Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Khadim or Makhdoom?

Makhdoom Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani has been elected and sworn in as the new prime minister of Pakistan. He won by a massive margin of 264 to 42.

The new prime minister belongs to an influential and spiritual shia family of Multan, born on June 9, 1952 in Karachi, Pakistan. His father was a descendant of Syed Musa Pak, a leading Sufi spiritual figure of Multan of the Qadiri Sufi Order of Shi'a Islam. Syed Musa Pak hailed from the Iranian province of Gilan. One of Gilani's maternal aunts is the wife of Pir Pagara. Makhdoom Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani is married and has four sons and one daughter, Fiza Gilani and one grandson. The eldest son of the Makhdoom, Makhdoom Syed Abdul Qadir Gilani, is marrying the grand-daughter of Pir Pagara today in Karachi.

The Makhdoom recieved early education at La Salle High School at Multan. He graduated with BA in 1970 and MA in Journalism from University of the Punjab, Lahore in 1976.

The Makhdoom began his political journey from the platform of Pakistan Muslim League during General Zia-ul-Haq's martial law in 1978. He joined the Muslim League's Central Working Committee. He was also a cabinet member in the three-year government of Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo. He served as Minister of Housing and Works from April 1985 to January 1986 and Railways Minister from January 1986 to December 1986.

After a short stint with the Muslim League, the Makhdoom joined the Pakistan Peoples Party in 1988 and has since remained PPP's loyal and steadfast supporter. In the Benazir Bhutto government of 1988-1990, Gilani was again a cabinet minister: He was Minister of Tourism from March 1989 to January 1990 and again served as Minister of Housing and Works from January 1990 to August 1990.

In the Benazir Bhutto government of 1993-1996, the Makhdoom was elected the Speaker of National Assembly of Pakistan, which he stayed till February 1997.

He has been elected various times as Member of National Assembly from Multan. In the 2008 general election, he beat PML-Q leader Sikandar Hayat Bosan.

While the Makhdoom deserves to be congratulated for winning the nod from the PPP-PML(N) leadership to become the new prime minister, it is hard to see this development as a new beginning and a clean break from the past. He is part of the feudal club and a creature of the military, not unlike the "democtartic" leaders of the past. He owes his position to the family wealth and connections buttressed by the claim to being a descendant of Prophet Muhammad(PBUH).

Just prior to the recent elections in Pakistan, the BBC talked about the feudal shadow over Pakistan as follows: "In many cases they(feudals)are also able to claim the loyalty of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of "murids" (devotees) who believe they are directly descended from local saints. On top of this, they usually control the "station and katchery" (the police and the courts) which ensures the compliance, willing or not, of the local populace." Please read my February post on this subject.

As long as the feudal system and the feudal lords remain powerful in Pakistan, it will continue to have Makhdooms (lords) rather than Khadims (servants) in leadership positions.

Sources: Wikipedia, BBC News, Haq's Musings blog


Riaz Haq said...

There are reports that the new prime minister has officially dropped "Makhdoom" (lord) from his name. This is a very welcome gesture by the prime minister. I hope this symbolic change is followed by practical steps to truly serve the people he represents. Let's wait and see if others in the cabinet emulate his example and help bring about a real change in the mindset and ground realities of Pakistan's feudal-dominated politics.

Anonymous said...


The meaning of Makhdoom from arabic is "one to be served", not "lord".

Now we all know who the PM really serves, if it was not clear before.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's report on water related corruption in Pakistan:

"Pakistan’s irrigation network has always served the privileged elite at the expense of the poor. World Bank and government programs have consistently favored feudal landowners. When the irrigation system was established, the government failed to recognize the land rights of the original inhabitants and allotted irrigated plots to rich landowners and military personnel. While large and very large farmers control 66% of all agricultural land in Pakistan, almost half of all rural households own no land. A World Bank evaluation noted in 1996 that the bank’s projects "provided large and unnecessary transfers of public resources to some of the rural elite."9

The top–down engineering approach to Pakistan’s water sector has also caused massive collateral damage downstream. The Indus Basin Irrigation System starves areas of Sindh province – and particularly the Indus Delta – of water and sediment. And because the sediment trapped in the reservoirs does not replenish the delta, close to 5,000 square kilometers of farm land have already been lost to the sea. Meanwhile salt water is intruding 100 kilometers upstream in the Indus. The lack of water and sediment is destroying flood plain forests that are home to hundreds of thousands of people and mangrove forests that help protect the coast against storms.

While the downstream areas suffer from a water shortage, wasteful water use is wreaking environmental and economic havoc in the command area. Over–irrigation and inadequate drainage have caused the water table to rise across a large area. As a result, about 60% of all farm plots in Sindh are plagued by water logging and salinity."

Please read here for more details.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Reuters report on feudal excesses and case for land reform in Pakistan:

Dotted around Pakistan are vast estates run by feudal landlords who command enormous economic and political power, condemning their tenants to poverty, reform activists charge.

On some of these estates, debt bondage has forced 1.8 million people to work the land for no pay, generation after generation, according to the campaigning group Anti-Slavery International. On others, sharecropping systems are practised, under which landless tenants hand over between two-thirds and half of the crops they produce to the landowner.

Unlike other countries in the region, including India, Pakistan did not carry out land reforms after 1947, and attempts in the 1950s and 1970s to reduce the size of land holdings had limited impact.

"Land reform has not taken place because the lawmakers in many cases themselves have large land holdings and will never want to transfer ownership to tenants. There will be no land reform until [the] people are in control of governance," Mubashir Hasan, a former finance minister and social activist, told IRIN.

About 2 percent of households control more than 45 percent of the land area. Powerful farmers have also taken advantage of government subsidies in water and agriculture, and benefited from technological improvements which have boosted yields, according to the World Bank.

By 1977 the biggest estates had only surrendered about 520,000 hectares, and nearly 285,000 hectares had been redistributed among some 71,000 farmers. Around 3,529 landowners have 513,114 holdings of more than 40.5 hectares in irrigated areas, and 332,273 holdings of more than 40.5 hectares in non-irrigated areas, according to the government's annual Economic Survey.

"We manage to earn a little for ourselves by selling the surplus corn and wheat that we take from the land. It is hard work, but despite this we have not been able to escape poverty. None of my four sons is educated beyond the eighth grade. We needed their labour on the land," said Kareem Muhammad, a landless tenant on a farm near the town of Okara, about 110km south of Lahore.

In Punjab, both sharecropping and fixed-rent contracts - where a rent per acre farmed is paid to the landowner by tenants - are practised. In Sindh, about one third of the land falls under fixed-rent contracts and about two thirds of the land is sharecropped, government surveys show.

The sense of injustice created by the continued hold of feudal landlords and the poverty this gives rise to has been a key factor in rising social discontent - aided and abetted by militant groups.

"I am a landless farmer. Last year my teenage son was persuaded by members of an organization engaged in jihad [holy war] to come away with them. They told him it is better to wield a gun and learn to use it than eke out a miserable existence tilling land," Riazuddin Ahmed, from Vehari in southern Punjab, told IRIN.

"My son is only 17. He saw no hope ahead of him, and therefore went away with these people. His mother and I are distraught. But we believe he has gone to the northern areas and we have no means of finding him," he said.

Former finance minister Hassan blamed this on oppression and misery. "Today, governance has collapsed. Extremism has grown and weapons have proliferated," he said.

Farming contributes 21 percent to gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 44 percent of the workforce, according to the government's annual Economic Survey. Of the total land area of 80.4 million hectares, about 22 million are cultivated, according to official data. Nearly 65 percent of this cultivated area is in Punjab, about 25 percent in Sindh and 10 percent in the North West Frontier Province and Balochistan.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's the transcript of an NPR report on feudal power in Pakistan and how it enslaves people on the large feudal estates in Punjab:

LAURA LYNCH: The midday sun throws a harsh spotlight on weathered faces. Women crouch low, searching for, then plucking out barely ripe tomatoes. Every crease and crevice in their feet, their hands, even on their faces is dusted with dirt from the fields they farm. They work from dawn to dusk - and the landowner gets most of the income. Nearly two thirds of Pakistan's rural population are sharecroppers. One of the male workers, Abdul Aziz, says they all owe their livelihood to their boss - so they support the political party he supports. He has always voted for the Pakistan People's Party he says; the party of the late Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto and other wealthy landowners like her had always been able to count on the loyalty of those who toil for them in the fields. At her gracious home in Islamabad, Syma Khar traces her lineage - both familial and political - through the photographs she keeps in the cupboard.

LYNCH: Khar is a member of the provincial assembly of the Punjab - the largest province in Pakistan. She is also a member of one of Pakistan's most powerful families. The pictures are from the Khar family estate just outside the city of Multan. The sprawling property includes fisheries, mango orchards and sugarcane fields. Thousands of people work there - most are loyal to their masters. Syma's husband, his father, brothers, nieces and nephews have all turned that to their political advantage to gain office. The workers are by and large, poor, landless and uneducated. Pervez Iqbal Cheema of Pakistan's National Defence University says that's the way most feudals want to keep it.

PERVEZ IQBAL CHEEMA: A feudal, in order to maintain his influence, will be probably not very happy for extension of education or health facilities because as long as they have a minimum interaction with the outsiders then the chances of new ideas germinating or causing some trouble are relatively less.

LYNCH: That star power was evident when Benazir Bhutto staged her return from exile in Karachi in October of 2007. Though it was later marred by a suicide bomb attack, the Bhutto power base in rural Pakistan bussed thousands of loyal followers in to cheer her arrival and dance in the streets. Even after she died, Bhutto's political machine ensured her husband eventually became President. And her son, Bilawal, inherited the party leadership even though he's only 20 with no political experience. In a back alley off a busy road in Rawalpindi, boys are just starting a late afternoon game of cricket. Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, rights activist and professor of colonial history at Lahore University of Management Sciences, keeps an office a few floors up. Akhtar sees the staying power of the feudals - and gives credit to the military. It is Pakistan's other power centre - staging four coups in the country's 62 year history. Akhtar says the military, interested in holding onto its own sphere of influence, finds a willing partner in the feudal class.
KHAR: If they don't' keep that attitude then people will be doing daytime robberies because they are illiterate people. They will, you know, kidnap the daughters they will take away the children they will take away the properties, they will kill each other. So a boss has to be a boss. He has to have that sort of attitude.
LYNCH: As a farm worker empties her bucket of tomatoes into a crate there is no smile of satisfaction - the day's work is still far from over. There's little chance her life will change soon. Several land reform programs have failed to change rural life in Pakistan. And failed to loosen the grip of Pakistan's large landowners on the country's politics.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a 2008 Guardian story by Dilip Hiro on Pak feudal power:

The roots of feudal dominance lie in history. The Pakistan Muslim League, the parent of its present two versions, is the descendant of the All India Muslim League (AIML). Formed in 1906 to promote loyalty to the British Crown while advancing Muslim interests, the AIML was led by Muslim grandees and feudal lords. It was not until 1940 that it demanded partition of the Indian sub-continent, with Muslim majority areas constituting independent states. Unlike the anti-imperialist Indian National Congress, it lacked an economic programme favouring small and landless peasants, and trade unions for industrial workers.

Given the traditional peasants' servitude to landowners, and almost universal illiteracy in rural Pakistan, where most people lived, electoral politics became the privilege of large landlords, who controlled vote banks. During elections their choice of a party depended on self-interest: which one will supply or raise government-subsidised irrigation water and/or fertiliser; or build roads to the villages they owned.

This continues. A recent report in the Observer from Old Jatoi (population, 3,000) in Sindh is illustrative. While the peasants working for the local grandee, Mustafa Jatoi, live in shacks, his spacious house is surrounded by green lawns and high white walls, with its driveway chocked with Toyota SUVs and Suzuki Mehrans, now deployed to transport him to drummed-up rallies.

His electoral rival, Arif Jatoi, too has similar assets. But he takes time off to fly to Islamabad to seek extra development funds for his area from the prime minister, allied with the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League-Q.

In the more populous Punjab province, the Lahore-based Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, a PML-Q candidate, charters a helicopter to campaign in his rural constituency, promising to bring a gas pipeline to the villages. The family's fortunes have come from textile factories. Likewise, Nawaz Sharif and his brother, the leaders of the opposition PML-N, have amassed millions from their industrial assets.

It would be naïve to expect such super-affluent Pakistanis to advance the interests of landless peasants or poorly paid factory workers.

The near-monopoly of power by the Pakistan Muslim League was broken in 1967 when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, father of Benazir, established the Pakistan People's Party. He coined a catchy, all-embracing slogan: "Islam is our faith, democracy our polity, socialism our economy; and all power to the people." It won him the sobriquet of "a socialist demagogue".

While advocating socialist economy, he never uttered the term "land reform". He could not. He possessed 12,000 acres of rice-growing land. He behaved as haughtily as any other feudal lord. So too did his daughter, Benazir. The corruption and the affluence of her and her polo-playing husband, Asif Zardari, are widely known.

Just as with the Jatois elsewhere in Sindh, any electoral rivalry is between competing estate owners. In the Bhutto-Zardari case, it is Benazir's cousin, Mumtaz. Owner of 15,000 acres of arable land worth £12 million, he earns an annual tax-free income of £345,000 in a country with per capita income of £350 a year.

In a recent interview, Mr. Bhutto waxed eloquent about his last summer holiday at Hotel Splendido in Portofino on Italy's Amalfi coast while his peasants suffered the humid heat needed for rice to grow. It was a break from his normal summer forays to apartments in London's posh Mayfair or Knightsbridge.

The glaring scandal of the present election campaign is the total absence of the long-overdue debate about land reform, where the state takes over the land above the legal ceiling and distributes it among landless peasants.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a piece by Jacqueline Novogratz saying Pakistan needs more servant leadership:

I'm in the office of Dr. Sono, one of Pakistan's most extraordinary social entrepreneurs. Born a Hindu Dalit or "untouchable," he has worked for his country since his youth and emerged as one of the most important grassroots leaders in Sindh. He runs the Sindh Rural Support Organization, a nonprofit company that has emerged as the leading coordinator of local relief during the floods, providing food, sanitation, water and healthcare to six provinces, and serves 60,000 individuals two hot meals a day. With him are Sabiha Bhutto and Asma Soomro who Dr. Sono introduces as his "commandants." Both women carry serious expressions that give them gravitas and weight. Asma wears a black shalwar and an olive-and-rust-colored tropical print shawl over her head. Saibiha wears red-and-white narrow striped cotton. These two women led others to mobilize 80,000 people during the flood emergency.

I ask what they learned from the experience. Asma responds, "We learned to really go to their level, speak their language, feel what they would feel, and build trust." This is classic social-organizing language. "During these three weeks, I met a 90-year-old woman. She wanted to see how other people were coping in the disaster because she herself had gone through crises and was herself prepared for what might come. This inspired me a lot."

Sabiha speaks as much with her eyes as her hands. She remembers the sense of panic among people in Shikarpur who were understandably terrified by the threat of floods. "I spread calm to the people, and promised that Shikarpur would make it through the floods. I urged them to help those who were really in need." When local residents wanted to cross the river, she stopped them. She could see what others could not -- buffalos flying through the churning rapids, most of them drowning. Her neighbors trusted her, and lives were saved. I ask what she had learned. "I realize what it means to be brave," she answers.

Neither Sabiha nor Asma consider being a woman a hindrance, even in conservative parts of Pakistan. "People know that we are here for them," says Sabiha. "We've earned their trust." Between them, they've delivered sixteen women to the hospital to enable them to give birth during the crisis period.

Dr. Sono jumps in and says, "Last week, I received a phone call from a nearby village. The caller said people were drowning. And you know, I love that village." His eyes twinkle so that you can feel that love. I adore Dr. Sono for being so exquisitely alive and caring. He continues:

I called Sabiha and Asma and told them to go to the village and help people escape before the flood waters came. It was 10:30 at night, and still they went. This is a dangerous area, and women especially can be killed going out at night. But they went. And by midnight, the village was empty and there was not a single drowning.

The conversation turns to Pakistan's future, and what can be done about corruption.

Corruption is a big problem here. But we are seeing changes. We have minimized corruption at the district level, and now we have to translate that to the top level. We also have to focus on educating people at the grassroots, too, so that they begin to question government. This way, we can start to end corruption.

This way, the world can change.