Wali Dad, a peasant, died in front of the Karachi Press Club. He had been on a hunger strike, protesting the cruelty of a landlord Faqir Waryam, a member of Pir Pagara’s spiritual network.
Up north, the Taliban, besides enforcing shariat, forced the Swat landlords to flee, freeing landless peasants from long subjugation. Of course, the Taliban will receive revenue from the land but the peasants’ share will increase. Maybe the next Wali Dad will take his case to the nearby Taliban unit instead of dying in full view of helpless journalists at the Karachi Press Club.
Pakistani society has long reached the boiling point because of continuing oppressive feudalism at the political and economic levels and worsening equitable distribution of wealth in every other sector of the economy. To that has been added the new rich class of Pakistan, brazenly exhibitionist, which too has no regard for the poor.
The country has thus become a conglomerate of urban and rural fiefdoms where the powerful make their own laws and state institutions extract from the poor whatever they can. No one has yet put a stop to such degeneration; perhaps the Taliban will.
This may be a repetition of the Sikh insurgency of the eighteenth century in Punjab. With a small guerrilla force they destroyed the Mughal structures in Punjab in a short span of time. They made the local landlords and state-appointed vessels run, giving peasants the freedom to keep the produce after paying a small amount per household as ‘Rakhi’ (protection money). Waris Shah referred to this upheaval in a verse:
Ashraf kharab kmeen taza zimindar noon wdhi bhahar hoi
Jadoon dain te jat Sardar hoey, ghro ghri jan nwin sarkar hoi
(The nobility has been dishonoured, the working class has been refreshed and the tillers have become prosperous / When the Jats became country’s rulers and every corner [of Punjab] became self governing)
The creation of Pakistan itself is an example of how religious ideology is employed to redress the longstanding grievances of common Muslims. Notwithstanding the geopolitical games of that time, Pakistan’s creation was a mechanism by which the oppressed Muslims gained their share of the pie in their areas. Most of them were from the lowest castes before converting to Islam. However, the foreign ruling Muslim elites despised them and always put them down. The Muslim elites preferred to forge alliances with the Hindu elites rather than uplifting the downtrodden Muslim converts.
The status quo established by the Muslim and British rulers did not fulfil the dreams of the converted Muslims of Bengal and Punjab in particular. The contradiction between them and the ruling communities had to be resolved at some point. It took ten centuries and many massacres but the converted Muslims were able to get what they had desired for centuries. It is evident that religious ideology was the rallying point.
The developments in Swat have shown that in the absence of better alternatives, religious ideology can fill the gap and exploit class contradictions to advance its march. Presently, none of the mainstream political parties are prepared to tackle land reforms or other measures to change the huge inequity in Pakistani society. Moreover, common citizens do not have access to electricity, water, or any other social service. In such a desperate situation do we expect the people to take the politics of Constitution Avenue seriously? Does the presence or absence of the 17th Amendment make any difference to their lives? Why should they not join extremist religious organisations or become suicide bombers to get their family a few lakh rupees?
The ruling elites are completely oblivious of what the people really want. There is little hope left with the Pakistan People’s Party but even the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, apparently taking appropriate positions on constitutional matters, has no clue as to the basic contradictions that plague Pakistan.
He may talk about it but has Mian Nawaz Sharif ever emphasised land reforms or addressed the issue of inequities that mar the system? PMLN leaders may be better managers of the state but that does not cut it. This was the reason that PMLN was never able to mobilise the masses before the movement to restore the independent judiciary. Now that Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is back in his seat as chief justice, the street power of PMLN will dissipate again.
The foreign powers obsessed with extremism and jihadi violence in Pakistan have little insight into Pakistan’s real issues. They can throw a few billion dollars to prop up the state but money will only go so far: Pakistan will remain mired in lawlessness unless structural reforms are undertaken.
Pakistan needs thorough land reforms and a more equitable system where the poor can also have dreams. If these measures are not taken the Taliban and the likes of them will always have a huge opening for their retrogressive agendas.
If Taliban are the only force that can eliminate the traditional oppressive elite, then people will swallow their strict edicts to gain economic freedom. Most likely, Pakistan’s ruling elite will not undertake system reforms even if the country is broken into fiefdoms!
The writer can be reached at email@example.com
Reproduced by permission of Daily Times