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In Feudal Pakistan, Little Love for Musharraf

STEVEN INSKEEP, host:

Lebanon is not the only country where security is tight and tension is high. Pakistan is preparing for elections on Monday, amid fears of violence. The assassination late last year of Benazir Bhutto is dominating debate about the vote. And her death is expected to produce a big sympathy vote for her Pakistan People's Party. But it is not the only issue on the minds of voters.

NPR's Philip Reeves has just returned from a village in the province of Baluchistan

PHILIP REEVES: A small girl squats to collect water from a muddy pool beside a leaking well. She has competition. The village goats are drinking here, too. We're only an hour and a half's drive from the vibrant Port of Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and the country's biggest source of government revenue. The money hasn't made it here.

It's pretty depressing landscape. It's scrub land and litter everywhere. And dirt roads and houses made out of concrete blocks and mud. Pretty much the poorest of the poor.

This is a village called Kareem Dad Khatani Mor(ph) in Baluchistan, Pakistan's largest and poorest province. Some 400 people, many of them children, live here, just off the main highway. A ragged dust-caked crowd gathers at the sight of a visitor. They're eager to air their complaints.

How many men here have no jobs?

Unidentified Man: (Through translator) Under Musharraf (unintelligible) jobless. We have no employment.

Mr. DUR MOHAMMED(ph) (Resident, Baluchistan): No gas, no water. No.

Unidentified Man: No water. No gas.

REEVES: Utilities in their homes, explains a gnarled and weather-beaten man called Dur Mohammed, are non-existent.

(Soundbite of music)

The owner of the tiny village shop tries to lure in customers by pumping out music. This isn't a good business environment. The villagers say the only way they can make money is through odd laboring jobs or chopping and selling wood. This brings in the equivalent of less than $1.50 a day, barely enough to pay for the most basic foods.

Hardly any of the villagers can read.

BAZARA(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: A woman called Bazara says she's worried that her eight children are also destined to be illiterate. There's no school here and no madrasah.

Next week's elections in Pakistan are for the country's national assembly -that's the lower house of parliament - and for provincial assemblies. Yet the outcome is crucial for President Pervez Musharraf. It'll determine how much power he retains as president and also possibly whether he stays on in office.

For months Pakistan's pundits have characterized Musharraf as deeply unpopular. He routinely denies this, saying he has strong support in the rural areas. But not, says villager Dur Mohammed, in this village in Baluchistan.

Mr. MOHAMMED: (Through translator) (Unintelligible) that he has support, but now there is - the inflation is high, there is no employment and his representatives did nothing for us. So he doesn't have any support.

REEVES: That doesn't necessarily mean the main pro-Musharraf party won't get the village's vote. The village voted for that party last time around in 2002. This part of Pakistan is still run on feudal lines.

Shafi Mohammed(ph), a part time truck driver, says he takes his order from the Sadah(ph) or tribal chief.

Mr. SHAFI MOHAMMED(ph) (Truck driver): The leader of the village will come here. We will all sit around him and he will tell us who to vote for. But (unintelligible) life. The day starts, the day ends. No change in our life.

REEVES: There has been one change and it's a source of deep anger here. The villagers say a few months ago another feudal leader arrived with some armed men and kicked some of the villagers off about 80 acres of land they'd been living on for decades

Among the evicted was an old man called Isral(ph).

ISRAL (Evicted from land, Pakistan): (Through translator) They came and attacked our home. Then they started beating us and then they set our hut on fire.

REEVES: The villagers show off the rubble of about half a dozen destroyed huts. The families who lived here are now homeless and, says Bazara, there's nothing they can do about it.

BAZARA: (Through translator) There is feudalistic system here. We are in their hands. What can we say? We're helpless.

REEVES: The villagers say being evicted is another complication in their daily struggle for survival. A struggle which they do expect will be any easier after next week's elections.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.

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