PFS 2: The People of Pakistan

Chapter 2


Pakistan is currently estimated to have between 160 and 170 million people. Pakistan's internal turmoil prevented a routine census from taking place in 1991, but it was finally conducted in 1998. Pakistan's population is currently thought to be increasing at the rate of between 2.1% and 2.8% per year. Nobody knows exactly, but even at the lower estimate 8000 children are being born every day in Pakistan, or one Pakistani is born every 10 seconds. Some estimates say that Pakistan's population will double to over 300 million, by the year 2050.

The Pakistani paper the Jang reported in September 2003 (3):

Pakistan’s population will swell to 349 million by year 2050, making it the fourth most populated country in the world

The report goes on to say:

The population growth has caused an eight-time increase in the unemployment...With almost one third of the population living in abject poverty, 54 million people do not have access to safe drinking water ... 53.5 million are illiterates. The population explosion has led to the shortage of educational facilities, health services, housing units, food, living space, arable land and clean water

The vast majority of Pakistanis are villagers, living in rural areas. The "average Pakistani" is poor and uneducated. According to some estimates, 70% of the population of Pakistan is uneducated, and education among women is very low since few women are allowed to acquire an education in a society that believes the women should not be seen in public places, mixing with strangers.

These facts may seem surprising considering the smartly dressed, well spoken Pakistani men and women that one may see on television. But that is another curious hidden fact about Pakistan.

The "smartly dressed, well spoken Pakistani men and women that one may see on television" form a small, wealthy elite group that have been described by the expression "Rich, Anglophone, Pakistani Elite". As the description suggests, they are rich, they speak English and they form the elite, the cream of Pakistani society. They actually form a very small minority, numbering perhaps 25,000 in all. Most of the wealth, land and industries of Pakistan are said to be concentrated among about 43 top families of Pakistan, who, along with top army officers, form the cream of Pakistan(4).

In an editorial in the Indian Express that appeared on January 28th 2002, VP Dutt wrote:

Another fundamental flaw is the very narrow social base of the ruling elite. Pakistan is ruled by four interest groups or their coalition: military, bureaucracy, the feudal lords and the industrial barons. Making up the nucleus of these four interest groups, it is believed, are a dozen corps commanders, nearly 2,000 landlords owning more than half the cultivable land, a cadre of nearly 1,000 officers and less than 50 industrial families. It is they who own Pakistan and rule in the name of the people.

A report in the Jang (5) on Dec 5th 2003 says:

Top 20 per cent of the population has 50 per cent of national income, while the bottom 20 per cent has only 6 percent,

The Rich Anglophone Pakistani Elite have a great influence on the image of Pakistan abroad. The elite of Pakistan come from rich, feudal landowning families as well as from the armed forces. They drive the Pajeros and the Mercedes-Benz cars of Pakistan, and they own much of the land, with some feudal lords owning over 20,000 acres of land in a Pakistan that is full of impoverished people. Their children go to the best schools in Pakistan, and often study abroad in the best institutions of the US and UK, such as Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge.

On October 2nd 2001, the New York Times carried a report about Pakistan:

In the cities, the turn of a street corner can seem to be time travel between centuries. Wide boulevards clogged with expensive cars become narrow lanes where shrouded women carry jugs of water on their heads. About percent of all Pakistanis reside in rural areas. Most are sharecroppers, eking out subsistence. In some areas, feudal families still hold sway, making private laws and operating private jails. While the wealthy send their children to college in America or Britain, many of the poor are deprived of even an elementary education. The literacy rate is below 40 percent. A fifth of Pakistan’s government schools are “ghosts,” with buildings but no students or teachers.

A third curious anomaly of Pakistan is the almost complete absence of a “middle class”. The middle class in Pakistan have been estimated as being about 10 to 12 million in total (6, 7) forming about 8% of the population. The contrast with India now is stunning with estimates of the middle class in India forming about 25 to 30% of the population. A large middle class is an indicator of the development of a society from the traditional feudal pattern into a more modern society. The old feudal structure of society which Pakistan still retains, consists of a small, very rich elite governing a large mass of poor people. A large middle class is an essential component of a ‘modern’ state and its absence marks a feudal state.

A large middle class creates a society in which people have the economic clout to break the economic stranglehold of a rich elite and ensure that their rights are looked after. A report by Pakistani researcher Masooda Bano carried in the News International Pakistan on 31st August 2001 said:

Pakistan’s middle class is shrinking while India’s middle class is growing. More and more people in Pakistan are slipping in to poverty. This is a dangerous trend as the middle class is the backbone for any progressive society. On top of that the rising of the fundamentalist groups in Pakistan is a fact, which the nation cannot keep denying anymore.

Nine out of ten Pakistanis are poor and uneducated. Less than one out of ten belongs to the middle class and a very small number are extremely rich. Fitting in perfectly well with these facts are other items of information about the life of Pakistanis. The whole of Pakistan has only about 400,000 cars. Pakistan has only 3 million TV sets, for a population of 145 million. (8, 9)

We can thus define the “average Pakistani”. The average Pakistani is an illiterate and poor Muslim. Being a Muslim is important to the Pakistani citizen because it brings a semblance of order to his otherwise miserable and unenviable existence.

Religion also helps to define the psyche of the Pakistani, which is dealt with in chapter 5. Paradoxically, religion also helps in the survival of the rich, tyrannical and corrupt leaders of Pakistan. Islam teaches its followers to accept their lives as being preordained by God, and, as a result of this belief, the poor and deprived Pakistani does not question or complain about his miserable life. This stoic acceptance has allowed the rapacious elite and the resource-swallowing army of Pakistan to carry on with their atrociously rich lifestyles and blatant corruption for decades, without having to be answerable to an angry or demanding population.

The Three Faces of Pakistan

Top Left: Army rulers on manicured lawns and beautiful surroundings

Top Right: Abject poverty and brutal police subjugation

Bottom: Crowds celebrating the “Islamic Atom Bomb”

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