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Biggest hurdle to Pakistan flood recovery: Wealthy landowners

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Since the floods hit, Pakistan’s rural landowning class, who use their money and influence to gain seats in parliament, have made headlines for being conspicuously absent from their constituencies in their hour of need, diverting floodwaters to save their own lands, and for failing to disburse aid money entrusted to them to pass on to their communities.

While India managed to largely abolish feudalism, powerful landlords in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh who chose to side with the All Muslim League, the party led by Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, were rewarded by being allowed to keep their land and titles. The situation has remained mostly unchanged, despite nominal attempts at land reform by populist leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s.

The practice extends up the chain of command in Pakistan's government. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi both hail from large feudal families in southern Punjab and have the added bonus of belonging to families with ancestors who are considered saints in the Sufi Islamic tradition.

Who owns the land?

Pakistan’s Army, the country’s most powerful institution, meanwhile, is unlikely to be the agent of change, says Dr. Ali, because of its own vested interests. “Over the years, the Army has granted large amounts of land to retired generals and brigadiers. So it’s not in anyone’s interest to have any land reform.”

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