While the MQM has been accused by its opponents of using the issue of land reforms as a gimmick, it goes to its credit to have raised a highly relevant question that major political parties continue to ignore. In a way, it is easier for the MQM to take up cudgels in support of land reforms as it is an urban party not in need of support from the powerful landlord lobby. One wonders why the MQM which has been a part of almost every administration since 1988 took so long to raise an issue that affects the livelihood of 44 percent of the workforce and two thirds of the countrys population that depends on agriculture and allied activities.
Landlessness is a major cause behind poverty in Pakistan. The overwhelming majority of the rural population comprises the landless poor and small peasants, many of them owning less than economically viable holdings. Most of the haris in Sindh and landless peasants in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa live below poverty line. Ownership of land combined with the skills that this section of rural population possesses could release the synergy capable of boosting agricultural production, reversing the ongoing slide to abysmal poverty and providing millions of people with purchasing power. This in turn would help local industry to expand and create more jobs.
While the MQM has to be commended to bring the issue under focus, it is to be noted that the leadership of the mainstream parties continues to ignore land reforms. These parties alone can ensure any meaningful move in this direction as provincial assemblies, where they enjoy majority, are the right forum to enact the required legislation. The PPP with its election slogan of roti, kapra aur makan, and the PML-N on account of its claims of being a middle class party, were supposed to play a leading role in introducing a new package of land reforms. The move by MQM has put the claims of these parties to test. While land reforms need to be introduced, the fight against feudal culture, which permeates even the urban elite, is likely to continue for many more years.