Travelling in Pakistan came as an eye-opener. After Partition in 1947, regardless of the bloodbath that preceded its creation, it was seen as a land of hope, opportunity and justice. What I saw was a land of lopsided wealth distribution. The rich were really rich and they flaunted their wealth. The poor were far too numerous and they flaunted their poverty. There were fashionable malls, swanky limousines.
While travelling from Lahore to Faisalabad I could hardly see any industrial sheds, much less full-fledged Industrial units. Yes, the textile industry has grown leaps and bounds in the region but not much to write home about. Manufacturing and infrastructure industries were little in evidence. Ordinary Pakistanis who aspire to live peacefully without the fear of fundamentalists have very little to choose from. I found Pakistan had some very strange and lopsided demography. There is an overwhelming feudal class, in contrast to hardly-visible middle-class. Poor population forms the bulk of Pakistan’s headcount. The gulf between the rich and the poor sticks out like a sore thumb.
My good host Hamid Bhai took me for a drive through his village in Faisalabad, a virtual fiefdom, running into miles and miles. Hamid boasted of his land remaining undivided for more than a hundred year as he, his father and grand-father were the only heir to the priceless possession, on the outskirts of Faisalabad.
“This is where my land ends and Bhaijaan’s begins and likewise further ahead Bhaijaan’s brother in law’s land starts,” Hamid said. While we were there throngs of villagers come out of their shanties to wave a salaam at their Sahib. Since no land reforms worth their name have happened in Pakistan, the land has remained with the Zamindaars. Most homes that I visited had a battery of servants and maids who proudly announced to me that they hailed from their master’s land. While they all appeared happy to be in the situation, I did feel sorry for them. Hamid for one, had a heart of gold, and had the reputation of doling out largesse, whenever the servants needed financial help. He had built a small nursing home in his village for his “people”, but not many others had followed suit, and the condition of the villagers in adjoining areas reflected this.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the first, democratically elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, tried his best to introduce Land Reforms in Pakistan. But it did not translate into reality for Bhutto himself was a feudal lord from Larkana in Sind. Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir, occupied the seat of power twice but instead of advancing land reforms she grabbed some more. So much for Daughter of the East!!! Today Pakistan’s Provincial Assemblies and the Senate have an overwhelming majority of rich Landlords. About 25 wealthy families in that country rule the roost. Elections have little meaning.
Even though the media in Pakistan is fiercely independent and takes on the Establishment from time to time, it has not produced the desired change in people’s mind set. The fear psychosis of military excesses never seems to go away. However, if one visits an up-market shopping mall in a city like Lahore or Islamabad, one can get carried away by the look of it.
It is only when you spend time with the locals population and hear them out; you see what lies below the surface. Speaking to some young college kids, I reckoned, they wanted a smart, Attichson (Doon School of Lahore) educated politician like Imran Khan to lead the country. “We have the right men like Imran Khan but somehow his party fails to take on the powerful men in uniform,” said Wasim. Imran Khan has now made a stupendous come back and hopefully young Pakistanis like Wasim will come out and canvass for him.
There is a sense of acute frustration among young Pakistanis, especially city-bred young men and women. There is a burning desire to break away from the shackles of suffocating religious barricades. There is a widespread feeling of being let down by their rulers, who are in the business of running Pakistan. Nobody wants the mindless killings and physical torturing that goes on in the Frontier States, in the name of religion. One can hear sounds of suppressed, rebellious frustration. Young Pakistanis want to live with all the trappings of a modern society, free of antiquated and obnoxious dogmas. In Lahore, my chauffer was a simple young man named Allahditta. From his looks and dress – salwar kameez — one would think he was a fundamentalist.. However, the man really took me by surprise when he expressed his total disgust with what was happening in the country. He swore at the extremists and their ways. “Baaji inhe toh khatam karna chahiye, par himmat kismey hai?” (Sister, they should be finished , but who has the guts ?)
In a dramatic shift of gear, consider this: beautiful Punjabi women from Lahore, with golden dyed hair in Linen jodas (salwar, kameez and dupattas) in chauffer-driven American sedans zipping past Lahore’s famous Mall road. Liberty Shopping Mall in Lahore breaks into feverish pitch by midday, when well to do women come out in big numbers to pick up merchandise. Lahore and Karachi are dotted with huge villas with sprawling gardens. Come evening, and most upper middle class get ready for a heady round of fun and frolic. In stark contrast, poor Pakistanis living in ghettoes spend their day in search of ways to feed their family.
I feel sorry for Allahditta and for Pakistan.