Whether it was the bloody Civil War to abolish slavery in America or the Meiji Restoration that transformed feudal Japan into an industrial giant, history tells us that violent conflict has been an integral part of the process of social change. Pakistan, too, is experiencing a similar violent social revolution. It started well before the terrorist attacks of 911 and the subsequent US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. It has only intensified after these events.
of the dead
" has ended with the continuing "eclipse of feudalism"
in Pakistan. A significant part of the what the world media, politicians and pundits call terrorism is in fact an "unplanned revolution"
in the words of a Pakistani sociologist, a revolution that could transform Pakistani society
for the better in the long run.
Violence is being used by the defenders of a range of old feudal and tribal values in Pakistan. Some of the traditionalists are fighting to keep girls at home and out of schools
and workplaces while others are insisting on continuing traditional arranged and sometimes forced marriages within their clans. Such violence is being met with brave defiance, particularly by the younger generation.
Recent media coverage of the attempt on Swat schoolgirl Malala Yosufzai's life by the Taliban has brought attention to what the tribal traditionalists see as a serious threat to their old feudal-tribal ways. In an October 2012 speech
at a social scientists conference in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, Arif Hasan recalled what a village elder in Sindh told him about the reasons for the increase in honor killings. He said: “The young people, they’ve gone to the city, and they’ve done all the
wrong things. The girls have learned how to read and write, they’ve gone
to school, some of them have gone to university as well. They have no
morals left, so this is bound to happen.”
When Hasan asked the village elder as to when will the honor killings stop? He replied: “The honor killings will stop when everyone
becomes shameless, then it will end.” Then he added, “But I hope that I
die before that day.” Hasan says "he was a man of the old, feudal rural culture, with its own pattern of
behavior and way of thinking. He was part of it, and it was dying, so
he wished to die with it."
There was a news story this morning about young Pakistanis engaging in Internet dating
and marriages. In 1992, the applications for court marriages in Karachi amounted to
about 10 or 15, mainly applications from couples who were seeking the
protection of the court for wedlock without familial consent, according to Arif Hasan. By 2006, it increased to more than 250 applications for court marriages per day in
Karachi. Significantly, more than half of the couples seeking court
recognition of their betrothal came from rural areas of Sindh. This is
yet another indication of how the entire feudal system and its values
are in rapid collapse.
, rising economic mobility
and media and telecom revolutions
have been the key contributors to the process of social change in the country. New York Times' Sabrina Tavernise
described the rise of Pakistan's middle class
in a story from Pakistani town of Muzaffargarh in the following words:
For years, feudal lords reigned supreme, serving as the police, the
judge and the political leader. Plantations had jails, and political
seats were practically owned by families.
Instead of midwifing democracy, these aristocrats obstructed it, ignoring the needs of rural Pakistanis, half of whom are still landless and desperately poor more than 60 years after Pakistan became a state.
But changes began to erode the aristocrats’ power. Cities sprouted, with jobs in construction and industry. Large-scale
farms eclipsed old-fashioned plantations. Vast hereditary lands
splintered among generations of sons, and many aristocratic families
left the country for cities, living beyond their means off sales of
their remaining lands. Mobile labor has also reduced dependence on
In Punjab, the country’s most populous
province, and its most economically advanced, the number of national
lawmakers from feudal families shrank to 25 percent in 2008 from 42
percent in 1970, according to a count conducted by Mubashir Hassan, a
former finance minister, and The New York Times.
are a dying breed,” said S. Akbar Zaidi, a Karachi-based fellow with
the Carnegie Foundation. “They have no power outside the walls of their
As early as 1998 when the last census was
held, researcher Reza Ali found that Pakistan was almost half urban and half rural
, using a
more useful definitions of ‘urban’, and not the outdated
definition of the Census Organization which excludes the huge informal settlements in the peri-urban areas of the cities which are very often not part of the metropolitan areas.
A 2012 study of 22 nations conducted by Prof Miles Corak for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD) has found that upward economic mobility to be greater in Pakistan than the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, China and 5 other countries. The study's findings were presented by the author in testimony to the US Senate Finance Committee
on July 6, 2012.
Pakistan's media and telecom revolution
that began during the Musharaf
years is continuing unabated. In addition to financial services
the two key service sectors with explosive growth in last decade
(1999-2009) in Pakistan include media and telecom, both of which have
helped create jobs and empowered
women. The current media revolution sweeping the nation began ten years ago
when Pakistan had just one television channel, according to the UK's Prospect Magazine
. Today it has over 100. Pakistan
is among the five most dynamic economies of developing Asia in terms of
increased penetration of mobile phones, internet and broadband,
according to the Information Economy Report
2009 published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and
Development (Unctad). Among the five countries in terms of mobile
penetration in South Asia, Pakistan is placed at number three followed
by Sri Lanka and Bhutan. Iran and Maldives are ranked above Pakistan.
Here's how Arif Hasan concluded his Kathmandu speech:
Pakistani society continues in its state of flux, and the Afghan war has
escalated this. The normal evolution of society has been stopped by the
militancy in Pakistan linked to the war in Afghanistan. If you remove
these militants – which you won’t, by the way – then a whole new world
emerges in Pakistan, a transformation in a society trying to define
itself. The recent shooting of Malala Yusufzhai has shown what Pakistani
society really feels and how it thinks on issues. For the first time
the Pakistani establishment – the army as well as the three major
political parties – have all condemned the Taliban for the shooting. The
people have spoken in the huge rallies, in Karachi and elsewhere.
Earlier, this never happened because people were scared of being shot,
kidnapped, and having bombs thrown at them. This is the first time that
there has been such a huge public outpouring.
But even as people find a voice, we do need the inculcation of new
societal values. The problem is, how do you promote these values and
through whom? It is too much to ask media, and academia is busy in
consultancies for the donor institutions. The literature is all about
the struggle between fundamentalism and liberalism, but that is not
where the problem lies. The challenge is for Pakistani society to
consolidate itself in the post-feudal era. The society has freed itself
from the shackles of feudalism, but our values still remain very much
the same. There are very big changes that are taking place – how do you
support them, how do you institutionalize them, how do you give the
people a voice? I leave you with these questions, rather than try and
provide the answers.
Silent Social Revolution in Pakistan
The Eclipse of Feudalism in Pakistan
Social and Structural Transformations in Pakistan
Malala Moment: Profiles in Courage-Not!
Urbanization in Pakistan Highest in South Asia
Rising Economic Mobility in Pakistan
Upwardly Mobile Pakistan