Instead of a proper, land to the tiller reform, what Pakistan’s military-bureaucratic nexus opted for was a ceiling reform in 1959. This is often considered to be an inefficient reform
If, in post-colonial Pakistan, one wanted to end the dependence of lower classes upon upper classes, it would have had to involve land reforms.
Land reforms were both economically and politically necessary for the eradication of dependence on the country upon landlords.
But landlords were so entrenched in the ruling structure of Pakistan that it would be impossible for the military-bureaucratic nexus—itself composed of so many landlords, and its officers likely to acquire even more land when they retired—to carry out any meaningful land reform without an absolute revolution.
Land reform was not simply a moral issue. Distributing lands, and investing properly in agriculture, would almost certainly result in increasing agricultural productivity and provide a boost for industrialization. Millions of peasants with greater purchasing power would provide a domestic market for industrially produced consumer goods. Very importantly, the political dependence of peasants upon landlords would be minimized or even eliminated.
Instead of a proper, land to the tiller reform, what Pakistan’s military-bureaucratic nexus opted for was a ceiling reform in 1959. This is often considered to be an inefficient reform, as ceilings were set too high and barely any land was resumed for redistribution. However, redistribution was hardly the intent. Rather, land reforms were undertaken to signal to landlords to modernize their agricultural practices.
Instead of continuing to lease out land to sharecropping tenants, it was time to invest in new technologies and mechanization, to hire wage-labour under what is called “self-cultivation”. This is the transformation of pre-capitalism (let’s call it feudalism, for convenience) to capitalism without fundamentally restructuring the hierarchical relationships or cultural baggage that exist between the landed classes and the peasants and agricultural labourers.
This is capitalism from above, not agrarian capitalism from below, as pursued in Germany and Japan before its occupation by the Americans.
In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of tenants were ejected from the lands they had been renting for generations by landlords who wanted to resume the land for supposed self-cultivation. Dependency upon landed elites was reduced, only so far as the new landless had to leave villages for search of gainful employment to urban centres—only to find new people to depend on there.
For those who remained, and had no access to land as tenants of whatever kind or as proprietors, dependency upon the various landed classes (not just the elites) increased. Prices increased as rich farmers and landlords incomes increased, and the poor could less afford things than before. Rural poverty, inequality and unemployment increased.
For American imperialism, this was great news and great business. In the 1950s the burning issue across Asia was land. In China, the revolution had been based on redistribution of land to millions of impoverished peasants who raised their living standards. In Vietnam, the peasants were organized under a people’s movement to take back their land from the savage French colonizers. In North Korea, communists carried out far-reaching land reforms. In other parts of Asia, people’s movements led by communists agitated for land to the tiller.
Whatever the problems and outcomes of these communist movements, it cannot be denied that the land reforms they carried out were immensely popular, raised people’s livelihoods, broke their dependence from landlords, and set the base for rapid industrialization.
American imperialism itself had to take this into account. America came out of the Second World War with direct or indirect control of several Asian countries, including Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, and many others. Where revolution was too close for comfort—particularly in South Korea where hundreds of thousands of communists and democrats had to be repressed; in Taiwan, which was basically part of China but under the control of reactionary Kuomintang and fearful of communist uprising; and in Japan, where communists were a potent intellectual force—the Americans instructed local rulers to carry out far-reaching land reforms.
If agrarian productivity could be increased without carrying out land reforms, all the better. And this is what was now happening with the help of American-developed technology, high-yield varieties, in tractors, and whatnot. Aside from providing military aid, America sent all kinds of advisors for Pakistan’s “development” strategy. Pakistan’s ruling classes basically subordinated the country’s development planning to American advisors from Harvard.
Pakistan’s Communist Party, adventurist and disconnected, had been shelved by the ruling classes in 1951 and then in 1954. Rather than carry out effective underground work, the Party went into the landlord-bourgeois formation of the National Awami Party, where, at least in West Pakistan, it remained further disconnected from mass work for the next decade.
Meanwhile, the bureaucracy nurtured an industrialization through the typical import-substitution industrialization. Rather than basing industrialization on a synergy with agriculture, industrialization was based on the depression of wages and the concentration of wealth into the hands of a few (proverbially, twenty-two!) families.
Mahbub-ul-Haq, the Chief Economist of Pakistan then (and Minister of Finance later), noted, “The under-developed countries must consciously accept a philosophy of growth and shelve for the distant future all ideas of equitable distribution and welfare state. It should be recognised that these are luxuries which only developed countries can afford.”
Not for Pakistan’s ruling classes were bold statements about the end of exploitation of people over people. Rather, they openly welcomed “functional inequality,” claiming they would produce more, and then redistribute. In fact, neither production, nor redistribution, has gone where it could and should have in Pakistan.
kyun na darkaar ho mujhe poshish?
jism rakhta hoon, hai agarche nazaar
kuch khareeda nahin hai ab ke saal
kuch banaya nahin hai ab ki baar
raat ko aag aur dn ko dhoop
bhaar mein jaaein aise lail-o-nahaar
aag taape kahaan talak insaan?
dhoop khaawe kahan talak jaandar?
The masses of Pakistan found themselves more dependent and in many cases more helpless than before. It was only a matter of time before they took matters into their own hands....
(To be continued.)
Hamza Alavi, 1983, “Class and state in Pakistan”
Hassan Gardezi, 2004, “Globalisation and Pakistan’s Dilemma of Development”
Ronald J. Herring, 1980, “The Policy Logic of Land Reforms in Pakistan”
Ronald J. Herring, 1979, “Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the ‘Eradication of Feudalism’ in Pakistan”
Akmal Hussain, 1984, “Land Reform in Pakistan: A Reconsideration”
Chalmers Johnson, 2001, Blowback
Richard Stubb, 2005, Rethinking Asia’s Economic Miracle