Time for land reforms in Pakistan-By I.A. Rehman 1

THE chapter on agriculture in the latest Economic Survey begins with a plea to “developing countries like Pakistan to get their acts together and benefit from the current situation by giving more serious attention to agriculture”.
The advice is especially relevant to Pakistan because “agriculture is still the single largest sector, contributing 21 per cent to GDP and employing 44 per cent of the workforce. More than two-thirds of Pakistan’s population lives in rural areas and their livelihood continue to revolve around agriculture and allied activities”.

This opening paragraph of the chapter takes note of poverty in Pakistan being largely a rural phenomenon; “and, therefore, development of agriculture will be a principal vehicle for alleviating rural poverty.” (And, of course, the global food crisis is offering Pakistan opportunities to get richer by exporting more food).

What is to be done about agriculture and for the well-being of the 44 per cent of the workforce and the two-thirds of the population? While asserting that “agriculture will continue to acquire the highest priority from the government”, the Survey merely advocates a shift towards yield enhancement and attention to farm needs. This analysis is characteristic of the policy various governments of Pakistan have followed, that is, to make agriculture more productive in the interest of the national economy. The interest of two-thirds of the population is not the focus of government thinking. It is assumed, despite evidence to the contrary, that if agriculture shows a good rate of growth the rural have-nots will automatically receive windfalls.

The most critical omission in official thinking was pointed out by a perceptive journalist in this daily: “The minister evaded the issue of land-holding structure in rural Pakistan that has been identified by economists and a report of the agricultural reform commission as the major hurdle to increasing agricultural productivity.”

It is not surprising therefore to find the volatility in agricultural growth (1.5 per cent to 6.5 per cent over six years) attributed to vagaries of nature, losses caused by pests and use of adulterated pesticides, and that no reference is made to the plight of small cultivators and landless tenants. For promotion of agriculture reliance is placed on the inputs formula in vogue since the 1960s. Steps will be taken to ensure greater and better utilisation of fertilisers, improved seeds, machines, plant protection, better irrigation, and disbursal of larger amounts of credit to farmers. Again, no mention is made of the millions of men and women who toil against heavy odds except for a reference to an initiative for “upgradation of socio-economic conditions of the fishermen’s community”.

There is need to seriously ponder the contribution to stagnation and reverses in agriculture made by the cultivators’ lack of ownership of the means of production. The fact is that small landowners, tenant-cultivators and the voiceless haris have been abandoned to adjust themselves to the vagaries of the market, deadlier than the vagaries of nature. Largely denied the guidance of the once efficient extension services, the under-privileged farmer is changing crop patterns, in panic, that produces results such as replacement of wheat cultivation with sugarcane, unions or tomatoes. It is time the impossibility of moving forward without raising the status of the cultivator was duly appreciated. That will lead to the urgency of land reform, which was high on the national agenda for decades till the Zia-created religious courts issued the incredible verdict that land reform is un-Islamic (because one of the regular judges of the Shariat Appellate Bench joined the two ulema-judges to produce a retrogressive decision by majority). The way peasants were subsequently forced to give up lands acquired under land reforms — by force in Pakhtunkhwa and by legal chicanery in Punjab and Sindh — is a matter of abiding shame for all conscious citizens of Pakistan.

Land reform was always advocated on two premises — one economic and the other social. The economic argument was that smaller owner-cultivated farms achieved higher productivity than large farms operated by absentee landlords. This view has been challenged by advocates of mechanised, capital-intensive farming on huge tracts, (including corporate farming). They are not concerned with the consequences of displacement of hundreds of thousands of tenants without any prospects of alternative employment (decent and gainful). However, one may concede that the economic grounds for land reform can be re-examined. But, nothing has happened to reduce the force of the social argument for land reform. A system of self-cultivated farms is required to break the suffocating rule of feudals who prefer dictatorship to democracy, obscurantism to ijtihad, and rule by force to supremacy of reason. Land reform is also necessary to pull a large body of citizens out of medieval bondage, help them realise themselves, and thus avoid the huge loss of human capital Pakistan incurs year after year by denying the people their basic right to land. The case for land reform is as strong as ever. The food crisis lends the matter greater urgency.

That something can be done to alleviate the misery of tillers of the soil short of an over-arching land reform cannot be denied. The many sound proposals in this area include a plan to abolish bonded labour in agriculture not only in Sindh but also in Punjab, the International Labour Organisation — supported move to settle homeless haris in new villages, settlement of cultivators’ claims on military farms in Okara and elsewhere, creation of education and skill-development facilities for hari/kisan children; unionisation of agricultural labour, et al. While such measures are welcome, they will only ease the rigours of the archaic land ownership pattern Pakistan has maintained at a terrible cost to the present and future generations. They cannot be a substitute for land reform.

Perhaps this is an appropriate time to plan land reform, not merely in terms of revision of land ownership pattern but also, and more essentially, in terms of land utilisation practices and social justice to a large mass of people. There may still be in the PPP some who could own the legacy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif also have been known to favour land reform. At least they did so a few years ago when they asked the World Bank to present the case for land reform before the members of the Punjab Assembly.Source: Daily Dawn, 26/6/2008

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    The secularism in Pakistan
    The debate regarding the secularism is complex and divisive in a fanatical society as ours. After sixty three years, we are still engaged in the debate if Pakistan was created as a theocratic state (Islamic state) or just for the Muslim minority in the majority Hindu India. When Mr. Gandhi alluded to the brotherhood between himself and Mr. Jinnah, he countered the ploy by suggesting that Mr. Gandhi had four votes against one of mine, meaning under that set up the Hindu majority would dominate the Muslims- That was the clarity of Mr. Jinnah. We know that he was not a religious man. Most of his friends before joining the Muslim leagues were Hindu and Parsi intellectuals. The Muslims intellectuals of India were mostly orthodox. Mr. Jinnah hardly practiced the religion; and ate and drank that his heart desired; he loved dogs. After his law education, he wanted to be an actor and was hired to play a role in a prestigious theater company in Shakespearian play; he was a liberal and westernized man. Mr. Jinnah’s ideas about a secular state was not even possible due to religious mind set of his followers; most of them waited for him to die so that they could change everything that he believed in- He was truly an enlightened and secular man.
    As far as Allama Iqbal is concerned, his philosophical journey was multifaceted. He loved his religion and at the same time considered Nietzsche as a saint if only he embraced Islam. He also opposed the western values; suggestion that he was secular minded is overreaching his political and religious views. He thought that a culture based on weak foundation, such as western culture, would collapse. He drank and lived as he pleased; lot of great men could stand above the middle class morality. Nietzsche thought that the world put too much emphasis into the morality and called himself an immoral man. The only problem for Allama Iqbal’s admiration of Nietzsche was that the atheist thinker coined the term, “God is dead”. Nietzsche’s atheist point of view had roots in accepting the reason and rational as the driving force during and after the renaissance period. Nietzsche called Spinoza a timid thinker due to his agnosticism, a notch closer to atheism. Spinoza naturalistic view presented philosophical existence of God – That He does not get involved in our conducts and human affairs. When someone asked Einstein, did he believe in God? He replied, yes! in Spinoza’s God. The European rationalist movement and free thinking introduced the terms and reasoning for agnosticism and secularism as political movements. Anything that could be challenged and not to be worshiped was accepted as part of their movement. The philosophical debate that the belief rather than the reason governed the human affairs took hold of the argument. They felt that the government should work for welfare and security of the people and should not be concerned with the afterlife. Secularism, defined by Holyoake, has its roots in a long chain of philosophers starting from Greek times to modern agnostics and atheists, such as Locks, Spinoza, Voltaire, Bertrand Russell and so many others. In religious based societies, the dialectic process is not even possible. We should not forget that due to European religious sentiments, Holyoake was sent to prison on blasphemous charges- He was not going beyond the separation of Church and State. Thomas Jefferson, a religious man, articulated the best, respecting the religious sentiments this way: “Religion is a matter which solely lies between Man and his God that he owes to account to none other than his faith; that the legitimate powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinion. I contemplate with reverence that the act of whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make any law” respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall separation between Church and State”. This kind of secular state we should talk about; and not the secular humanism that our people cannot digest. I think that the ideals of Jefferson can be implemented in Pakistan. The Gladstonian approach, though too much to ask for, may be affective, as he was sensitive to religious sentiments and at the same time constructed a great classic liberal democracy for England and the western world.
    First thing we have to do is to get rid of these democratic jokers; and bring in enlightened people to run the government for seven years. In seven years, a constitution should be rewritten by university professors, judicial scholars (not present judges), Dawn newspaper columnists (They are the most enlightened and true intellectuals of our country) and honorable politicians that does include Asif Zardari or Nawaz Sharif. After massive liberal educational program, they should allow gradual democratization, starting from local elections.
    The Chief Justice of Pakistan has alluded to the fear that if the legislators are allowed a complete constitutional authority, the country would become a secular state. Faith based societies have difficulties from top to bottom finding ways for dealing with the enlightened ideas of the west. Our corrupt political vaderas are fighting for liberal democracy. The democracy allows them and their families to corruption and an ironclad hold on the power and money. Our legislators and ignorant leaders are insisting upon the ideals of the west. They steal phrases from the enlightened thinkers, such as, “the worst democracy is better than the best autocratic rule. The most malicious religious groups turned out to support the democracy”. The religious politicians cannot accept the majority opinion if that majority asked for the separation of religion and state. The liberal politicians go to shrines to put flowers and pray to steal more money. If you turn on the Pakistani television for a dance, movie or drama (which I refuse to indulge in); if you listen to an alcoholic, cheater and womanizer, they all start with Quranic verses and quote references from Quran and Sunnah. The hypocrisy is at a peak in Pakistan, the pretention of being pious and God fearing comes with those references.
    Let us look at our constitution; the religious clauses are mind boggling. The Objective Resolution described the future and the basis of the constitution of the country. Clause 4: Muslims shall be “enabled” to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings of Islam as set out in the holy Quran and Sunnah. First of all, how do you “enable” people to those teachings? How do you do it? – By injunctions through constitution, such as we have in Clause 62 (d) and (e):
    (d) In order to become a member of assembly: He is of good character and not commonly known as one who violates Islamic injunctions.
    How many assembly members should fit in the category of violators?
    (e) He has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices obligatory duty prescribed by Islam, as well as abstains from major sins. Based on these clauses, except for the first portion in clause (d), even the founder of the country would be barred for the seat in the assembly. Now we are properly “enabled” and bound to avoid sins; that we do not have sinners in our assemblies. Who they were kidding? – And we are talking about secularism. Pakistan has become a land of confusions, contradictions, corruption, denial, ambiguity and religiosity.