Biggest hurdle to Pakistan flood recovery: Wealthy landowners
The absence Pakistan’s landowners, who use their money and influence to gain seats in parliament, highlights deep social divisions going back to independence.
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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.Skip to next paragraph
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Who owns the land?
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.”
Feudalism, in turn, perpetuates inequality and prevents a genuine representative democracy from taking root, says Ali.
“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.
Still bonded labor
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.
“Many peasants [in Sindh] are still standing in water or living in camps, and don’t want to go back to their lands because of the loans they took. They’re not in a position to pay a penny,” says Younis Rahu, secretary general of the leftist Sindh Labour Relief Committee.
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.”