Feudalism in Pakistan

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Pakistan has one of the highest incidences of slavery in the world, behind only Mauritania and Haiti.(Estimates from the Walk Free Foundation.)

The Feudalism in contemporary Pakistan (Urdu: زمینداری نظام zamīndāri nizam) usually refers to the power and influence of large landowning families, particularly through very large estates and in more remote areas.[1] The adjective "feudal" in the context of Pakistan has been used to mean "a relatively small group of politically active and powerful landowners".[2] "Feudal attitude" refers to "a combination of arrogance and entitlement".[2] According to the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research (PILER), five per cent of agricultural households in Pakistan own nearly two thirds of Pakistan’s farmland.[3] [4]

Large joint families in Pakistan may possess hundreds or even "thousands of acres" of land, while making little or no direct contribution to agricultural production, which is handled by "peasants or tenants who live at subsistence level".[5][6] Landlord power may be based on control over local people through debt bondage passed down "generation after generation",[1] and power over the "distribution of water, fertilisers, tractor permits and agricultural credit", which in turn gives them influence over the "revenue, police and judicial administration" of local government.[5][6] In recent times, particularly "harsh" feudalism has existed in "rural Sind",[5] Baluchistan,[7] "some parts of Southern Punjab".[5] Feudal families influence has extended to national affairs through the government bureaucracy, the Armed Forces and the Pakistani political class.[7] Pakistan's "major political parties" have been called "feudal-oriented", and as of 2007, "more than two-thirds of the National Assembly" (Lower House) and most of the key executive posts in the provinces were held by "feudals", according to scholar Sharif Shuja.[5]

Some prominent landed families in Pakistan include the Bhuttos,[6] Zamindars, Jats, Jagirdars, Nawabs, Khans, Nawabzadas, Mansabdars, Arbabs, Makhdooms, and Sardars.[5][7] Explanations for the power of "feudal" landowning families that has waned in other post-colonial societies such as India and Japan include lack of land reform in Pakistan.[1]

Criticism and analysis[edit]

Critics of feudalism have complained of a "culture of feudal impunity", where local police will refuse to pursue charges against an influential landowning family even when murder or mayhem have been committed;[6][8] of abuse of power by some landlords who may place enemies in "private prisons" and "enslave" local people through debt bondage;[1] the harming of "progress and prosperity" by feudals who discourage the education of their "subjects" for fear it will weaken feudal power;[7] the giving of "space" to extremists (such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) who peasants turn to in the search for deliverance from the cruelty of feudal lords;[7] and an agriculture sector made stagnant by absentee landlordism.[7]

Other have complained that Pakistan has developed a "fixation" on feudalism (Michael Kugelman);[3] that it has become a scapegoat for Pakistan's problems, frequently denounced but not seriously studied (Eqbal Ahmed);[9] a "favorite boogie of the urban educated elites";[10] or that it does not exist because South Asia never developed large concentrations of land ownership or a feudal class, and what is called feudal in Pakistan is merely a "rural gentry", who are "junior partners" to those who actually hold power (Haider Nizamai).[11] “Feudalism serves as the whipping boy of Pakistan’s intelligentsia. Yet, to my knowledge not one serious study exists on the nature and extent of feudal power in Pakistan, and none to my knowledge on the hegemony which feudal culture enjoys in this country.”

Despite its political influence, feudalism has become so unpopular in public expression and the media that "feudal lords" are denounced even by some from "feudal" families (such as Shehbaz Sharif).[3]

In media portrayals, the very popular 1975 Pakistan Television (PTV) series Waris centered around a feudal lord (Chaudhry Hashmat) who rules his fiefdom, "with an iron grip".[12] The Satyajit Ray film Jalsaghar (‘The Music Room’) featured a nouveau-riche merchant tries to mimic some aspects of the lifestyle of an indebted landlord.[11]


In Mughal Empire[edit]

Under colonial rule[edit]

In independent Pakistan[edit]

Almost half of Pakistan's Gross Domestic Product and the bulk of its export earnings are derived from the agricultural sector, which is controlled by a few thousand feudal families. With this concentration of economic power, they also have considerable political power.[7]

The leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League, the political party that established Pakistan in 1947, was dominated primarily by feudal landowners such as the Rana Zamindars, Jats, Rajas, Mahers, Chaudries, Khans, Jagirdars, Nawabs, Nawabzadas and Sardars. The sole exception was the Jinnahs.[7]

Through the '50s and the '60s the feudal families retained control over national affairs through the bureaucracy and military. Later on in 1971, they assumed direct power (Ali Bhutto being of a very large landowning family) and retained it until the military regained power.[7]

As of 2009, the Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was a major landowner from South Punjab (Multan) and from long-standing political family. The President (Zardari) was a major landowner from Sindh.[1]

Thus, large landowners have dominated Pakistan's politics since the country's inception.[7]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e Nicholas D. Kristof. "Feudalism in Pakistan"| The New York Times| 1 August 2009| accessed: 7 February 2015
  2. ^ a b Haeri, Shahla (2002). No Shame for the Sun: Lives of Professional Pakistani Women. Syracuse University Press. p. 38. Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c Kugelman, Michael (January 3, 2013). "Pakistan’s fixation with feudalism". Dawn.com. Retrieved 7 February 2015. 5 per cent of agricultural households own nearly two thirds of Pakistan’s farmland ... Pakistanis have a fixation with feudalism. Civil society and politicians skewer it with a vengeance, and even those with presumed feudal qualifications issue denunciations (Shahbaz Sharif recently declared that “feudal lords have ruined” the country). Such vitriol may lead some to hide their feudal bonafides. A long-time South Asia-based foreign correspondent once quipped that when Pakistanis insist they aren’t feudals, then they must be feudals. 
  4. ^ "Does feudalism exist in Sindh?". Dawn.com. November 4, 2012. Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Shuja, Sharif (June 22, 2007). "The sources of Pakistan's insecurity.". Contemporary Review. Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Feudalism in Pakistan". TIMES OF KARACHI. Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Khan, Jahanzaib; Dasti, Humaira Arif; Khan, Abdul Rasheed (2013). "FEUDALISM IS A MAJOR OBSTACLE IN THE WAY OF SOCIAL MOBILITY IN PAKISTAN" (PDF). Journal Of The Research Society Of Pakistan (pu.edu.pk) 50 (1). Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  8. ^ Mustafa, Ali (21 Aug 2014). "Pakistan's fight against feudalism". al-Jazeera. Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  9. ^ Ahmed, Eqbal (February 2, 1998). "Feudal culture and violence". Feudalism serves as the whipping boy of Pakistan’s intelligentsia. Yet, to my knowledge not one serious study exists on the nature and extent of feudal power in Pakistan, and none to my knowledge on the hegemony which feudal culture enjoys in this country. 
  10. ^ Najam, Adil (February 5, 2007). "Land Reform: Time for Feudalism to go". ALL THINGS PAKISTAN. Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  11. ^ a b Nizamani, Haider (30 April 2008). "Is there feudalism in Pakistan?". Overseas Pakistani Friends. Daily Dawn. Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  12. ^ "Pakistani TV Drama". Drama Serial Waris on ptv. pakistanitvdrama.com. Retrieved December 30, 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ansari, Sarah. 1992. Sufi Saints and State Power: The Pirs of Sind, 1843-1947. Cambridge University Press.
  • Alavi, Hamza. 1980. "India: Transition from Feudalism to Colonial Capitalism." Journal of Contemporary India, 10, 359-399.
  • Cheesman, David. 1997. Landlord power and rural indebtedness in colonial Sind, 1865-1901. Routledge.
  • Coulborn, Rushton. 1968. "Feudalism, Brahmanism and the Intrusion of Islam upon Indian History." Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 10, no. 3 (April), 356-374.
  • Gopal, K. K. 1962. "Feudal Composition of Army in Early Medieval India." Journal of the Andhra Historical Research Society, 28.
  • Gopal, Lallanji. 1963. "On Some Problems of Feudalism in Ancient India." Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 44, 1-32.
  • Habib, Irfan. 1974. "The Social Distribution of Landed Property in Pre-British India (a historical survey)." Historical Probings in Memory of D. D. Kosambi, 264-316. Editors R. S. Sharma, and V. Jha. New Delhi: Peoples Publishing House.
  • Herring, Ronald J. 1979. "Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the 'Eradication of Feudalism' in Pakistan". Comparative Studies in Society and History, 21, 519-557. doi:10.1017/S0010417500013165.
  • Mohmand, Shandana Khan & Gazdar, Haris. 2007. Social Structures in Rural Pakistan. Asian Development Bank.
  • Mukhia, Harbans. 1981. "Was there Feudalism in Indian History?" Journal of Peasant Studies, vol. 8, no. 3, 273-310.
  • Naim Ullah, Mohammed. 2003. Pakistan Under the Stranglehold of Feudalism (Pakistan Jagirdari Zamindari Nizam Ke Shikajije Men): A Nation Under the Agony of Fundamentalism. Rehmat Publications.
  • Pearson, Michael N. 1985. "Land, Noble and Ruler in Mughal India." In Feudalism: Comparative Studies, edited by Sir Edmund Leach, S.N. Mukherjee and John O. Ward, 175-196. Sydney: Sydney Studies in Society and Culture.

External links[edit]