“Colonel Sahib’s son is taking the flight to London,” so said my driver to the ASF man at the gate of Islamabad airport. To my keen humiliation, the young man immediately waved us through, without bothering to even check the boot of the car. I am a middle aged academic. Surely, my driver shouldn’t have to bring up my elderly father, who retired 35 years ago, to claim privilege of not having to pop the car’s boot. As my driver said, “Sir if I had said professor sahib is going to London, there would’ve been added delay.” Pen-0, sword-1.
In 1952, my father tells me that he was front riding on a cycle with my grandfather, from Transit Camp in Rawalpindi to Saddar. My grandfather was a major in the army and in uniform. In front of the Military hospital on Peshawar Road, a policeman stopped them, smartly saluted my grandfather and respectfully said, “Sir double sawari (pillion riding) is not allowed”. My grandfather had the dignity and the pride of his uniform to immediately get off the bike. The two of them then walked all the way to Saddar, with the bike. Pillion riding was against the law, and it was unthinkable to defy it, especially for an officer in uniform.
The security state in Pakistan is not only a state within a state, but is also a main driver and protector of the capitalist development being witnessed in the country. A quick look, just at the real estate development, not to mention industrial and agricultural development actors and controversies, should illustrate the point. This development is increasingly constricting the space for the vast majority of the Pakistani poor working classes. Pakistan’s culture, media and economy has been almost exclusively appropriated by the middle class. The cultural ethos and economic policies reflect the middle class expectations, vanities, insecurities and neurosis. Admittedly, the urban middle class has also been expanding, but not fast enough to make a dent in the overwhelming numerical majority of the rural and urban poor. There is every indication that the Pakistani poor are not only becoming increasingly marginalised in the national consciousness but are also being physically hounded out of the rural and urban spaces of the country.
The security state can either listen to the pulse of the society as articulated by the Left, and make accommodations to save the system. Or in the best case scenario, it can find itself, where the Turkish security state finds itself, today — humiliated and marginalised
Pakistan has the highest rate of urbanisation in Asia. This is partially because the small farmers and farm labourers across the country are being squeezed out of the farming sector by corporate and large farming. The state too, through its acts of omission and commission, is closing down options for small and tenant subsistence farmers. Commercial farming is king. As these millions move to the cities, they find an urban landscape dominated by housing societies. It is well known that 80 per cent of the new housing stock in urban Pakistan is affordable by only 1 per cent of the population. As a result, in a city like Karachi, more than 60 per cent of the population lives in informal settlements, with rudimentary civic services, if any at all.
Automobile dependent urban design is making it virtually impossible for the poor to have access to the city. Sprawling sub-urban housing developments are only offering menial jobs to the working poor, and that too through the offices of labour contractors.
The Pakistani middle class may think that its trumpeting of religious piety, crass nationalism and consumerism may let it thrive into perpetuity. But the working poor who see all of this consumerism and have no chance in hell of ever partaking in it, will not stay silent forever. That’s where the political Left comes in. The Left has historically and contemporaneously been the voice of the subaltern in the Pakistani society. Either the middle class and the middle class dominated deep state can cling on to the fiction that it can bully the Pakistani working poor into silence, by making an odd Lefty or an etho-nationalist disappear. Or it can face the reality that the system does not and cannot deliver for the vast majority of the poor. The state of education in the country is a disaster. The public health system is on the verge of collapse. Charity and private sector can barely scratch the surface, and cannot possibly stand in for the state. The urban worker can’t even count on the food security for their families in rural areas anymore.
The security state can either listen to the pulse of the society as articulated by the Left, and make accommodations to save the system. Or best case, it can find itself, where the Turkish security state finds itself, today – humiliated, marginalised and thoroughly eviscerated by another demagogue, or worst case, Syria. Dialing down on its privileges, and perhaps finding pride in listening to a humble policeman, or God forbid, a progressive journalist, a politician or an intellectual, may yet save it.
The writer is a reader in Politics and Environment at the Department of Geography, King’s College, London. His research includes water resources, hazards and development geography. He also publishes and teaches on critical geographies of violence and terror
Published in Daily Times, January 20th 2018.