Tag Archives: ayaz amir

MCP and Proud of it!

18 Jul

I’m an MCP – Middle Class Pakistani. Until last week, I was pretty proud of my middle class roots and had written about the subject before here. Turns out, I shouldnt have been because it’s the MCPs (middle class Pakistanis) who are actually destroying this country.

WARNING: The rest of this article is an angry rant! I will write a more “balanced” response once I get the ranting out of my system! Don’t read if you don’t like one-sided angry rants!

For two years at policy school, I was taught through historical examples and empirical economic evidence, that the middle class in every country is the key to development and growth – both social and economic. And as eureka lightbulbs flashed in my tiny head, I thought two years of graduate school and all that toiling over economic textbooks (which was quite painful) had paid off. Political revolutions, economic revolutions, industrial revolutions, across the globe, had their roots tied to the educated middle class who due to their education, were able to innovate and challenge the status quo of society. Fueled by a hunger for change, driven by a desire to rise to the top and armed with the knowledge of the arts and sciences, middle class individuals across time and space have been catalysts for change. They seemed pretty cool. So, in my optimistic naiveté, I was thinking that the solution to Pakistan’s problems is to encourage the growth of the middle class.

But then I read “an article by Mosharraf Zaidi, titled, “Owning up to Our Fake Degrees”  and “Politicians Their Own Worst Enemies” by Ayaz Amir and realized how wrong I was. Here I was thinking that the root causes of Pakistan’s problems were illiteracy, a poor economy, corruption and nepotism. How wrong I was! It turns out the trouble with Pakistan is its middle class. Those people with their laptops and their blogs – like me – were the bane of Pakistan’s existence.  (did I mention Mosharraf Zaidi and Ayaz Amir both have laptops? And MZ also has a blog). I was a little hurt by that assertion, not to mention, a little confused as  these two gentlemen had just undone two years of rather rigorous graduate schooling. I thought, I was doing something good by being focused on my studies and going to school abroad to access the best education I could manage. Turns out, I was turning into a Pakistan-Destroying-Laptop-Wielding-Chatterer – and these people – according to Ayaz Amir and Mosharraf Zaidi are the worst of the lot in Pakistan. Someone should have alerted me to this earlier. I could have saved myself and my parents much-needed money that they could then have invested in a Shaadi fund for me rather than a college fund. And then by sitting at home instead of going to school, being silent as all good nation building Pakistani women are supposed to be, I could have made chappatis and children for my husband and country. This would have been much better than wielding a destructive laptop and blog.

 

Yes, You! You MCPs are Toxic Waste!

Sorry, these gentlemen’s arguments blow my mind – I get a little worked up!

So why does Pakistan’s middle class suck so much? Why are they the toxic sludge that’s eating away at the foundation’s of this country? Here are the arguments that these two articles made and my naive (probably destructive) MCP views on them.

1. Why care about fake degrees? Everyone (especially the MCPs) is guilty of some fraud or fakeness so what right do these fraudsters have to pick on other fraudsters? 

Fraud does no harm to society. It doesn’t erode our morals, or take away from merit. It doesn’t prevent good and deserving people from rising to the top. It doesn’t prevent good decisions from being made. Since fraud is such a wonderful and commonplace thing, lets all turn a blind eye to it and go about our fraudulent ways. That’s clearly a recipe for good governance and sustainable economic growth.

In case you didnt guess, I was being sarcastic! 🙂

 So all the MCPs skimp on taxes, run red lights and ask friends and relatives to help their children get admitted to schools and colleges or get jobs. But have these columnists paused to think, why MCPs do this? Becuase, the power structures are fundamentally flawed and corrupt and therefore force people to mold themselves into the corrupt framework of the state in order to function within it. This is not desirable and not sustainable. And the way to deal with this is not to ask for less accountability but to ask for more.

But why ask for accountability only from politicians? Because if you punish some small bureaucrat or some clerk – it makes no difference and sends no message. But if you punish a man or woman at the top, it sends a message to all of society that no one is above the law. MCPs and all other classes of Pakistanis break the law because they know that those who make it and those who are supposed to be the vanguards of it do it without any qualms. So unless we can hold legislators accountable we have no right to hold others accountable.

Oh! And there is also the small matter of the constitution. The average MCP has not taken an oath to not lie, cheat or steal, but parliamentarians (implicit in what makes them eligible for election to the August house) have! So they are in violation of the constitution. And that to my MCP mind, is a problem.

2. Real constituents, who vote, don’t care about fake degrees. They elect the same people again. So can these MCPs stop thinking that their education makes them smarter and enables them to speak on behalf of the people who elected these fake degree holders into office?

First of all, I’m an MCP and I vote.

But its true that turnout numbers reflect dismal rates of participation in urban areas where MCPs reside. MCPs don’t vote. maybe people in rural areas would also not vote if they didn’t have someone holding a gun to their head or bussing them to the polling stations or if their livelihood and safety didnt depend on it. But we will never know.

AA and MZ both suggest that these elected representatives embody the wishes and aspirations of the people of the area. And if this is what the people want then who are these MCPs to intervene. AA and MZ seem to think that Jamshed Dasti is the best that Muzzaffargarh has to offer and that is why he won the election. He won the election because he was backed by the PPP and had the money to win the election. His winning the election speaks more to our unfair electoral system than to the true wishes and aspirations of the people. It’s not like people shunned a saint to choose Dasti. They shunned another equally dubious leader who switched party allegiances each year for dasti. And until people’s choices remain so limited, I don’t think we can believe that Jamshed Dasti is the “true” representative of the people. Muzzaffargarh and the rest of Pakistan have better people to offer. They just don’t have the resources to get elected to office.

But anyway, why are MCPs screaming on behalf of people they have never even met? I don’t know about the others but I wasnt screaming on behalf of the people I have never met. I was screaming on behald of the constitution and morality and other such self-righteous notions. Someone has to speak up for them or have we become so jaded that we can’t even muster the courage to challenge what we feel is unequivocally wrong and unjust? My education does not give me the right to speak on behalf of people I do not know – but my education does give me the advantage of having access to public forums and to a little bit of history and comparative analysis. So it is on behalf of those things that I speak and on behalf of a better future for my country.

3. MCPs are a tiny fraction. They are politically irrelevant. And just noisy. They hurt my ears and take up space in newspapers. Why don’t they just keep quiet?

Strange that you would use up space in a newspaper to rant about this tiny inconsequential fraction of people. And even stranger is that you rant in newspapers because according to you – it does no good! So why are you, oh wise people, doing what we diabolical MCPs are up to? Could it be that you do it because people actually read and listen?

I rant in newspapers and on blogs because I feel that this is my contribution to Pakistani society (other than being a teacher, holding a job, paying taxes, etc). And as Pakistan increasingly gets more connected to the world-wide web, and as more Pakistanis get access to the internet, more people will be able to read and learn from a greater variety of views and voices. Such exchange of ideas is critical to reform in any society. And while my writing or my ideas might not be good or great, there are others out there who do have good ideas and good writing and they have fantastic research, actually steeped in empirical evidence to prove their ideas and to guide future policies and innovations – most of these people are hard-working middle class Pakistanis.

4. Oh stop being so pompous and self-righteous and go do something worthwhile like engaging in actual politics.

Unfortunately, my skills are not as great as Ayaz Amir’s and I do not have the charm, charisma or constituency that he has. So I would suck at politics. But is politics, the only way to prove one’s worth to the country? The unfortunate reality of Pakistan, as my good friend Nadine Murtaza says is that “everyone wants to be a leader and no one wants to be a good professional.” My service to Pakistan as an MCP is not to engage in politics, but it is to do to the best of my abilities whatever it was that my MCP education allows me to do. And in the past, this has worked out well for most countries, as their middle class populations have fueled growth by being good at their professional duties and by instilling in their children the ethos of hard work and just rewards. But I do hope that one day, MCPs do join politics and I am sure there will be talented and charismatic ones who do. Only good could come of it. But it is not the duty of the majority of MCPs to become politically active. That is not how they will best serve the country. They will best serve the country by educating themselves, by learning the value of logic and reason and the value of hard work and inspiring and instilling it in others. It is the spread of the middle class ethos that leads to the transformation of nations and it is our duty as MCPs to spread this ethos in any way we can. To see a detailed discussion of this please see the paper by Banerjee and Duflo here.

So I’m off to serve my country by doing what I was trained to do – analyzing public policy. And I’m going to do it on my blog and I might even do it in the Newspaper in the hopes that it will spark debate and dialogue that will one day lead to positive change. One can hope? Or is that also a stupid MCP notion?

Till then, can you please stop hating the MCPs? We’re not that bad. We pay the bulk of taxes (income and transactional taxes), we man hospitals, schools, shops and corporations and keep this country going.

Yearning for Change

20 Feb

Published in The News: Saturday, February 20, 2010

I am every bit of the middle-class Pakistani that Ayaz Amir describes with so much disdain in his article ‘The (misdirected) yearning for change’ (February 12). I live in a nice part of a town, I went to an English medium school, my mode of transportation is a car, I converse in English and I discuss politics with great enthusiasm in my drawing room. And my political activism is unfortunately limited to the drawing room only because there is no space for the likes of me or other middle-class Pakistanis in mainstream politics.

In his furious criticism of the middle class, Mr Amir forgets that it isn’t enthusiasm or willingness that’s missing on the part of the middle class; it is the lack of an influential surname and bank balance. History is testament to the fact that it is not honesty, integrity, skill, patriotism or commitment to public well being that will earn you a place in the political process of Pakistan. Instead, the pre-requisites for political participation are the ability to either coerce or bribe voters into submission. Political parties give tickets to those candidates only who bring with them either power of the purse or power of the punch. I would like to ask Mr Amir how, in the absence of correct lineage and appropriate financial assets, I should participate in the political process?

Political parties in Pakistan have done nothing to encourage young middle-class Pakistanis to join their ranks. There is no process through which young middle class people can get involved in mainstream politics and make a career out of it. None of the political parties have a commitment to nurturing future political leadership. There is a tacit agreement amongst all in power to further propagate their own control by renaming their progeny to the thrones of political power. The leader of the PPP will always be a Bhutto and that of the PML-N will always be a Sharif. And those that will stand by them will be Makhdums, Maliks, Chaudhrys, Bizenjos, Bugtis, Marris, Khars or Khuros. There is no place for just a plain citizen of Pakistan, Sehar Tariq.

I have educational degrees from very fine academic institutions. I have a passion for politics and a deep-rooted sense of patriotism. I also have training in the development, implementation and assessment of public policy. But I don’t think those qualities rank high on the recruitment criteria of any mainstream political party.

So, where should I take all that I have to say based on what I have learnt and based on where I would like to see my country go? “Why don’t you join the youth wing or the [insert political party name] Students Federation,” you might say. Surely, student politics is a good way for young middle-class Pakistanis to become involved in the political process. It is. However, student politics – sponsored and nurtured by the democratic forces that you urge us to join – is merely an extension of the coercive power of these political parties. Student politics in Pakistan is characterised by wielding hockey sticks, calling for strikes, intimidating students and professors and creating roadblocks or filling in seats at rallies when needed. And my skills with a hockey stick are sub-par.

I can write great policy papers. I often get A grades on them. But our student political groups don’t require policy nerds. Political parties neither leverage nor encourage youth wings to participate in policy making because it would take them away from disrupting the academic peace and diminish their powers of intimidation. In countries where political parties are truly interested in nurturing new leadership, student leaders are encouraged to write, think and present on key policy issues. Youth wings serve as engines for new and fresh thinking on old and pressing problems. But our political recipe for success involves minimising thought and maximising personal profit. This leaves little room for the academically inclined or the violently disinclined middle classes to participate.

The only form of participation open to us is discussion, which, due to the restrictive patterns of Pakistani politics, we cannot take to the National Assembly. So we sit in our drawing rooms or write on our shiny laptops and publish in English dailies – our armchair activism – our visions of where we want our country to go. But before you write us off, think of it this way, given that the salaried middle classes are the single biggest taxpaying group in the country – our money funds your salary. You participate in the political process on the back of our hard-earned rupees. And since it is our money you spend while you take decisions in the “national interest” and “participate in the political process”, at least give us the right to comment on and complain about those decisions since you have denied us the space to participate in making them.

The writer is a student at Princeton University. Email: stariq@princeton.edu

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