Monday, November 5, 2007

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

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


Babar said...

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

Babar said...

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

Riaz Haq said...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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