PLUTOCRACY derived from a Greek word, is a society that is ruled by wealthy people. Plutocracy is not based on any established political system or social contract philosophy. Kleptocracy, also derived from a Greek word, implies the rule of the corrupt (kleptocrats) who use their political position to amass wealth by plundering the resources of their country. When viewed in the backdrop of these definitions of plutocracy and kleptocracy, it appears that politics has been dominated by the politicians belonging to these two categories in Pakistan, right from its creation. At the time of the creation of Pakistan, Muslim League, the only major party in the country, was dominated by the wealthy landlords. However, Quaid-e-Azam, in his address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, spelled out the important features of Pakistan’s polity, which was to be based on equality of all citizens, federal parliamentary democracy and rule of law. He also thought that the Muslim League must have a democratic constitution and system of succession as a political party.
Pakistan was ruled by the plutocrats for four years, from its inception to the assassination of Prime Minister Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan in October 1951. From his assassination to the imposition of martial law in October 1958, the country was ruled by technocrats-cum-bureaucrats, Malik Ghulam Muhammad and Iskander Mirza as the Governor General and President for seven years. After the imposition of first Martial Law, the military dictators ruled the country for thirteen years, from October 1958 to December 1971. First general election in Pakistan was held in December 1970. After the election, rift between the East and West wings led to the separation of East Pakistan. General Yahya Khan, a military dictator, handed over power to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who had won the maximum number of National Assembly seats from West Pakistan, on December 20, 1971. ZA Bhutto was one of the richest landlords from Sindh. His family owned 25,000 acres of land. Years after the creation of Pakistan, Bhutto filed a petition in the Indian Supreme Court to get himself declared a “non-evacuee” (Indian citizen), to claim Rs.148000.00, his father had deposited in the Bombay High Court. However, on the advice of his lawyers, Bhutto withdrew his petition, because it could raise legal issues about the ownership of his family property in Pakistan.
Despite his plutocratic background, ZA Bhutto was able to project himself as a leader, whose mission was to empower the poor masses, who had been enslaved by the wealthy class. The slogans Roti, Kapra aur Makan (food, clothing and shelter), cunningly contrived, helped Bhutto emerge as the strongest “Voice of the Poor” in West Pakistan. After winning election in West Pakistan primarily with the support of poor masses, Bhutto cleverly manoeuvred to ensure that Pakistan was bisected into two parts, because he could have never become a Prime Minister in the united Pakistan.
Soon after becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan in December 1971, he appointed rich landlords as the Governors and Chief Ministers in all the provinces. While in the Centre, landlords, technocrats and retired bureaucrats were appointed on key posts. A few party workers, belonging to poor class, appointed on unimportant positions, had his tacit consent to better the financial plight of their families and coming generations. When ideological Marxists in Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) showed reservations to such practices, Bhutto, according to Dr Mubashar Hassan, a co-founder of PPP, told them that one type of team was required “to gain power, and another type of team to retain power”. Majority of the ideological leaders in PPP either themselves left the party, because of Bhutto’s feudalistic mindset, or were gradually sidelined by party leadership before next general election, held in April 1977.
After ZA Bhutto’s removal on July 5, 1977, political process was once again suspended for eleven years. The third phase of civil rule that started after the death of General Zia Ul Haq, a military dictator, in August 1988, lasted eleven years, before it was interrupted once again by another military dictator, General Pervaiz Musharraf, in October 1999. Third phase of civil rule witnessed a new tussle in Pakistani politics. During this period the political arena was occupied by the rural landlords, represented by Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir Bhutto and the urban business class, represented by Nawaz Sharif, who was reared by General Zia Ul Haq. The clash between rural and urban plutocrats introduced a new political culture in Pakistan of “lotas” (turncoats). Openly and shameless changing and buying loyalties of the members of national and provincial assemblies for a few million rupees became the order of the day to the extent that the foreign analysts were prompted to calculate the exact amount one required to buy the requisite number of the MNAs or MPAs to become the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister of a province.
The fourth (current) phase of civil rule that started in 2018 has been described as “Disastrous Decade of Democracy” by Simon Templar, a geo-strategist based in Brussels. Selected extracts from Templar’s article reproduced below may provide an idea about the misdeeds of plutocrats and kleptocrats from 2008 to 2018: “As per the unholy charter of kleptocracy (Charter of Democracy signed by late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif), Sharif kept silent during Zardari’s plunder, and he returned the favour after Sharif took over in 2013. Where Zardari was a street thug, looting millions, forcing neighbours to sell their properties on the cheap, the plunderers from Punjab, are now certified dollar billionaires thanks to massive bank defaults and international cuts commissions and kickbacks.
Now decades of money laundering, defaulted bank loans and millions in offshore accounts and overseas properties stand to be exposed for what they are, the loot and plunder from 190 million poor uneducated helpless souls who are forced to sell or kill their children due to lack of justice, poverty and a gloomy future”. Pakistan’s current Prime Minister, an acknowledged international athlete-cum-glamour boy of the yester years, has been able to mobilize the middle and lower classes by exploiting their aversion to the corrupt power-hungry politicians. Though he himself does not represent plutocrats or kleptocrats, a sizable number of politicians occupying important positions in his party and government belong to these categories.
— The writer, a retired Brig, is professional educationist based in Islamabad.