Friday, April 17, 2009

Taliban Target Pakistan's Landed Elite


While there has been widespread condemnation of the Taliban imposing Shariah Law and justifiable outcry against the flogging of a teenage girl in Swat by the Western and Pakistani media, there's been a very little reported about the Taliban's popular war on the landed elite in Swat. The emerging accounts from Pakistanis who have fled Swat now make clear that the Taliban seized control by pushing out about four dozen landlords who held the most power in the former princely state. It also explains why the soldiers and policemen refused to fight on behalf of the landlord politicians against the Taliban who are supported by their oppressed brethren.

“This was a bloody revolution in Swat. I wouldn’t be surprised if it sweeps the established order of Pakistan", the New York Times quoted a Pakistani official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Already, the Taliban's message is finding resonance in feudal Punjab, the heartland of Pakistan.

The insurgents struck at any competing point of power: landlords and elected leaders — who were usually the same people — and an underpaid and unmotivated police force, said Khadim Hussain, a linguistics and communications professor at Bahria University in Islamabad. At the same time, the Taliban exploited the resentments of the landless tenants, particularly the fact that they had many unresolved cases against their bosses in a slow-moving and corrupt justice system, Mr. Hussain and residents who fled the area said. Nizam-e-Adl, their new Sharia-based justice system, became the rallying cry for their revolution in Swat.

The Taliban have broadly asserted control over the entire valley and they are now threatening to take over surrounding districts. The tenants of the fleeing landlords have been rewarded by the Taliban. They were encouraged to cut down the orchard trees and sell the wood for their own profit, the former residents said. Or they were told to pay the rent to the Taliban instead of their now absentee bosses. Two dormant emerald mines have reopened under Taliban control. The Taliban have said that they will receive one-third of the revenues.

When provincial bureaucrats visit Mingora, Swat’s capital, they must now follow the Taliban’s orders and sit on the floor, surrounded by Taliban carrying weapons, according to a senior NWFP official.

While the big landowners have all the power in Pakistan's feudal democracy, they do not even pay any taxes on their income. As part of a plan to increase tax revenue, the IMF has been pressing Pakistan for the introduction of a tax on agricultural income. Pakistan's large landowners have tenaciously resisted such proposals in the past. Should Islamabad ultimately impose a tax on agricultural income, it will only be after a bitter struggle within the Pakistani feudal ruling class over how to design it to be regressive to make small producers bear a disproportionate share of the tax burden.

Given the underlying and growing resentment against the feudal/tribal power of a narrow and corrupt ruling elite in Pakistan, it is almost certain that Swat represents only the beginning of a bloody revolt in the rest of the country.

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. In the absence of significant economic growth (even the phenomenal 8% growth roughly equals 2.5m jobs), not enough jobs are being created for 3 million young people ready to join the work force each year, resulting in growing availability of recruits for terror outfits who pay them fairly well by local standards. According to Rand corporation estimates, the Taliban pay about $150 a month to each fighter, much higher than the $100 a month paid by the governments in the region. This fact has been amply illustrated by recent growth of the Punjabi Taliban who have been found recruited by terrorist groups for suicide bombings and violence within and outside Pakistan.

Ironically, there are some parallels here between the violent Maoists movement in India and the Taliban militants in Pakistan, in spite of their diametrically opposed ideologies. Maoists say they are fighting for the rights of neglected tribal people and landless farmers, as are the Taliban in FATA and NWFP. Both movements have killed dozens of people, including security personnel, in the last few weeks. Both movements control wide swathes of territory in their respective countries.

In addition to the landless farmers, the continuing high rates of farmer suicides are also fueling the Maoists movement in India. More than 1,500 Indian farmers committed suicide after being pushed into debt through crop failures. The reason for the crop failures have been blamed on falling water irrigation levels, climate change and the increasing globalization of water rights. "The water level has gone down below 250 feet here. It used to be at 40 feet a few years ago," Shatrughan Sahu, a villager in one of the districts, told Down To Earth magazine.

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. Pakistan's President Zardari has called for such a Marshall Plan for Pakistan. Such an effort will face major hurdles from Zardari's own party and its corrupt feudal leadership. However, if it is successfully implemented to respond to mounting pressure by the Taliban, 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 where they are further radicalized.

Taliban have latched on to a cause that appeals to the common people in Pakistan's feudal society. They are pursuing it with a revolutionary zeal. Like Hizbullah in Lebanon and Google in Silicon Valley, it seems to me that the Taliban play their own game by their own rules. They are very focused, extremely nimble and highly adaptive, and they know how to raise money, as well as any Silicon Valley startup. They have mastered the art of "disruption" and "change". And they appear to have the upper hand at the moment.

The end of the feudal system will be a welcome change in Pakistan. It will be unfortunate, however, if the repression of the people by the feudal/tribal elite is simply replaced by their religious persecution by the narrow-minded and intolerant Taliban in Pakistan. I just hope it's not too late to change the course of events in Pakistan.


Related Links:

The World According to Google, Hizbullah and Taliban

Feudal Punjab Fertile for Terrorism

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

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good, it means we r getting socialist shariat.

Karl Marx and Mohammed will be turning in their graves together

Anonymous said...

Riaz

It sounds ambitious of marshall plan for pakistan. Corrupption of the system has been happening for sixty years. USA did not bother as it wanted the support for afghan. The local leaders instead directly the resources to development pocket the same and offered religious opium and hatred for india to the masses.

Today america wants the country to be a secular one suddenly how can it happen. The whole structure was allowed to corrupt for the convenience.

Since the corrupiton was so high nothing went for development and creation of the middle class which would want democracy.

Today the poor are supported by taliban to throw away the landlords, something similar to communism. Any person will know that this type of power corrupts obsolutely and there will be time when the common man will become the prey for the talibanic beast practices.

ONly a miracle can save pakistan.

Riaz Haq said...

Anon: "Karl Marx and Mohammed will be turning in their graves together"

Both were revolutionaries in their time. Most revolutions are triggered by injustices suffered by the large numbers of people who then try and disrupt and change the status quo.

Anonymous said...

Taliban decapitating feudal and tribal system is a welcome change. But the question is will Taliban evolve from their "sharia" & "jehad" obsession.It looks similar to Iranian revolution, Shah was replaced by worse ; Khomenism that is increasing threatening neighboring states and native inhabitants alike. The best change is evolution and not revolution. If a societal system is hit by revolution(s)..there is huge problem with the system itself..

Anonymous said...

The much-vaunted Army of Pakistan is MIA while the Taliban are rampaging. Too busy entangled in the spoils of the feudal order themselves it seems. Lots of chest-thumping - expensive chest-thumping too - only systematic failure to show for results. Kayani is worst of a bad line of generals. Under the garb of respecting democracy, the wuss has effectively allowed Pakistan to be overrun. The End Game is nigh. The western part of the subcontinent is going to be a big bad bunker for decades.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

Following could be the main reason for islamic countries invariable not in a position to form strong democracies.


http://secular-hindu.sulekha.com/blog/post/2009/04/failure-in-nation-building.htm

Captain03 said...

TALIBANS ARE THE SCUMS OF SOCIETY AND WILL NEVER GAIN POWER IN PAKISTAN

Anonymous said...

@Captain03 said...

Could be wishfull thinking. Taliban are closing hte noose around the neck of the urban pakistan and it might not be too far that the urgban government and army are thrown out of power. Proabably that is the reason that army is not trying a coup. They would rather allow the taliban to over throw the civil government and they will server the taliban. Like a father serves the son once son is grown up to take charge.

Riaz Haq said...

After the existing order is destroyed, it's not clear how the bloody power struggle will play itself out over the long haul. We may see a reign of terror like the Chinese saw during the Cultural Revolution in the 60s. If or when a Pakistani "Deng" succeed a Pakistani "Mao" remains unclear.
But most Pakistanis would be happy to see the current power centers (feudals, military, clergy) lose their power.

It may already be too late, but none of this is necessarily inevitable, if the current power brokers can see the writing on the wall and act in their own enlightened self-interest before it's too late.

Riaz Haq said...

I have mentioned previously that the Taliban is not one monolith with a centralized command and control. It's more of a network of various groups which are not always in sync. Here's an interesting list I saw by an Indian writer on this subject:

Major Taliban Groups:
1.Taliban Classical- Mullah Omar
2.Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani Group
3.Tehrik-e-Teluba; Mullah Safi; Orakzai Agency
4.Tehrik-e-Teluba: Mullah Jalali
5.Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan; Baitullah Mehsud
6.Splinter Taliban Groups in Swat, Waziri and NWFP areas:
Md. Mokhtar Mujahid; Mufti Latifullah Hakim;
Md. Yusof; All loosely connected to Mehsud and Khalili Groups.
7.Tehrik-e-Nifaz-Shariat Mohammadi; Maulana Fazlullah
8.Maulvi Nazir & Tehir Yuldashev groups
9.Tora-Bora Taliban created by son late Maulavi Khalis
10.Tehrik-e-Taliban; Omar Khalid Group
11.Lashkar-e-Taiba; Jais-e-Mohammad; Lashkar-e-Jhangvi
Lashkar-e-Mohammadia wax and wane with major Taliban groups.

Vikram said...

Well, the Maoists have the explicit goals of 'fighting injustice' (although in truth they deal with Chattisgarh bussinessmen, particularly for beedi leaves), whereas the Taliban have quite a different foundational ideology. The 'land reform' that they are causing seems accidental.


"In addition to the landless farmers, the continuing high rates of farmer suicides are also fueling the Maoists movement in India."

The reasons for farmers suicides are mainly economic related to the increasing input costs of agriculture across India. The foot soldiers for the Maoists are the tribals/adivasis of central India, while the higher up positions are mainly school teachers from Andhra Pradesh.

Anonymous said...

What's happening in Swat, Buner and adjoining areas is alarming. These guys have tasted success. Given their Robin-Hood style, and the vast wealth and services disparities, they cannot be beaten militarily. My feeble imagination cannot conjure up a scenario where the Taliban do not overrun large parts of Pakistan. Messy, bloody End Game is happening. Jinnah's Pakistan is dead. Scary, scary thought.

Omar said...

Enjoyed reading this post.

You might want to check out my Blog post as well, which has the link to "children of taliban", a documentary done by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. Definately take out a few seconds and check it out as it's very impressive and relevant to your post.

http://omarulhaq.wordpress.com/2009/04/23/children

Blog - http://www.omarulhaq.wordpress.com

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.


http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8296485.stm

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................
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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.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/world/asia/22pstan.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=pakistan%20youth&st=cse

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.

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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.
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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.
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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 an interesting analysis of how Pakistan has changed in this decade by a Ahsan, a blogger on Five Rupees:

In the last decade, this picture has changed dramatically due to three central factors.

The first and most important factor is the explosion of private electronic media. In the 1990s, it was difficult for most Pakistanis -- the vast majority of which cannot or do not read newspapers -- to get information that was not government-sponsored or, less mildly, propagandistic. ....

This picture has changed drastically, as anyone with even a cursory interest in Pakistan will be able to tell you. There are now dozens of news channels in Pakistan, each with their own ideological and partisan bent. Some are national-level, others more regionally and ethnically focused. The trend began in the early part of this decade and has plateaued only recently, as the market gets sated. And while few of these channels will win awards for calm understatement or presciently sedate analysis, the fact remains that the media -- if it can be spoken of as a collective -- has given voice to a mass of the population previously unheard from. It has become a player of truly monumental importance for its ability to shape, mold, and excite the public. It is, at once, sensationalistic, blood-thirsty, xenophobic, conspiratorial, humorous, investigative, and anti-government. And yet its arrival on the scene is more than welcome, first for providing the venue for disenfranchised interests to make themselves known and second because the alternative is much worse.

The second significant factor, related to but distinct from the first, is the rise of communication technologies in Pakistan, particularly cellular phones. In 2002, there were 1.2 million cell-phone subscriptions in the country. By 2008, this number had risen to 88 million -- an increase of more than seven thousand percent. In addition, more than one in ten Pakistanis had access to the internet by the end of the decade; low by advanced countries' standards but an astronomical rise by Pakistan's. These developments in communications meant that political narratives became congealed and disseminated at speeds never heard of before, and that information and the wider "war" for public opinion became incredibly hard to win if a battle was lost at any stage.

The third major factor is the economic growth that took place in Pakistan in the first half of the 2000s. Pakistan's GDP doubled between 1999 and 2007, and more than kept pace with population growth, as GDP per capita increased by almost sixty percent between 2000 and 2008. More to the point, this growth was overwhelmingly powered by expansion of the service sector, which is concentrated, quite naturally, in the urban centers of the country. For the first time since independence, the term "Pakistani urban middle class" was not a contradiction in terms.

This development had two effects. First, and more trivially, the urban middle class did what urban middle classes do: they bought televisions and computers. In turn, that allowed them to plug into the private media explosion in ways simply unimaginable previously. Second, it shattered the elite-only edifice of Pakistani politics, and made challenges to government based on Main Street issues -- the price of flour, the lack of electricity, the selective application of the rule of law -- a viable process. Fifty years ago, Seymour Lipset wrote one of the canonical articles in Political Science on the process of democratization, its relationship to urbanized middle classes, and how the demands and values of the latter lead almost inexorably to support for the former. Here was living proof of Lipset's analysis.

Riaz Haq said...

Here is a BBC report about Taliban's brazen Kabul attacks and how the Taliban deliberately avoided civilian casualties, unlike the Pakistani Taliban:

The Taliban, we learned later, having failed to storm the government buildings they had at first targeted, sought shelter elsewhere.

At least four went into a crowded shopping centre.

If their intention had been to kill as many people as possible, it would have been achievable there.

But they didn't. They ordered everyone - shoppers and shopkeepers alike - out. Soon the building was on fire.

The Taliban fighters died amid the flames, most of them in a volley of gunfire, while the last man alive blew himself up.

The number of civilians who died was - given the scale of what was happening - surprisingly low.

From Pakistan, we learned, a Taliban spokesman had called a news agency, while the attack was still under way, to announce that 20 of its militants were involved.

The public relations management was as vital to the perpetrators as the co-ordination of the attack itself.

This care, this determination to avoid civilian deaths is now part of the conflict in Afghanistan.

It is something the Taliban shares with its Nato enemies.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a recent piece by Arundhati Roy about India's war against Maoists:

"The government has announced Operation Green Hunt, a war purportedly against the "Maoist" rebels headquartered in the jungles of central India. Of course, the Maoists are by no means the only ones rebelling. There is a whole spectrum of struggles all over the country that people are engaged in–the landless, the Dalits, the homeless, workers, peasants, weavers. They're pitted against a juggernaut of injustices, including policies that allow a wholesale corporate takeover of people's land and resources. However, it is the Maoists that the government has singled out as being the biggest threat.

Two years ago, when things were nowhere near as bad as they are now, the prime minister described the Maoists as the "single largest internal security threat" to the country. This will probably go down as the most popular and often repeated thing he ever said. For some reason, the comment he made on 6 January, 2009, at a meeting of state chief ministers, when he described the Maoists as having only "modest capabilities", doesn't seem to have had the same raw appeal. He revealed his government's real concern on 18 June, 2009, when he told parliament: "If left-wing extremism continues to flourish in parts which have natural resources of minerals, the climate for investment would certainly be affected."

Right now in central India, the Maoists' guerrilla army is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Saharan Africa. They are people who, even after 60 years of India's so-called independence, have not had access to education, healthcare or legal redress. They are people who have been mercilessly exploited for decades, consistently cheated by small businessmen and moneylenders, the women raped as a matter of right by police and forest department personnel. Their journey back to a semblance of dignity is due in large part to the Maoist cadre who have lived and worked and fought by their side for decades.

If the tribals have taken up arms, they have done so because a government which has given them nothing but violence and neglect now wants to snatch away the last thing they have – their land. Clearly, they do not believe the government when it says it only wants to "develop" their region. Clearly, they do not believe that the roads as wide and flat as aircraft runways that are being built through their forests in Dantewada by the National Mineral Development Corporation are being built for them to walk their children to school on. They believe that if they do not fight for their land, they will be annihilated. That is why they have taken up arms."

Riaz Haq said...

India(49) has more than twice as many billionaires as Japan (22) which is a far richer country.

Indian and UNICEF officials concur that Indians are much worse off than Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in basic nutrition and sanitation.

Meanwhile, India is worse than Bangladesh and Pakistan when it comes to nourishment and is showing little improvement in the area despite big money being spent on it, says Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed.

India might be an emerging economic power, but it is way behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan in providing basic sanitation facilities, a key reason behind the death of 2.1 million children under five in the country.Lizette Burgers, chief water and environment sanitation of the UNICEF, said India is making progress in providing sanitation but it lags behind most of the other countries in South Asia.

Most of the 8-9% growth has fattened the bottom line of a small percentage of India's population, with the rest getting poorer. India's Gini Index has increased from about 32 to 36 from 2000 to 2007.

India now has 100 million more people living below the poverty line than in 2004, according to official estimates released on Sunday. The poverty rate has risen to 37.2 percent of the population from 27.5 percent in 2004, according to a Reuters report.

The rising gap between abject poverty and obscene wealth in India is fueling anger, and insurgencies such as the Maoists'.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from an Asia Times report about tax cheating by the rich and powerful feudal politicians in Pakistan:

A case in point is Sardar Farooq Legari, whose estates extend from the Punjab to the Pakhtunkhwa. In 1994-95, he reported "zero income" while he was still the sitting president of Pakistan. Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (Pakistan's Justice Movement) shamed the entire landed class by revealing that a practicing lawyer, Khalid Ishaq, paid more in taxes in 1992-93 than all 273 members of the National Assembly combined - 85% of whom were large landholders.

This shaming, however, did not work on lawmakers who kept evading taxes. In 1994-95, celebrated journalist-writer M Ziauddin conducted a thorough investigation into the taxable farm income and tax-paying behavior of wealthy farmers. He found that all landlords in the country pitched in just chump change of 2 million rupees in taxes in 1996 against their annual income of 600 billion rupees. On this scale, Ziauddin concluded that the landowning classes had been evading taxes of 100 billion rupees a year.

This is a blatant case of tax theft, which has spawned its own vicious knock-offs, one of which is "black money" (that is, totally untaxed wealth). In 1996, an economist estimated that black money in Pakistan grew as large as to form 40% of GDP. If left alone, tax evasion in the above-ground economy or underground economy increases the budget deficit and forces governments to shift the tax burden to consumers or to increase money supply.

In either case, it is a whammy for the poor. In the 2008-09 budget, Pakistan has set itself on the course of widening the tax net. In terms of the tax-GDP ratio, the current budget features a relatively high ratio at 14%. The tax base also is on the rise. In 1994, it consisted of an overwhelming majority of the working middle class of 800,000 tax payers, who have now grown to more than 2 million.

The government, thus, can over the next 10 years raise $50 billion - $5 billion a year - to rein in poverty. At the current exchange rate, $5 billion comes to 345 billion rupees. Economist Shahid Hasan Siddiqi believes that Pakistan is undertaxed by 400 billion rupees a year. Its tax revenue should be 1.6 trillion rupees as against the projected 1.25 trillion rupees for 2008-09.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excepts fom a recent Op Ed piece by Maliha Khan published on Chowk.com regading the need for land and tax refoms in Pakistan:

In September, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reported that “Fewer than three million of Pakistan’s 175 million citizens pay any income taxes, and the country’s tax-to-GDP ratio is only 9 percent.” This is one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in the world. Mohsin Hamid writes in his Dawn News Editorial that in comparison to Pakistan, “Sri Lankans pay 15 per cent of their GDP in taxes, Indians pay 17 per cent, Turks pay 24 per cent, Americans pay 28 per cent and Swedes pay a fat 50 per cent.”

The main reason behind Pakistan’s low tax-to-GDP ratio is tax evasion by the country’s elite. Federal officials, including ministers (even Prime Minister Gilani), only pay taxes on their government salaries and not on their personal assets. Although the government promises to take steps toward tax reform, it continues to dodge the issue every chance it gets.
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Recently, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), a coalition partner of the PPP-led government, submitted the Redistributive Land Reforms Bill in the National Assembly. Land reform is a major potential contributor to tax reform. The bill proposed by MQM aims to “reduce the wide disparity of income and opportunity between the rich landlords and the poor tillers of the soils…” According to the World Bank, “More than two-thirds of Pakistanis live in rural areas, of which about 68 percent are employed in agriculture (40 percent of the total labor force).” Due to inequality in land distribution, there is a wide gap between landlords and peasants. Approximately 2 percent of households control 45 percent of the land. If implemented, the new bill will establish a limit on family holdings of irrigated land at 36 acres and 54 acres of arid land. Furthermore, the bill calls for the resumption and redistribution of all excess land amongst its landless cultivators, landless tenants, and small land-owners by the government, while also compensating the previous land owners.
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While the new bill specifically addresses land redistribution and agricultural development, it will indirectly play a great role in the expansion of the Pakistani tax base. In his article, “Doing Tax Reform Right: Think Big, Think Bold,” author Salahuddin Khan makes the case for “abolish[ing] all income tax and in its place introduce[ing] a gradually increasing property tax on real estate owned.” He points out that while liquid personal assets such as cash are easy to hide, real property cannot be hidden, and is therefore easier to tax. Khan also suggests incentivizing the ownership of smaller portions of land by making it “disproportionally expensive to own over certain thresholds of land.” The case Khan makes supports the undeniable link between tax and land reform. But even though his suggestions may be great, they are useless without any kind of land reform first.

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.

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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.”
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“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.

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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...

Spirit of Swat festival gets underway in Pakistan, reports The News:

Khyber Pakhtun-khwa Governor Masood Kausar on Saturday formally inaugurated the Spirit of Swat festival at the Grassy Ground.

Music programmes and sports competitions would be held during the festival, which had been started with the car rally from Khairabad, Attock, to Saidu Sharif in Swat.

In his speech, the governor said peace returned to the Swat valley owing to the unprecedented sacrifices of the people and security forces. Now, no one will be allowed to disturb peace of the valley, he told the gathering.

The festival started with the firework followed by musical show, which was attended by around 10,000 people including women and children. Prominent singers Rahim Shah and Zek Afridi and others mesmerised the audience. A large number of people had made it to the Grassy Ground and appreciated the forces for strict security arrangements. The purpose of the Spirit of Swat festival, which would continue till June 20, is to restore people s confidence and promote tourism in Swat.