Is the Pakistani Spring about to happen?
During the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette the queen of France, very famously said “Let them eat cake” when told that her starving peasant subjects had no bread. Her response indicated an oblivion to the conditions and daily lives of ordinary people. Her deeds and words stirred the people during the French Revolution. It lead her to being beheaded.
What does this have to do with Pakistan? Everything.
A recent headline in South China Morning Post caught my attention. It read ‘Rich getting richer’: Pakistan’s packed Tim Hortons reveals growing disparity as crisis brews. What is this Tim Hortons that the Paki’s are all Ga-Ga about? It turns out that Tim Hortons, is a Canadian chain which opened its first outlet in Pakistan last week at an upmarket Lahore shopping centre. No sooner than it opened, it became a top social media trend. Pakistanis started queuing up for hours to grab coffee and pastries from the newly opened outlet. Tim Hortons is a Toronto-based company that also owns other brands including Burger King and Popeyes. What is more interesting is that Tim Hortons is all set to open two more outlets in Lahore. Just Shows that Paklistani’s have exclusive tastes!
A section of elite Pakistanis are eating their cakes and downing coffee as never before. As they queue up for their 700 rupee cup of coffee outside Tim Horton’s, they are not bothered about the price they have to pay nor do they care. High prices doesn’t concern the entitled “Marie Antoinette” class of Pakistanis queuing up outside “Tim Hortons” kind of outlets. This is at a time when the Pakistani rupee has lost a quarter of its value against the US dollar and fuel prices have spiked by 20-30%. That too, in less than a month. Also consider that in January, inflation is 27%, year-on-year. It is the highest in a decade. Further do not forget that Pakistan has foreign reserves only to pay for just over three weeks of imports. More importantly, the situation is only worsening. While disparity of wealth is a widespread phenomenon in most nations, in Pakistan, the rich-poor divide is far more than imagination can stretch. There are two Pakistans’ existing in the country – one of elite cake eaters and the other struggling to put one square meal on the plate.
Who are these elite cake eaters who do not bother or care about the near vertical rise of prices in the country? They are the same elites who import luxury cars at astronomical prices with scarcely available foreign exchange at a time when this valuable resource can be better purposed for importing fertilisers to rescue the Pakistani economy. The cake eaters of Pakistan who are “not bothered about the price nor do they care” come in three categories – the military cake eaters, the well-entrenched traditional cake eaters, and the religious cake eaters. Every bite of the cake they take erodes the impoverished state of Pakistan faster than one can imagine. These cake eaters are chomping away at constant acceleration without a backstop. They are are contributing to the fault lines of Pakistan like in no other country. In fact, the Pakistani situation is almost incomparable with any other degraded system in the international structure at this point of time. I would like to be educated if such sustained debauchery persisted at any nation/country/state at any other point of time anywhere in the history of this world.
The military is the prime “first right” cake eater of Pakistan. Afterall it owns the country. It eats the cream and the cherries as part of its first rights. It is only after it has its fill of the cake can anyone else even begin to smell it. The Pakistan Milbus inc is in a class of its own. It appropriates a budget to itself, corners all lucrative businesses and sets its own standards of luxurious welfare – in and out of service. It does not matter if there is a flood or an earthquake in Pakistan or if the masses are deprived of basic sustenance or if the country is in deep debt. The Army must have its share of Tim Hortons pastry without standing in the queue. Tim Hortons will come to its doorstep, otherwise ….it will have to leave the country. This translates into military generals owning tawny flats in London or luxurious villas in Dubai, or exclusive islands in Australia or pizza chains in USA. Very curious indeed that all the Chiefs of Pakistani Army have thought it fit to leave the country with their cake boxes and settle abroad. The other than the ‘General’ variety eat the cake though the extensive military business empire which ensures assured profit for life for all faujis.
The next set of cake eaters are the entrenched landlords, politicians, judges, bureaucracy and all the other power peddlers. It also includes real estate tycoons, sugar barons, kingmakers, business and industrial elites. These cake eaters are feudal by nature and use all wiles to get at the cake. They are not only entrenched but are self-empowered in perpetuity. They are the ones who will queue up outside Tim Hortons each and every time. This queueing up includes waiting on, kowtowing and playing second fiddle to the military at any cost. Staying relevant and eating the cake is their prime passion. To this end they will resort to all means – political jugglery, bribery, extortion, and all other forms of corruption. The more famous amongst them have their nest eggs abroad. The lesser mortals scavenge on the leftovers to lick the cake dry.
The third lot of cake eaters are those who are imbued with religious fervour. They come in various forms from Jihadists to radical insurgents. They simply raid Tim Hortons to eat their cake. Cost and price has no value to them. These defenders of the faith are commonly affiliated to the TLP, TTP, LeT, JeM and so on. They infest the Pakistani cake and eat it from inside. They are omnipresent and all pervading. They will be courted by the military and the entrenched elites to ferment the cake and make it palatable. They create the opportunity for others to feast on. In the process, they will also partake in the spoils like jackals.
All the cake eaters have exploited Pakistan for personal survival through extractive gain. Each of them have a self-serving interpretation of what they call Pakistan. They have shaped policy and control the state machinery to achieve their narrow ends. A Pakistani writer has called the cake eaters as “Elites Ltd”. As per him, Elites Ltd is a conglomeration of cake eaters who operate businesses, industrial, feudal, religious, and military institutions collectively. They work to hold their well-structured hierarchic political power, through mutual backscratching for mutual benefits. In some sense, the “Mutual Fund” business seems to have originated in Pakistan! The cake called Pakistan binds these disparate groups to ultimately work with a single purpose of eating it. In doing so, they display a high degree of cooperation, inclusion, and indulge in mindboggling quid-pro-quos to continue to squeeze the juices of the state. At times they may seem confrontational but are constantly involved in “Inter Elite” bargaining which could be direct or indirect through financial and political pipelines. In this constant merry go round nothing happens in Pakistan which can undermine their interests and hold. Transfer or sharing of wealth in any form with the impoverished masses is anathema to them. They ensure that the masses do not even get a sniff of the cake. They want Tim Hortons all for themselves.
Well what about the state itself? Pakistan is a state which has existed continuously for 75 years with PDS. What is PDS? PDS is the short form of Perpetual Dependency Syndrome, whose bedrock is donations, aid and other financial assistance given to Pakistan for the services rendered to other powers like USA, Gulf Countries and China. It was very easy for all the cake eaters to have a merry time till they could provide services to others whether in front line capacity or otherwise. As long as the moolah kept flowing in , it was all hunky dory. That is over. Pakistan has tried all stunts in the book including flaunting its nuclear assets in suicidal tones. No one is interested. The time has come when Pakistan has to carve its own future….if the cake eaters allow it.
All said and done the cake eaters of Pakistan have great focus – how to progress their office of profit at the expense of everyone else. All they are interested in is to have their cake and eat it too without soiling their fingers. They could not care less or more if the common man of Pakistan is starving or not. They will continue with their cake eating spree whether the flood affected survive or not. They have only one condition…apparently….drive in luxury cars to Tim Hortons, line up outside for coffee and pastry and be dammed with anything else. They are just hoping that some Uncle Sam or Uncle Xing or Sheikh Chacha will come along with another box of goodies. They are not going to come…that is the hard reality. The world has moved on while Pakistani elites are still stuck in their frontline dreams.
As per the editorial in Dawn : A sense of quiet despair hangs thick in the air. With Ramazan around the corner and Eid to follow right after, the inflation-weary citizenry must once again sit down for the depressing task of trimming their household budgets if they wish to continue to make ends meet. Even those who have been lucky to keep their heads above the water despite wave after wave of inflation will soon find it a challenge to stay afloat.The average 33pc inflation forecast for the first half of this year by Moody’s is likely to prove a trial by fire for the majority of Pakistani households already facing rapidly depleting savings and a constant struggle to balance their books. “There’s still an inevitably tough journey ahead”.
If the Pakistani’s pride themselves of being the descendants of great Arabic rulers, then they must be prepared for the Pakistani version of the ‘Arabic Spring’. Slowly and steadily Pakistan is going to that place from where a ‘Pakistani Spring’ is the next logical step. It will be interesting to see what will happen since the elite cake eaters of Pakistan are still busy lining up outside Tim Hortons to have their coffee and pastry no matter what the cost. They do not care…..that the Pakistani Spring is coming upon them. All they want is a couple of more outlets of Tim Hortons to feast in. France had one Marie Antoinette. Pakistan has numerous. Will even one be beheaded? Let us see…if the conditions are ripe enough…maybe…or maybe a box of mangoes!
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