As he sat in the courtyard near his house, a few head of his cattle munching hay outside, Raja Mohd Afzal Khan was beseeched by a steady stream of petitioners for help in fixing a road here, improving drainage there or persuading a stubborn bureaucrat to change a decision.
As the elected chairman of Jhelum's municipal committee -- the equivalent of mayor -- Afzal is a rare breed in this country.
For only on this lowest rung of the political ladder are there any elected officials at all in Pakistan, which is run by the Army through a martial-law government headed by a general-president, Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, and four other generals as provincial governors.
Afzal is one of 51,000 elected members of "local bodies" in the country, and although he said he belongs to no political party, he only won the post of chairman last year after a man who belongs to the Pakistan People's Party was removed on orders of the military governor. The party is that of executed former prime minister and president Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and its remnants, headed by Bhutto's widow and daughter, form the major opposition to Zia's rule even though all political and party activities have been banned for close to two years.
Afzal, who runs this poor agricultural town of 77,000, is beset with the problems of city fathers everywhere and lacks the money to acomplish his aims.
Like Washington's Marion Barry or New York's Edward Koch, he complains that his government's taxing powers are not great enough and that the central government gets too great a share of the tax dollar.
With no political system in the country, however, Afzal is limited in what he can do for Jhelum. If a needed project involves district or Punjab provincial officials, he can only ask for their help. He has no political clout because parties are banned and neither the Army nor the bureaucrats have to run for office. Sometimes, though, his petitions carry weight.
Afzal is proud of his acomplishments during his 21 years on the town council. As its chairman over the last 18 months, he said he put electricity and latrines in the city's schools, which consume about 30 percent of the city's $500,000 annual budget.
"When I came here there was nothing in the schools. I am doing something for them," said Afzal in the manner of politicians all over the world.
His major project now is black-topping the three-mile-long, badly rutted, dirt main street of the city. This will take six months -- most of the work probably will be done without machines -- and will cost about $270,000, not all from his budget.
Although there are no openly organized political parties here, Afzal's 18-member municipal committee has divided itself naturally into factions. Afzal said 12 members support him and six stand in opposition.
As he sits listening to the problems of his constituents, Afzal looks the part of a politician. He is better dressed than most in the national garb of loose shorts -- his are of fine white cotton instead of homespun gray.
Afzal, who is a landowner, spends four to five hours a day on city business while his younger brother takes over on the family farmlands.
He denied that he is much of a politician, even though he was elected to the municipal committee unopposed in 1964, 1970 and 1979.
"I don't know much about politics," he said. "People say I am a good politician, but I don't think that I am. I am just an agriculturalist."
Like mayors in growing American cities, he faced the problems of providing municipal services to 10 villages that have been annexed by the city. Since they joined the city, Afzal said, "they are well developed" with electricity, brick-paved streets and drainage.
The city's funds come from what is in effect a road tax on raw materials entering Jhelum. But since this city relies on agriculture, there is not much coming in to be taxed.
At present, the city earns about $520,000 and Afzal hopes revenues will increase next year to $650,000. Jhelum's greatest needs, he said, are sewage and drainage, especially during these days of the monsoon, and road improvements. Besides financing simple development projects, he has to run schools, pay salaries, pensions and insurance and take care of street lighting.
But mainly Afzal serves as a conduit for the problems of his city to the bureaucrats, for Pakistan has adopted the British system of a highly stratified civil service. There is military control at the district, provincial and national level.
In that sense he acts very much as congressional offices do in Washington, short-circuiting log jams for constituents. For the government, which has no popular base in the country, local leaders such as Afzar can provide needed feedback on what the Pakistani people are thinking about.
Zia sees these local bodies -- there are about 5,000 in the country serving municipalities, districts and military bases -- as the start of a new democratic system that at some unspecified future date will take over from the Army.
It is unclear, however, just how representative these local bodies are. The majority of persons elected to them in September 1979 were members of the Pakistan People's Party and, like the man Afzal replaced as chairman, most of them were removed from office by the governors.