Social Capital in Pakistan

Pakistan is a society that seems to have lost self confidence and self esteem. Opinion pieces are beginning to recognize that what is driving us to failure may lie deep in some intangible factor in ourselves and our society.

Shafqat Mahmood writes in a column entitled, “The absence of morality” (Jan 29, 10)

“We are a deeply religious people. We even have it in our Constitution that no law would be made that is not in conformity with Holy Quran and Sunnah. And we don't just leave it to a verbal commitment. The attendance in mosques for prayers and at other religious occasions is large and growing. And yet, how do we explain this moral vacuum within?

Morality is a luxury in our society. Pragmatism a necessity.”

Ayaz Amir writes in a column entitled “A governing class which makes one cry” (Jan 15. 2010)

“Odysseus would have had to revise his understanding of patience were he to have undertaken his voyages in the salubrious climate of the Islamic Republic. Adversity and facing up to it are part of the human condition. But the consistent ability to make simple problems worse and invent new problems all the time is a distinction that sets us apart from many other countries in what used to be called the Third World.

RAW and Mossad in their wildest imagination can't do to us what we are capable of inflicting on ourselves.

We just can't get things right and governance or the administering of things seems to lie wholly beyond our collective ability or our collective endeavours. Yes, we face a tough situation that would have taxed all of Odysseus's cleverness to fix. But what explanation for the collective death wish which seems to afflict our governing class, from one end of the spectrum to the other?”

Many countries have become failed states despite many attempts at modernization, economic aid and all manner of nifty economic policies. Learning from these failures, several important thinkers have been turning to new concepts such as “social capital!” We are all cognizant of the importance of physical capital—factories, roads, construction etc—and our current measure of investment in national accounts only measures this form of investment. “Human capital” is also now very well known but often thought only of schooling and measured purely in terms of years of schooling or numbers of schools with very little measurement of quality. The third from of capital –social capital—is little understood, very difficult to measure and not easy to rigorously define. It has been defined by Fukuyama as 'Social capital can be defined simply as the existence of a certain set of informal values or norms shared among members of a group that permit cooperation among them.' Putnam defines it as 'features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.'

To me what most Pakistanis are talking about is a sharp erosion of social capital in Pakistan that most of us have witnessed in our lifetimes. Increasingly we lament lack of trust or loss of a moral compass or the inability of Pakistanis to cooperate.

To look into this issue I recently conducted a small survey among Pakistani immigrants in Dubai. These are mostly poor people who have migrated under very difficult circumstances to escape poverty and lack of opportunity at home. They represent the poor but enterprising Pakistani who has shown the ability to understand an seize a migration opportunity often at considerable cost and hardship. The sample contained people from many different backgrounds (taxi drivers, waiters, shop assistants, clerical employees, etc) and form all provinces in Pakistan (Sindh, Punjab, Baluchistan and Pushtun). They go to Dubai without families and save about 90% of their earnings to remit to their families. For 30 years, Pakistan has been using these remittances to sustain an otherwise unsustainable exchange rate and Balance of Payments situation.

To me the views of this fairly representative but entrepreneurial Pakistanis is very informative of how the best of Pakistanis are thinking of our society.

Social Capital: What ordinary folk think

(98 immigrants Dubai)

Proud of being Pakistani


Pakistanis at Fault


Work together


No trust


Faith in state


Faith in leadership


Pakistani education valuable


If this data is to believed, people have lost national pride and have little faith in the government, the state and the leadership of the country. But what is more worrisome that Pakistanis seem to lack trust and the ability to cooperate and work together. The lack of pride in being Pakistani seems to come from this consistent lament that I heard that it is our fault that we cannot find better leadership and better governance.

As a side note many of these immigrants had received a number of years of Pakistani schooling in government schools. They were very critical of that education often saying that it was a waste of time.

I would love to hear your own personal observations on Social Capital in Pakistan.

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