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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 August, 2003, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Pakistan clans 'abusing' British politics
By Navid Akhtar
Presenter, The Biraderi, BBC Radio 4

Shahid Malik of the Labour NEC
Shahid Malik: Labour 'unwittingly colluded'
A senior Labour Party figure has accused his party of not doing enough to break the hold of a Pakistani clan system on supporters and candidates drawn from within the community.

In a BBC Radio 4 documentary, Shahid Malik of the party's national executive echoed concerns from within the Pakistani community that women and younger potential political candidates are being blocked from going for office because of a hidden clan system.

Biraderi clans, meaning brotherhood, are the extended clan or tribal networks that influence the UK's nearly one million strong Pakistani community.

The networks are an extension of systems of allegiance in Pakistan itself.

For some members, the clan gives them their strongest sense of identity and personal codes of behaviour.

Labour and other parties got used to dealing with clan people and there seems to be an unwitting collusion there between the parties and first generation British Pakistanis
Shahid Malik
But like those who opposed historic class politics in the UK, many British Pakistanis believe clans have become a destructive and negative influence.

Critics believe the grip of the Biraderi networks is inescapable - and it is a system that is protected at all costs.

Shahid Malik, a member of Labour's National Executive, told the BBC that the Party has unwittingly allowed the clans to infiltrate British politics by influencing who is chosen from within Pakistani communities to go forward for candidate selection.

"One of the things that has held back British Pakistanis and Kashmiri's in this country has been the clan mentality, how people support and who people support," said Mr Malik.

"It hasn't been based on merit and that has certainly had a major impact in terms of letting down the British Pakistani community as a whole.

"The Labour Party and other parties got used to dealing with those [clan] people and there seems to be an unwitting collusion there between the parties and first generation British Pakistanis."

First generation support

Many first generation Pakistani settlers in the UK found that the Biraderi system provided essential support and identity as it provided links back to the villages of rural Punjab and Pakistani administered Kashmir.

We miss out from having a voice because we are too busy looking inward and fighting among ourselves
Zaffer Tanveer
For the second and third generation it has less relevance. Yet few believe they are able to break the grip it exerts on communities.

As one former local council election candidate told the BBC: "You could say you couldn't fight a political fight without using the Biraderi system".

According to those with inside knowledge of the system, when a candidate is chosen for election, it will usually be a Biraderi elder.

He will have been chosen by his clan on the basis of bloodlines rather than personal ability. His name goes out to the extended clan in Pakistan and the UK.

Alliances between politicians and Biraderi elders in Pakistan lead to leaders travelling to the UK during elections and instructing their clan members to vote for a particular candidate. Without this support, the candidate is doomed.

Growing frustrations

Lord Nazir Ahmed, Britain's only Pakistani member of the House of Lords, has fallen foul of Biraderi politics.

Lord Nazir Ahmed
Lord Ahmed: Accused clans of holding him back
"I know in Peterborough, Bradford, in Birmingham, when they put up candidates, from the Jatt Biraderi or the Rajput Biraderi, it does not matter what their politics is, when it comes to voting they will vote for their own.

"And this is what happened during my Parliamentary selections. People said 'Well he's a Jatt so we won't vote for him'."

The continued Biraderi influence means there is a growing frustration within communities that the 'wrong people' are entering politics.

Critics of politicians involved in Biraderi politics say they are hungry for power and prestige rather than the most qualified to lead and make a difference.

In some cases, Biraderi rivalries will lead to a dummy candidate coming forward just to scupper the chances of another clan.

Ballot box
Pakistani elections: Influenced by clan allegiences
Zaffer Tanveer is the Bradford-based correspondent for the Daily Jang, one of Pakistan's leading newspapers.

"We miss out from having a voice because we are too busy looking inward and fighting among ourselves," he said.

"[People are] saying 'my Biraderi is better than your Biraderi and if I can't have it, I'm going to make sure that your not going to have it either'".

Reformers in the community accuse the main political parties of turning a blind eye to Biraderi politics which they believe is a corrupt force.

Shahid Malik said it was time the parties seeking to attract votes from within the Pakistani communities should change the way they recruit supporters.

Recruitment had to be based on a modern meritocratic system - rather than the "beaten path" of turning to clan leaders, he said.

"I think rightly people might be shocked by this clan mentality and that political parties in their own way have colluded by not challenging it," he said.

"Unless and until the main political parties take responsibility then the clan mentality will continue and people will continue to abuse the democratic process and we're not going to get the kind of healthy outcomes we are looking for."

The Biraderi is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday at 2000 BST and repeated on Sunday at 1700 BST.
You can have your say on the programme in a phone-in on the BBC Asian Network's Sonia Deol show on Wednesday from 0900 BST. See internet links for details.



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