Monday June 24, 2024


Our current set of rulers. Feudal lords and ladies they are. If not feudal, they are tribal chieftai

By Harris Khalique
August 27, 2010
Our current set of rulers. Feudal lords and ladies they are. If not feudal, they are tribal chieftains or, scarily, big businessmen, the wannabe feudal in Pakistan's context, with large estates and aspirations to be counted among the landed elite. The president, the prime minister, the speaker of the National Assembly, the foreign minister, the interior minister, the four chief ministers, a large number of federal and provincial ministers, all fall in the same category.
Those who play opposition these days are no different. And, interestingly, with the exception of the PML-Q every significant party is a part of some federal or provincial government setup. Many of these politicians have used their office to increase their own and their cronies' assets, profits and political power. And they continue to do that since the time of Liaquat Ali Khan, Khaliquzzaman, Gurmani, Daultana, Mamdot, Shaukat Hayat, Chaudhry Mohammed Ali and Ghulam Mohammed.
Now look at the other set of rulers we had for nearly 35 years during the six decades of our political history. The self-proclaimed messiahs, the patriotic generals, who claimed to be able to fix everything that was dysfunctional, corrupt and ineffective, be it the economy, the judicial system, the cricket board, or the personal morality and Islamic practices of the irreverent citizens of the state.
To start with, generals get a larger share from the national exchequer even officially. The unscrupulous ones mint money through contracts, commissions, establishing businesses or appropriating senior civilian jobs offered by the state. Besides, the dividends for individuals from businesses run by the military as an institution cannot be overlooked. In addition to urban real estate, many of these senior military men are awarded fertile chunks of cultivable land across Pakistan.
The pendulum of our political power oscillates from a general to a feudal, with the bureaucracy serving as the clock's permanent dial. The Muslim League-Unionist feudal rule from 1948 to 1958, the Ayub-Yahya martial rule from 1958 to 1971, Bhutto's feudal rule from 1971 to 1977, Zia's martial rule from 1977 to 1988, Benazir's and Nawaz Sharif's feudal/wannabe-feudal rule from 1988 to 1999, Musharraf's martial rule from 1999 to 2008, Zardari-Gilani's feudal rule from 2008 to date.
So this remains, as it were, an internecine strife within the ruling class, between the rich and the filthy rich. Workers, peasants, soldiers, small traders, local entrepreneurs, teachers and clerks gain little from what happens in the political arena. So many of us are led to believe that the dirty business of politics, civilian rule and an independent electoral process at the local, provincial and national level have more to offer in the long run. But what is required is institutionalisation of democratic processes, far greater room for negotiation between different stakeholders like the provinces and interest groups, and increased space for a new, alternative politics at various levels of ideology, policies and public action.
MQM chief Altaf Hussain seems to have started thinking differently once again. He appeals to patriotic generals to weed out corruption and injustice from the political system. I am not sure if it is the floods alone that have completely submerged his political ideas held in the recent past. One can't deny that the MQM has the experience of both ends of the power pendulum and a knack for staying in power and speaking like opposition. The MQM holds the pendulum and swings along. Another issue that the MQM chief might have overlooked is that if a miracle really happens and a messiah comes, he will also de-weaponise our political system.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, political analyst and advisor on public policy. Email: