Monday, November 5, 2007

The Centers of Power in Pakistan: The Feudals, The Military And The Clergy

As a student of Pakistani history and based on watching the ground reality over the past several decades, I have understood that there are three main centers of real power in Pakistan: The Feudal/Tribal Lords, The Military and The Clergy.
The power of the feudal/tribal lords comes from their vast land-holdings and the traditional fear and respect that peasants/followers show them, the power of the military emanates from the guns and the power of the clergy is derived from people's deep religiosity. The civilian "democratic" governments in Pakistan have generally been dominated by feudal/tribal leaders with support from the clergy. In all democratic elections, the winners have been the well-known landholding families in various parts of Punjab and Sindh and the tribal/religious leaders in NWFP and Baluchistan that form the so-called civilian democratic governments. The military governments have been led by generals with support from the clergy. The clergy has, therefore, played a significant role in who controls the reigns of power in Pakistan.
So the two most important alliances that have controlled Pakistan at various times are the feudal/clergy alliance and the military/clergy alliance. The people that usually constitute the backbone in most really democratic societies are the educated middle class which has been largely absent from any participation in the democratic process in Pakistan. It is believed that one of the reasons India has been much more successful in establishing and maintaining democratic institutions has to do with their land reform effort undertaken by Prime Minister Nehru immediately after independence in 1947. On the other hand, the continued power and dominance of the feudal class in Pakistan has had the most pernicious effect on any attempt to produce a large, well-educated middle class in Pakistan. The lack of any serious human development is largely the result of the big landowners and tribal leaders refusing any improvement in their people. The lack of human development has also led to the inordinate sway that the clergy has over people who accept their ill-conceived notions about Islam without question.
Unless there is a fundamental change in Pakistani society that focuses on human development and reduces the privilege of these three centers of power, we are likely to see the real power continue to be concentrated in these three centers that excludes the real people of Pakistan.


Babar said...

I agree with the historical perspective hinting towards the real power houses. A few points I feel should be elaborated are that the feudals are not only Rural, rather Urban as well. This Uraban feudal exists in our society under the disguise of Industrialist and easily deceive the educated class. At a time Pakistan was ruled by 22 highly rich families which were basically Urban feudals. We saw their brutal side when workers were mercilessly fired in Colony Textile Mills resulting in mass killings. They have the same feudal instinct but do not have land and people to bring them to power. With the exception of some genuine industrialists, most of them get a industry by showing some borrowed equity, take heavy loans (lot more than agriculture loans)from the banks, and buy used machinery under the banner of new machinery and syphon the surplus amount, which is mostly more than their equity, in their foreign accounts. So, even before the industry starts, their money is back and now they can make profit on bank's money thus leaving the industry any time with no loss of equity. Their luxury is more expensive than that of Rural feudal as they know what are branded watches, designer's clothes, cars with customization etc.
As far as middle class is concerned, it mostly flourishes in political rule of any type because on regional and sector level, its the middle class that organizes political workers and bring sanity to the political processions. Mairaj Mohammad Khan, Minhaj Berna, Fatehyab Ali Khan, Kamal Azfer, N. D. Khan, Mahmood-e-Azam Faruqi, Munawer Hasan, Taj Haider, Raza Rabbani etc. all belonged to the middle class.
Since last few years, we are seeing a total wipe off of the middle class, which is highly alarming. Today when we say poverty level is up, it is not the poor getting more poor, rather the middle class is conveting from lower to poor class. They are the educated class and serve the nation just like blood to the body. Despite being professionals, they are not in a position to send two of their children to get professional education. It is getting difficult for them to live a respectful life sticking with the ethical values and hence have either got converted to poor class, or started inclining towards crime and corrupton, or left the country. This has resulted in a big class gap, education gap, loss of professionals, intolerant society, unethical practices, and increase in intelligent crimes. Unfortunate part is that, if out of frustration, now any movement starts for fair distribution of wealth there will be no one to bring sanity and people will go for snatching, looting, and burning the properties. We have seen this happening and would not like to see it in our country.

Babar said...

One hidden highly effective Center of Power that is worth mentioning and had always been a beneficiary under all circumstances is the Bureaucracy (civil as well as military). They give training to the elected representatives as how to do corruption and are rarely blamed for corruption. If NAB officials just take a round of the residential areas in Islamabad and ask the civil servants to justify even 100 sq. yds. of land and the tuition fee of their kids going to posh schools, they may have to sit behind the bars.
Today, justification of throwing the whole supreme court out, is given as the punishments the court gave to the civil bureaucracy who manhandled and threatened the Chief Justice and could not bring proof against people they detained. This was considered as a crime and gross misconduct. On the other hand, as Justice Ramday pointed out, those judges who conducted the inquiry of detainees and agreed to take the oath on the new PCO are back in the court. This strength is neither in a feudal, nor clergy, nor in any politician.
Btw I am not totally against the civil services group or bureaucracy but they should sit where they belong and be accountable. Today one of the main reason of people vs. police is due to the removal of District Management Group i.e. commissioners/deputy commissioners have been removed and now there is no civilian between police and the public to handle any public administration situation. For Deputy Commissioner/AC police was a tool (out of many public dealing tools) which they used as deterrent to bring people to the negotiating table and thus avoid making use of it. Moreover, they used to blend in the civil fabric participating and holding social events thus were always part of the society. That balance is also gone and replaced by forces which are trained to use brute force to settle the issues and that's what we are seeing today.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from a Christian Science Monitor report on the adverse role of the big landlords on recovery from floods:

"Islamabad, Pakistan —
Like millions of other farmers across Pakistan, Abdur Razzaq of district Kot Addu lost the majority of his crops and livestock to the floodwaters that swept through the country in August. He estimates his financial loss this year around $3,000 – a huge blow given the poverty in rural Pakistan.

But his problems are compounded by the $2,000 in rent he owes to his feudal landlord, who, he says, is not inclined to forgive.

“If I ask him to defer payment, I would only have to pay back with greater interest,” he says. Instead, Mr. Razzaq says he will sell his animals at a discount and attempt to start fresh.

Those who refuse to pay – or can't – are forced out of their homes by armed gangs sent by the landlord’s family, and sometimes set upon by dogs.

"According to leading Pakistani historian Mubarak Ali, author of “Feudalism,” the problem lies with Pakistan’s two largest political parties, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and the Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N), whose representatives in southern Punjab and Sindh province consist almost exclusively of wealthy landowners.

Since the floods hit, Pakistan’s rural landowning class, who use their money and influence to gain seats in parliament, have made headlines for being conspicuously absent from their constituencies in their hour of need, diverting floodwaters to save their own lands, and for failing to disburse aid money entrusted to them to pass on to their communities.

The practice extends up the chain of command in Pakistan's government. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi both hail from large feudal families in southern Punjab and have the added bonus of belonging to families with ancestors who are considered saints in the Sufi Islamic tradition. "

"Pakistan’s Army, the country’s most powerful institution, meanwhile, is unlikely to be the agent of change, says Dr. Ali, because of its own vested interests. “Over the years, the Army has granted large amounts of land to retired generals and brigadiers. So it’s not in anyone’s interest to have any land reform.”
“I always call it feudal democracy because it’s not the people’s democracy, and they are not interested in solving the problems of common people,” he says, highlighting the mismanagement evident during and after the floods.

Despite the fact that agriculture accounts for almost a quarter of Pakistan’s economy, Pakistan's lawmakers have seemingly safeguarded their own interests by ensuring that there is no agricultural income tax."

"In rural Sindh, where, through a combination of wealth and religious standing, landlord power is most pronounced, thousands of laborers remain in bonded labor for debts accrued by their forefathers, and are confined to their villages to carry out hard labor till their death, according to IA Rehman, secretary-general of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which regularly undertakes missions to have such laborers freed.

If the workers do not return to their fields to cultivate the lands, this might undercut the position of the landlords there, says Ali. But he’s not hopeful.

“The whole local administration is under their control – the police and the bureaucrats. So it’s impossible to have any peasant movement," he says.

“They [the landlords] are brutal towards their peasants, to make them realize that they don’t have any power, and if you disobey they are in the power to punish you and put you in prison. Fear is their tool to dominate their people.”

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an Associated Press report on Pakistan's assertive judiciary challenging the military and civilian leadership:

....Some believe the court’s actions are part of a necessary, if messy, rebalancing in a country that has long been dominated by the army or seen chaotic periods of rule by corrupt politicians. Others view the court as just another unaccountable institution undermining the elected government.
The army has been the principal point of contact for the U.S. in the decade since it resuscitated ties with Pakistan to help with the Afghan war. While the army remains the strongest Pakistani institution, recent events indicate it has ceded some of that power to the Supreme Court and the country’s civilian leaders.
The Supreme Court’s activism was on full display Monday.

The court charged Pakistan’s prime minister with contempt for refusing to reopen an old corruption case against the president. Later, it ordered two military intelligence agencies to explain why they held seven suspected militants in allegedly harsh conditions for 18 months without charges.

Some government supporters have accused the court of acting on the army’s behalf to topple the country’s civilian leaders, especially in a case probing whether the government sent a memo to Washington last year asking for help in stopping a supposed military coup.

But no evidence has surfaced to support that allegation, and the court’s moves against the military seem to conflict with the theory. The judges have also taken up a case pending for 15 years in which the army’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, is accused of funneling money to political parties to influence national elections.
The court’s actions against the army are a significant turnaround. For much of Pakistan’s nearly 65-year history, the court has been pliant to the army’s demands and validated three coups carried out by the generals.
The Pakistani media have largely applauded the court’s activism against the army, which has also had its power checked by a more active media and the demands of a bloody war against a domestic Taliban insurgency.
“I think the Supreme Court is going too far,” said Pakistani political analyst Hasan-Askari Rizvi. “In the past, it was the army that would remove the civilian government, and now it’s the Supreme Court, another unelected institution trying to overwhelm elected leadership.”

Supreme Court justices are appointed by the president based on recommendations from a judicial commission working in conjunction with parliament. The judges can serve until the age of 65 and can be removed only by a judicial council.

The cases have distracted the government from dealing with pressing issues facing the country, including an ailing economy and its battle against the Pakistani Taliban.

Moeed Yusuf, an expert on Pakistan at the United States Institute of Peace, said the jockeying for power between the army, Supreme Court and civilian government was expected given the shifting political landscape and could be beneficial to the country in the long run.

“No country has managed to bypass several phases of such recalibration before they have arrived at a consensual, democratic and accountable system where institutions finally are able to synergize rather than compete endlessly,” Yusuf wrote in a column in Dawn.
“No single group will totally dominate the system,” said Rizvi. “That will slow down decision making further in Pakistan because nobody can take full responsibility for making a decision.”