural catastrophes hit the country. The government has to constitute a disaster management department (one is working in the wake of the earthquake episodes), train them, equip them and then expect from them to do relief work. Cursing the elite is a trite phenomenon to shift the burden.
    2. ‘Bloody revolution’, another trite. How many times has the region/country witnessed bloody revolution?

    Dr Qaisar Rashid 3 months ago
  • Well the floods were not just a happening that the government was not aware of. They did see it coming and not much was done to prevent it. Because as always life is so cheap here.

    Also, why just talk about the elites. I think we as a nation have failed Pakistan. Everybody has contributed to the mess that we are in today and we are all to be blamed. It is quite sad.

    As much as I hope for a revolution and a good change in Pakistan and the end of this so called dynasty rule of selected families, I don’t really see anything like that happening. It’s time we should all Wake Up!

    Zaira Rahman 3 months ago
  • You know what your major problems is? You disgrace your leaders while choosing them. The whole world uses pedigree to chose horses and dogs, you use this to choose the leaders. You will have all your issues resolved once you start using leadership qualities as the sole basis to choose the leaders. Read more at: link text

    Ben 3 months ago
  • its almost impossible to get anything outa these ameer in pakistan, but micro-credit is a great suggestion. micro-credit has helped a lot of struggling families in poor countries.

    FezaKhanYusufzai 3 months ago
  • I don’t agree with this
    “Although the current disaster is not of the government or the rich man’s making, nature’s ruthless umbrage falls, once again, disproportionately on those least fortunate.”

    I am sorry to say that this disaster could be lesser if our elite class and those who are born for politics and top most positions on us, could have thought about this ???

    So the blame doesn’t goes to the nature but it goes to those who had to work for sake of the people and natural resources, how to manage them how to take most advantage out of those things.


    Muhammad Saeed Ahmad 3 months ago
  • No, It wouldn’t.

    Hunain 3 months ago
  • ‘If it doesn’t, a bloody anarchic revolution could most certainly be on the cards.’
    That statement is hilarious. Anarchic revolution? Like the non-elite just want anarchy? Thats a bit elitist of you isnt it? Certainly a bloody revolution against the ‘elite’ is in the cards, but who’s to say its not deserved, and who’s to say the country wont be in a better place after that? Heck, anything goes today as it is. We already live in anarchy.

    Zain S 3 months ago
  • A good piece to read with a few reservations.

    History speaks that Pakistan has always been in crisis since its inception.The fact is that genuine leadership has never been allowed to fluorish and if there had been a few of this calibre to lead this nation,they had been very mercilessly removed from the scene.

    Pakistan is at present facing the worst of clalamities and above all this country needs some sort of morale boosting both at leadership and public level.Provided the character assasination campaign of elected leadereship is stopped,if at all for the time being, and all political forces are united to handle this calamity and are backed-up with the public suppoert, Pakistan will once again emerge victoriously out of it,I am sure.

    The link below provides some useful calamity quotations.

    Dr. Altaf ul Hassan 3 months ago
  • ayesha:

    you have asked a pertinent query…some of the elites you referred to are doing a little to alleviate…but am afraid it is too little and too late

    here is an alternate scenario (which i sincerely hope does not come true)…things will get worse…affected people will be further alienated from the mainstream providing a fertile recruiting ground for the hardliners…who will ship them off toe create more terror…first in afghanistan…. and emboldened by weakening ameriucan resolve in pakistan’s north…creeping slowly to engulf the whole country…

    the elites are no pawns or fools….most of them have insurance passports and have stacked capital out of pakistan

    temporal 3 months ago
  • What persons are chosen by people of Pakistan…! however there is not credibiltiy in the public….being a nation where are we exist. It is from decades that we are involved as this trustworthy. Accountability is main factor of the state that demolish corruption from root but as we are ruled by such so called leaders, there is no way accountability to be exist in the state. What’s about happening around us, all of it due to our choice of representive for country. There is one part of society is ruling over majority and difference between two part of society is increasing.If the present government is not able to serve the people, how is it exist as government? Please handover it to Bagwan Das, G.Ibrahim and the commetti of whatever you have suggested. It is time of need to be helped the flooded people but the turth is that democracy is out of fashion for us because we are unable to choose our leaders.

    shahid ali 3 months ago
  • Ms. Ayesha! You are right on target. I have read the comments and have liked the way Mr. Donne and Mohammad Saeed Ahmad have given. The fact of the matter is that Pakistani bureaucracy, elite, technical lot responsible for implementation of certain SOP (although these are non-existent or horribly ill-conceived), media and intelligentsia all have a duty to move ahead incorporating statistics and predictions. That raises the awareness level and there is lesser loss in a God-sent calamity (although every soul is affected according to a master-plan up there). IN RECENT UNPRECEDENTED RAINS, OVERFLOWING RIVERS AND THE DELUGE THERE WAS CERTAINLY AN ELEMENT OF PREDICTION WITH REASONABLY HIGH ACCURACY AS DURING MARCH AND APRIL, SUBCONTINENT RECEIVED THE HOTTEST SUMMER IN ITS 210 YEARS OF RECORDED HISTORY.

    Thus lot of additional water went up in the sky and that was bound to return during monsoon season. It did. It will again. Global warming is one of the main reasons that we will have the weather pattern changed all over the globe.

    If in 2005, Gen Farooq says that I will build New Balakot in a couple of years, and in 2010, we see nothing on ground and no activity for the last one and half years, this conveys that come what may, revolution is the only answer. The only problem will be to find the real culprits basking in sunshine on Brazillian (or similar) beaches. Have you got a way how this could be done?

    sohail ahmed 3 months ago
  • Wow…now thats calling for the revolution that Karl Marx anticipated :D We all want the equal communist society.. (only if it make the situation a lil better)… :S
    Well actually i think, not the elites but the working class have to wake up… Cause an ordinary person is likely to bring about the revolution, or rather has to bring it… it is better if the elites stay unaware of it…that is most likely to bring the change…as Karl Marx says…
    Loved the article…thanks for the read :)

    Sakina 3 months ago
  • Sad to see tht not a single embassy is doing anything abroad … this is the time when the ambassadors should setup relief collecting stalls so tht ppl thre should give … i have full faith in my countrymen n i believe they will leave no stone unturned in helping te affected ppl but sad tht government is still not doing enuff ….

    omer 3 months ago
  • Nature has provided another oppurtunity to Pakistani upper class for getting rid of their scrapped clothes, shoes and hoarded food items.Those who lost their homes will be on the mercy of govrnment officials,social workers and monotoring brigade of Army.The hue and cry will remain in the air for few months and later on life will gain its momentum.The most unfortunate aspect of the issue is loss of our credibility as a nation.Even after 63 years of freedom we are devoid of institutional integrity and still need Edhi,Baghwandas,Adeeb Rizvi et etc to run the show at micromanagement level.What a tregedy…..

    Amjad Mumtaz 3 months ago
  • For all those who say:
    1. Government should be taking care of its citizens and not elites,
    2. Only Allah can help Pakistan or Only God can save Pakistan
    (no doubt about it though, but “first tie the camel“)
    this is what i have to say to you people:

    Its about time we must stop blaming the government and look out for possible solutions to the crisis we are in. Every Pakistani knows what governments have been like in Pakistan: Rubbish! If you havent realised it yet than you are stil sleeping. Government has never responded and with the same people out there in politics, it will never respond. Its about time YOU! participate in the change. Allah will not send down angels to take you out of this mess. You have to become Allah’s Hand to clear this mess. Is there anyone willing to?

    I believe this is the best opportunity for the business community to step up, unite, speak out, and get rid of all the corrupts. Everyone knows how much money there is in pakistan. we see those palaces in dha, and those prados on roads and we quote that this country is “filthy rich” If not from the support of these rich people, this country would have been living in stone ages. Whether you are a millionaire, billionaire, or a trillionaire, whether you are a bohri, maiman, delhi wala, punjabi, or anyone, it is YOUR country! Dont give it away to the careless feudals and corrupt politicians. You have made so much fortune out here, this country has taken you up from little shops to multinationals. You are educated, you know how things are done. If you do not unite and make a consortium, than this country would be doomed and all your pride and glory will also be lost within. People do not expect anymore from existing bureaucracy, politics or military. Poor farmers are already doomed. What is left now is the business community. At this critical hour, if you run away with your back-up passports and extra cash, you would be doing a great injustice to your motherland and fellow country men.

    I say, it is time to topple the rotten political structure and breathe a new life into this land. You may well be doing charity work in your backyard but that will not help solving the problems. Only if all of you could unite and form a collective force, I am very sure you can easily take it all back from these political thieves what they have taken from you and your country.

    Please try to understand:

    fard qaim rabt-e-millat se hai, tanha kuch nahi
    mauj hai darya mai, bayrun-e-darya kuch nahi

    May Allah help all of us to become His Hand in bringing the purity to this land, which is the haqq of Pakistan as once dreamt by the great visionaries in Aligarh! – Aameen!

    talal 3 months ago
  • Elite ? Bunch of criminals and thugs!

    Tayyab 3 months ago
  • Change takes time. Due to the political awareness injected into the society by a free and dynamic media, we have seen things changing around us. Democracy returned to Pakistan. Militancy was defeated. We should hope that it carries on the same path and we can see more positive changes.

    Yasir Qadeer 3 months ago
  • Please God, not another messenger of doom.
    Common man is not common in Pakistan. Only corrupts are common.
    And btw elites are not the only problem this country has. You guys, the-self-styled-masters-of-truth, are fast climbing the charts. You grew up on the stories from 70s and 80s about revolutions, counter-revolutions, dictators and bla bla bla. Now the events are either brewing with consipiracies or are stuff revolutions made of. In 2005 earthquake, truckers increased the service charges manifold. Why don’t you go down and see what the so-called common man is doing to the other so-called common man.
    There are little or no chances of fantasies coming true. But if anathing happens, it would be anarchy and not revolution. If i have to draw an analogy, I would do it with the love-parade incident. Our incident only massive in scale. Afterall, mad crowd stampedeing each other is hardly a revoultion.

    zaigham 3 months ago
  • Recent clash b/w Jamali vs Jakhrani would give us a true picture of what elites are upto.

    Tanzeel 3 months ago
  • NO!It wouldnt. So far it hasnt. What are they waiting for?

    Saleha Khan 3 months ago
  • i don’t see any bloody revolution in near future ,coz we don’t meet basics of revolution and it is charisma of a leader that attracts masses and when that leader calls for a change masses follow it caz they believe in him and know that their leader will not betray him, so it will be great to know the person who will lead today’s revolution.

    Muhammad Saeed 3 months ago
  • First Marvi Memon and now Ayesha Ijaz Khan. That makes two heralds of the impending revolution. And if it were to happen? French, Iranian and Russian revolutions replaced old elites with new ones. So revolutions do not change societies, they just replace the actors. Elites resist change and try to maintain the status quo. That is part of elite DNA. Elites are not known for changing themselves. If that were to happen, Pakistan would start a new socio-political trend in the world. Besides, the Indus valley is not famous for drastic changes. According to one anecdote, someone commented to Faiz in the same vein as our two ladies. His answer was; worse could happen, adding quickly: nothing might happen. If this quotation is authentic, then I say, Faiz understood the Indus valley people very well indeed.

    M Saeed Khalid 3 months ago
  • And how many of you commenting here and venting your righteous ire would think nothing of splurging Rs. 4000 on a steak dinner at Cafe Flo as opposed to donating it to flood relief?

    Ozymandias 3 months ago