As a heavily populated and nuclear-armed state straddling South and Central Asia, Pakistan will play a large role in the future of the greater region. The country is nevertheless plagued by domestic issues. Pakistan is subject to repeated natural disasters, economic instability, and open-ended insurgencies.
These challenges seriously affect food security and livelihood opportunities in the Pakistani countryside. Throughout the rural south of Punjab—Pakistan’s richest and most populous province—terrorists often exploit poverty, inequality, corruption, and alienation to win local hearts and minds. This poor provincial sector has long been an operational base for jihadist groups.
There is no direct relationship between these public grievances and extremism, but such troubles are often employed as terrorist recruitment tools and reduce the opportunity costs associated with joining an extremist group.
Conversely, reform promotes economic growth and improves government capacity to craft better policies and provide adequate services to its citizens. Successful development projects can help to disincentivize membership in terrorist organizations by improving people’s livelihoods. Recent land administration reform in rural Punjab therefore has the potential to address various socioeconomic, political, and security challenges.
The World Bank and the Government of Punjab partnered to confront an inaccessible and corrupted legacy land administration system. The Land Records Management and Information Systems (LRMIS) project digitized a major registry and systemically reformed land administration in the challenging environment of Punjab.
Inherited from the British Raj, the legacy system languished due to unresponsive local administrators known as Patwaris, who elicited bribes, tampered with registries, and marginalized poor farmers and women. The resulting substandard tenure security contributed to difficulties in the transfer of land, unequal access to capital, and wealth disparity.
The LRMIS project learned from previous pilots to utilize flexible software and engage with stakeholders during the implementation process. Digitization of the rural land registry and construction of sophisticated record centers were completed in conjunction with bureaucratic restructuring. In large part due to the political support of Punjab Chief Minister, the Patwaris’ administrative role was minimized through legislative amendments.
Through an adaptable and scalable project design, provincial land administration ultimately transitioned from a disjointed, and often corrupt, handwritten system to a transparent and computerized one. The project lasted ten years (2007-2016), involved a budget of U.S. $115 million, and altered the socioeconomic fabric of the countryside. Fifty-six million land records were digitized; five million records were corrected during digitization; and over 140 service-based centers—operational in all 36 provincial districts—now serve 20 million landowners.
More secure from fraud and corruption, the accessible new system improves tenure security. In turn, land value indirectly increases due to easier loan procurement and investment. Women, in particular, can now reliably assert their land inheritance rights through gender-specific services.
Greater access to capital, services, and the formal economy for previously marginalized groups promotes balanced development and encourages civic inclusion. Such improvements can help to diminish the political and socioeconomic factors that indirectly contribute to extremism.
The collection of more accurate land records also contributes to more effective government planning. Data can be used for tax collection, resource allocation, and disaster management. In the future, the new system can be leveraged for other development initiatives—such as GIS mapping. More responsive governance can confront local alienation in Punjab and may allow for greater political participation. Political injustices contributing to extremism may also subside as a result.
Despite impressive implementation and results, the project has not received sufficient recognition within the property rights space. In a field crowded with frustrating case studies of inadequate reforms often derailed by bureaucracy and/or corruption, this case offers a clear illustration that tenacity, leadership, and collaboration can achieve significant results.
The lessons learned, best practices, and benefits of the project can help to influence other executives and policymakers to pursue systemic reform and technological modernization in relation to land administration. States and/or subnational units with localized, disjointed, and corrupt legacy land systems, which can engender rural unrest, are particularly well-suited to emulate LRMIS.