Who will grab Punjab?

Published: October 30, 2011
The writer is professor of political science at LUMS 

The writer is professor of political science at LUMS [email protected]

Punjab is the centre of Pakistan’s power politics where an overwhelming majority of traditional elite families live, who make and break coalitions among themselves and align with the army or civilian leaders most likely to form a government. The Punjabi elite, like other agrarian, tribal and caste leaders, worships power and runs after it like a wild, poor kite-runner does, oblivious to the risk of injury. Sadly, honour and self-respect are lost virtues; power on any terms comes first. Just review the history of elite behaviour during the past 60 years, including, most recently, the joining of the PML-Q with the PPP-led coalition. For them, staying out of the power ring is not an option; it is a necessity to maintain social dominance, influence local state machinery and force their opponents to stay on the margins.

While we may see no change in the political morals, attitudes and beliefs of the Punjabi political elite, with very few noble exceptions, the province at the grassroots level appears to be witnessing some level of radical social transformation. Two things in particular are noticeable. One is growing urbanisation, seen in the movement of the new rural lower middle-class to small and medium towns and of the poor to the major cities. The second is the growing size of the rural middle-class, which is happening for two reasons: the remittances of overseas workers and the cash returns for agricultural commodities produced by small and medium-size farms.

The traditional view of Punjab, or for that matter of the country, is that nothing has changed and nothing is likely to change any time soon. Even the most backward societies are not frozen in time and no society can, in such a time of rapid global changes, live in the past. I believe advances in communications, business-industrial activity and capitalisation of agriculture have affected Punjab more deeply and extensively than any other region. We may disagree on how big the economic change is — which in my view is quite significant — but it is not captured by weak documentation of the economy.

Referring to economic change in Punjab and also in some other regions of the country, I wish to make the argument that social and political behaviours are dependent on how the economic status of individuals, social groups and society at large changes. This change, however, is not yet on the scale that would wipe out the traditional voting blocs built around caste, locality and kinship and maintained through vertical patron-client relationships.

Undoubtedly, the old politics is now too old, has been tried too many times with diminishing efficiency and has disappointed a vast majority of people in Pakistan. If one could read the real political face of Punjab or Pakistan in general, one would see anger, frustration and a feeling of helplessness written all over in bold letters. For me, this means the beginning of serious self-questioning among the Punjabi population about its conventional party loyalties. The two major parties have been reduced to competing conglomerates of traditional land and caste elites. It is the power of these networks that keeps them in power and for that they have to make compromises on governance.

Nothing is certain in politics, let alone in Punjab’s politics. My gut feeling is that the province is up for grabs. The big question is: will Imran Khan, with his charisma and broad popularity, be able to defeat the power networks of the two major parties? The kaptaan is determined, undaunted and hardly bothered by such questions, leaving them for the analysts and history to answer. The good part of his strategy is that he wants to focus on the game of politics by taking it down to the masses. This is a kind of politics that no other leader has ever practiced after the great Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st,  2011.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • VerytightDhoti
    Oct 30, 2011 - 10:18PM

    A great writing by a great Professor !


  • Max
    Oct 30, 2011 - 10:26PM

    Professor Sahib, I am not sure what to make of Kaptaan sahib or his movement. All I can say that populism arises out of grievances against the existing arrangements, a deep sense of deprivation among the lower echelons of the society as a result of sharp divide between haves and have-nots. Remember 1896’s rise of William Jennings Bryan on the American electoral scene and what happened? I am afraid same will happen to Kaptaan sahib. Populism does not fly very far.
    Having said that, I beg to disagree with your analysis of the Punjab of today. Yes! Punjab is hub of the Pakistani politics, economy and its institutions but I am afraid its ruling elite are not the same crowd that we had in the first couple of decades of Pakistan. The political contestants of today are new faces on Punjab’s political landscape. Gone are the days when Punjab was the domain of Daultanas, Gurmanis, Mamdots, Qureshis, or other likes from the western districts of Punjab. Look at the champions of Punjab today be they Sharifs of Lahore, Chaudhrys of Gujrat or others. They act like their predecessors but are nowhere close to them in terms of their social background or political support-base. They are not members of the traditional ruling families but come from humble backgrounds (which they all forget or do not like to bring up). Even the good Kaptaan is no Rokri, Niazi, or kala or sufaid Bagh of Mianwali. Also the power-base has shifted from the rural areas to urban centers and is held by emerging bourgeoisie of Lahore, Pindi, Multan or other urban centers. It is the mercantile class that dominates the politics of Punjab and not the traditional landed class.
    But can understand the quest of your analysis and take it in good spirits.


  • Palvash von Hassell
    Oct 30, 2011 - 11:01PM

    Yes, and it seems to be working! Pakistan is very lucky to have Imran Khan as a focal point to bring about much-needed change in a democratic and peaceful way, instead of going the same way as the Arabs. All success to the Kaptaan.


  • Meekal Ahmed
    Oct 30, 2011 - 11:29PM


    If you can’t document the changes you are suggesting are happening through empirical analysis, I don’t know how you can say that change is taking place.


  • Ali Quaid
    Oct 31, 2011 - 12:30AM

    Imran Khan for the win


  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Oct 31, 2011 - 12:51AM

    Excellent article. I agree with most of the points except last paragraph. No doubt Imran’s popularity in urban class has increased at the expense of Sharif Brothers but in rural Punjab, he is far behind than two Bothers and PPP. Recent Okara election is enough to tell the whole story. PPP and N league are two finalists and Punjabis want to see that encounter before anything else. In Punjab, no one cares who is emerging wrestler. They go to watch those wrestlers who have wrestled before and are greatest rivals. Younger Mian is not stupid to start this rivalary.


  • Farrukh
    Oct 31, 2011 - 12:58AM

    Golden line of the article: The kaptaan is determined, undaunted and hardly bothered by such questions, leaving them for the analysts and history to answe


  • Waqas
    Oct 31, 2011 - 1:17AM

    Now can safely say that Kaptaan has grabbed Punjab.


  • Ali Wazir
    Oct 31, 2011 - 3:00AM

    I have been a PTI supporter since quite some time( Since Imran alone condemned unequivocally Musharraf for unconditionally joining the US war in Afghanistan on false premises to be exact). I have always for most of this time supported him not because I ever seriously thought he was electable but because of his unabashed idealism and not compromising on his principles even when they were not widely popular.(Taliban Khan anyone)
    Deep down I always felt this was pointless exercise but necessary (to selfishly appease once conscience perhaps) much like many supporters of M Asghar Khan must have felt in a previous generation. Today this has changed, the People are with him and the rest are shaking in their boots……..


  • Ali Tanoli
    Oct 31, 2011 - 3:08AM

    He is last Hope for pakistan jaye Kaptaa avay ey avay.


  • Shah
    Oct 31, 2011 - 3:33AM

    After yesterday’s show of power, it is safe to assume that Imran’s support in punjab will increase exponentially in the coming few months. The best part about his movement is that he has brought those people out who think of politics to be too filthy to indulge in. It is possible that the voter turn out in the next elections could increase to 70-80% from a meager 40% in the last polls. Coupled with the omission of bogus votes and inclusion of around 35 million new votes it can give Imran a realistic chance of sweeping punjab in the next polls.

    Just my two cents.


  • Akhtarrao
    Oct 31, 2011 - 7:08AM

    Good analysis by the great Professor.


  • Basharat Lodhi
    Oct 31, 2011 - 8:13AM

    Imran Khan has asserted his political role in shaping politics. His slogans will certainly attract the youth and he will be a great challenge for the party with same policies. In this way Imran is blessing in disguise for pro status quo parties. Khan sb will damage PMLN vote bank paving the way for pro status quo parties to continue their rule. Recommend

  • Omer
    Oct 31, 2011 - 10:22AM

    Sunday’s rally will be remembered as a pivotal point in the history of Pakistan when the masses decided to shun the status-quo and follow a man who has tireless worked for 15 years to awaken his fellow countrymen to greatness. Now that everyone has seen what PTI can do, lets spread the word across the country and make other political parties look up to PTI as a model of success. This is the only way forward for Pakistan ( for our current political parties to put the country’s interest before their own). If our future politicians can learn this lesson of selfness, I think Imran khan would have done this country a tremendous favor (even if PTI doesnt win the next election).


  • Akhtarrao
    Oct 31, 2011 - 10:34AM

    God bless Pakistan and such an ever sincere intellectual.
    No, doubt, the professor always reflects the true voice of all country fellows those cannot raise their voice and are weak.


  • Rai Hammad
    Oct 31, 2011 - 11:26AM

    change hase come and we the youth of pakistan will lead this change alongside IK


  • Asad Shairani
    Oct 31, 2011 - 12:00PM

    Yesterday’s show of power was a very impressive one. Imran Khan is a force to watch, specially in the Punjab.Recommend

  • bibyawari
    Oct 31, 2011 - 1:00PM

    Finally the great Khan has started getting momentam, and will continue to tread the path towards general election in the same fashion, but with more enthusiasm and passion. Lets join hands with him to bring revolution in Pakistan and say good bye to the traditional politics.


  • Balti
    Oct 31, 2011 - 1:36PM


    Change of power politics has started and this will be the first step shown in yesterday JALSA. this will see very soon all aroung the country. the peoples of paksitan has badly fadeup from the parties. so in current scenario imran khan seeing as a candle for light in the completely darkness of this luckless country Pakistan.

    we should support CAPTAIN for his success in every field.. Recommend

  • explorer
    Oct 31, 2011 - 5:47PM

    Kaptaan’s hardwork and steadfastness will bear fruit, time to harvest the crop of change for betterment seems not too far


  • Mirza
    Oct 31, 2011 - 9:17PM

    There are a couple of things to ponder:
    Being popular and winning Punjab only does not mean well for the country and federation. In a stable federation the govt should represent all units not just one. Another point is Imran Khan has to show a clear difference between himself and other rightwing parties. He is too rightwing to be compared to ZAB who had a socialist slogans and was opposed by all mullahs. This is too unfair an example to come from a professor. Unless Imran Khan clearly shows the differences against PML-N and “different people” as his allies he is going to be same kind of leader as Nawz Sharif is. ZAB did not make election alliance with mullahs and religious parties and Imran Khan should do the same, if he wants to be different.


  • sobaan roaid
    Nov 1, 2011 - 6:04PM

    Imran khan is just as hope for Pakistanis bearing the scourge as well as afflictions.Truly we don`t have other option except to try a new face.I have observed especially the youth favouring him and people belonging to every walk of life.It is condemnable practice here in Pakistan that we reject every opportunity placed before us.


  • Abdul Maalik
    Nov 2, 2011 - 1:20AM


    Imran has two kind of critics; one who point out fallacies in his strategy and make him aware of the potential harhships in Pakistani Politics.But these people do consider Imran Khan as an honest and sincere person who want to bring change in Pakistan.Prof.Rasool belong to this type.The second kind of people are those who criticise him because they are afraid of his poplularity.They want status-quo in the country.They have their affiliations with PPP,PML-N or [email protected] belong to this catagory.These people do not have any tangible and solid objection on Imran.So they resort to the option of becoming skeptical and questioning how Imran can accomplish his stated objectives.I have two questions for these people.First,do they think that the problems being faced by Pakistan can be resolved which could transform the country into a welfare state? Second, do they think that PPP and PML-N have the resolve and capacity to solve these problems?


  • Kramat
    Nov 2, 2011 - 9:03PM

    Let Musharraf come then see how the situation develops. One and half years still a long time to go. PM and IK has nothing to lose, but PPP and PML-N for sure.


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