PAKISTAN: by Sharif M ShujaNews Weekly
Feudalism: root cause of PakistanÂ’s malaise
, March 25, 2000
Sharif M Shuja is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International Relations at Bond University, Queensland. Professor Sharif Shuja explains the background to Pakistanâ€™s continuing economic and political uncertainty.
By Sharif M Shuja , an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International Relations at
Bond University, Queensland;
Professor Sharif Shuja explains the background to Pakistan's continuing economic and political uncertainty.
Pakistan has spent 25 out of 51 years under military rule. General Pervez Musharraf, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) in a coup took power on October l2, 1999. He declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and the National Assembly, and appointed himself chief executive. He also ensured by special decree that his actions could not be challenged by any court of law. In doing so, he virtually imposed martial law. But by not sacking President Rafiq Tarar or dismissing the Assembly, he retained the option of ushering in a civilian rule of his choice when he had things under his control.
It seems the coup was not the result of meticulous planning by the military, but rather an immediate reaction to threats to its own interests. General Musharraf was on a plane from Sri Lanka bound for Karachi when Nawaz Sharif fired him and appointed Lt General Khwaja Ziauddin, the head of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as the Chief of the Army Staff, with the anticipation that the army would accept this reshuffle. But they were wrong. So when Nawaz tried to oust General Musharraf, the general ousted him instead. Units loyal to Musharraf took over the TV station, airports, arrested Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz and Lt General Khwaja Ziauddin.
The key men were Lt General Mohammed Aziz, the chief of the general staff, and, most crucially, Lt General Mahmood Ahmed, who commands the army's Tenth Corps stationed close to Islamabad. It was Ahmed's troops who stormed the gates of the PTV Centre and shut down the station.
The people of Pakistan seemed genuinely relieved that the Government had fallen and that the military had taken control - an indication of just how unpopular Nawaz Sharif had become. In the eastern city of Lahore, where support for Sharif was considered strongest, there were demonstrations in favour of the army takeover, people cheered in the streets and burnt pictures of Nawaz.
The political turmoil in Pakistan was caused, in the view of many, by not only a lack of governmental accountability but also by corruption at the highest level of administration.
Pakistan has long been run by such dreadful governments. It appears to suggest that Nawaz Sharif hesitated to accept the notion that development requires good governance, meaning open, transparent and accountable public institutions. Whereas previous governments were chaotic in their awfulness, this one under Nawaz Sharif has turned out to be systematic.
He was democratically elected but he is not a democrat. His basic instincts were dictatorial not democratic. He acted more like a despot after his landslide election victory in 1997. Over the past few years he picked off individuals and institutions that he believed posed any threat to his own power.
Dissent within his party was suppressed. He amended the Constitution to strip the President of the power to remove him and ousted the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Reversing the traditional balance of power between the military and civilian government, Nawaz Sharif has seen off an army chief, General Jehangir Karamat, and then tried to push through a constitutional amendment that would give him sweeping powers to ignore Pakistan's legislature and provincial governments in the name of Islamisation.
The judiciary at first tried to check Mr Sharif, but later gave up. When the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Sajjad Ali Shah took the President's side in 1997, a mob from Mr Sharif's party stormed the Supreme Court and Mr Sharif sacked Mr Shah.
Then he turned on the press. His Government embarked on a campaign of harassment and intimidation against those members of the press who questioned his misuse of power. For example, in mid-1999, the Jang Group of newspapers had its bank accounts frozen and its newsprint confiscated. Najam Sethi, the publisher and editor of another newspaper, Friday Times, was held without charge. All copies of the Friday Times were seized, and its website has been jammed.
The roots of Pakistan's political crisis go deep beyond the October 99 coup. It is in the nature of the feudal system and politics in Pakistan.
Feudal mentality ;
Throughout history, feudalism has appeared in different forms. 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 and, consequently exercises considerable influence over the revenue, police and judicial administration of the area. The landlord is, thus, lord and master. Such absolute power can easily corrupt, and it is no wonder that the feudal system there is humanly degrading.
The system, which some critics say is parasitical at its very root, induces a state of mind which may be called the feudal mentality. This can be defined as an attitude of selfishness and arrogance on the part of the landlords. It is all attitude nurtured by excessive wealth and power, while honesty, justice, love of learning and respect for the law have all but disappeared. Having such a mentality, when members of feudal families obtain responsible positions in civil service, business, industry and politics, their influence is multiplied in all directions. Indeed the worsening moral, social, economic and political crisis facing this country can be attributed mainly to the powerful feudal influences operating there.
Almost half of Pakistan's Gross National Product and the bulk of its export earnings are derived primarily from the agricultural sector controlled by a few thousand feudal families. Armed with a monopoly of economic power, they easily pre-empted political power.
To begin with, the Pakistan Muslim League, the party laying Pakistan's foundation 53 years ago, was almost wholly dominated by feudal lords such as the Zamindars, Jagirdars, Nawabs, Nawabzadas and Sardars, the sole exception being the Jinnahs. Pakistan's major political parties are feudal-oriented, and more than two-thirds of the National Assembly (Lower House) is composed of this class. Besides, most of the key executive posts in the provinces are held by them.
Through the 50s and the 60s the feudal families retained control over national affairs through the bureaucracy and the armed forces. Later on in 1972, they assumed direct power and retained it until the military regained power recently. Thus, any political observer can see that this oligarchy, albeit led by and composed of different men at different times, has been in power since Pakistan's inception.
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 night pills for 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. Where 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 inequities 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 Sheriff'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 and administrative failure.
Under Sharif's rule, Pakistan's bureaucracy, police and public services were so infested with corruption and political favouritism, and so starved of resources, that few Pakistanis expected anything from government except employment.
Will the army, which is now deciding Pakistan's fate, go the same way?
The army chief is certainly caught between a rock and a hard place. There are a number of reasons for returning Pakistan to constitutional rule as soon as possible. The most obvious is that world opinion is not in favour of the coup. Musharraf has to create an atmosphere that would encourage foreign investment in Pakistan. That would involve giving, dates for a possible election.
The Pakistani economy is basically reliant on a drip feed of foreign loans from multinational agencies, most notably the World Bank and the IMF. Both bodies have indicated that they are deeply concerned by the army takeover and are likely to withhold loans. Pakistan has a foreign debt of more than $30 billion and rapidly diminishing foreign currency reserves.