November 2nd 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Bali: after the dust settles ...

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Vultures circle Crean after Cunningham debacle

NEW ZEALAND: US links free trade to repeal of NZ nuclear ships ban

NEW ZEALAND: Kiwibank on target for 100,000 customers

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Global systems / The splitting of the West / After the earthquake

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: 'Unlawful' electoral changes: McGinty tries again

AGRICULTURE: Farmers' overwhelming support for alternate sugar package

LETTERS: Bush doctrine (letter)

LETTERS: Accepting responsibility (letter)

LETTERS: Drinking age (letter)

ECONOMICS: Getting to work on the world economy

COMMENT: Holding on to the centre

COMMENT: Monash shootings and the irresponsibility culture

COMMENT: Affirmative action illuminated

EUROPE: New members, new problems for European Union

ASIA: Behind Pakistan's Islamist revival

BOOKS: Marriage: Just a piece of paper?

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Behind Pakistan's Islamist revival

by Dr Sharif Shuja

News Weekly, November 2, 2002
Recent elections in Pakistan show a marked increase in electoral support for Islamic parties. Sharif Shuja explains why so many Pakistanis have been disappointed in their nation's development since independence.

Pakistan is based on an idea. It came into existence through the efforts of Muslims to protect their dispersed religious community in South Asia from the antagonism of the much larger Hindu community in India.

Different people in it will have some sort of ideal that the place is supposed to be living up to. But too many Pakistanis seemed disappointed.

The problem for democracy or social justice in Pakistan is that it is being controlled by a handful of families, and the system they created is corrupt and self-serving. The people have seen no significant developments. Pakistan's political elite has been notably unsuccessful in nation and state-building.


As for state-building, Islamabad's rulers have been unable or unwilling to use parliamentary democracy to structure their country's provincial diversity into a viable national state.

In 1971, Pakistan lost 55 per cent of its population to East Bengali secessionism, which produced the People's Republic of Bangladesh. Thirty years later, Pakistan has yet to reconcile its Mohajirs to its Sindhis, or Kashmiri Muslims in India. Much of Pakistan's countryside is unsafe. The Pakistani government so far has been unable to resolve the problem of those ethnic conflicts.

The country needs a political structure which will at once give due recognition to the various ethnic communities and at the same time strengthen their integration into a Pakistani state. And yet since the inception of the state in 1947, no national government has given serious attention to this vital issue.

There clearly needs to be a change in political awareness which cannot originate in the impoverished illiterate masses.

The change must thus stem from changes in the attitudes of the educated minority and in particular in the country's political, social, economic and military leaders. Also, efforts should be directed to change the feudal mentality that strongly prevails in Pakistan, since that mentality stifles social advancement.

The most salient and enduring feature of the political system and the power structure in Pakistan has been the dominance of the big and firmly entrenched landlord and the rising capitalist classes, buttressed by the military-bureaucratic oligarchy.

The feudal prototype in Pakistan consists of landlords with large joint families possessing hundreds or even thousands of acres of land. They seldom make any direct contribution to agricultural production. Instead, all work is done by peasants or tenants who live at subsistence level.

The landlord, by virtue of his ownership and control of such vast amounts of land and human resources, is powerful enough to influence the distribution of water, fertilisers, tractor permits and agricultural credit.

Consequently, he exercises considerable influence. In the agrarian sector, it is the landowner who is excluded from the production process, while in industry, domestic technology is almost absent or kept at bay.

Industrialisation over the past five decades has, to a large extent, been established and operated with foreign capital, technology and raw materials. As a result, native technology has remained stagnant and the rest of the economy is not integrated with industry.

Today, Pakistan depends mostly on foreign aid for industrial raw materials and spare parts. This dependence has caused severe weakness to its economy. Coupled with these shortcomings, nationalisation in the industrial sector has brought further injuries.

Many industries, after nationalisation, suffered substantially. Consequently, the industrial policy has not only failed to create a sound industrial base and employment opportunities, but has instead increased unemployment.

In this connection, it can be pointed out that while much has been said against the families who accumulated wealth, there was little actually done against such a system.

In such a system, a vast income-differential also exists which adversely affects Pakistan's balance of payments. One knows that higher income invariably leads to a greater tendency to import.

An analysis of an import bill would reveal that a substantial proportion of goods consists of non-essential consumer and luxury items. For example, a significant percentage of imported medicines consisting of vitamins and sleeping pills goes to ease the fastidious rich rather than to combat or prevent disease.

Further, the demand for luxury household appliances and electronic equipment proved to be so great that the ban on their importation was ineffective. These imports have led to international balance of payment deficits which foreign aid is attempting to bridge.

As a result, Pakistan's economy today is as aid-oriented as it was 10 or 20 years ago. It has thus continued its downward spiral.

The influence of feudalism has been most predominant in the political sphere. As stated earlier, Pakistan's administrative and political agencies are almost totally controlled, at the higher echelons by feudal lords.

Just as the salt in Pakistan's soil has retarded the growth of crops and vegetables, the feudal influence in the country's political soil has hindered the growth of democracy.


The relationship between the feudal mentality and the authoritarian tendency in Pakistan's political life is not difficult to perceive.

When feudal lords occupy positions as political executives, they tend to consider the country as their property and the citizens as their subjects. Authoritarianism is thus entrained in the feudal personality, and is as essential to the feudal system as oxygen is to human life.

Freedom of thought and intellect, and freedom of speech and expression, invariably lead to the exposure of social inequalities and injustices, mobilise public opinion and generate movements for establishing an egalitarian order. Therefore, the first target of any feudal regime is the suppression of the press and academic institutions so as to give the regime the freedom to control, influence and manipulate to their own ends. A feudal regime, ultimately, may be conceived of as a regime of intellectual tyranny.

The political power of the feudal class is derived from their economic power, while their political power enables them to consolidate and expand their economic power. This combination has given them control over national affairs and enabled them to thwart democracy in maintaining their hegemony.

Reflecting on all this, one could be sympathetic to General Pervez Musharraf's claim of Nawaz Sharif's Government being corrupt, since the majority of National Assembly members belong to the feudal class. One of the greatest factors that caused Nawaz Sharif's downfall was his mismanagement of statecraft.

His Government was accused of authoritarian rule, hypocrisy, massive bribery, administrative failure and corruption at the highest level.

Pakistan is increasingly being identified as a ‘failing' state which has been unable to develop political institutions and faces frequent intervention by the military. A decade of economic mismanagement, the failure of the state to raise its tax revenues, stem corruption and increase industrial productivity have brought the country to the brink of economic bankruptcy.

The law and order situation is also far from satisfactory and is characterised by frequent sectarian clashes. It may be pointed out, there is widespread unease at Pakistan's support for the US campaign in Afghanistan. So the most alarming and pressing need is to control Islamic militants within Pakistan.

These groups initially were part of a conscious Pakistan-US policy of encouraging "Jihad" against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Educated in their respective brand of Islam, these groups have presented Islam as an alternative model of political organisation to Pakistani youth. Unable to find employment, a number of young Pakistanis are listening to the message and joining these militant groups.

General Musharraf seems to hold the liberal view that a corrupt ruling class, together with fundamentalists, is responsible for Pakistan's ills.

The remedies are to disperse power, crack down on extremists, establish the rule of law and encourage private enterprise. He probably shares the Western worry that, if reforms fail, religion will take over.

He has taken steps over the past year, particularly since September 11, to combat Islamic extremism in Pakistan, targeting key leaders and moving against the "madrassas", the schools that were a breeding ground for fighters in Kashmir and Afghanistan under the Taliban.

He has banned many extremist Jehadi bodies, changed the country's election system and has replaced the top leadership of the military's Interservices Intelligence Directorate.

More recently, the military regime has begun to impose some controls on groups supporting Rhad in Kashmir. They are prohibited from public fundraising for Kashmiri freedom fighters.

Balance upset

It may be pointed out, as a result of the US war on Afghanistan, the influx of Afghan refugees has given birth to numerous social problems in the country.

In Balochistan, the arrival of Pushto-speaking refugees upset the delicate ethnic balance between the Balochis and Pakhtuns, generating new tensions between two main sections of the population.

The crime rate went up. Rivalry to share the social infrastructure became a source of bitterness between the refugees and the local population.

Despite support for his reformist regime, President Musharraf is under pressure from fundamentalists, angered by his backing for the US-led war on Afghanistan and his efforts already to crack down on extremists. Bombings in Islamabad and Karachi have pointed to Pakistan's own continuing vulnerability to terrorism and the fragility of the regime.

It would be unwise to underestimate their potential to cause unrest and instability in the country. With over two million Afghans within its borders, and a vocal section of the populace still sympathetic to them, the Taliban's capacity for creating disruption in Pakistan cannot be ignored.

Years of bad governance, coupled with corruption and feudal mentality, have created fissures within Pakistani society that could be exacerbated by the present conflict.

  • Dr Sharif Shuja lectures at the University of Melbourne

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