Ya Zamindar! by Parvez Asad Sheikh
Introduction by Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi
We are proud to present this key paper by a future leader indicating the essential motor force to activate the Post-terrorist path to the future following the collapse of the political class world wide.
Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi
The Muslim position on Pakistan’s State-Society dynamics
The Military’s role as arbitrator of official political affairs in Pakistan is a well-established thesis. However, this Military consolidation of the country’s overt political structures cannot be wholly understood without establishing the role played by the ethnic and traditional power balances in the country that are dominated by the ‘feudal’ families orZamindars, and to a lesser extent the industrial families, of the major provinces of the Punjab and Sindh. This relationship between what one can term ‘Official’ and ‘Unofficial’ power is essential to the study of Pakistan’s current socio-political climate in a manner that allows for the re-dynamism and consolidation of this inherently fractious nation state.
The Origins of the Zamindari Families
Pakistan inherited the Muslim socio-political reality of Mughal rule that subsequently underwent a process of hybridization under the British Raj. The presence of diverse ethnicities and clan power networks of the Punjab, Sindh, the North West and Balochistan that make up the state of Pakistan today were, during the time of the Mughals, ruled in an organic manner through governors, tribal chiefs and aristocratic families. This use of local and predominantly homogenous governance effectively adapted Mughal rule to the local ethnic socio-political dynamics natural to the different regions and, through allegiance to the seat of power in Delhi, consolidated the Empire as a fluid entity.
After the fall of the Mughal Empire, the British built on these existing dynamics and bolstered their hold on the region through the empowerment of families loyal to them. While this was primarily achieved through the empowerment of existing aristocratic families, in the case of the Punjab, the British supported the leaders of peasant uprisings against the Mughals during the decline of their rule that had replaced the aristocracy with a peasant elite. A newly empowered peasant-aristocracy loyal to the Raj who, in turn, ensured that these families were endowed with enough land to establish their continuous local dominance replaced the Mughal aristocracy of the region. This relationship was further strengthened by the new aristocracy’s support for the British during the 1875 Mutiny that resulted in the exile of Bahadur Shah Zafar to Rangoon and the official end of the Mughal dynasty.
The use of tassawuf or Sufism also helped some of these families establish themselves as part of the feudal elite. By claiming leadership of the Sufi Tariqa as a hereditary process as opposed to the actual transmission of knowledge, these families gained control of the tombs, land and influence through patrilineage. The power of these Pirsis significant in a country that was created from the seed of Sufism. During a visit to one Pir Pagaro of Sindh by General Ayub Khan, President of Pakistan during the 1960’s, the General was advised to keep a step behind the Pir in case his followers interpreted his walking alongside him as a sign of disrespect that could very well have resulted in a violent rebuke.
The effect the Mughal fall had on the Muslims of the Subcontinent as a whole and the areas that were to become Pakistan in particular was not simply the replacement of leaders but a deep existential alteration in Muslim society. It was primarily during the time of the Raj that the quasi-class system of the qaum was officialised in Muslim social discourse. The qaum system is part of the Indian Muslim ethnic conventions that classifies people as Ashraf (noble) or Arazil (of low birth). During Mughal rule the use of this classification system was less rigid and based on character and subsequent British attempts to form a census of the Subcontinent and their use of qaum as a sociological concept resulted in the fragmentation of Muslim society according to this class system.
This hybridization of the Indian Muslim society was also the result of the Muslims’ attempt at protecting their cultural heritage after the loss of Mughal political representation and in the face of an increasingly empowered Hindu population. This also took place in a similar manner with the Ulema of the subcontinent who, by forming the Deoband, Barelvi and Alighar centers of Islamic thought, among others, as a means of protecting the rich Muslim heritage of the Subcontinent after the loss of Muslim leadership, inadvertently stratified the Muslims of the region in a manner that is evident till today.
Without Muslim Amr or leadership, the Zamindari families began to fragment from the cohesive dynamics of Muslim rule into an insular social class of their own that was able to ensure that their influence over their constituencies, particularly in the rural areas of Southern Punjab and Sindh, was maintained. As they have been largely successful at maintaining their influence in Pakistan to this day, one could say that the Unofficial socio-political elements that are enmeshed in the ethnic and clan make-up of Pakistan are Muslim in character but have undergone a metamorphosis as a result of the loss of Muslim rule and the social effects of the governing policies of the British. This could be identified as a stagnated Muslim society in a political and economic sense.
The Role of Pakistan’s Political Families in the Development of the Country
Zamindari families continued to play a pivotal role after the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The dichotomous nature of the new country as a secular nation state created as a homeland for the Muslims presented the foundation for the further development of power balances in the region. Pakistan was dominated in terms of Official power by the civil-bureaucracy under the aegis of the choleric Governor-General Ghulam Muhammed until the first Military coup of 1958. The country’s ethnic power dynamics or Unofficial power remained unaltered after the Partition (except for the Muhajirs who left India for their new homeland). The Zamindars and Civil-Bureaucracy also developed a partnership with the Military who was seen as a junior partner in the early years of Pakistan’s existence.
After the military coup of 1958 under General Ayub Khan’s leadership, the Civil-Bureaucracy’s hold on Official power was replaced by the Military who abolished the post of Governor-General and used legislative measures to infiltrate and subjugate its influence. The Unofficial power continued to be dominated by the large landowning families and the stage was set for competition between the Military and Zamindarifamilies in the form of what Ayesha Siddiqa terms ‘center-periphery’ tension. This competition is between the center or Official power structure’s hold on the country as a nation state and the protection of the local power of the Zamindars. This has a fragmentary effect on the socio-political balance of the country that is exacerbated by the use of parliamentary representation as the official form of governance and ultimately led to the use of constitutional measures to either empower the center or the provinces, land reform among other methods. After the 1965 elections, Ayub Khan replaced the parliamentary dominated system that gave power to the provinces and Prime Minister with a presidential system that concentrated power to the center.
The Land Reforms implemented during the first two Military regimes during the 1960’s, while being largely symbolic in substance, were used to coerce landowning families into a political alignment with the Military. The Military also began to nurture the rise of the Industrial and Business families from the previously apolitical merchant-trader class through institutions such as the Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation as a means to create economic and political support for their interests and bolster their political clout against Zamindari competition. While these measures did encroach on the traditional hegemony of the landowning families, they were aimed as a means toequalize the political stature of the Military and Zamindars and did little to dilute the latter’s hold on the rural areas and the clan systems on which their power was based.
The bloody secession of East Pakistan in 1971 and its transformation into Bangladesh caused the Military to retreat from the political limelight and set up Ayub Khan’s former Foreign Minister and leader of the Pakistan’s People Party as a candidate for the presidency. That Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto won his popular appeal through his brand of Islamic Socialism was ultimately to result in an almost ironic volte-face. Bhutto was from an influential landowning family from Sindh and his links to the Zamindari elite had a gravitational effect on his policies as his tenure progressed.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto implemented an equally symbolic set of land reforms that were used to cement the support of his fellow landowners and establish his role as political patron. He then went on systematically to counter the measures made by the previous regime to consolidate the Military’s political status. His nationalization policies were not simply a fulfillment of socialist promises to the people but served considerably to reduce the newly created Industrial Elite’s clout and their support for the Military. By replacing the civilian managers of these large firms with members of the Civil-Bureaucracy, he patronized a new economic elite.
Bhutto in turn implemented a series of decentralization measures that significantly empowered the landed elite who dominated the constituencies and provinces and went on further to use the Official power structures as a means to protect his hold on the country, a move that would ultimately lead to his downfall. His attempts at ‘politicizing’ the Military and weakening their political status in the official power machinery showed a certain disregard that was duly noted by the recouping generals. Bhutto attempted to make the Military subservient to the Ministry of Defense as opposed to the independent entity it was at the time and in doing so relegating its influence to that of a ministry under his command. He ordered the Army to quell popular unrest against his tenure resulting in the resignation of the brigadiers who were given orders to fire on civilians. This revealed potential fissures in the professional ethos of the armed forces and worried the generals. It was his vilification of his Army Chief, Zia ul Haq, that was to act as the personal spark that was to lead to his overthrow and it was the Army Chief whom Bhutto treated as a lackey who would take the reins of power from him and hang him with them.
During the rule of Zia ul Haq the Military undertook significant structural and constitutional measures in order to consolidate their hold on the Official mechanisms of power and establish their role as an equal partner to the Zamindars who remained the country’s political lynchpin.
Zia reinstated the Presidential System that focused de facto power to the center and in effect reestablished the measures taken by the first two Military regimes prior to the Bhutto era. This bolstering of Official power was undertaken in conjunction with what one could identify as reconciliatory measures towards the Zamindars. The establishment of the Local Bodies System in conjunction with the Presidential System effectively gave significant localized power to the land owning families while bolstering the potency of the Presidency. Zia also held the elections during his tenure on a non-party basis that, while disempowering the PPP, gained the support of the Zamindarifamilies who maintained their traditional hold on Unofficial power. The underlying balance between the Military and traditional leaders was established through these measures. That is, the dominance of the Military over the State apparatus and the landowning families over the Unofficial power dynamics. This basic agreement would serve as the formalized arena through which competition between the two would be measured by and continue.
The Military under Zia, however, began to encroach significantly on Zamindari interests through several measures that were to exacerbate the relationship between the two major political forces. The first was the re-creation of a significant Industrial Elite from the conservative merchant-trader class. Among these was the family of Nawaz Sharif that was to gain significant influence over the metropolitan areas of Northern Punjab through the creation of the PML-N. This new party was also used to provide a Punjabi alternative to the predominantly Sindhi PPP. The Military also nurtured the creation of the Muhajir Quami Movement led by Altaf Hussein. This party consolidated the Muhajirs of the Sindh province that represented a significant political threat to the ethnic Sindhis and destabilized the traditional hold of the Zamindars in the region aligned to the PPP. The creation of the IJI, a Muslim political party, as a means to counter the socialism of the PPP and the use of Islam as a source of justification for military action consolidated the role of Islam which was until then restricted to an understated yet significant source of political development in the country. Zia’s mysterious death in an air crash ushered in the rule of the PPP under Benazir Bhutto and while the underlying division between Official and Unofficial power had been established, the country continued to be a victim of the friction between its two major political forces.
The Potential for Islamic Governance in Pakistan
The nature of the competition between Official and Unofficial power in Pakistan was consolidated during the regime of Zia ul Haq. By then, the Military had established their hold on the country’s mechanisms of power and the Zamindari families continued to play the position of provincial political patrons; their divergent interests effectively dividing the socio-political state of the country. The period between 1988 to 1999 that twice exchanged Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif as the country’s leader through the intervention of the Army Chief is illustrative of this Military consolidation. The political influence of the Industrial families such as the Sharifs over the cosmopolitan areas matured during this period and this added to the further fragmentation of Pakistan’s internal political state, as they were able to function as an independent political element of their own acting to protect their interests. The land owning families have remained a significant fragmentary force central to this state of affairs. The Presidency of Ali Asif Zardari is the next stage of Zamindari consolidation of power in the country. He has in effect inherited the significant constitutional powers of his predecessor without altering his potency over the country and while the Military remain dominant in the arena of national politics, the further fragmentation of the country is inevitable. A major contribution to the rise of Islamic Militancy in Pakistan is the result of this ethnic based political fragmentation of the country’s political elites.
While studies are available that explore the role of these insular forces in destabilizing Pakistan, they tend ultimately to prescribe topical remedies to a deeply rooted problem such as education, equal rights and the ‘nurturing’ of democratic institutions. This reveals the fundamental inadequacy of the current democratic paradigm in its ability to assess and improve the reality of Pakistan and other nation states that suffer from similar ethnic tensions manifesting in the form of ‘center-periphery’ tension or friction between Official and Unofficial power. In the case of Pakistan, the ruling force is overtly the Military who are responsible for formulating the macro-policy of the country as a unified entity. The Mlitary’s ability to deliver on these terms is undermined by its lack of political legitimacy and the significant influence that the Zamindari families exert in maintaining their own insular and fragmentary interests that are fundamentally the result of a hybridized legacy of Mughal rule and the ethnic nuances of socio-political power. The major cause of this inability is the country’s use of structural governance in the form of a stunted parliamentary democracy that allows for the political fragmentation between the center and the provinces.
If we are to deduce that Pakistan’s socio-political reality is inherently the legacy of Mughal rule, we are in a position to assess the current situation in terms of Islamic Governance. In order to separate Islamic Governance from its modern examples, which are nothing more than badly imagined renditions of the Bonapartist State, we need to establish the inherent characteristics of the rule of the first Muslim Leaders. To do this we must look at the giant work of Qadi Abu Bakr ibn al-’Arabi, ‘Defence Against Disaster’. While this work is primarily about the first schism or Fitna of the Muslims that led to the creation of the ‘post-Islamic’ Shia sect, it is an important source to understanding the manner of leadership of the Muslims that gave birth to high civilization up until the fall of the Osmanli Caliphate after the First World War.
Leadership in Islam is not founded on a structural or bureaucratic system. It is a dynamic relationship between a society’s major socio-political elements and the Leader of that society. This existential relationship demands the alignment of interests between the fragmented political elements and the overall functions of Leadership. When Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, may Allah be pleased with him, took the Leadership of the Muslims after the death of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, it was formalized by the Allegiance or Bayat that the Muslims gave him. This Bayat is the very foundation of Leadership in a Muslim society that establishes the political alignment of the fragmentary players under the Leader. This differs from the use of constitutional and legislative measures as a means of establishing leadership in that it is active; Bayat is given, it is not taken.
It is the absence of Bayat that has allowed for the deviant activity surrounding the obscure figure of Osama bin Laden to take place. He is the classical representation of the ‘old man in the mountain’ who led the Ismailis against the Muslims. He cannot be politically associated with the Muslims because he does not have Bayat and therefore the Ismaili phenomenon surrounding him does not have a Muslim form. An Amir and a Leader of Muslims cannot be hidden and inaccessible. In order to receive Bayat, the Amir must fulfill the following active conditions:
– He must appoint the Zakat collectors.
– The Dinar and Dirham may be struck in his name.
– The Khutba of Jumma must be read in his name.
Without Allegiance, as in the case of today’s ‘old man in the mountain’, anyone forwarding claims to the political leadership of the Muslims is a rebel according to the Islamic definition.
It is this Bayat or Allegiance that allows for the unification of fragmentary elements of power under a central Amr or leadership in a manner that both adapts to inherent cultural and ethnic power balances while focusing the unified society outwards. This is achieved through the ‘organic’ rule that approaches society in terms of ethnic and cultural entities as opposed to that of the modern secular Nation State that exacerbates these fundamental human differences, as in the case of Pakistan.
From this perspective we are able to reassess the role of Pakistan’s political families and the Military and identify the core reason for the country’s fragmented nature. While the Military are the de facto ruling class, they suffer from a lack of legitimacy of their power that has required them to use structural methods alien to this Muslim society as a means to maintain their influence. Zardari’s Presidency is the result of this problem of legitimacy the Military suffers from as they were pressured to replace the overtly Military Musharraf with a civilian leader after his disastrous handling of the country under the greater geo-political pressures of the time. The fragmentation of Pakistani society due to the ethnic and cultural Unofficial power dominated by the Zamindarifamilies is due to this lack of legitimacy and the exacerbation of friction between these two forces by the use of structural politics.
Amr in terms of Islamic Governance must replace the destructive use of structural politics in the country. This Amr must be founded on Bayat given by the Unofficial power brokers to the central leader aligning the Zamindars with the fate of Pakistan as a whole. The Military will only be able to solve its inherent inability to rule a fragmented nation state through the establishment of this Amr. For this to take place, the Military must support the rise of an Amir in Pakistan who will be able to rule the country in the organic manner of the Mughals, reconciling the ethnic nature of the society with Pakistan’s broader geo-strategic orientation. This will facilitate the socio-political cohesion in the country and in effect re-dynamize the Muslim society of Pakistan, fulfilling its reality as the homeland for the Muslims of the Subcontinent. Pakistan is Muslim. Parliamentary Democracy is not.
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– Siddiqa, Ayesha. Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy. London: Pluto Press. 2007.
– Jones, Owen, Bennet. Pakistan: Eye of the Storm. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
– Metcalf, Barbara Daly. Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. 1982.
– Hussein, Akmal. Power Dynamics, Institutional Instability and Economic Growth: The Case of Pakistan. Paper. Asia Foundation. 2008.
– Qadi Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arabi, Defence Against Disaster. (Edited by Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi). Cape Town: Madinah Press. 1995.
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