Identifying the 'elite' in elite capture.

'Elite capture' has been the favorite buzzword in Pakistan recently, dominating the imagination of domestic intellectual community for the past few years. The term was popularised during the PTI government when it was proclaimed to be the root of all socio-economic ills in Pakistan by former prime minister Imran Khan. Former finance minister of the incumbent government, Miftah Ismail, also spoke at length about elite capture, with his November 2022 article The 'One Per Cent Republic' making headlines across the country. Ironically, both champions of elite capture narrative are themselves part of the elite. Over the past few years, newspapers and digital spaces in Pakistan have also been occupied by 'elite capture', with the term appearing in the media every now and then. Nowhere, however, is there an answer to the fundamental question of, who is the elite that has captured?

In Pakistan, elitism and classism are considered as one and the same. Miftah Ismail identified pedigree and pedagogy as identifiers of the elite. He cited as example the control of most of wealth in the country by a few families, and the alumni of notable education institutions like Aitchison College and Karachi Grammar School holding key positions in country. However, if a student at Aitchison ends up becoming a software developer in Google or a barrister in London, how come they be considered elite? The tendency to associate elitism with social class may be misleading. All people living in DHA and Bahria Town are not elite, though some of them may be. Same goes for people waiting in line at Tim Horton's past month. Such people may have inherited a disproportionate amount of wealth, held an executive position, or built a profitable business during their lifetime, yet may not exert any crucial influence on decision-making.

If the formally operational identifying methods of elitism are applied to Pakistan, we may see descriptions of elites in popular culture and literature as vague at best. Elites are individuals or groups with substantial influence on important decisions in society, regardless of their social background or economic status. There are three ways of identifying elites: positional, identified by virtue of official or formal position; decisional, identified by possessing authority to take and influence decisions; and reputational, identified by recognition of elite membership by other elites and credible observers. Yet the definitions and classifications of...

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