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Pakistan State, Agrarian Reform and Islamization

Pakistan State, Agrarian Reform and Islamization

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Published by Usman Ahmad
The manner in which state interests are articulated and pursued has
not thus far been examined as a causal factor in the entrenchment of Islamic
tendencies in the politics of Muslim countries. Yet, there is evidence that
the exercise of power by the state, as determined by the nature of its relations
with key social forces that bolster its authority or serve as resistance
to it, is consequential in anchoring social and political institutions and the
national political discourse in an Islamic normative and conceptual order--
Islamization in short. How this occurs is perhaps most dearly reflected in
the case of Pakistan, where the structure of agrarian relations and its bearing
on state power has, over time, encouraged the state to dabble in religious
politics and to eventually become a notable agent of Islamization.
The manner in which state interests are articulated and pursued has
not thus far been examined as a causal factor in the entrenchment of Islamic
tendencies in the politics of Muslim countries. Yet, there is evidence that
the exercise of power by the state, as determined by the nature of its relations
with key social forces that bolster its authority or serve as resistance
to it, is consequential in anchoring social and political institutions and the
national political discourse in an Islamic normative and conceptual order--
Islamization in short. How this occurs is perhaps most dearly reflected in
the case of Pakistan, where the structure of agrarian relations and its bearing
on state power has, over time, encouraged the state to dabble in religious
politics and to eventually become a notable agent of Islamization.

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Published by: Usman Ahmad on Jun 09, 2014
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International Journal of Politics Culture and Society Vol 10 No. 2 1996
Pakistan: State Agrarian Reform and Islamization
S V R Nasr
The manner in which state interests are articulated and pursued has not thus far been examined as a causal factor in the entrenchment of Islamic tendencies in the politics of Muslim countries. Yet, there is evidence that the exercise of power by the state, as determined by the nature of its rela- tions with key social forces that bolster its authority or serve as resistance to it, is consequential in anchoring social and political institutions and the national political discourse in an Islamic normative and conceptual order-- Islamization in short. How this occurs is perhaps most dearly reflected in the case of Pakistan, where the structure of agrarian relations and its bearing on state power has, over time, encouraged the state to dabble in religious politics and to eventually become a notable agent of Islamization. The alliance with, and intermittent struggles between the state and the landed elite in Pakistan has impeded the state s efforts to effectively con- tend with inequities in distribution of resources through state institutions, forcing the state to look for alternate channels for alleviating poverty, and to even contemplate a different structure of authority through which to expand its capacity to rule. The result has been that state has turned to Islam and its social institutions to achieve both ends) Islamization is there- fore a product of the attempts by a state that is held captive by the landed elite to augment its power and autonomy of action. How and why state choices in this context have led to Islamization will be elucidated in the following sections. THE STATE AND THE LANDED ELITE Pakistan inherited the landed elite from colonial India. As the British began to harness India s agricultural wealth and convert tribesmen and ru- 249
© 1996 Human Sciences Press Inc.
 
25
asr
ral populations into peasant farmers, they increasingly relied on feudal- ism-old landed families, tribal grandees, traditional religious leaders, or merchants who were granted land holdings--to ensure political order in rural areas. In provinces that would constitute Pakistan, feudalism had evolved into a powerful social organization under colonial patronage. The political power of the landed elite did not diminish with the crea- tion of Pakistan. To begin with, the Pakistan movement was not influenced by populism or socialism as was the case with Indian nationalism, and there- fore was not inherently opposed to the landed elite. In fact, the Pakistan movement had early on become the refuge of Muslims of privileged classes who distrusted the economic policies of the Congress party and the socialist rhetoric of some of its leaders like Nehru. In addition, once Pakistan was created the state needed the landed elite in much the same fashion as had the British, namely, to establish order in rural areas. The Muslim League, the party that led the Pakistan movement had little following in the provinces that later formed the new state. 2 The sup- port of the landed elite, especially in elections in the decade preceding independence had been crucial to the Muslim League The landed elite in Punjab, Bengal, and Sind supported the Pakistan movement, and in so doing guaranteed their influence on the future state. 4 Moreover, the Pakistan state was from inception a weak one. Its roots in the provinces it had inherited were tenuous. These provinces had little in common save for the fact that the majority of their populations were Muslim. Their economies were not linked, and were instead tied to the central grid of Indian economy from which they were now cut. The new state had only a puerile machinery of government, confronted a massive refugee problem, was in a state of war with India, and faced economic ruin and severe food shortages. To exert social control and to establish its authority, the state very quickly turned to the landed elite. 5 The feudal lords helped establish state authority, but in return secured their own social and economic position. The landed elite served as intermediaries in estab- lishing political order in rural areas. 6 The state gave them great discretion in local affairs with the effect of confirming and strengthening their author- ity. As the local role of the landed elite became integrated into the organ- izational design of the new state the seeds of future weakness of the state were sown. The state had, for the immediate future at least, closed itself out of the rural areas, helped bolster the authority of a powerful sociopoli- tical force, and created a relationship of dependence between the state and the landed elite. Throughout the 1950s the state would prove unable to extract agricultural surplus for economic growth--either in the form of taxation or controlling the price of agricultural goodsT--or to even guar- antee the supply of food to the population. The landed elite were able to
 
Pakistan 25
increase their profits (which the state was unable to tap into) by keeping the supply of grain limited. The resultant food shortages created political instability and led to urban riots in the 1952-54 period. 8 They were even- tually resolved by American food aid--which was decisive in initiating Paki- stan's close ties to the West. The landed elite, meanwhile, were able to use their local power to also influence politics at the provincial and national levels. By the middle of the 1950s they had effectively taken over the ruling party, the Muslim League, were broadly represented in the national and provincial cabinets, as well as in the Constituent Assembly. The position of power at the hell ensured them of access to state resources and patronage, which was used to further strengthen their power at the local level. Thus the landed elite were able to use state resources to further weaken the state. Interestingly, this pattern of relations continues to this day. For instance, between 1985 and 1988 General Zia provided members of the National Assembly, that was dominated by the landed elite, with considerable sums of money to invest in development projects in their districts as they saw fit. '9 The arrangement between the landed elite and the state has also helped unite the landowning class and to form alliances with small farmers and rural strongrnen. Ideology, party affiliation, or alliances with various elements of the state has not divided them, at least not over what can be broadly termed as their class interests. Obversely, the landed elite has forced greater change on political parties and the state than they have ex- perienced in the process. They have deeply influenced the transformative agenda of the state on numerous occasions, never as openly and decisively as when they tamed Ayub Khan's modernizing zeal and stopped Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's populism in its tracks. Ayub Khan, who began his rule with the objective of establishing the primacy of the industrial sector and mod- ernizing society, now stands accused of allowing the fusion of feudal inter- ests and state apparatuses, best reflected in having opened the military to feudalism by granting land to officers, thus turning them into land owners. Similarly, Bhutto is criticized for shying away from effective land reform, especially in his home province of Sind and his own rural district of Larkana. The consequence has been that Pakistan is yet to experience mean- ingful land reform, the state is yet to penetrate the rural areas, and the agricultural sector, the largest component of the GNP (53.3% in 1949-50 and 23.8% in 1987-88) 1° has been largely exempt from taxation, and the landed elite control the flow of national and provincial politics. All this suggests that institution-building--usually viewed as the most important de- terminant of the nature and relative success of state formation--is perhaps not as important as the impact of those social organizations and institutions

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