Unintended Consequences of Proposed Land Reforms in Pakistan


Pakistan was partitioned from British India at the time of independence in August 1947. Since, the major supporter of Muslim League – led by M. A. Jinnah were feudal classes and landlords and that subsequently majority of Politicians and Army leadership has come from landed classes, land reforms in Pakistan have never taken off.

Need for Land Reforms

Land reforms are necessary for Pakistan for multiple reasons – economic and social.  It is also argued that until land reforms break the hold of landlords, democracy will never flourish in Pakistan – since majority in Parliament are feudal landlords.  Therefore, there are multiple reasons for land reforms.

Our Aim to Anticipate unintended Consequences

We support Land Reforms, however we feel that just passing a law in parliament will not bring the intended changes, since the dynamics of the current system with undermine that aim.

Thus, our aim is to anticipate all unintended consequences before design of any land reform policy so that we can help improve its design and implementation.

Unintended Consequences and Suggested Solutions

From our perspective, following are the possible unintended consequences (UC) of Land Reforms in Pakistan and our suggested solutions (SS) to alleviate those unintended consequences:

A. unintended Consequences: Capital Requirements from new landowners.

  1. Huge capital requirements will be necessary to get the new landowners off to a quick start, otherwise food production could suffer, dealing a huge setback to the whole efforts.
  2. In absence of capital for wells, electricity, seeds, labor, etc. the new landowners will be dependent on local moneylender, who generally charge very high interest rates

A. Suggested Solution to overcome Unintended Consequences:

  1. Set up specialized banking institutions tailored to meet to specific needs of these new landowners.

B. Unintended Consequences:  Sub-Division of large landholdings.

Land reforms generally require that large farms be sub-divided among multiple smaller farms. In case of Pakistan the since the average landlord holds very large, sub-division in multiple small farms is quite problematic from infrastructure perspective. Questions can be simplified to re-arranging rural infrastructure (irrigation, electricity, roads) to support 1,000 small farms in place of current 1 large one. Some issues are:

1. Equal distribution of Canal water or sinking new water pumps

2. Electric infrastructure to supply power to multiple water pumps

3.  Setting aside some percentage of land for access roads. Now each new landowner will need separate access.

B. Suggested Solution to overcome Unintended Consequences:

  1. Use of solar power water pumps and lamps could obviate some need for electric infrastructure.

C. Unintended Consequences: Marketing support for new landowners

Effective marketing will at time determine whether a small farm survives or die. In absence of of marketing support traders/middlemen will buy the crop at a pittance, leaving the peasant nearly as poor as before.

C. Suggested Solution to overcome Unintended Consequences:

Setting up specialized marketing cooperatives for these new landowners so that secure marketing infrastructure is in place and allowing the farmers to focus on production.

D. Unintended Consequences: Future of Law and Order setup.

Currently, the law in villages is administered or controlled by the big landlords and arrangements.  Since most landlords have generational relationship with their farm hands and others, they try to maintain their respect by appearing to be fair in their dealings.  In their absence the power could shift to local police, who could use it for own benefits.

D. Suggested Solution to overcome Unintended Consequences:

Strengthening traditional systems- called Panchayat (assembly of five wise men) as means of settling disputes between individuals. It could be expanded to Gram (village) Panchayat concept as implemented in India with elections and an expanded role in village life.

E. Unintended Consequences: Dealing with new income surplus.

Currently, all the surplus income goes to large landowners, which will change under the new regime, since these will now go to hundreds of new households.  Since, these people have never seen the kind of money it is quite likely that these surpluses may be spend on conspicuous consumption. Intended consequence is to set aside a part of income for secular social development, education, health centers, post office/bank, not just more mosques.

E. Suggested Solution to overcome Unintended Consequences:

1. Use mobile or barefoot bankers who are in touch with their customer and regularly collect any surplus to be banked and saved for special purchases (farm machinery/storages infrastructure) and occasions – marriages, etc.

2. Through education (religious and secular) raise the consciousness of new landowners to work in a co-operative way for purchasing inputs, sharing resources and marketing crops and invest part of surplus for current and future generations.

Conclusion: Law of Unintended Consequences

Hopefully, the above discussions has provided sufficient arguments that any legislation for land reforms is treated only as a starting point and all efforts are made to anticipate unintended consequences and prepare detailed actions plan to minimize their negative impact.

When attempting to do any social engineering at this in a complex feudal and traditional society, great deal of effort should be made to anticipate for unintended consequences and redesign the policy to accomodate them.






Part 2-A short history of land reforms in Pakistan.wmv – YouTube

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