THE desire for change is not something bad in itself. But when it is used as a source of political manoeuvring, the mantra of change may become an excuse for exercising power disproportionately. For the common man, change is largely linked to bringing relief and adding some meaning to life. However, change cannot be manufactured and must come through the natural processes of social transformation.
Politics is an integral part of social change and spurs class conflict where the distribution of resources is concerned. All formal and informal political actors fight for political clout, which is mainly structured around economic resources. But to claim their fair share of resources, political stakeholders have not only to win moral legitimacy but must also influence the majority in support of their needs. Nonetheless, power politics cannot stop the ongoing flow or processes of social change.
Like many other developing societies, Pakistan is passing through diverse processes of change, which have different connotations in terms of pace and having a positive or negative impact. Modes of production are changing and dependence on the services sector is gradually increasing, which reveals the regression of the agricultural sector and the stagnant industrial base of the country. Real estate is flourishing and is consuming not only the capital of other sectors but also the savings of middle- and lower-middle-income groups. Home or shelter provides a sense of social security and a sense of development in a society where the state has failed to properly utilise human and physical capital.
Economists have a better understanding of the economy and wealth distribution but there are also other factors at play which may slow down the economics-triggered change in society. For instance, especially in recent times, diaspora communities have been playing the role of a key interlocutor in emerging multicultural societies. Pakistan has a reasonably large diaspora in Europe, North America and other parts of the developed world; there are around 2.2 million Pakistanis in Europe alone. The Pakistani diaspora in the West has contributed towards changing the worldview of the middle classes especially those in the services sector. Irrespective of how good or bad this worldview may be, it is showing itself as a major stakeholder in the power politics of the country.
The state has not paid any attention to increasing resources and planning their fair distribution.
Around six million overseas Pakistanis in the Middle East are not only sending back billions in remittances but also a different social and ideological inspiration. A lot has been written about how these Middle Eastern ideological influences have been causing sectarian and social fissures in Pakistani society, but little attention has been paid to the country’s increasing interaction with China. About 28,000 Pakistani students are studying in China while more than 10,000 Chinese are working in Pakistan. Unfortunately, security constraints have limited the opportunities for interaction between Pakistanis and the Chinese in Pakistan, although Pakistani students in China can contribute to transforming the people-to-people contact. However, the social transformation which was expected after increased interaction between the Chinese and Pakistanis is not in sight any longer. It had been projected that such interaction would help balance out Western and Middle Eastern influences. But sadly, that has not happened so far.
The changes are constant and also cause temporary and permanent internal migration from time to time. The devastating earthquake in 2005 had affected about 3.5m people in Kashmir and KP. However, the relief and rehabilitation efforts not only led to the development of new infrastructure, they also provided the local people an opportunity to interact with the international community, even if for a limited time. And that triggered social changes in rural lives in the affected areas, which can be measured through the increased enrolment of girls in educational institutes.
Similarly, the floods in Punjab and Sindh often cause small-scale migrations towards the urban areas. However, religiously motivated militancy in the tribal areas alongside the Afghan border has caused medium-scale migrations towards major urban centres of the country including Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Gwadar. These migrations are changing the demographic patterns of urban centres, and ethnic integration is going on in the major cities. Southern Punjab and northern Sindh have a surplus labour force, which is also moving towards Karachi, Hyderabad and central Punjab.
These migrations are changing the values of lower-income groups besides imbuing them with a greater flexibility of attitude. Technology and gadgetry are further escalating the process of social change although fast communication has its merits and demerits. It has increased the flow of information — but to such an extent that our minds cannot process it quickly enough. Cyber ghettos and armies have captured virtual spaces and set their own narrow ideological, ethnic and political boundaries.
The current population growth rate in Pakistan is close to two per cent, which has negative consequences for the economy and society. Apart from the looming threat of an increase in the poverty rate, the state has not paid any attention to increasing resources and planning their fair distribution.
Political movements also provoke social change. The political parties have a poor relationship with rights movements, and this deficiency makes them subservient to the establishment. Rights movements play a role in promoting greater political and social awareness in society, but the process is difficult and slow. The power elites don’t like them because of their demands of fair treatment and transparent distribution of resources.
Religion is a powerful element in Pakistan and religious institutions benefit from social upheavals in society. The state has outsourced a major chunk of education to religious institutions, but they are converting human resource into dependents, rather than pushing them to drive the engine of economy. Religious institutions thrive on sectarian, religious and political differences. Their economic interests clash with the element of cohesion in society.
All these forces of social change are active in society. One thing is quite clear: the ongoing process of transformation is generating more frustration and less positive energy.
The writer is a security analyst.
Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2021