Sunday, February 17, 2008

Feudal reality in Pakistan...

In the heart of the Punjab, feudal landowners are the also the political elite holding tenant-voters firmly in their grip. Half-hearted land reform in the 1950s failed to break their dominance. In the remote lush-green district of Patokki, 80 kilometres southwest of the provincial capital Lahore, I met a group of sharecroppers harvesting clover with sickles. They intend to vote for the local PML-Q candidate, who is also the biggest local landowner and their employer.

"We're poor and he's rich, so of course we'll vote for him," they say with resignation. In the nearby village, posters of the candidate are plastered over every building. Everyone I meet voices unquestioning support for him. On the outskirts of the village, a group of gypsies sit in a scruffy tented camp surrounded by cows and donkeys. "We'll vote for the landlord," a man holding two small children tells me. "Otherwise we wouldn't be able to stay here." His family survives on about $20 (just over £10) a month earned by selling wooden toys. Like 30 per cent of Pakistan's population, they live in grinding poverty, malnourished and illiterate. Despite Pakistan's recent economic boom, the poor have lost out to spiralling inflation which has seen flour and sugar prices doubling over the past year, an appalling irony in Punjab's super-fertile lands.