Mr Muhammad Asad is studying MS-Economics. He writes about history and philosophy through critical lenses.
Land reforms are vital for those countries where agricultural production is the major source of income and massive land-holdings are concentrated among very few people. Likewise, Pakistan is one of those countries perfectly eligible for pursuing land reforms. About 75% of households own no land; only 2 percent of the elites hold the largest share of the pie.
Land reforms refer to a process in which the government takes scalable measures throughout the country to redefine the landscape and systematically redistribute the land as per the population and projected production. The main reason for land reforms is to increase the production of commodities and reduce the burgeoning inequalities among people so that each individual could participate in national growth and economy.
Agriculture contributes less than 20 percent of GDP while the labor force, directly or indirectly, consumes more than 40 percent. Moreover, Pakistan is still an agriculture export-oriented economy, where it majorly exports raw materials to other countries.
History of Land Reforms in Pakistan
Pakistan inherited its land ownership structure from the British. Although the colonials had initiated some structural reforms such as the Punjab Tenancy Act (1887) and Punjab Alienation Act (1900), these all were limited to Punjab. In Sindh, massive lands were bestowed to feudal lords to solidify their loyalty to the British Empire.
Post-independence, the Muslims League realized the importance of land redistribution because the inequalities of landholding were quite high. Therefore, a committee was formed named the agrarian reforms committee. However, due to the great influence of major landlords, land reforms remained undone in Pakistan.
Later, Ayub Khan initiated Pakistan’s first land reforms in 1959. The landholding had been limited to 1000 acres for non-irrigated and 500 acres for irrigated land. Moreover, the Green Revolution and the adoption of tractors in agriculture paved the way for farmers to improve their socioeconomic status and well-being.
Nevertheless, Ayub Khan’s land reforms were ineffective because of a lack of implementation. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto propelled the second land reform in 1972 due to Bhutto’s socialist vision. However, this time the land redistributions were reengineered, and the area of irrigated and non-irrigated land had attenuated to 150 and 300 acres respectively.
Nevertheless, like Ayub, Bhutto’s land reforms also proved ineffective because many Jagirdar, who opposed Ayub’s policies, supported Bhutto – in that case, Bhutto’s assimilated path to Ayub could not be accepted. Moreover, Bhutto remained partial in redistribution because only the dissidents were affected by the reforms, while the elites who supported Bhutto were set free from land ownership skewing.
Later, the second reform in 1977 also failed for various reasons, and since then, the chapter on land reforms has never reopened.
Absence of Land Ownership
Since most of the peasants have no land to pursue their production, they are compelled to cultivate by taking land on annum rent (theeka) or choosing the profession of Hari. Owing to the absence of land ownership, many farmers remain deprived of government subsidies.
For example, the government-subsidized agriculture by giving farmers an interest-free loan scheme to increase production each year. These subsidies are focused on being given to small farmers so that they will continue to cultivate crops. However, only those farmers who hold land are benefitted from the scheme.
Due to these problems in the agricultural sector of Pakistan, most rural people cannot take advantage of the subsidies and their lives remain unflourished. Moreover, in the absence of sustainable livelihood, their lives have been trapped in the vicious cycle of extreme poverty. Therefore, the statistics say that the child labor rate in rural areas is quite high.
Pakistan’s population is bloating abruptly like a ticking bomb. Those lands subjected to a single person now disintegrate to their descendants, further reducing the area of land per capita for poor people. Due to spiraling governance incompetency and the lack of outreach to deal with the problems, the case files in the courts related to land ownership are rocketing exponentially.
Furthermore, the unavailability of better opportunities continuously forces rural people to migrate. Consequently, the size of the urban population has been massively growing for decades.
The Indian sub-continent has favored the feudal elites in terms of influence and power. The same norms were translated into Pakistan, where the elites found their way to hamper political and structural improvement. The non-elite class, however, had to bear the brunt of the inherited hegemonic culture. Unfortunately, today the situation is nothing different; the poor still suffer while power elites strengthen their supremacy.
According to a report, feudal lords and hereditary political classes are privileged, endowing them with massive tax reliefs. Consequently, the shortfall in tax collection forces the government to keep the burden on the majority common class by raising the general sales tax (GST).
In this way, the rural people affiliated with the agricultural sector in Pakistan can hardly reap the benefits of their hard work; they are trapped in the poverty cycle that reinforces feudal and political elites to maximize their power.
Resistance to Land Reforms
One of the most prominent economists, Dr. Mehboob-ul-Haq, critically observed the patterns of the ruling elites in the country – how only the 22 families of Pakistan hold more than 65 percent of the nation’s wealth. To analyze their potential to resist any detrimental reforms to their influence, we have to see what Antonio Gramsci says in his theory of cultural hegemony.
According to Gramsci, the ruling elites not only rule by force or coercion but also architect their supremacy in society by shaping norms, culture, beliefs, and law, which bolster their hegemony. As we know, any land reforms would put a ceiling on land holdings, and the majority of elites would have to lose countless ownership rights.
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