Arif Hasan has an interesting article in Himal on the many profound socioeconomic forces that have been transforming rural Pakistan in recent decades, and which I think are discounted in narratives that seek to explain Pakistan mainly via religion and politics (via 3QD).
Feudalism was an integral part of the colonial system in what is today Pakistan. To understand the changing inter-community relations in Pakistan today, we must look at how the inherited colonial system has evolved. Every Pakistani will tell you how wonderful Pakistan used to be, what a peaceful country it was, with law and order and low levels of violence. And they tend to blame all that has gone wrong in Pakistan on the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. But that is only part of the truth. In my city, Karachi, anyone my age will similarly tell you how wonderful Karachi used to be – there were discotheques and night clubs, there was drama, and film festivals. Certainly we had all that, but when you really come to think of it, the calm that we enjoyed was really like the peace of the dead. It was a kind of peace made possible by the feudal system.
Let me introduce that feudal system through a story. In 1968, I was traveling in rural Sindh with a French diplomat, from a place called Sakht to Mohenjodaro. The road meant for vehicles was so bad that drivers preferred to travel along a canal embankment. We came upon a bullock cart, and my friend jumped out with his camera to take a picture. As the cart stopped, one of its two occupants, a young man, made off into the fields. His older companion came up, touched my feet, and said, “Sahib, please forgive us, we will never come in front of your car again.” This was in 1968, and that was the mindset of the villagers when they saw what they perceived to be a person of authority. Today, the highway from Sakht to Mohenjodaro is teeming with vehicles, but there is not a bullock cart in sight. And nobody will come to touch your feet and seek forgiveness for having come in front of your car. There are about 30 buses that ply between the two towns every day.
What was this system that made people touch your feet that late in the 20th century? And what has pushed the transformation in social relations? An explanation would help in the understanding of present-day Pakistan.