The racist nature of Pakistan’s politics.

“Zardari, after all is a Sindhi, from a people most upper class Punjabis think off as backward, lazy, illiterate serfs who are unpatriotic and thus not deserving to be at the helm of affairs. This Punjabi elite cannot get over the fact, the man they hated, from a people they despised, has ended up as the president of the country, and that too without their blessing”

By Tarek Fatah

Pakistan is a multi-national and multi-lingual country of diverse peoples that wraps itself in the banner of Islam. However, its elites practice neither Islam nor recognize diversity.

On the contrary, the dominant ruling elites, the Punjabi upper middle class, civil and military officers, as well as the landed aristocracy have ruled the nation for over 60 years with a sense of entitlement that bristles with racism and chauvinism.

One would have thought the Punjabi ruling classes would have learnt a lesson in 1971 after their colonialist policies in then East Pakistan destroyed the country. However, instead of facing the truth, it seems this sense of entitlement and colonial attitude has been reinforced and passed on to the next generation. These men and women simply see themselves as the normative and all other Pakistanis, be they religious or racial minorities, as their subjects.

Only if one recognizes this internal racism of the Pakistan’s ruling Punjabi elites, including the media, can one can get to understand the near hysterical nature of the opposition to President Asif Ali Zardari that takes on a vicious personal nature.

At times it seems the hatred targeted at Zardari is sheer jealousy. More than one such gentleman has said Zardari did not deserve to have been the husband of Benazir Bhutto; a position they feel should have been reserved for them or one of their fellow Punjabis who fake colonial British accents, false Muslim bravado, but back their patriotism with genuine Canadian passports.

Zardari, after all is a Sindhi, a people most upper class Punjabis think off as backward, lazy, illiterate serfs who are unpatriotic and thus not deserving to be at the helm of affairs. This Punjabi elite cannot get over the fact, the man they hated from a people they despised, has ended up as the president of the country, and that too without their blessing”

This arrogant and racist attitude is not reserved just for the Sindhis, but also includes the Baloch, a people treated like the Blacks in America before the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Blogger Wasiq Ali captured this feeling best. On August 7, 2009, he wrote about a recent report by Transparency International that inside Pakistan the ‘perception’ is that while corruption is down in Punjab, it has increased in places like Sind or Baluchistan.

Wasiq writes:

“Quite clearly the perception creators are Punjabi chauvinists who deem the “lowly” Sindhis and Baloch more corrupt than themselves.  Ironically, there is more wealth –and vulgar display of wealth in Punjab—than in Sind and Baluchistan.  We must all believe, as true believers in the ideology of Pakistan, that the Porsches and BMWs of the Chaudhries of Gujarat and the Sharifs of Raiwind are all legally obtained but the Pajeros of the Baloch and Pashtun Sardars are not.  And, of course, the Sindhi Asif Zardari was “horrible’ for owning horses and feeding them apples (which, by the way, all horses are fed) but the Punjabi Sharifs are non-corrupt even when they own rare Siberian Tigers [Imported from Canada].”

In a country where ordinary Punjabi military generals retire as multi-millionaires in US dollars, it is fascinating that the tarred word ‘corruption’ is associated, not with them, but is reserved exclusively for politicians from the Sind and Baluchistan.

Thus, President Asif Ali Zardari has to live with the title “Mr. Ten Per Cent,” not because he has been convicted of the charge of corruption despite being interned for over ten years, but because the phrase has a sexy rhyme to it.  It is repeated ad nauseam by the media who cannot comprehend anyone outside the Punjabi framework as being independently wealthy.

Now those same elites are using Transparency International’s report on ‘perceptions’ to denigrate a democratically elected government in Pakistan that is dedicated to eliminate the jihadi threat to the country.

According to Wasiq Ali, “The words of ‘transparency’ and ‘international’ are good attraction points to draw public attention in Pakistan because of vague political landscape. Nobody knows the modus operandi and the data collation procedures of TI. Publication of these reports thus mostly serves the purpose of the opposition to taint the governments especially in third world countries. During the 1990s TI reports were used against democratic governments and eventually to justify [General] Musharraf’s military takeover in October 1999.”

He very correctly points out that “Transparency International has a local chapter in every country where it literally out-sources the task of compiling reports. The task is to interview local businessmen who first safeguard their business concerns, revitalize their vital connections, and try to milk these reports as much in their favour as possible.

Like all developing countries, Pakistan too is faced with growth pangs, one them being corruption. It is the nature of the beast and even countries like Canada are not free of this aspect of the ‘free market’ principles of capitalism.  Former Prime Ministers have been exposed as receiving hundred of thousands of dollars in brown envelopes. Bribes by their nature have two parties involved—the giver and the taker, both equally complicit in corruption.

The fact that the Punjabi elite dominates all major businesses in Pakistan allows for a certain ethnic chauvinism, which then affects the compilation of these Transparency International reports and opinion surveys.  However, it is only downright racism that suggest when a Punjabi politician imports a Siberian Tiger, he is an animal lover, but if Sindhi politician feeds his horse an apple, he is a guilty of corruption.

As Wasiq Ali writes, “Interestingly the business elite which mostly hails from Punjab has brought the country to the brink of Balkanization by concentrating prosperity in one province while distributing misery around the country.

This elite practically controls all resources of the country, mostly resides in Northern and Central Punjab and has often been the cause of major upheavals in the checkered history of Pakistan.”

Pakistan broke up in 1971 due to the arrogance and racism of the country’s Punjabi elites towards dark-skinned Bengalis of East Pakistan. Today the next generation of Punjabi ruling class should recognize that if they do not recognize their faults, what is left of Pakistan will also splinter into many fragments leaving their prosperity landlocked and surrounded by hostile neighbours with wounded prides.

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