Change in the System
While the people at large,
both in and outside Pakistan, realize that their
lot cannot improve without basic changes in the
prevalent socio-political system, the beneficiaries
of the existing system – the ruling elite
- have been, for decades, resorting to various subterfuges
to avoid any change abridging their hold.
They have been all along staging civilian and military
farces to convey an impression to the downtrodden
that a shift of power from the hands of the man
in shalwar-kameez to the man in uniform or vice-versa
is a precursor of basic changes in the structure.
The pendulum of power has swung four times over
the past four decades, but the lot of the common
man has only gone from bad to worse.
Presenting the devolution of power to elected officials
at district level, President Musharraf had said:
Unfortunately for us the place of the departing
colonial power was taken over by a privileged class.
Enough is enough. The time has come for a change.
This government is determined to restore to the
people the right to rule themselves.
Let us also recall here the words of Nawaz Sharif
in the speech inaugurating his second term in the
spring of 1997. “Our country has been ruthlessly
robbed for half a century. Enormous amounts of money
were borrowed blindly and squandered on personal
luxuries…They mortgaged the national interest
to such an extent that we are not free to make our
own budget… Our donors order us around…Our
own rulers have plundered us in ways that even the
enemy would not practice in occupied lands. What
sort of freedom is this? It is time for us to stand
upon the ruins of the last fifty years and pledge
that we shall take back our freedom.”
The identity of thoughts is not accidental. It makes
sense only when viewed from the perspective of the
common man. Both are, more or less, hoodwinking
him, putting him under the anesthesia of sweet promises.
The land reforms of Ayub Khan and Z.A. Bhutto scratched
only the surface.
After Gen. Musharraf took the reins of power, some
40 political parties of all hues and pursuits from
the socialists on the extreme left to the religious
bigots on the right, from the self-acclaimed ‘mainstream
parties’ to those surviving on letter-heads
only, assembled in Lahore to submit a resolution
to the man in uniform who had hijacked power six
months earlier, to hand it back to them. The late
Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, the Don Quixote of Pakistani
politics, is credited with arranging the assemblage.
What this exercise amounted to was reflected in
its resolution. It submits, in essence, to the military
ruler to remain within the timeframe of three years
given to him by the Supreme Court instead of entertaining
visions of a ‘decade’ or twelve years
of ‘reforms’ of his earlier incarnations.
In other words, there was little objection to the
military takeover as such but only to its likely
prolongation beyond the three-year period.
Objections to the army takeover have generally come
from foreign powers. Within the country, it was
welcomed and celebrated as a relief from the clutches
of self-serving, civilian autocrats.
The political luminaries could hardly question the
man in uniform. For, the performance over the earlier
ten years by both Benazir and Nawaz Sharif had little
to flaunt. Rather, the miasma of corruption of the
duo – the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum - smelled
to the sky. Both were convicted in courts of law
on corruption charges. Yet, their parties had declared
one the chairperson for life and the other president
of his party for an indefinite period. Naturally,
the change in the Political Parties Act (1962),
disqualifying them from holding party positions
after convictions in courts of law, has been rejected
by all major parties! What is the value of such
a rejection, one wonders.
More important is the fact that the armed forces
comprise perhaps the most important component of
the triumvirate that rules the country, that is:
(1) the military and civil bureaucracies, (2) the
feudal aristocracy, and (3) the four dozen or so
rich families whose wealth is mostly ill-gotten
(for details see Shahid’s book “Who
The very title “Nawabzada” of the convener
of the conference symbolized the nature and character
of the Lahore assemblage. The rural aristocracy,
the so-called ‘feudal lords’ have remained,
from the colonial times, the henchmen of all the
governments of the day. Their right to rule over
their fiefs is based on their hereditary claims,
irrespective of how obnoxious their conduct and
how ignorant their minds.
The dynastic system was condemned and abolished
throughout the world long time ago. India abolished
it directly after independence.
Unfortunately, the founding fathers of Pakistan,
the two Quaids in particular, died within a few
years of independence and could not attend to this
The success of feudalism in maintaining itself at
the helm of affairs, in defiance of the law of meritocracy,
has rubbed off on all other sectors of society and
given rise to what is called the feudal spirit.
The nova riche dress, talk and even walk with the
typical swagger of the feudal lords. They travel
in Pajero jeeps and are accompanied by a team of
The stalwarts of the PPP who do not tire of masquerading
as champions of the poor and the instruments of
change, have themselves elected Benazir as chairperson
for life of the party. That speaks volumes about
the depth of the roots of feudalistic values permeating
The consensus of the PML leaders on maintaining
Nawaz Sharif or his brother as their chief reflects
the same resistance to change.
Begum Kulsoom Nawaz’s concern for the welfare
of her husband is quite understandable but the congregation
of even the veteran PML leaders around her can be
appreciated only when viewed from the feudalistic
precept of inheritance. Similarly, the sudden eminence
in the PML hierarchy of Ijazul Haq is ostensibly
a mind-teaser. He is a middle-rung former banker
and the son of an ex-president and is reported to
have come into a lot of money. That is all. But
thanks to the inheritance-based system, he managed
to become the senior vice-president of the PML.
Benazir must be hoping to remain the chairperson
of the PPP till her son, Balawal, grows up and is
ready to take over the leadership from her.
The group of religious parties, the MMA, has been
playing its traditional role of providing religious
crutches to the ruling sultan or a military or civilian
dictator. They have served to preempt any other
sector’s role in street agitation.
The military government, one regrets to notice,
has been tinkering with the system, particularly
the hold of the feudal barons, despite its claims
of revolutionary steps.
Mir Zafrullah Khan Jamali, the military-blessed
Prime Minister, in his very first address to the
parliament assured the landlords or their surrogates
sitting there that for the next five years there
would be no land reforms!
Sheikh Rashid, the government spokesman, acknowledged
recently that the government had done nothing in
respect of land reforms.
Such a resistance to change in the face of mounting
frustration among the masses, owing to the growing
pangs of poverty, might invite the extremists to
take the lead and cause a havoc in the society.
The outcome of the chaos may not be something the
founding fathers had visualized. Of course the self-centered
triumvirate is handicapped by a limited vision and
a desensitized mind.