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Pakistan: Multi-party conference demands debt cancellation, launches mass movement to refuse debt

 
[Readers can donate to help flood victims through the Labour Relief Campaign via the Australian trade unions' aid agency APHEDA at http://www.apheda.org.au/news/1281331224_14992.html.]

By Farooq Tariq

August 29, 2010 -- A multi-party conference in Lahore has decided to campaign for cancellation of Pakistan's crippling foreign debt and to organise mass rallies in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. The first rally will be on September 2 in Islamabad.

The Labour Relief Campaign in association with Oxfam Pakistan called the conference on August 29, in Lahore, to discuss the issue of debt repayment in the post-flood scenario. It was chaired by Aman Kariaper and Ammar Ali Jan. Senator Hasil Bezinjo vowed to take the issue to Pakistan's Senate and present a resolution to demand that government refuse to pay the foreign debt.

Twenty-eight political parties, trade unions, social movements and professional associations were invited to present their views (listed below).

The conference began with Khaliq Shah, of the Campaign for the Abolition of Third World Debt, who argued that there are strong legal, ethical and political arguments for the immediate suspension of debt servicing and the refusal of further loans. He also presented historical precedents from Latin America and Africa to support his argument.

Debt, in his view, is not merely a financial but also a political issue. He pointed out that debt incurred by dictators is considered to be illegitimate debt under international law and its burden should not be borne by future generations. According to some estimates, he claimed, Pakistan’s debt has already been paid back at least eight times over. Hence, debt is an integral part of the system of re-colonisation prevalent in the Third World.

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, academic, writer and activist of the Workers Party Pakistan, pointed out that the debt rescheduling touted by dictator Pervez Musharraf as his big success in 2008 will take debt as a percentage of Pakistan's GDP to more than 70%, thus approaching the 80% limit recognised by the World Bank as being unsustainable. He remarked that his group’s research indicated that up to 80% of Pakistan’s debt was incurred during dictatorial regimes. Elaborating on the political aspects of the campaign, Akhtar questioned the rationale of the heavy military budget, which, even in this time of acute crisis, is not being reviewed.

In the open discussion that followed, the debt issue and its political ramifications were debated by all the delegates present. Jamil Omar, president of the Awami Jamhoori Forum, suggested setting up a monitoring mechanism staffed and run by the network of activists represented in the conference, to ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of funds freed up by the cancellation of debt.

Senator Hasil Bizenjo of the National Party fully supported the idea of debt cancellation as a means of challenging the prevalent political order and offered to present a motion in the Senate to discuss the matter.

Advocate Abid Hassan Minto, president of the Workers Party Pakistan, presented a detailed analysis of the current socioeconomic situation and suggested the formation of a committee composed of like-minded political and social organisations that would build a political movement based on the demands emerging from the conference. Instead of accepting new loan offers, Pakistan must stand for the total and unconditional repudiation of its foreign debt. Time and again, countries facing tragedies, like Pakistan’s catastrophic flooding, are forced by international financial institutions and donor countries to mortgage their future as they borrow for relief and recovery efforts. Thus, the tragedy is magnified for years to come.

Speakers said that the recent floods are the worst disaster in Pakistan’s history. The country has been devastated from the northern areas to its southern tip. The state, stripped of its capacity to meet peoples’ needs by neoliberalism and militarism alike, has been found wanting -- both in its long-standing failure to maintain existing infrastructure, and in its response to the calamity.

The conference also discussed the negative impact of global climate change in Pakistan. Evidence is emerging that links these floods to rising atmospheric temperatures, and thus to climate change. Three-quarters of all carbon emissions have been produced by only 20% of the world’s population, and it is the poor in the developing world who are bearing the brunt of the resulting environmental degradation. The rich countries ought to offer urgent reparations to Pakistan as compensation for suffering the cost of others’ industrialisation.

Those who spoke at the conference included Raja Zulqernain, advocate general secretary of the Supreme Court Bar Association; Khurshid Ahmad, general secretary of the Pakistan Workers Confederation; Nasir Mansoor, deputy secretary of the National Trade Union Federation, Nazar Mengal of the Pakistan Trade Unions Defence Campaign; Karamat Ali, director PILER; Lal Khan, editor of the Asian Marxist Review; Ihsan Wain, advocate general secretary of the Awami National Party; former senator Tariq Choudry of Tehreek Insaaf; Nasir Shah, general secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan; MA Bhutta, senior vice-president of the Saraiki National Party; Ilyas Khan, secretary of the People's Lawyers Forum; Manzoor Gilani, president of the Istiqlal Party; Syeda Deep of the IPSS; IA Rehman, general secretary of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; Farooq Tariq, coordinator of the Labour Relief Campaign; and Asad Rehman of the Sungi Development Foundation.

The following points were included in the conference resolution:

  • Immediate suspension of repayment of external debt.
  • Countries and donor institutions wishing to help Pakistan may do so in the form of grants, not loans. No more new loans.
  • Pakistan's military budget needs to be reviewed.
  • Setting up of an audit commission to conduct a public inquiry into Pakistan’s external debt. The commission should have constitutional cover.
  • Climate change reparations to be paid to Pakistan by industrialised countries.
  • A federal flood relief commission to be set up to oversee all relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the wake of the floods.
  • Contact South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation secretariat for assistance and the acceptance of Indian support without any conditions.

It was decided at the conference to take the campaign to the masses and organise rallies in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. The first rally will be in Islamabad on September 2, 2010.

The Labour Relief Campaign was formed in 2005 after the devastating earthquake in Pakistan and is comprised of eight organisations. They are the National Trade Union Federation, Women Workers' Help Line, CADTM Pakistan, the Labour Party Pakistan, the Progressive Youth Front, Pakistan For Palestine, the Labour Education Foundation and the Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee.

The Labour Relief Campaign has been busy organising and raising funds for flood victims and also launching a national campaign against payment of debt.

The following organisations were been invited to the conference.

1. National Party

2. Workers Party Pakistan

3. Istiqlal Party

4. Awami National Party

5. Saraiki National Party

6. Labour Party Pakistan

7. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf

8. National Trade Union Federation

9. Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign

10. Pakistan Workers Confederation

11. Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights

12. Supreme Court Bar Association

13. Pakistan Professors and Lecturers Association

14. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

15. Khawateen Mahaz-e-Amal

16. Awami Jamhori Forum

17. South Asia Partnership

18. Sangi Development Foundation

19. Anjuman Mozaarein-e-Punjab

20. Labour Qaumi Movement

21. People Lawyers Forum

22. Asian Marxist Review

23. Pakistan Institute of Labour & Research

24. Pakistan Peace Coalition

25. Institute of Peace and Secular Studies

26. Jamhoori Publications

27. Aasha

28. Women Workers' Helpline

[Contact the Labour Relief Campaign at 25A Davis Road; Phone +042-36303808, +0300-8411945. Farooq Tariq is spokesperson for the Labour Party Pakistan. Email: labour_party@yahoo.com or visit http://www.laborpakistan.org or http://www.jeddojuhd.com.]

[Readers can donate to help flood victims through the Labour Relief Campaign via the Australian trade unions' aid agency APHEDA at http://www.apheda.org.au/news/1281331224_14992.html.]

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