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Social and Structural Transformations in Pakistan

Structural developments over the last decade in Pakistan have resulted in numerous substantive transformations, which have altered social relations and societal structures. There are many reasons for this change such as capital inflows, globalisation, the media boom and trends in women's education. There is a need to interpret and further explore such developments to examine and understand what, if anything, they mean for political transitions and transformations.

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LETTER FROM SOUTH ASIAEconomic & Political Weekly EPW may 17, 200811hopes that some estimates of its size will emerge through research. On account of easy credit, one can present data which support the claim that a consumerist middle class defines the workings of the economy. For instance, the numbers of cars and motorcycles doubled in Pakistan in the period 2001; mobile phones, which had a density of just 5 per cent of the population in 2004, within four years, have reached the equivalent of 51 per cent of the Pakistani population. Moreover, despite growing regional and income dis-parities, per capita income has almost doubled since 2000.While an economic middle class exists, one can surmise that along with the huge growth in the media providing constant news and information, this class has also become more aware of its rights and perhaps, even responsibilities. Perhaps it was these new, emergent and assertive groups who participated in and gave direc-tion to the political and civil society movements of 2007 and Pakistan’s media revolution played a key role in this. In 2002 when the last elections were held, there was only one private tv channel in the country; today there are more than 30 private news and information channels, in all major languages. With constant information, analysis and chatter about even minuscule political tremors and developments, much of Pakistan’s society has become involved with and informed about what goes on in the country. While numerous rumours and spins are given to political stories, no one can any longer claim to be uninformed. However, one must add a word of cau-tion here. If the economic transformations from the agrarian, rural and feudal struc-tures have given rise to these new groups or middle classes, it is important to state that the political role of such classes need not be “progressive”, as is often incorrectly assumed and romanticised. The category of the middle class has no particular moral or ideological mooring. This group or class can be as democratic and revolutionary as it can be fascistic. Gender EnrichmentAnother factor that is affecting society and its relations is the increasing visibility of women in public spaces and not merely in parliament. While the largest number of women have been elected from the general seats in the last elections, evi-dence from most urban centres suggests that women are more visible at higher tiers of education, in the media and in the growing services sector. It is not just that girls predominate in liberal arts and humanity colleges, but rough estimates suggest that in the case of Karachi Univer-sity and Government College University, for example, girls dominate the campuses by a huge margin, perhaps four-to-one. While many observers point out that while on university and college campuses moregirls are certainly more visible, they immediately add that most wear some version of the hijab, suggesting a form of growing conservatism. These visual descriptions perhaps confirm the view of some – that Pakistani society has becomefar more socially conservative – yet they obscure the liberating element in the lives of many of these girls who escapefrom their oppressive, traditional, patriarchal and familial bonds, if even for a few hours in the day. Clearly, just thefact that girls are being educated in growing numbers and that women are coming out to work, is a revolutionary transformation, which has multiple and diverse social, demographic and economic repercussions,which many would con-sider highly progressive.The Business InterestsA dramatic shift that has taken place in the last six years or so and I believe, this might be the only benefit from the conse-quences of 9/11, is the substantial change that has taken place in India-Pakistan relations. On the one hand, little seems to have changed, with an inhospitable visa regime still in place, and with bureaucrats trained in many an old school still deter-mining relations between the two coun-tries. On the other, one of the most aston-ishing sets of figures which paint a com-pletely different picture show something very different. For example, India is today Pakistan’s seventh largest trading partner for imports and the first three in this list supply primarily oil to Pakistan. Pakistan imports more from India than it does from France, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Iran, Turkey or even Thailand! Overall, India is Pakistan’s ninth largest trading partner. From official trade of around $ 235 million in 2000, trade between the two countries now is over $ 1.4 billion. And this, despite insur-mountable travel and visa restrictions for traders and businessmen.In terms of investment, a new pheno-menon is the emergence of business inter-ests from the United Arab Emirates (uae) and other Gulf states. Awash with exces-sive amounts of money on account of the rise in oil prices, Arab sheikhs have been buying up key sectors in Pakistan. They have invested in real estate, banking, tele-coms, information technology and in other service sector tie-ups. While in its very early days, there are indications that theUAE is “getting involved” in Pakistan’s economy and politics to the extent that itcan influence decisions. Both Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari have had very close ties – business and personal – with many of the rulers in the Emirates and both have lived in Dubai for long periods of time. Moreover, the November 3, 2007 closure of the private channel Geo News (following general Musharraf’s Martial Law), which was based in Dubai, suggests that numerous arms of the Pakistani state also have close connections with the Emirates’ sheikhs. If UAE business inter-ests grow and given the overlapping busi-ness, personal and political relationships, one can be sure that financial capital from the Gulfwill influence, or keenly follow, developments in Pakistan.These are just a few of the many changes that are transforming Pakistani society, its economy, its politics and its social rela-tions of exchange and production. There are many reasons for these changes, from excess capital liquidity, to globalisation, to the media boom, to women’s education and similar trends. Some of these, such as trade with India, are reversible, but many suggest a more permanent trend. There is a need for scholars to interpret and further explore such trends to exam-ine and understand what, if anything, they mean for political transitions and transformations. One must add, however, that while there have been substantial and noticeable transformations, some institu-tions and some forms of politics have still not changed.

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