Control of land and public purse strings -- what factions fight for
Pakistani writers tell their own story of official corruption
The confrontation in Pakistan is headline news but the prize both sides seek -- lucrative state favors -- is overlooked, as is the hold on land which makes possible the competing elites in the first place. Three 2007 articles give the internal POV: “The underbelly of dictatorship” by Afiya Shehrbano, a sociologist based in Karachi and author of books on women's issues, in the News International (Nov 7); “Pakistan ranks low in social indicators” by Khaleeq Kiani in DAWN, the internet edition (Nov 4); and “Land, lords, and reforms” by Syed Mohammad Ali in the Daily Times (Oct 30).
by Jeffery J. SmithAfiya: Apologists for an agreement -- completely extra-judicial and dictator-facilitated -- between Pakistan People's Party chairperson for life, Benazir Bhutto, and General Musharraf lumped together the neo-con landed and business beneficiaries of the past eight years with the English-speaking intellectual elite. Meanwhile the only thing running on TV is Indian movies (read peace), cooking programs (domestic empowerment of women), fashion TV (liberal image), and PTV (state apology). That about sums up the achievements of the last eight years and sets the agenda for the future.
DAWN: Pakistan’s quality of life indicators are below those of other countries with similar per capita incomes such as India, Sri Lanka, and even Bangladesh. Pakistan’s school enrolment is lower, adult illiteracy is higher, and infant and child mortality rates are higher. The proportion of Pakistan’s population still living in poverty in 2005 was 32.1%.
Projects to supply and treat water were built but the number of households connected, hours of daily supply, water quality and sustainability fell short of targets. The proportion of the population with access to piped water is 66%, while the proportion with access to sanitation is 54%. The Asian Development Bank said, “The opportunity for rent-seeking activities in the distribution of an essential good is high.”
Likewise, the construction of buildings for delivering medical care improved, but the service outcomes did not, due to corruption, absentee staff, and missing equipment and medical supplies.
As in the countryside, projects in urban areas often failed, too. Urban authorities were "weak in financial management" (corrupt). Attempts to strengthen such institutions usually failed.
Daily Times: Most rural poor in developing countries are landless, marginal farmers, tenants, or agricultural laborers. Since land is a source of political power, landowners can block reform. A convergence of feudal, political, and military vested interests often do. So have powerful international institutions like the World Bank. Wielding their power, owners enhance the return from land by winning state favors: uneven provision of infrastructure, other inputs like credit, and subsidies.
After independence, both Pakistan and India shifted focus from redistribution of land holdings to issues like irrigation or bringing more acres under cultivation. While intermittent land reform measures were announced, they were not implemented thoroughly. Pakistan placed a ceiling on how much acreage one may own. So landlords transferred land to close relations. The disparity between the landed and the landless hardly changed.
Then the state moved on to liberalization, deregulation, privatization, and decentralization of authority into a newly created local government system. Local feudal lords have usurped most of the newly created political positions. A patwari, a lowly state functionary, has been transformed into a power broker. Getting hold of the elusive patwari, and making him discharge his official duties, is a major task. It is hard enough for the high and middle-income farmers to get a hold of him to update land titles, let alone the poor or marginalized farmers.
Land records in Pakistan do not provide conclusive proof of ownership nor perfectly identify the plot. Such inaccuracy exacerbates land-related disputes, generates considerable delays in resolving pending cases in courts, and inhibits acquisition by the most efficient user.
The rural poor need land -- something a tax on land would deliver. Also they need technology, market access, and the chance to participate in resource management. Women need greater ownership and control of assets. On their own land, country folk could boost food output, income, and security. That would attract more investment, facilitating development, spreading prosperity throughout the country.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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