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Leveling the Playing Field: A Survey of Pakistan's Land Reforms


Conventional wisdom in Pakistan has declared redistributive land reforms to be dead and buried. Agrarian reforms involving redistribution of land are argued to have become irrelevant because demographic pressure has caused excessive fragmentation of land, thus lowering the share of agriculture in national output.
Pakistan’s federal judiciary has also contributed to this demise. In its August 10, 1989 majority judgment, the Supreme Court Shariat Appellate Bench declared that the prescription of a maximum ceiling for a landowner’s holding was un-Islamic. It is, therefore, unsurprising that for many decades land reforms have not appeared as a commitment in the electoral manifestos of the mainstream political parties.
In the debates on land in Pakistan, the emphasis has shifted from redistribution to market efficiency. The recent policy consensus has been on the modernization of land record administration and the need to define laws that can catalyze corporate farming.
According to this view, reforms involving land should concentrate on lowering the transaction costs associated with the exchange of land. This policy framework’s objective is to enable local and global capital to take “land to scale,” which is seen as an important precondition for higher productivity.

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