Monday, March 9, 2009

Feudal Punjab Fertile Ground for Pakistani Jihadists?

The conventional wisdom holds that Pakistani jihadists come mainly from the radical Wahabi madrassas that proliferated in Pakistan's tribal belt near the Afghan border during the US-Saudi-Pakistani supported campaign against the former Soviet Union. Most of the world attention has, therefore, been focused on the efforts by US and Pakistan to try and contain the influence of NWFP's Deobandi Islam. Some of the madrassas have been forced to shut down while others have been attacked by US and Pakistan. As part of the effort to improve economic opportunities, Pakistan has set up FATA Development Authority and the US and international financial institutions are planning to fund reconstruction opportunity zones (ROZ) to deny recruits to the Jehadist outfits.

In addition to Shia Islam, which accounts for 15-20% of the population, there are primarily two schools of thought among Sunni Muslims in South Asia. Barelvi and Deobandi. Barelvi, or Ahle-Sunna, is a movement of Sunni Sufism that was founded by Ahmed Raza Khan of Bareilly, Rohilkhand India (hence the term Barelvi). Barelvis are a sizable portion of the Hanafi Muslim communities in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa and the United Kingdom, besides having a presence in other places around the world. Deobandi is a Sunni Islamic revivalist movement which started in India and Pakistan and has more recently spread to other countries, such as Afghanistan, South Africa and the United Kingdom. The name derives from the town of Deoband, (Uttar Pradesh) India, where the school Darul Uloom Deoband is situated. Deobandis follow the fiqh of Abu Hanifa and the Aqidah of Abu Mansur Maturidi. Deobandi Islam is quite similar to the Wahabi Saudi Islam.

Punjab, the largest province in Pakistan, is considered the home of the followers of the sufi saints who taught a tolerant, loving version of Barelvi Islam. Deobandi Islam (patterned after Saudi Wahabism) is not common in Punjab's rural landscape. But Mumbai attacker Ajmal Qasab's story, published in March 16 issue of Time magazine, suggests that the rising expectations of young Pakistanis and the deprivations they suffer in feudal Punjab are helping the mainly NWFP-Deobandi-inspired Jihadi outfits in their recruiting efforts. Here's an excerpt from Time that implies feudalism drives young men like Qasab to join the terror outfits:

"Faridkot is not the hardscrabble village conjured up by common perceptions of extremist origins. It straddles a paved road about 2 1⁄2 hours' drive from Lahore, and two new gas stations mark the village boundaries. Beyond those are factories and fertile farmland. There is even BlackBerry service. But it is, undeniably, the sort of place that fosters frustration. Feudal landlords own the farmland, and villagers feel trapped by the status they are born into. The good life is tantalizingly close, yet for most residents still unattainable. For men like Qasab, one of the best ways out is jihad. "In a developing country, youngsters who are sensitive, concerned, they talk about 'How do we change what is going on here? How do we get rid of corruption?'" says (Pakistani psychologist Sohail) Abbas. "And if in some sense you find that jihad can help you in those aims, then why not?" It's a convolution of the adolescent craving to stand out. And Pakistani society, steeped in nihilistic passions fostered by the state sponsorship of jihad, condones it."

Like Ajmal Qasab, other unskilled and barely literate workers from rural Punjab are trying to find ways to escape the hard life under their feudal rulers. Some, like Qasab, go to major Pakistani cities in search of a better life and come in contact with Jihadi outfits like LeT. Others try and find employment in the Arab world, particularly Saudi Arabia. Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy describes the impact of exposure to the Arab world as follows:

"Villages (in Punjab) have changed drastically; this transformation has been driven, in part, by Pakistani workers returning from Arab countries. Many village mosques are now giant madrassas that propagate hard-line Salafi and Deobandi beliefs through oversized loudspeakers. They are bitterly opposed to Barelvis, Shias and other sects, who they do not regard as Muslims. The Punjabis, who were far more liberal towards women than the Pukhtuns, are now beginning to take a line resembling that of the Taliban. Hanafi law has begun to prevail over tradition and civil law, as is evident from the recent decisions of the Lahore High Court."

It appears that the radical Islam is now spreading beyond its traditional home in NWFP and FATA to Pakistan's heartland of Punjab. It is also clear that the new generation of Pakistanis do not want to accept life under a feudal or tribal system that denies them basic human dignity.

While the efforts to create and fund reconstruction opportunity zones (ROZ) in FATA are desirable and welcome, what is really needed is an international Marshall Plan style effort toward transforming Pakistan from a feudal/tribal to an industrial society. Such an effort will face major hurdles from the feudal leadership of the major political parties in Pakistan. However, if it is successfully implemented, new opportunities will open up for the nation's young population to offer them better alternatives to joining Jihadi outfits or seeking work in countries like Saudi Arabia.

Related Links:

Qasab's Journey in Time Magazine

Feudal Shadow in Pakistan Elections

UN Millennium Goals in Pakistani Village

Saudi-ization of Pakistan

Pakistan's FATA Face-off Fears

FATA Reconstruction Opportunity Zones

Pakistan Power Centers: Feudals, Clergy and Military


Anonymous said...

... what is really needed is an international Marshall Plan style effort to transform Pakistan from a feudal/tribal to an industrial society.

While the Army remains unreformed? I think not. What Pakistan needs is a modern-day Douglas Macarthur to ensure structural reform of the Pak Army, feudal back-breaking, and industrial progress. Protest all you want about occupation and loss of sovereignty, but the current motley group - civilian and military - are flaming disasters. Musharraf was the best in recent memory - and he was far short of the task.

Riaz Haq said...


We can quibble about the military but what is at stake here is the entire future generation of Pakistan putting the whole nation in jeopardy of perpetual warfare. We need to somehow prevent Pakistan's descent into a very long period of chaos in the interest of Pakistani nation, South Asians and the citizens of our adopted homes in the West.

Anonymous said...

... but what is at stake here is the entire future generation of Pakistan putting the whole nation in jeopardy of perpetual warfare.

Agree that the stakes are too high to quibble.

Question for you: Bhutto promised land reform but did not deliver. Could successful land reform (that Nehru delivered in India, and that Banlgadesh had) break this feudal stranglehold? Could the Army actually deliver that land reform?

Anonymous said...

Wait a min..I thought Ajmal Qasab could not have been Pakistani/muslim because he wore a red thread on his hand? What was all that about?

Peshawar said...

i dont think you can relate it with islam or jihadists.. attack in punjab was because government was busy in crushing PMLN..

Anonymous said...

Why only Punjab?I disagree,apart from Punjab-various other areas are breeding grounds for terrorists.What about education in schools?Have you seen whats written in textbooks of Pakistan public schools??????Full of lies and religious junk ! Why blame only madrassas?? Or just feudal system in Punjab?If others were caught alive-we would have known more about their native places in Pakistan.When you have system that falsely glorifies a religion and demeans and fabricates lies about major nations,you cannot expect Einsteins and Gandhis or Bill Gates to come out of pakistan.What you sow you reap-hence what you get are sophisticated islamic terrorists!

Riaz Haq said...

From Dawn Today .....

Lawyers’ struggle: another view
By Kaiser Bengali
Monday, 30 Mar, 2009 | 07:54 AM PST |

THE successful movement for the reinstatement of Iftikhar Chaudhry is being billed as a historic watershed event that has redefined the politics of the country and, in particular, the relationship between citizen and state.

Whether this conclusion turns out to be an illusion or reality will be tested in due course of time. In the meantime, however, an examination of the composition of the movement raises some disturbing questions.

The movement was started in March 2007 by the lawyers’ community and emerged as a rallying point for democratic forces opposed to Gen Musharraf’s military-backed regime. In the process, it attracted support from a broad spectrum of society — political parties of all shades, civil society and even retired military and intelligence officers. The latter formally organised themselves under the banner of the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Society.

Following last year’s national polls and Gen Musharraf’s subsequent departure, a section of this coalition lost its enthusiasm for Iftikhar Chaudhry’s reinstatement. The vast majority of dismissed judges also agreed to be reinstated after taking a fresh oath of office under the constitution. However, a core — largely centred in Punjab — remained committed to the original objectives of the movement and continued the campaign. By early 2009, PML-N — the majority party in Punjab — took control of the movement and led it to a successful conclusion.

The movement’s advocates saw themselves on a pedestal as ‘crusaders’ for justice and rule of law and couched their rhetoric in highly moralistic terms. Undoubtedly, the movement comprised eminent individuals of impeccable integrity, who have devoted their careers uncompromisingly to the cause of rule of law and democracy. Due credit in this respect has to be accorded ungrudgingly.

However, a perusal of the roster of the ‘crusaders’ does not inspire unqualified confidence, as many have their past to answer for. There are questions with respect to their commitment to democracy, constitutionalism and rule of law — and their political orientation; with implications for the direction of politics in the country.

It cannot be comforting to note that some of the advocates of the movement were active members, collaborators or supporters of military regimes. Among leaders of the lawyers’ movement, one was a provincial minister under Gen Musharraf’s military regime and another a prosecutor for Gen Musharraf’s National Accountability Bureau. They also included many in the legal fraternity, political parties, civil society and media who were ardent supporters of Gen Musharraf when he subverted the constitution and turned into his bitter critics when he dismissed Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Some of them tried to make their contribution through print and electronic media and others through marching on the streets. That the subversion of the constitution did not stir the conscience of all of the above, but the cause of a PCO judge did is a sad commentary on their credentials with respect to their principled commitment to the rule of law and democracy.

The record of political parties in this coalition also merits close scrutiny. In this respect, the role of Jamaat-i-Islami is particularly murky. It collaborated with the Yahya Khan regime in the massacre in erstwhile East Pakistan, served as the B-team to the violently repressive Ziaul Haq regime, and supported the Musharraf regime in imposing the 17th Amendment — which it now opposes! Under the circumstances, it appears to be a strange voice for judicial, civil rights and democratic causes.

The PML-N has struggled against the Musharraf dictatorship; as such, its leadership’s collaboration with Ziaul Haq’s military dictatorship can perhaps be condoned and their credentials as champions of democracy and constitutionalism accepted. However, they cannot escape responsibility for the terrible mess the country is in today in terms of institutional breakdown and internal terrorism. Notably, their then comrades-in-arms included many military and intelligence officers, some of whom are now their comrades-in-arms in the current movement.

The ex-servicemen are mostly those who served in the armed forces and its intelligence wings during the Zia dictatorship. One of them is a 1977 coup leader, another an intelligence officer who publicly claimed the right to destabilise democratic governments in the name of protecting ‘national interests’, and yet another an intelligence officer who publicly confessed to using state funds to ‘manufacture’ a political party that included the present PML-N leadership.

Some of the officers were integrally involved in the so-called Afghan jihad and in creating the jihadi infrastructure in Pakistan. Allegedly, the core of this jihadi network is located in Punjab, to the extent that the then ruling Taliban cadres in Afghanistan in the late 1990s referred to many of their commanders generically as ‘Punjabis’. Even recently, many of the terrorist perpetrators in the country have been traced to Punjab towns like Toba Tek Singh, Jhang, Rahim Yar Khan and Faridkot. The southern Punjab-centricity of all the above ‘crusaders’ is striking.

The questions that arise are: can the emergence of the above coalition be a mere coincidence? Or has the cover of the issue of Chaudhry Iftikhar’s reinstatement been used to attempt to band together Ziaist rightwing elements, denominated by the military’s national security agenda, religious parties’ theocratic agenda and the business community’s neo-liberal economic agenda? And what does this development portend for the conflict vis-à-vis democracy and federalism in the country and religious extremism in the region?

After all, there is a history of an integral nexus between PML-N leaders, now retired military and intelligence officers and Jamaat-i-Islami under the Ziaul Haq dictatorship. Of course, PML-N has attempted to cast itself in a liberal mould, but two facts militate against an unqualified acceptance of their liberal credentials. One is the fact that many of the important PML-N leaders have a background of association with religious parties, particularly Jamaat-i-Islami. And the other is the fact that it made an abortive attempt in 1998 to introduce the Sharia through the 15th Amendment to the constitution. At the least, these factors raise likely suspicions about its lack of committed opposition to a theocratic agenda.

It appears that ideological battle lines are being drawn. One side appears to coalesce with the largely Punjab-based, PML-N-led rightwing neo-conservative remnants of the Ziaist establishment, committed to a centralised state with a quasi-theocratic national security agenda. The other side appears to comprise nationally based forces, disparately comprising the PPP, ANP, MQM and Baloch parties, seeking a society sans religious bigotry and a polity that is federal and pluralistic. The choices for the people are stark and clear.

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.

brelvi said...

i dont agree.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a new BBC report on growing radicalization and terror in Southern Punjab which is the most feudal part of Punjab, with several feudal Makhdooms, including the prime minister and foreign minister as part of the ruling elite in Pakistan:

Interviews we have conducted with senior police officers, independent analysts and militants in custody suggest that southern Punjab could be Pakistan's next battleground.

Internal police documents we have seen paint a picture of a province at risk.

One report states that poverty stricken, extremely feudalistic and illiterate south Punjab could possibly provide shelter to Taliban and other jihadi outfits. It has the potential to become a nursery or a major centre for sectarian recruitment.

Some experts here argue that it has already reached that point. One describes it as a factory for suicide bombers.

Police say that al-Qaeda has access to a labour pool via the banned sectarian group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), among others.

latest news said...

They are not jihaid,s they are terrorists. Jihad means to fight against injustice.

islam nasheed said...

what Ajmal and his friends did was not jihad but terror according to Quran. then how u calling them jihadi,s????

Riaz Haq said...

islam: "what Ajmal and his friends did was not jihad but terror according to Quran. then how u calling them jihadi,s????"

It's not what you or I think that's important when it comes to Kassab's alleged actions. It's what Kassab and his handlers think that's more important. Let's not close our eyes to the reality of what's happening in Punjab with the radicals gaining strength. What is needed is reform to create opportunities for education and jobs to get the rural young people out of the cycle of poverty, slavery and violence.

bollywood songs said...

well i am from punjab i dont think they are getting up in punjab and even in wazristan they are hit hard.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report in today's NY Times about deep discontent among Pakistani youth:

LAHORE, Pakistan — Pakistan will face a “demographic disaster” if it does not address the needs of its young generation, the largest in the country’s history, whose views reflect a deep disillusionment with government and democracy, according to a report released here on Saturday.

The report, commissioned by the British Council and conducted by the Nielsen research company, drew a picture of a deeply frustrated young generation that feels abandoned by its government and despondent about its future.

An overwhelming majority of young Pakistanis say their country is headed in the wrong direction, the report said, and only 1 in 10 has confidence in the government. Most see themselves as Muslim first and Pakistani second, and they are now entering a work force in which the lion’s share cannot find jobs, a potentially volatile situation if the government cannot address its concerns.

“This is a real wake-up call for the international community,” said David Steven, a fellow at the Center for International Cooperation at New York University, who was an adviser on the report. “You could get rapid social and economic change. But the other route will lead to a nightmare that would unfold over 20 to 30 years.”

The report provides an unsettling portrait of a difficult time for Pakistan, a 62-year-old nuclear-armed country that is fighting an insurgency in its western mountains and struggling to provide for its rapidly expanding population. The population has risen by almost half in just 20 years, a pace that is double the world average, according to the report................
The findings were sobering for Pakistani officials. Faisal Subzwari, minister of youth affairs for Sindh Province, who attended the presentation of the report in Lahore, said: “These are the facts. They might be cruel, but we have to admit them.”

But young Pakistanis have demonstrated their appetite for collective action, with thousands of people taking to the streets last spring as part of a movement of lawyers, who were demanding the reinstatement of the chief justice, and Mr. Steven argued that the country’s future would depend on how that energy was channeled. “Can Pakistan harness this energy, or will it continue to fight against it?” he said.

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 a story from Indian media about Mumbai terror trial:

Agencies Posted online: Tuesday , Dec 22, 2009 at 1918 hrs
Mumbai : Lone surviving Pakistani gunman Ajmal Kasab said on Tuesday that he was not a "Jihadi" and had not undergone any training at the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) camp in Pakistan.

Kasab told the court, which was recording the gunman's final statement on the prosecution evidence, he was a cook with a catering company in "Saarayee-Alamghir" near Jhelum in Pakistan.

Denying any involvement with terror outfits LeT and Jamat-ul-Dawa (JuD), Kasab declined meeting Hafiz Sayed, Zaki-ur-Lakhvi, Abu Kahfa and Abu Hamza--all wanted accused and alleged LeT operatives.

"I heard the names of Lash-e-Taliban and JUD from the police here. Crime Branch officials had shown the photograph of Lakhvi," Kasab said.

Asked by the court if he was introduced to one Major General Saab at the training camp, Kasab said, "This is absolutely wrong."

The judge, M L Tahaliyani, was putting questions to Kasab on the basis of his confession before magistrate in February; however Kasab disowned the confession, saying it was given under duress.

When special Judge M L Tahaliyani referred to his statement in the confession that Hafeez Sayed had told 30 boys at the LeT training camp that they would have to lay down their lives for liberating Kashmir, Kasab said: "This is absolutely wrong".

Alleging that the police had threatened to administer electric shocks to him if he did not give a statement to the magistrate, Kasab said the police had prepared the confession and forced him to recite it.

Asked by the court, if he was told in the training that they would go to heaven if they attacked India, Kasab replied in the negative saying he did not attend the training.

Kasab also denied having told the police anything about Kuber boat and a dead body found on the boat. According to the prosecution, the group of ten terrorists had highjacked Kuber on their way to Mumbai from Karachi in Pakistan.

"I have never seen the boat; crime branch and FBI had showed me pictures of Kuber and my clothes and articles seized from the boat. These articles must belong to either fishermen or smugglers. The AK 47 rifle may belong to the police and it is not mine."

An I-card recovered from his trouser pocket was shown to Kasab in the court on Tuesday, but he refused to identify himself. "It's not me. Trousers are not mine, I was wearing leather pants," he stated.

Similarly, about the money seized from him, he said that it was not his. "The police had taken Rs 2,400 from me on November 25, which I had kept for my return ticket. Those currency notes did not have any marks on them. These notes have something written on them," Kasab said when he was shown the Rs 100-note.

The gunman further alleged that all the witnesses were briefed by the police. "One witness had in the identification parade identified me as the one in Hotel Taj. That witness was not brought to court during the trial," Kasab said.

He further said all the witnesses were shown his photograph prior to the parade and thus they could identify him and witnesses were prompted by the police.

Kasab also alleged that even when he was in jail custody, three crime branch officials were guarding him and used to threaten him to give the statement before the magistrate.

"I had given this complaint in writing to the magistrate on February 18, when I was produced for recording my confession. But when nothing was done on it, I kept mum and did not complain again," Kasab said.

Kasab and two Indians- Faheem Ansari and Sabaudding Ahmed are facing trial for their involvement in the 26/11 terror attacks.x

Riaz Haq said...

According to a Times of India report, Kasab has answered the judge's questions in Marathi language.

Another newspaper, Indian Express, has reported that Bal Thackeray is asking why others in Mumbai can not learn Marathi if Kassab can?

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...

The recent tragic assassination of Gov Salman Taseer has caused many to rethink whether the South Asian Barelvi or Sufi Islam is really more tolerant than Deobandi or Wahabi Islam imported into Pakistan from Saudi Arabia.

Clearly, the followers of Barelvi Islam have not hesitated in supporting blasphemy laws, and they have shamelessly cheered the murder of Salman Taseer who spoke for repeal of such laws.

I also think the Barelvi or Sufi Islam in Pakistan has been hijacked by the feudal-politcal class of makhdooms (Yusuf Raza Gilani, Shah Mahmmood Qureshi, Javed Hashmi, Amin Fahim, etc) to exploit their self-proclaimed lineage from Prophet Mohammad (their so-called Syed status) as a way to maintain their feudal-cum-spiritual power over the poor peasants in Sind and Southern Panjab.

This feudal domination of politics has badly hurt the emergence of real democracy and any advancement of the poor, illiterate rural folks in Pakistan, and contributed to the growth of religious extremism particularly in rural Punjab.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's "The Other Story" on Salman Taseer seen through thye eyes of Shirin Sadeghi as published in The Huffington Post:

Albert Camus's famous novel, The Stranger, was the story of a man who was killed not because of a crime he had committed but because of a steady rise in publicity about his character faults. Little things bothered people about the Stranger -- he didn't cry at his mother's funeral, he had a steady girlfriend he didn't plan to marry. When he became implicated in a crime, the trial became a showcase of all the tiny things he did in his private life that the public didn't approve of or simply didn't understand -- though none of these things were exactly wrong or immoral, in sum and in public, they cost him his life.

Salman Taseer was a Stranger in Pakistan. His millions of dollars, British mother, private relationships, and extravagant Western lifestyle -- though not in themselves crimes nor even shortcomings in character, could not possibly have been more in contrast with the very poor and increasingly religiously extreme population of Pakistan.

In the last few years, more and more of the private details of his life were leaked into the public consciousness, private photos were obtained and published, personal habits were recounted. Here in the U.S., a large number of tributes to him have framed him as a crusader of human rights who died for good but the fact is -- and most Pakistanis will tell you, if they are not in the habit of pandering to Western imagery, that what really killed Salman Taseer was anything but an isolated -- though brave -- act of heroism.

The ugly truth of Pakistan today is not about a battle between do-gooders and those who oppose them. What killed Salman Taseer was the primary and overwhelming disparity in Pakistan -- the one that has steadily fundamentalized that country since the days of the U.S.-imposed religious dictator Zia ul-Haq, through the first Afghan war and now the new Afghan war that is also blatantly being fought in Pakistan. That disparity is one of wealth, of have-nothings and have-everythings.

The great anger in Pakistan against the current President Zardari, his slain wife and their family has very clearly been against the extravagance of their elite Western lives -- the wealth and abundance, their obvious dismissal of not only the tragic and obvious poverty of the country they rule down on, but the values and traditions of its people which they may never have even learned, or simply choose not to respect.

Salman Taseer was also a multimillionaire -- though many people agree he came upon most of his wealth through industry rather than other means. But in a country as poor as Pakistan whose public has for a generation now increasingly embraced religion as the singular means of acquiring any authority or voice against the feudal lords and wealthy elite who are granted government positions from their friends to rule over people, apart from extreme and flamboyant wealth, the other major crime against decency is being out of touch with the public's values.

Those values include religion, and Taseer, a man who reportedly carried a tiny Koran around his neck, nonetheless did not understand that he had no authority to impinge on religious matters. Strangers cannot afford to be activists, even if it is just once.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excepts from Sherbano Taseer (Salman Taseer's daughter) interview with Pakistani Islamic scholar Javaid Ahmed Ghamidi as published in Newsweek Pakistan:

Are Islam and democracy compatible?

Yes, of course. Islam favors democratic societies. In the West, they have created democracies, which may have their shortcomings, but where people listen to one another, tolerate each other's opinions, and engage in dialogue. The majority opinion is made into law, and these laws can be criticized, debated freely, and amended based on people's beliefs.

There is furor in Pakistan over the blasphemy laws. What does the Quran say about punishing those who are proven to have committed blasphemy?

There is no punishment prescribed for blasphemy in the Quran or in the sayings of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). Some clerics cite the case of Ibn Akhtar, but they misinterpret that incident and make it about blasphemy. Man can make laws, and these should not be misused to unfairly target or victimize anyone. Islam specifically says that taking the life of an individual is tantamount to taking the life of all humanity. It is a crime. It is wrong. Allah says true Muslims are those in whose hands others are safe.
Do you feel Pakistan can contain the extremist threat?

Let's start by not losing hope. We can contain it if we unite. There needs to be a new movement, by educated people, who can put pressure on the government so that, for one, education returns to being the responsibility of the state. Otherwise, this cancer of extremism will continue to spread. Pakistan has over 12,000 madrassahs with more than 2 million students. The countless clerics at these schools have immense sway, they have formed communities around themselves and they have weapons. And when power comes into the hands of such people—when we give them that power—you get what we have happening right now. There is nothing in the Quran or the Prophet's (peace be upon him) sayings to justify what the extremists are doing. We need to enter the playing field and correct this, and turn their arguments on their head. I have challenged them on every occasion for the past five years or so, and told them what they are saying is incorrect. They can only stay silent in return. Even in the matter of blasphemy they could not refute me, but I feel I am alone in this.
So how do we change things?

People need to understand Islam themselves, there is no other way. We need to understand the religion and launch a movement to reform society. In the West, there was a reformation movement which needs to be replicated in the East. There is strength in our arguments. You can reason with these people if you reason strongly and with facts. Islam was initially spread by a handful of people. This is how you will get success and nobody will be able to refute it. The media has a lot of power and must use this power positively, spreading the message from house to house. But the reality is that we are not ready to take up this cause. The secularists and the elite are not ready to take this up, they are not ready to talk and engage especially about beliefs.

What role do you see religious scholars playing to improve our society?

They, like doctors and engineers, are experts in their field. Their role is not to pick up guns, but to argue with facts and to present their arguments logically and calmly. Their role is not to threaten or to preach in a hostile or forceful manner in the streets, but to inform and show people the right Islam. The unfortunate reality here is that those who claim to be adherents of Allah's word are actually quite unfamiliar with the faith.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Dawn report on Wikileaks cables regarding Saudi money funding militants in Southern Punjab:

KARACHI: A US official in a cable sent to the State Department stated that “financial support estimated at nearly 100 million USD annually was making its way to Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith clerics in south Punjab from organisations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ostensibly with the direct support of those governments.”

The cable sent in November 2008 by Bryan Hunt, the then Principal Officer at the US Consulate in Lahore, was based on information from discussions with local government and non-governmental sources during his trips to the cities of Multan and Bahawalpur.

Quoting local interlocutors, Hunt attempts to explain how the “sophisticated jihadi recruitment network” operated in a region dominated by the Barelvi sect, which, according to the cable, made south Punjab “traditionally hostile” to Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith schools of thought.

Hunt refers to a “network of Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith mosques and madrassahs” being strengthened through an influx of “charity” which originally reached organisations “such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Al-Khidmat foundation”. Portions of these funds would then be given away to clerics “in order to expand these sects’ presence” in a relatively inhospitable yet “potentially fruitful recruiting ground”.

Outlining the process of recruitment for militancy, the cable describes how “families with multiple children” and “severe financial difficulties” were generally being exploited for recruitment purposes. Families first approached by “ostensibly ‘charitable’” organisations would later be introduced to a “local Deobandi or Ahl-i-Hadith maulana” who would offer to educate the children at his madrassah and “find them employment in the service of Islam”. “Martyrdom” was also “often discussed”, with a final cash payment to the parents. “Local sources claim that the current average rate is approximately Rs 500,000 (approximately USD 6,500) per son,” the cable states.

Children recruited would be given age-specific indoctrination and would eventually be trained according to the madrassah teachers’ assessment of their inclination “to engage in violence and acceptance of jihadi culture” versus their value as promoters of Deobandi or Ahl-i-Hadith sects or recruiters, the cable states.

Recruits “chosen for jihad” would then be taken to “more sophisticated indoctrination camps”. “Locals identified three centres reportedly used for this purpose”. Two of the centres were stated to be in the Bahawalpur district, whereas one was reported as situated “on the outskirts of Dera Ghazi Khan city”. These centres “were primarily used for indoctrination”, after which “youths were generally sent on to more established training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and then on to jihad either in FATA, NWFP, or as suicide bombers in settled areas”.

The cable goes on to quote local officials criticising the PML-N-led provincial and the PPP-led federal governments for their “failure to act” against “extremist madrassas, or known prominent leaders such as Jaish-i-Mohammad’s Masood Azhar”. The Bahawalpur district nazim at the time told Hunt that despite repeatedly highlighting the threat posed by extremist groups and indoctrination centres to the provincial and federal governments, he had received “no support” in dealing with the issue unless he was ready to change his political loyalties. The nazim, who at the time was with the PML-Q, “blamed politics, stating that unless he was willing to switch parties…neither the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz provincial nor the Pakistan People’s Party federal governments would take his requests seriously”.