THE PLANK AUGUST 2, 2009
It is always nice to read a relatively sanguine piece about the political situation in Pakistan. Sabrina Tavernise's excellent New York Times dispatch makes one important and usually obscured point:
Its politics and economics are far more local than national; regional, ethnic and cultural differences are very deep. The mullahs of Swat may be calling for the downtrodden masses to unite, but here in Punjab, religious leaders are still firmly tied to the upper crust.
In my travels in this province, none of the mullahs were talking about revolution. In fact, the social justice discussions that have driven political movements in the wider Islamic world — Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Sadr Army of Iraq’s Moktada al-Sadr, for example — were notably absent. Instead, I have found a surprisingly comfortable coexistence between the mullahs, the landlords and the political elite (the latter two are often one and the same). Even the harder-line preachers, among the sternly traditional Muslims known as Deobandis, have stuck to a bland, nonconfrontational line.
History explains much of the feudal outlook of the clerics in Punjab. They tend not to oppose the establishment in part because the state itself made them powerful.
The division of land is a tremendous problem in Pakistan, but it is one that in the short term might prevent a fundamentalist takeover of the state.