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Story Publication logo December 13, 2009

Pakistan: "Pakistan is more united" than ever--Gallup

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"The Economics of Security" explores the threat of extremist violence in South Asia, especially...

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The other day, I posted an interview with Gallup's Pakistan chief, Dr. Ijaz Gilani, in which he explained how electoral data belies the conventional wisdom that the present government is on the verge of political collapse. In the second half of our discussion, he applied a similar counterintuitive approach to substantive policy problems, namely the economy, counterterrorism, and civil war.

Where the first half of our chat focused on inside baseball, this one is pretty self-explanatory. But still, two significant implications:

1. We in the business press sometimes cover changes in the commodity markets as similar to changes in the equity or bond markets, as though they principally affect futures traders. But here, they commodity markets matter because of the underlying commodities themselves. This is a place where 75% of the population still depends, at least partially, on the agrarian sector for their income. Their major concerns are the price of basic agricultural commodities--wheat, sugar, oil and gas.

This is arguably true of most developing societies. What's strikes me as unique in Pakistan is the degree to which that agrarian life remains a cultural ideal. Elsewhere, it seems people aspire to 'making it' by moving to a city, getting a big job and buying a fancy car. Here, I get the sense that the aspirational ideal is a self-sufficient family farm. That's why the price of wheat remains more significant as an economic concern that the availability of employment. It's also why, even the among urban elites, landed wealth--which, in financial terms, is small--sits a rung above ever-expanding industrial richesse.

Like many business journalists trained in the West, I'm used to writing about development in societies that are moving, or aspiring to move, in an industrialized and urbanized direction--policies that aid that movement, by providing jobs, urban infrastructure or consumer credit to an urban middle-class are a good thing. Here, I find myself rethinking core assumptions: how do I measure the efficacy of policies when a rural, not an urban, society is the goal?

2. At first blush, there's nothing surprising about Gilani's point that conflicts over interests can be settled via compromise, while conflicts over identity cannot. If the rebelling party wants to defend material or political interests, you can buy them off with money, resources or power. If they just want a break--for its own sake--then there's only a fight to the death.

But watching the clip a second time, I noticed that Gilani puts the power to define the conflict not on the rebelling party, who can declare what their rebellion is "about," but on those they rebel against. It's because West Pakistanis chose to see East Pakistanis as essentially different, as an "other," that they were disinclined to engage with any interest-based grievances. It's because Punjabis and Sindhis today don't see Balochis as essentially different that they are willing to engage with the interest-based grievances to begin with.

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