Feudal Stranglehold in Pakistan
From DAWN's Editorial, Dec. 9, 2007
OVER the decades, society in Pakistan has undergone many changes but one major component of our body politic has resisted all change: the feudal control of the country's political institutions. Feudals have often made fun of city-based intellectuals' lament over the continuation of feudalism in Pakistan, accusing the latter of a textbook addiction to socialist jargon. It is true that the pattern of land ownership has over the decades undergone considerable change, especially in northern Punjab, and modern technology seems to be chipping away at old values and giving a new consciousness to the underdogs. But in southern Punjab and Sindh the feudal pattern of land ownership and inheritance has persisted. In this respect a report in Saturday's Dawn is revealing and confirms how well entrenched the feudals are in our political system. According to the report, the three mainstream national parties — PPP, PML-N, PML-Q — and the Sindh-based PML-F have made no efforts to diversify class representation in parliament and have continued to give party tickets in overwhelming numbers to feudal lords.
According to a survey conducted by the Free and Fair Election Network, of the 112 candidates fielded by the PML-Q, 52 happen to be big landlords. The same is true of the PPP, which has given about the same number to the feudals in 114 constituencies. In the case of the PML-N, 39 candidates happen to be landlords, and one should not be surprised if a party headed by the industrial tycoons that the Sharifs happen to be has given party tickets to 24 businessmen. This means 63 of the party's 96 candidates belong to the elite. The businessmen's quota in the PPP is 26, taking the total of those in the elite class to nearly 80. As for the PML-F, 13 of Pir Pagara's 20 candidates happen to be feudal lords, since nowhere does feudalism exercise such pervasive control over the rural social scene as in Sindh. The Jamaat-i-Islami and the MQM have given tickets to the middle class. The latter has an urban base, while the JI has traditionally been a middle-class party, though this time 11 businessmen too are there on the JI ticket.
By evading the two bouts of land reforms, one by a military government and the other by a populist regime, the feudal class has demonstrated its political clout. Its hold over parliament and its consequent control of policymaking institutions in Pakistan have had disastrous consequences for the country. Often working in tandem with the military and the clergy beholden to the status quo, the feudal class has pursued policies that have retarded Pakistan's economic progress, managed till this day to evade tax on agricultural income and militated against the growth of a prosperous and educated middle class that could have a stake in democracy. The military's proclivity to intervene in politics, the rise of religious militancy, and the feudal lobby's continued stranglehold over the state structure have combined to frustrate the Pakistani people's search for a stable democratic order.