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


Anonymous said...

Good, it means we r getting socialist shariat.

Karl Marx and Mohammed will be turning in their graves together

Anonymous said...


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...


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

Captain said...


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.

Blog -

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Riaz Haq said...

Here 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 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 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.
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.
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...

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.

Riaz Haq said...

Flooding has devastated Pakistan – and Britain’s imperial legacy has made it worse
Shozab Raza

Take the story of Bashir Dasti, a tenant farmer I met a few years ago while doing fieldwork in south Punjab. Two weeks ago, his mud house was destroyed by flooding, as was the land he rented, the cotton he cultivated and the cattle he had spent years rearing. Many other farmers and agricultural labourers I got to know in Rajanpur, now a centre of the flooding, have also lost their homes and livelihoods. The Pakistan government has tasked local officials – patwaris – with adminstering relief for flood victims, yet when Bashir approached one, they tried to extort him: he was told that he would only be added to the list if he paid 10,000 Pakistani rupees (roughly £40). Bashir earns a meagre income from farming and pays exorbitant rent to his landlord, an aristocrat from a Baloch tribe called Leghari. He couldn’t pay that kind of money.

Back in the 19th century, the British Raj built alliances with local elites in order to secure its rule. In Rajanpur, Bashir’s district, this was particularly important – many tribal chiefs, including the Legharis, were armed and hostile. So in exchange for their loyalty, the Raj turned representative chiefs into unrepresentative aristocrats, granting them magisterial powers, a paramilitary apparatus and immense landed estates (jagirs) on newly irrigated land. The relationship set off a mutually beneficial pillaging of the region, whereby the British Raj and the now-landed aristocrats siphoned off rents, land revenues, and export cash cops like indigo, opium and cotton, all at the expense of previously pastoral tribesmen now forced to settle and toil as local farmers. Combined with expanding canal irrigation, tribesmen’s coerced settlement and exploitation – the British viewed seasonally migrating tribes as a security threat – left them further exposed to floods.

Because of this imperial patronage, as well as rising rents due to growing competition for tenancies with the decline of pastoral livelihoods, inequalities between landlords and peasants rose dramatically over the 19th and 20th centuries. While peasants lived in mud houses vulnerable to flooding – archives report several “great floods” affecting the south Punjab region – their chief landlords built lavish, well-fortified housing compounds on immense estates. By the 1920s, the highest-ranking Leghari aristocrat owned about 114,000 acres of land.