Dynasties and Clientelism in Pakistan

My paper published in Seminar, India
THE hallmark of Pakistan’s political elites is their narrow base. A limited number of families have dominated Pakistan’s legislatures since the country’s inception in 1947.1 These families traditionally are from rural landowning and tribal backgrounds. The situation in the twenty first century remains largely unchanged. Indeed, the principal change may be the expansion of dynastic politics to include families from urban, religious and military backgrounds.
The politics of kinship networks in Pakistan, as in South Asia more generally, is firmly anchored in the politics of clientelism,2 which in turn is closely related to caste, ethnicity and identity.3 Clan, tribe, caste and biradari4 play a major role in electoral contests and in defining populist politics. These ties also legitimize the political family’s hold on resources and the passing on of these resources as legacy to new generations of family members.

This essay proposes a typology of dynasties in Pakistan, beginning from the ‘traditional’ rural dynasty of the Bhuttos, going on to the urban dynasty of the Sharifs, and concluding with the newer dynasties with religious and military backgrounds. Along the way, it shows how these dynasties are rooted in the politics of patrimonialism and clientelism. […]