Letter from Pakistan: Resisting Feudalism?

In this "regime adjustment" the Bush administration has found allies amongst Pakistan's elite, which is unremittingly feudal. Bhutto, for example, comes from a traditional feudal family and married into another traditional feudal family; for her, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) formed by her father, is her fiefdom -- she is president for life. Inner-party democracy is the stuff of fiction. It is important to keep in mind that the PPP and Nawaz Sharif's PML(N) are not the secular modern parties voters are accustomed to in the west.

Feudals in both parties oppose Musharraf's reforms tooth and nail. Because his administrative modernization set up, for the first time, representative, elected local government institutions (Nazims) and politically empowered the poor; his economic liberalization (including privatization) is promoting the growth of the middle class -- universally recognized as the backbone of liberal democracy. Both hit at their feudal roots. Predictably, the judiciary has time and again ruled against Musharraf's privatization of key economic sectors.

The clerics in the religious coalition -- the MMA -- resist his educational reforms and promotion of women's rights since both are undermining the ideological domination of the religious establishment. In the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) the ruling MMA is systematically sabotaging Musharraf's reforms.

By all accounts, Musharraf allowed the highest degree of media freedom ever experienced in the country's history. This is exposing the average Pakistani to the world outside, and to modern values of democracy and individual rights.

Not surprisingly, the PPP, PML and the MMA are ranged against the army, led by Musharraf.

It is crucial to keep in mind that he is the first leader who has attempted the modernization of Pakistani economy and society.

Many prominent lawyers leading the opposition to Musharraf are either members of PPP or are closely connected to it through kinship links. A majority of the lawyers and judges and "liberal" defenders of human rights are part of the feudal elite; the rest share in the feudal values. They feel extremely threatened by Musharraf's modernization and are bent on protecting their inherited status and privileges. They are hardly the stuff of independent, modern professionals.

Some of the street support for Bhutto on TV is, of course, from party workers. But a lot of it is the poorest of the poor, most of whom are serfs who live a hand-to-mouth existence on the fiefs of feudals. They are lured in truckloads with the offer of two meals a day, which is a luxury for them.

This is the background to and the essence of the sordid "pro-democracy" movement.

It would be a real pity if American opinion makers and professionals lose sight of this unfolding power struggle between the army led by Musharraf on the one hand and the obscurantist feudal and clerical forces on the other.

If the Pakistani legal establishment and liberals were able to rise above their self-interest, they too would support Musharraf, like the liberals in Turkey who backed their modernizing army.

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