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The family still owns several thousand acres of prime farmland—much of it planted in mangoes—and revels in its feudal roots. Behind Abbas's garden is a reproduction of his ancestral village, with an outdoor clay oven and rope cots of the sort he slept on as a child. After lunch he showed off one of his prized dancing horses.

Abbas's younger brother, Ghulam, was planning a run for public office. In the garden that night he presided over an informal council gathered to resolve a land dispute between a man and his nephew that had escalated into a display of firearms. After much back-and-forth, the pair agreed to suspend hostilities until Ghulam had a chance to see the disputed property for himself. "We are well-known," he explained later. "The bane of this public life is that I do not have a private moment."

The feudals are not universally beloved in Punjab. Halfhearted land reforms have failed to eradicate pockets of deep poverty, especially in the water-starved south. Poverty, in turn, is often blamed for fueling extremism by encouraging landless parents to send their children to madrassas, where at least they'll be fed and sheltered.

Leaving the unkempt streets of Multan, I drove north through lush fields of sugarcane and rice, past textile mills and service plazas with mini-marts and prayer rooms. Near Islamabad I came upon a vast, unfinished housing development dotted with water towers. Curving boulevards were flanked by Mediterranean-style villas that could have been transplanted from southern California or Abu Dhabi. A billboard advertised a new swim and tennis club.

The development belongs to Pakistan's biggest real estate developer and most powerful institution—the army. Officers buy land at below-market prices, then build on it or sell it to private buyers for a profit. The perk is a result of a sprawling network of army-run welfare schemes and businesses, including cement factories, fertilizer plants, and Pakistan's largest trucking firm. Nowhere is the system more deeply rooted than in Punjab, where the British Indian Army focused its recruiting and its Pakistani successor still does.

Hashim Khan is one of the system's beneficiaries. A retired brigadier, he works for a military contractor and lives in the army-run development. He met me near the entrance in his black Lexus SUV and drove me to his 10,000-square-foot home, where a gilt-framed portrait of his army officer father hung in the marble foyer. A hearty sort with a mustache and straight brown hair, Khan showed me into the study he called his I Love Me Room, which was equipped with a humidor and a refrigerator stocked with Heine­ken. Pavarotti played in the background.

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