Punjab, the fourth and most strategic province, is the country’s heart — home to the powerful military as well as much of Pakistan’s governing class; social upheaval here would drag the whole country with it. In my travels in this province, none of the mullahs were talking about revolution. In fact, the social justice discussions that have driven political movements in the wider Islamic world — Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Sadr Army of Iraq’s Moktada al-Sadr, for example — were notably absent.
Instead, I have found a surprisingly comfortable coexistence between the mullahs, the landlords and the political elite (the latter two are often one and the same). Even the harder-line preachers, among the sternly traditional Muslims known as Deobandis, have stuck to a bland, nonconfrontational line.
One leader of a Deobandi seminary in Kabirwala, a town in southern Punjab, told me that the land was distributed as God had intended, and that the only problem with the landlords was that some were insufficiently Islamic, though now that was improving.
History explains much of the feudal outlook of the clerics in Punjab. They tend not to oppose the establishment in part because the state itself made them powerful. In the 1980s, the military dictator Zia ul-Haq gave land and money to Deobandis, a policy the United States supported because it needed both Mr. Zia and fervent jihadists in the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. [continued…]