Friday, February 03, 2006
Some Reflections on the Pakistani ‘Elite’
The urban Pakistani ‘Elite’ never ceases to astound me; at times, sadly more frequently than not, it is discomforting for me to realize that I’m a part of them.
It is not often that I get shocked these days, but it does happen and it did happen on the night of the Eid of ‘sacrificial slaughter’ a few weeks ago.
It was a largish dinner, a customary one given by the host twice a year on each and every Eid for family and friends – I was part of the latter. There was the usual smattering of the ‘Elite’; some old money, many businessmen, some senior executives from the MNCs and a solitary serving Brigadier (a family member). Being a celebratory family event, the ages ranged from 2 ½ year-old to about 75 years-old. One could say it was fairly representative gathering for a function of its nature.
As the evening wore on, among the men copious amounts of usquebeatha were being downed in characteristic local fashion and the resulting well-oiled vocal chords were soon in full flow. As a bi-annual decade-plus regular at these functions I was familiar with most, if not all, the other guests.
And I now intend to make a digression before coming back to the main point, so do bear with me.
At the dinner I could not help but notice the change in mindset this group of men had undergone over the past few years Five years ago their typical frame of mind, as the evening got further lubricated, would have been ‘All Hail Musharraf Our Savior’. About two years ago I began noticing that a bit of sideline sniping had begun against our Chowkidar-in-Chief. And now, by January 2006, these sporadic potshots had turned into a tidal wave of denunciations. On Eid night only two people were desperately attempting to defend our Chowkidar-in-Chief; one was a property developer, who has seen prices (and his profits) spiral by leaps and bounds since 9/11; the other, a son of an ‘Ayub Khan- period’ senior bureaucrat, who was known to have left the son two abiding legacies - an immense ill-gotten fortune and a hankering for ‘well-ordered’ military rule.
As for the change of attitude among the majority of the regular guests, I can only hazard a guess. While many of them had probably become inured to the state of rampant corruption and ill-governance (by the usual motley crew), they had, I suppose, misguidedly believed in the pledge of cleaning the Augean stables that Musharraf had made at the time of his coup. His obvious duplicity, I assume, has left a large degree of sourness among the urbanites.
Noticeably, a large part of the conversation revolved around the prodigious Khaki land grab that has taken and is still taking place – much mention was made of a Defence Housing Society stretching from ‘Lahore to Wagah’, Gwadar, Creek City, Karachi National Stadium et al. One can possibly conclude that this calculated seizure of huge wealth may seriously have jibed with the ‘Elite’s’ own money-spinning preoccupations.
Truth be told, these days, similar muttering can be found wherever one finds a gathering of the urban ‘Elite’ – whether it be at their clubs, at dinner parties or elsewhere. At the same time, as I have already mentioned, our urban ‘Elite’ is, first and foremost, only really interested in income-enhancing activities; they will moan and they will groan but will do little else. So, why should our senior Chowkidar be at all concerned with their opinions?
Now coming back to what shocked me.
Present at this very same Eid dinner was middle-aged, chief executive of a middle-ranking finance-type company. I don’t know about his schooling or university but he has joined the right clubs and moves around in the social circles that he probably wished to been a part of. Anyhow, late in the evening he ventured forth and sprouted the following viewpoint to a small group of seated men.
‘We should all be fed up with the way the West is treating us, it is all really unforgivable’, he reasoned before following it with a piece of abject lunacy. ‘What we should really do is give the same treatment to these wretched minorities – Christian, Hindus and Parsis -that we have got stuck with. These people are by and large anti-Pakistan anyway, so we ought it to ‘give it to them’ and then ‘biff them out of the country’.
Unable to keep silent I endeavored to civilly remind this bonehead that the white strip in Pakistan’s flag was meant to represent our minorities. But this man remained unperturbed and replied to me, ‘That flag represents 1947 and in 2006 we have to hold views in accordance with the realities of today’.
Then I tried to point his attention to the glaring fact that some, if not most of these so-called minorities (excluding perhaps the Parsis) had lived in ‘geographical’ Pakistan for several millenniums - unlike many of us. I even reminded him that as he declared himself to be a Syed, he was, by that token, historically an Arab and therefore technically an outsider. Furthermore I asked him: ‘Provide me with one good reason as to why anyone should boot out hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of this God-given soil who just happened to Christian, Hindus or Parsi?’
His resolute answer was, ‘Islam. This country was made for only us.’
Realizing it was pointless to further participate in this nonsensical drivel, I curtly informed him that what he had just said was ‘the brainless thing that I had heard in long time’. To my astonishment, rather than get incensed at my intentional insult, he looked at me more in sorrow than anything else. It was as if I had been the unintelligent one; the poor simpleton who had failed to recognize the level-headedness of his approach.
The real irony is that this individual happens to belong to the Shia community of Islam; Shias represent some 20% of Muslims in Pakistan and are in a clear minority to the majority -and increasingly aggressive - Sunnis (which happens to be the religious grouping I was born into).
It occurred to me that a numbskull – such as him – did not realize that once we start out booting out all minorities, his turn as a member of the minority Shia would eventually come one day. To take a brutishly extreme example, it is a bit like a Jew in 1933 Nazi Germany encouraging the new Hitlerian government to send all the communists, socialists, gypsies and other nonconformists to their deaths in concentration camps.
With a fixed mindset such as his, my arguing any further would have been a complete waste of time. So I gave up and instead walked away from him and those patiently bearing up with his load of twaddle.