Pakistan Elections Dominated By Feudals

As Pakistanis go to the polls on Feb 18, 2008, the role of the feudal class in Pakistan as power brokers is getting scrutiny from the world media. Some Pakistani feudals and politicians, including Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi of PPP, Syed Fakhr Imam of PPP, Imran Khan (Tehreek Insaf), and others argue that the feudal influence is overrated. They say the feudal power is declining and represents more of a mindset than reality. However, the media men traveling through rural Sind and rural Punjab are finding that most, if no all, of the candidates of the major parties are big landowners. And the people living on their lands must choose from them. When asked by the BBC correspondent Shoaib Hasan why none of the farmers or other poor people consider standing as candidates, a group of village people burst out laughing.

Here are some of the foreign media reports that caught my attention:

William Dalrymple, writing for the Guardian in London says: "There is a fundamental flaw in Pakistan's political system. Democracy has never thrived here, at least in part because landowning remains almost the only social base from which politicians can emerge. In general, the educated middle class - which in India seized control in 1947, emasculating the power of its landowners - is in Pakistan still largely excluded from the political process. As a result, in many of the more backward parts of Pakistan the local feudal zamindar can expect his people to vote for his chosen candidate. Such loyalty can be enforced. Many of the biggest zamindars have private prisons and most have private armies."

Writing about Mumtaz Bhutto, whose son is a candidate for parliamentary seat, the Time Magazine reports: As one of Pakistan's largest landowners, Bhutto is both a victim and a perpetrator of the corrosive feudal system that has shaped Pakistani society for most of its 60-year history, and still dictates how politics are done today. Bhutto's family has owned this patch of fertile land alongside the Indus River for nearly half a millennium, and on the wall of his stately home is the family tree to prove it. (He is a cousin of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto.) Sharecroppers till the lands, exchanging half they produce — rice, wheat and sugarcane — for a place to live, seeds and fertilizer. And patronage. "If my tenants are happy with me, they work more efficiently on the lands," says Bhutto. "You help the people and they will help you." That exchange extends into the political realm. Bhutto isn't running in this year's parliamentary elections — he's retired — but his son is. With some 10,000 acres of land being cultivated by a vast network of thousands of sharecroppers dependent on feudal largesse, the Bhutto family can count on a large turnout of supporters at the polls.

BBC South Asia service talks about the power and influence of the feudal lords near Multan in Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi's district as follows: The term "feudal or "feudal lord" refers to the large-scale landholding families in Pakistan.By dint of their landholdings, which they rent to tenant farmers, the feudal lords are able to exercise immense financial and political influence. In many cases they are also able to claim the loyalty of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of "murids" (devotees) who believe they are directly descended from local saints. On top of this, they usually control the "station and katchery" (the police and the courts) which ensures the compliance, willing or not, of the local populace.

Regardless of which party or parties emerge as the winners on February 18, one thing is certain: The power and the influence of the feudals will be very well represented in the corridors of power. And the ordinary people of Pakistan will continue to be at their mercy in the name of democracy, unless the military refuses to cede power to the elected feudals.

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Comment by Riaz Haq on January 17, 2012 at 7:47pm

Here are excerpts of an AP report taking about how much Pakistan has changed:

Pakistan appears on the brink of chaos again, with the judiciary and army bearing down on its elected leaders. But already the crisis has underlined how Pakistan has changed in recent years: The military can no longer simply march in and seize power as it has done three times over the last six decades.

As a result, opportunities remain for both sides to back down. The civilian government may be able to ride it out until elections now seen likely in late summer.

"If this were the '90s, there would have been a coup a year ago," said Moeed Yusuf of the Washington-based United States Institute of Peace.

A watchful media poised to hound the generals — and a populace under few illusions that the top brass can be saviors after failing so many times before — seem to have acted as a brake on any designs by the army. The judiciary itself, although regarded by some as out to get President Asif Ali Zardari, would not sanction a coup.

It's also unclear how much of an appetite the judges have for dismissing a government that heads a coalition with a solid majority in parliament and with just one year left before it has to call elections.

Opposition parties are happy to see the government weakened. But the country's largest party, that of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is no fan of the army and might not want to come to power on the shoulders of a military intervention.

"The status quo remains, despite all the institutions coming to a head. Every scenario you paint, there will be chaos and no one benefits," Yusuf said.

To be sure, tensions are higher now than they have ever been since Zardari took office in 2008, and the crisis could yet turn in unpredictable and dangerous directions. The political turmoil has all but paralyzed governance in the nuclear-armed country, hampering American hopes of rebuilding strained ties with Islamabad and securing its help with negotiating peace in neighboring Afghanistan.

Last week, coup jitters spread after the army issued an unusual warning of "grievous consequences" for the country over a scandal involving an unsigned memo sent last year to Washington asking for U.S. help in preventing a coup in the aftermath of the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

But pundits and government critics alike have been predicting the imminent fall of either Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani or the government they head for much of the past four years. Each time, they have been proven wrong.
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Many observers suspect Zardari's party is happy to play up conflict with the army and the judges because it diverts attention from its paltry list of achievements in office. The party may even embrace the prospect of being kicked out because it would fire up its base ahead of elections.

The Pakistan People's Party has a long history of battles with the army. Benazir Bhutto's father, Former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was executed by a military dictator in 1979. Zardari himself was elected on a massive sympathy vote after Benazir Bhutto's Dec. 27, 2007 assassination, which the party was happy to hint could have been orchestrated by elements of the army establishment.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-215_162-57360340/analysis-pakistani-cri...

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