PAKISTAN: MQM; Success or Failure in Punjab?

MQM needs to change perceptions about it before it finds any ground in the Punjab

Crosspost by Yasmeen Ali

MQM’s effort to enter Punjab can be deemed as a historic political development. Altaf Hussain in an address many months earlier, promised Punjab an end to feudalism, while announcing MQM’s entrance in the Punjab political kaleidoscope .This is an interesting promise, considering MQM was unable to dent the feudalism in rural Sindh where it exists, much more than in Punjab. According to the MQM’s 2008 election manifesto “the prevalent feudal system of Pakistan is the main obstacle in the progress of the country and the prosperity of the people”.

Before going any further, let us identify what feudalism is. In one view, that of Marc Bloch, views feudalism as the complete system, political, military, social, and economic. He saw all of these issues centering around lordship. Karl Marx also took this perspective with one major difference; he centered on peasants. Marxism’s main emphasis is that of the plight of the worker thus in his view of feudalism only the peasants contributed to society. In another major view, feudalism is largely a political term. The political power in feudalism, these individuals claim, was treated as an individual possession and held by those who owned the land. Thus the government was ruled by the lords and royal officials who ruled over their land.

In Punjab, the majority of farmers cultivate small packets of lands. This means they need a crop whose market price is high enough and whose labor cost and input is low enough to make it a viable proposition.
According to records available, by 1999, 88 % of cultivated land in Pakistan was in farm sizes below 12.5 acres. Just over half the total farms in 1999 were less than five acres in size. This can hardly be construed as a feudal society.

However, the agricultural land is, even today, in Pakistan, a symbol of power. It has been a powerful tool in the hands of those who entered in the corridors of power, using it as a springboard. For years, Pakistan has had it’s share of “feudals”.  The image of the “cruel feudal” has been reinforced by media. Though true in a number of cases, it is also a fact, that the feudal plays the role of the government, in the rural areas. May it be an issue of a woman being kidnapped or running away with her love, may it be a dispute owing to loans, may it be a dispute owing to water or land, these cases are resolved and settled by the “feudal”. Very few, go the thana (Police Station). Even if they do, the costs of the case are covered by the “feudal”.

What MQM will do well to realize is that “families” in Punjab, the “Biradari (clan) System”(Tribal Loyalty)  hold sway. This phenomenon is totally missing from Muhajir Community in Sindh. Biradari system is not to be confused with feudalism. However, the main large, traditional holdings continue only in Sindh, where, as I already pointed out, MQM was unable to make changes.

In Sindh, MQM owes it’s thumping success to a number of reasons. There was no conflict between the Muhajirs and Sindhis prior to 1947. Though non locals controlled trade in Sindh even then, their culture, language and heritage remained un threatened. The huge flow of Urdu speaking who migrated to Sindh and the outflow of Hindus created a shift in demographic make up of Sindh. Added to this was the new imposition of Urdu as the official language creating frictions within the locals.

The Muhajir Qaumi Mahaz (MQM), was a party formed to represent the interests of the muhajir community in Pakistan, founded by Altaf Hussain in 1984. The MQM had its origin in the All-Pakistan Muhajir Students Organization at Karachi University. It has had an resounding success in urban Sindh, in laying down roots and strengthening it’s hold over the muhajir predominant population, through all means at their disposal.
In Punjab, MQM will not find the ethnic base , the sentiments of which it plays on, in it’s hometown. Yes, There are issues that need to be addressed. People are disillusioned and disenchanted because of the multidimensional problems faced in their day to day lives. Some may relate to steps that need to be taken by the Federal Government. Others may relate to steps taken by the Provincial Government. The question that rears it’s heads is: to what degree can MQM be of practical help in addressing these problems by developing a pressure group in Punjab? In the vacuum created by lack of Good Governance, a new entrant will make a dent.However, to what degree this will happen, needs to be seen.

The writer is a lawyer and currently teaches in the Mass Communications Dept. of the Beacon House National University.



Filed under Democracy, Karachi, Pakistan, Politics, Punjab

11 responses to “PAKISTAN: MQM; Success or Failure in Punjab?

  1. Ijaz Khan

    Excellent write up.Good research.Enjoyed reading.

  2. bonobashi

    This is an interesting essay. It is pleasingly worded and well communicated on first reading, but for those few who are academically austere, the aftertaste is peculiar, not necessarily unpleasant, but ‘different’.

    At the end of it, one is in some doubt about how the question it asked, and set out to answer, finally got dealt with. It might even seem (incorrectly, as it turns out) that the question was not answered at all.

    The author makes an excellent commencement with the definition of feudalism and deploys the classic authorities with great elan (Marc Bloch was himself a notable Marxian, and a resistance fighter killed by the Gestapo). However, somewhere down the line, the matter is mysteriously obscured by introducing an entity called the ‘feudal’. The abrupt transition from a scholarly review of feudalism and a connection to the land-holding pattern of the Punjab on the one hand, to the role and authority of the ‘feudal’ on the other, is disconcerting but is addressed by the author.

    Matters are clearer on reading the analysis of the land-holding pattern; this makes it evident that a true feudal system, with the vast bulk of the land in a few hands, held in fee from a monarch, and given in fee likewise to vassals, right down to small holders, does not exist.

    On reading further, the ‘biradari’, translated here as ‘clan’, is introduced as an alternative to the feudal system. The author quite correctly points out that ‘the biradari system is not feudalism’.

    Students of political science will be aware that tribalism, and the clan concept antedated the development of feudalism, and there are clear and demarcated boundaries between the two ‘systems’, or, to use the language of the original analyst, the objective conditions of these stages of society differ. We are now told that it is after all not the ‘feudals’ from feudal society that have the Punjab in their grip, ‘feudals’ are actually clan overlords, with their mastery over their clans. This is reasonable. It is in line with the sub-continental sloppiness in adopting terms from other cultures and societies with no regard to their actual meanings: the use of the word fascist in attacks on Islam being a typical example.

    Matters are now clearer; we have before us not a feudal system, but an even more primitive tribal system.

    One is inclined to gloss over the various interpretations of the term ‘biradari’; these will cause needless confusion, and it is best to take the precise definition selected by the author into account: ‘biradari’ is apparently a commensal grouping of totemic or other clusters of families, with a common sense of identity. A tribe, in short.

    After reading the excellent account of ground conditions in the Sindh, and the reasons for a party such as the MQM to do well there, one is left to conclude that an easy explanation was possible, but was somehow buried in the welter of arguments deployed. It seems that the argument as intended by the author runs as follows:

    * The MQM represented ethnic interests, and not class interests, in the Sindh;
    * The presence of a large number of ethnically homogeneous citizens speaking Urdu and derived from common social origins in other parts of the sub-continent gave the MQM its peculiar strength in the Sindh;
    * There is no similar ethnic sub-stratum in other provinces;
    * The main ‘vote-bank’ of the MQM, to use a term used in a neighbouring democracy, is therefore not present at all;
    * The possibility of being a class based party fighting for the oppressed rural classes (assuming that there is no working class formation in the Punjab) is not there.

    Far from having a contributor to society in the form of the working peasantry, an appropriator of the surplus capital in the form of a land-owning economic class which owns the overwhelming majority of the land (irrespective of the form of possession, whether fee or allodial, for the sake of this argument) and an economy dependent on the exchange of services rather than on monetisation, we have apparently an even more primitive stage of society in the form of the tribe;

    * The MQM might have championed its primary constituency, the ethnic group supporting it in the Sindh; it might have championed the toiling peasantry; it has absolutely no way of challenging the bonds and ties of ‘biradari’, be it ‘tribe’ or the unmentionable other.

    A reasonable argument, if one is able to cope with the plethora of technical terms used in the exposition. What is it that attracts perfectly capable and competent people to the jargon and tribal language used by scholars in narrow disciplines, to the confusion of author and reader alike?

  3. Laila Isphandyar

    Mr Bonubashi
    I quote you:A reasonable argument, if one is able to cope with the plethora of technical terms used in the exposition. What is it that attracts perfectly capable and competent people to the jargon and tribal language used by scholars in narrow disciplines, to the confusion of author and reader alike?
    It was not the article that confused me but your closing comment.I reread the article & failed to come up with any “technical jargon” claimed by you.
    To re emphasis, IF MQM was class based, it should have been equally well entrenched in rural Sindh as well.This has not happened.The name of the party itself(though NOW changed) MOHAJIR QUAMI MOVEMENT denotes an ethnic stain.
    Yes I agree with U,it is a DIFFERENT write up because its written without any partisan interests.

  4. Rizwan Beg

    Pakistan is a country with many diversities, it has many cultural deviations,whereas this is the beauty of the country,it also means, we cannot apply general terms & rules across the board.The writer has made an honest effort,and succeeded,in establishing the differences in culture of Sindh & Pubjab.
    A job well done.
    In order to comment, we need to appreciate the grass root cultural variations within our society.

  5. @Leila Isfandiyar

    If you were happy and comfortable with the terms and the analysis of the author, you are to be felicitated. But then, what seems to be the problem?

    Why bother with the comment, when the original is fine? Unless we happily dig into the comment upon the comment, and so on. 😀

  6. Laila Isphandyar

    Was I touchy?I apologise.Just trying to set the record right.Agree with you.The ORIGINAL by Yasmeen is fine.

  7. No, it was just that I took longer to ‘get it’ than you did. Not surprising; didn’t win many prizes for sharp intellect. 😛

  8. Laila Isphandyar

    LOLZ!!!!! Good one.You should be a member of her group.Her mail addy is

  9. Asad CFMS

    I am afraid that Punjab will also become a battle field like Karachi. My cousin living in Lahore and is doing his M.B.A, from most reputable institute of Pakistan. He is very ambitious and optimist but unfortunately he after meeting few of the M.P.A’s and M.N.A’s of M.Q.M joined them as a worker, he is now very vocal about them and is always ready to jump in debates in favour of Quaid in exile Mr Altaf Hussain.
    I would have not been so worried if he was just doing debates and supporting them in family discussion about politics, but what i am afraid of that he is spreading there message through out his university mates and friends. Last month he visited Okara, which is our home town and there just after one week all the young cousins of mine were in favour of working for M.Q.M.
    We belong from a family which always had supported Muslim League and are always very patriotic and religious. This change in the young generation of our family do not only shocks me but I am also worried that the attractive slogan of M.Q.M which I think is just a political slogan is going to attract a lot of support in Punjab and that can result in conflict among the people, families and generations in Punjab.

  10. Ammad Afridi

    Hmmm, I don’t know why you people don’t like changes. I want change face always these culprit rule again and again. Hope for the best.

    MQM leaders are literate, I will support MQM in Peshawar and also welcome them.

    Pakistan Zindabad.

  11. M.Akhtaruzzaman

    I think Pakistan got divided in 1971 due to the several causes.One cause was feudalism .Feudatory people had influence on G.H.Q(P.A) and CMLA (Such as Z.A.B.and gong).They hate Bengali because Bengal Provincial assembly nullified the Feudal system.