Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Mahjabeen's Musings: A Pakistani-American Pilgrim along the American Way; Land Reform Would Give Pakistan a Second Chance

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Mahjabeen's Musings: A Pakistani-American Pilgrim along the American Way; Land Reform Would Give Pakistan a Second Chance

Article excerpt


In a startling turn of events, Pakistan's destiny appears to be at the brink of major change. Again it is our luck -- do we realize our potential, or do we continue to wallow in the familiar abyss of poverty, illiteracy and the ever-widening gap between the priviligentsia and the have-nots?

If indeed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had intended to remove his Commander-in-Chief Pervez Musharraf from his post, a more intelligent approach might have yielded the desired results. Just as Musharraf's plane (with 198 others on board) was to land at Karachi airport, Sharif placed the requisite medal on Musharraf's anticipated successor, Ziauddin. This while Sharif's staff was busy ordering Musharraf's plane to divert to India, or to the city of Nawabshah. In the nick of time Pakistan's army was able to take over Karachi airport. The plane landed with 5 minutes of fuel remaining, and the intended victim was suddenly the country's chief executive.

With a population of 120 million, a high illiteracy rate, an economy in shambles and now major political upheaval, Pakistan's problems acquire an intensity faced only by an unfortunate few of the world's nations. The intensity is greater for the irony that is involved, in that Pakistan is blessed with natural resources, a very strategic geo-political position, and most of all a very talented and hard-working population.

The root of Pakistan's problems, especially the reason for democracy being an elusive "novelty" is the high illiteracy rate, which in a sense is perpetuated by its feudal system.

At the time of the partition of the Indian subcontinent, the predominantly Hindu areas were industrialized, and the majority in India's Congress Party were industrialists. In contrast, what became Pakistan was poorly industrialized, and except for Mohammad All Jinnah, the Muslim League was made up largely of landlords. Even in what is now India, most of the landlords were Muslims.

The Congress Party's industrial base already pointed toward land reform, and the bonus of eliminating the wealth of Muslim landlords must have been difficult to pass up. Feudalism was abolished in India and, despite practically the same problems of population and illiteracy, India remains a democracy.

Pakistan's fate was the diametric opposite. The activists in the Muslim League developed political clout on the basis of their wealth, which in turn was primarily land ownership. The cycle of abuse had begun, and sadly is firmly set till today, all of 52 years later.

The many modes of the pillage of Pakistan have been the subject of various best-selling books there. Landlord families extended their power in nefarious ways and many a time all too blatantly. More land was acquired sometimes by simply buying it, and at other times by threat and intimidation of sisters who were deliberately kept single, so that land did not go out of the family. The rebellion of the victims at times acquired even darker proportions, involving murders of expedience.

The sadder part yet is the fallout on the economy and literacy of Pakistan. The tillers of the soil remained at the mercy of the landlord, receiving only barely enough money to get by. Elevating the educational level of the farmers was of no concern to the landlords. …

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