Pakistan’s middle class too small to counter radicalismBy Asia Sentinel Oct 20, 2013 12:31PM UTC
Any bulwark against radicalism simply is too small to be relevant writes Salman Rafi Sheikh for Asia Sentinel
In most countries, it is the middle class – the bourgeoisie – who form the bulwark against radicalism because of their vested interest in property, business and the country’s institutions. In Pakistan, what middle class there is, and there isn’t much, is fragmented and almost irrelevant, which spells danger.
Only 17.33 percent of the population have incomes of US$4 a day or more according to the World Bank, meaning that only 17 percent fall into the category of middle class, as 3 percent are in the upper class, far below totals for other societies. Even this 17 percent figure is tricky because it doesn’t consider the fact that a reasonable portion of this economic subset lives in rural areas where it is ‘middle’ only because of its financial position, otherwise it is illiterate, politically disinterested and socially immobilized.
There are no examples in the country’s recent history in which the middle class played a constructive role in building the political discourse despite the fact that the steadying influence of a bourgeoisie is badly needed to counter both Pakistan’s violent fringes and the influence of the military. Behind the political lethargy is that the middle class is very much business-oriented and prefers to stay away from active politics. Restoration of democracy was not and still is not because of popular pressure as represented by the educated middle class, but was mainly a result of political compromise among political stake-holders—hence, the phenomena of Misak-e-Jamhuriyat (Pact of Democracy), and “friendly opposition.”
It is an income group that, like much of the country, is divided along ethnic, sectarian, linguistic, caste and “baradiri,” or “brotherhood,” and tribal lines. In fact, the entire political culture of Pakistan is based upon this particular sort of division in which political alliances are established, in the majority of cases, on cast and baradiri in which votes are cast on the same basis; in which election candidates contest election on this basis.
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