Thursday, August 23, 2007

Lal Masjid: Feudalism v/s Democracy

Too much is being made about the Judiciary and its role in challenging Musharraf. I was asked questions about the seriousness of this Judicial activism by people I expected would know better and that is why I am posting this up here.

The Judiciary today is largely a vehicle for feudalism in Pakistan. After independence the feudals (most prominently the Punjabi clans) seized control of the government. Through that control, they made absolutely sure that their large land holdings and unhealthy labour practices were protected from the reach of the law. The feudals established a firm grip on legal affairs ensuring that no one would be able to truly challenge their economic or social power bases.

A small fraction of the feudals used the capital generated in this fashion to set up industries and a few of these did very well. Yet others leveraged their industrial production to set up banks and engage workforces in the urban areas of Pakistan. The feudals of Pakistan used the social position to secure the access to information in both the agricultural and industrial centers. If you wanted a job - you had to get a feudal family to sign off on it - otherwise you had a minimal chance of success.

However as the urban populations of Pakistan grew in the last 50 years, the power of the agro economy shrank. Initially this shrinkage was small, and could be ignored or compensated by investments in industrial activity. It was in this period that the feudals appeared to have a very tight hold on power in Pakistan. However over the past 30 years, the power of the agro economy has shrunk dramatically. The Heroin boom (of the 80s and 90s) and the rising level of industrialisation have to some extent diminished the influence of the feudal elite, but it is mostly the growing population of Pakistan that has marginalised them.

You see neither the agro-economy nor the meagre industrial sector can adequately employ the people of Pakistan. There are some 60 million men in Pakistan and most of them are unemployed. Without employment either agricultural or industrial, the feudal political models cannot function. A very serious threat has emerged to the success of this model. Things have reached a point where Pakistanis openly talk about applying for jobs in India.

In the last 20 years, the feudals attempted to use their presence in the Army to try and deflect all this excess manpower into all manner of narco-trafficing inspired Jihads. To that end they enlisted the entire Army and the religious elite of Pakistan. Now the shortcomings of this policy are in plain sight.

The Army has become a power unto itself - as Ms. Ayesha Siddiqa Agha describes in her books - the Army is now allocating large amounts of land, water and power resources to **itself**. You may be a big Chaudhary somebody-something but you have to stand in line behind a no-name Army jamadar to get anything you want. Bizarrely enough, the Army with its perverse sense of right and wrong, is creating a kind of land and resource reform by taking away the exclusive right of the feudal classes to decide who gets what piece of land, or how much water or how much electricity.

The religious leaders are now in possession of military resources that far outnumber those of the fuedals. The feudals relied on control of key shrines and control over small-arms trafficing to create a small military force. With the madrassas becoming amouries, and students becoming soldiers, the feudals do not have an effective muscle. Man for man, gun for gun, the Islamists are better organised and equipped than any feudal army or political party. In a straight shootout - the feudals would lose - quite possibly as was recently demonstrated in a high profile assasination in Islamabad itself - the feudals' own security guards would turn their weapons on their so-called lords. I am sure the Army could protect the feudals in a pinch... but you have to pay big-time for that protection. And what do when a feudal falls afoul of an Armyman? I am sure Moonis from Lahore can tell us loads about that.

So why not pay the Jihadis themselves.. you ask?... an interesting question indeed that I am sure many feudals might consider.

Ofcourse then there is the awam, who the feudals see as slaves. The awam today, in the grip of a pervasive fear - thanks to the continuous propaganda of the last 30 years, they think more like a qaum and less like an awam. Will a quam invite a bunch of feudals to be their leaders? if the feudals invite themselves, will the quam accept it? Especially when they accepted a Fauji leader on the premise that the feudals were a bunch of complete shits to begin with? Or will they prefer a Jihadi? This is a question the quam will be asking itself.

Under such circumstances, will the "free and fair" election serve as a way of deflecting Islamist sentiments into more mainstream political action?

If all the feudals seek to do is to return to the seat of unaudited power under the guise of an American sanctioned democratic exercise - will such a government be any more effective at curbing Islamism than say that other American inspired democratic government - the Maliki regime in Iraq? how will they be more representative than Musharraf's referendums?

Will a nation of 60 million Islamic men who hate Musharraf because he killed a high ranking Islamic cleric, now blithely accept a woman as their Prime Minister? Do people remember what Pakistanis used to say in the 90s ... "please pray for Pakistan, we have a woman Prime Minister".

Will the Punjabi feudals accept a Sindhi Wadera as their leader? What exactly is one to make of Ghulam Mustafa Khar's refusal to accept the return of Benazir?

Questions.. Questions... Questions...

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