Attention, Mr Imran Khan! There’s a fly in your soup. More like two. Trusting in your integrity, we took you for your word about ending corruption and bringing justice to even the poorest of the poor. But you really think that’s possible without land reforms? It now transpires those you’ve most elevated are out to ensure this never happens.
Intriguingly, just before Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Jahangir Tareen joined PTI, they suddenly got involved in what is known as the Qizilbash case that goes back to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s time — almost four decades. It had to do with ancestral ‘waqf’ or the charitable trust property of many hundreds or a thousand acres.
After announcing land reforms in 1972, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto made a series of reforms in 1977, putting ceilings on how much land anyone could own. They were never effectively implemented.
After Bhutto’s death, General Zia created the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) for Islamized decisions on cases. In 1980, significantly enough, the judges did NOT find land reforms unIslamic.
The Qizilbash Waqf Trust filed an appeal and bided its time until a more conducive political atmosphere. When it came, it was heard by the FSC bench consisting of three judges and two ulema. In a 1990 final judgement, land reform was declared unIslamic, won 4-1, although the bench members differed with one another in part or in details.
There was reason for many to be unhappy with the decision. A matter of charitable trust property should have been a separate, special case for a particular kind of organization, not mixed up with the larger issue of land reforms affecting the rights of all peasant-citizens. Besides, with a return to elected parliamentary government, it was ironic that feudalism, patronage, deprivation of tillers, the gulf between the haves and have-nots, got progressively worse.
Three years ago, Abid Hassan Minto, then President of the National Workers Party, now the Awami Workers Party (AWP), representing both urban workers and peasants, filed an appeal in the Shariat Appellate Bench to overturn that judgement. Other organizations also became party to the case.
There was one preliminary hearing early last year;Justice Ifthikar Chowdhury presiding over a three-member bench, before being adjourned. The previous Chief Justice was around briefly for six months so nothing happened.
All was quiet, until just before joining the PTI, when Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Jahangir Tareen filed as petitioners, supposedly on behalf of all ‘agriculturists’ – something that could in convoluted terms exclude enslaved, voiceless peasants who till the soil with their own hands, and include feudal landlords and agro-businessmen who wouldn’t dream of soiling their hands. – Certainly not those of the poor Seraiki belt or the haris of Sindh.
Qureshi and Tareen maintained that land reform was no longer necessary and the previous decision – that it was unIslamic — should stay intact. Qureshi never thought it necessary to mention his role in his grandiose, meaningless rhetoric at dharnas and rallies. With a fragmented 18th Amendment enabling each province to do their own ‘thing’ as if they were independent countries, all but Baluchistan eschewed land reform, speaking for the various PMLs and PPP.
Although it’s been over six weeks since the dharnas began, the peasantry have received negligible mention. Not once has the real issue been raised. All kinds of civil and human rights – but never the tiller’s right to land; nor about lakhs of acres unwarrantedly owned by single feudal families, land monopolies, land records kept secret, and what the peasants get – or rather, don’t get – out of it. Variously and expediently interpreted religiosity and spirituality continue to muddy the waters.
Small wonder therefore that the Awami Workers Party did not extend to PTI, a ‘thumbs up.’
Says Karamat Ali, Executive Director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Research (PILER): “Shah Mehmood Qureshi epitomizes all forms of exploitation, including economic, social and spiritual, although he has no other relevant qualification except his ‘gaddi’. Pir Bahauddin Zakaria, his ancestor, was indeed a pious man. Qureshi may have inherited the land, but how can anyone inherit spirituality?”
It was a surprise – and remains a surprise – when you first announced that anyone could join PTI. Wasn’t that stretching eligibility a bit much to include the least desirable elements with track records of unwarranted acquisitions rather than delivery of promises?
“PTI is a new right-wing party of the capitalist and feudal class of Pakistan,” categorically states Farooq Tariq, head of the Awami Workers Party. “It has used deceptive populism of the seventies to attract youth. To some extent, it has succeeded. However, the Left cannot join hands with PTI because of the basic difference of ideology. We are socialist and they are capitalist and feudals.”
PTI had initially attracted some left-wing leaders like Meraj Mohammed Khan. “However,” adds Farooq Tariq, “Meraj, along with many others, left it as soon as they discovered the anti-working class nature of PTI. Awami Workers Party opposes the politics of PTI and has no illusions about making any sort of alliance with them.”
It’s natural for people to get mixed messages when they view the physical line-up of the top hierarchy atop the containers, TV flashing lasting images across the country. Why is a feudal Vice Chairman always hogging your side and attention to the exclusion of others? Has no one advised that it sends a clear signal – that there’s no hope for poor cultivators and workers? It didn’t help when, despite your seeing an unconscious man lying on the ground and asking for an ambulance, Qureshi inadvertently exposed his attitude towards nobodies. “Not now,” he said brusquely, gesturing to stop — caught and repeated by television.
Why hasn’t PTI tried to engage with the AWP? In case you do, don’t send Qureshi and Tareen: it’ll be a lost case at the outset.
Dazzled by the outpouring of educated youth never seen before, the media, barring some exceptions, also remained oblivious about peasants and workers as did political parties. – Simply because the peasants don’t have the kind of funds to make themselves more publicly visible.
It goes to his credit that Jahangir Tareen pays all his taxes which too many others don’t. What about Qureshi? And is Tareen going to take up the major evil of contract labour? – which allows our business and industrial economy to exacerbate inequality and exploitation, creating permanent livelihood insecurity?
Belatedly, discredited corporatism and globalization have destroyed most economies, farm soils, livelihoods and brought on climate change worldwide. Now there’s every danger that unprepared economists and planners may absorb new educated youth into another new capitalist class, contemptuous of those who work with their hands. You think we can do without peasants and workers? You can’t have an all-general army without mostly foot-soldiers. Without agriculture, most industrialists and big businessmen wouldn’t be laughing all the way to the bank.
“Shah Mehmood Qureshi has joined and left every major party after coming into politics via General Zia under non-party elections,” points out Karamat Ali, “He then joined PML-N, then PPP, and now PTI. If he leaves PTI, he’ll have only one place left to go to, and that is Jamaat-e-Islami.”
With very different goals, would the Jamaat welcome him? That still leaves Pakistani Awami Tehreek (PAT) that fully empathizes with peasants. But a clear-cut stand from Dr. Tahirul Qadri on land reforms and land rights for the landless, is still awaited.
The writer is a former journalist and currently director of The Green Economic Initiative at Shirkat Gah, a rights and advocacy group.