Pakistan: ‘Cancel the debt to help flood victims’
September 18, 2010 -- Green Left Weekly -- Ammar Ali Jan is a 23-year-old activist in Pakistan who visited Australia earlier this year to speak at the Resistance national conference. He is an organiser of the Progressive Youth Front (PYF), which campaigns for democracy and against corruption. He spoke to Melanie Barnes from Resistance about what’s been happening in Pakistan, especially the devastating impact of the recent floods.
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Recently you were arrested at a protest against power shortages. Can you tell us about that campaign? What was the outcome of the protest?
On August 10, there was a power outage due to a technical fault. The Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) refused to come to fix the problem immediately and said we must wait for a couple of days before the issue was resolved.
The temperatures can rise to 47°C in Lahore. When the situation became unbearable, the PYF decided to rally the locals against the WAPDA administration. About 300 to 400 people joined our demonstration as we blocked the main Feroze Pur road in Lahore, demanding that our electricity be restored immediately.
Soon, heavy police contingents arrived and we started negotiating with them on our demands. While the negotiations were going on, police suddenly started a baton charge against some of the protesters. We intervened, hoping to diffuse the situation, but we were also ferociously attacked by the police, and they started making arrests.
Five of us were arrested. Our members converged in front of the police station to protest this high-handedness. What was amusing was that the police station did not have any power either, since it was also connected to the same transformer.
Two hours later, while we were in the police lock-up, electricity was restored and even the police on duty started thanking us, saying it had been restored so quickly only because of our protest. They also informed us that the reason for such police high-handedness in the middle of our negotiations were orders from the local parliamentarian, who was nervous about the growth of the PYF and wanted to “teach the PYF a lesson”.
We were released on bail the next afternoon and were warmly welcomed by the community.
This protest only helped enhance our standing in the locality and also further strengthened our belief that, in the current scenario, the left can only become relevant if it focuses its energies on transforming specific areas.
The floods have had a devastating impact on millions of people’s lives. What impact have the floods had on politics?
We are now involved in the relief campaign for those affected by the floods in Pakistan. Not only are we raising funds for the victims, but we are also launching a political campaign against the state that has failed to deliver for its citizens.
We are trying to go deeper into the discourse on “natural disasters” that has more to do with the economy of underdevelopment rather than the will of god. For example, the earthquakes in Haiti devastated the entire country, but earthquakes of greater magnitude in Japan, California and New Zealand do not even get noticed.
This can be explained by the peripheral role played by the economies of the Third World under international capitalism since the onset of colonialism.
Colonialism reduced colonised societies to mere spaces for exploitation of resources and cheap labour — something that is still true in the post-colonial world.
We want to highlight some of these structural problems that have reduced the will and means of our state to cater to the wellbeing of ordinary Pakistanis.
The inflated military budget, the lack of social spending and the budget cuts under the instructions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, have reduced the capacity of the state to help the 20 million Pakistanis who have been left stranded due to these devastating floods.
How has your organisation responded to the floods? What can people in Australia do to help?
We have launched a full-scale campaign calling for the cancellation of Pakistan’s foreign debt. Eighty per cent of Pakistan’s budget is spent either on the military or on the repayment of IMF and World Bank loans.
First, we feel that, considering the current calamity being faced by Pakistan, the debt should be written off on moral grounds, as it would become a great hurdle for the rehabilitation of those affected by the floods.
Second, most of the loans given to Pakistan have been given to military regimes that had no mandate from the people, and were only given to stabilise these US-allied dictatorships.
Third, there has been no audit of these loans; most of the money has been used by the military and civilian elites to increase their wealth. Hence the people of Pakistan cannot be held accountable for such loans, which had a political agenda for keeping the country subservient to the wishes of global capital.
The IMF and World Bank have also forced the government to increase the general sales tax on essential items, to privatise public sector companies and to lay off workers to balance the budget.
Hence while loans are being given to Pakistan and are being enjoyed by our elites, it is the working people who pay for them.
It is for these reasons that we believe the campaign to cancel Pakistan’s debts will become popular throughout the country.
We also ask for solidarity on this issue from our comrades around the world and ask them to pressure their governments to write off Pakistan’s external debt.
Lahore march and rally demands debt cancellation
Farooq Tariq addresses the September 19 rally in Lahore.
By Farooq Tariq
September 19, 2010 -- A very enthusiastic rally and march, with a lot of slogans, was held here in Lahore on September 19, 2010. More than 700 attended the rally, organised to demand the cancellation of Pakistan's foriegn debt so that the money can instead help those affected by the flood. The main Mall Road was blocked for more than one and half hours by people waving red flags and shouting slogans against US imperialism, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial institutions. One of the main features of the rally was participation of women and young activists from different backgrounds.
Several trade unions mobilised their members to attend the rally, including the Rustam Suhrab Cycle and Motor Cycle Workers' Union, the Lahore Gymkhana Workers' Association, Railway Workers' Union, the Itehad Carpet Union and the Pakistan Bhatta Mazdoor Union. There were many activists of Labour Party Pakistan and the Workers Party Pakistan, and also some from the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party.
The Progressive Youth Front mobilised more than 100 youth from one area of Lahore, and the National Student Federation also mobilised its members. Women Workers' Help Line and the Labour Education Foundation also worked very hard to mobilise. Activists and leaders of the National Trade Union Federation, Pakistan For Palestine, CATDM Pakistan, the Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee, Tehreek Istiqlal, the Pakistan Trade Unions Defence Campaign, the Pakistan Institute of Secular Studies and students of Lahore University of Management were among others at the rally.
Abid Hasan Minto, president of the Workers Party Pakistan added his voice against the repayment of foreign debt.
The rally started from the GPO Chouck and ended at Charing Cross on Mall Road. Asim Sajad Akhtar and Naeem Shakir from the Workers Party Pakistan, Abdul Khaliq Shah of CATDM, Bushra Khaliq from the Women Workers' Help Line, Mohammed Naseeb of Lahore Gymkhana, Azhar Siddique, Sakhai Mohammed from the Railway Workers' Union, Hanif Goraya of Tehreek Istiqlal and the Labour Party Pakistan's Farooq Tariq spoke.
Speakers made it clear that the campaign will not end and demanded that the government not accept any more loans or make repayments on the current debt. We have paid enough and we will not pay more! They criticised the Pakistan Peoples Party government for assuring the IMF that it not seek debt cancellation.
Pakistan has a very strong case for debt cancellation. The people of Pakistan are totally in favour of getting rid of the IMF and World Bank loans. People are suffering from the conditionalities of these financial institutions. The new loan in the name of flood will put more burdens on flood victims. We need grants and aid, and not loans. These were some of the main points made by the speakers.
The rally was organised by the Labour Relief Campaign in association with Oxfam.