To some extent, the presence of the state can be felt in the urban parts of the country. However, things are quite different in the rural areas, which cover most of Pakistan. As we travel across villages, in Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the absence of the state is easily noticeable. Each village or small town has a ruler of its own, many a times more than just one. For centuries, the lives of common people (read peasants) have depended on the only major economic activity in these areas: agriculture.

Acres and acres of fertile land, hundreds and thousands of hardworking peasants, sweating and bleeding over them in a quest to afford a meal for the family, and the all-owning and all-seeing feudal lord, resting in his mansion, calculating his profits. For generations, owing to their service to the British in most cases, a handful of influential families have maintained an iron-grip on agricultural lands. People who are born and buried on the property of the landlord surely cannot be expected to challenge his ultimate authority. Born into the feudal system, the peasant cannot even contemplate rising against injustice. The very little that he gets for doing so much, he considers justified. Years of effective lessons have taught him something valuable; the very bottom is his rightful place.

Who will dare challenge these few landlords and protect the many at their mercy? The police? Perhaps the courts? No one. Law enforces are nothing more than lackeys, acting on the whims of the powerful instead of following the law, under the pretence of working in ‘co-operation’ with the influential landowners in order to ‘maintain the smooth functioning of the system’. The courts are ineffective. They take a lifetime to give a decision, and it’s hardly ever the right one. The local “panchayat” solves matters quickly, even if unfairly, and also enjoys the backing of the notables, thus often presenting itself as the only forum to resolve matters. What about democracy? Power to the people? Doesn’t work, either.

Most sitting and sleeping in legislative assemblies are feudal lords of different shapes and sizes. They are the only ones who can afford to contest ‘elections’. So, the absolutely necessary land reform is out of the question. It is the height of naiveté to expect those to relinquish power, who are addicted to it, depend on it, and profit from it. This is why influential landlords in village Bangar weren’t afraid to strip a worker, shave his head and eyebrows, and torture him over litigation. This is why no less than 120 MPs are refusing to submit income tax returns despite being reminded over and over again. Who will hold them accountable? The people? They are under their thumb. The law? They are the law.