Pakistan: Thousands of Punjab peasants rally to mark 10 years of struggle
By Maqsood Mujahid
June 30, 2010 -- Three months' notice has been given to Punjab government to decide the fate of the 68,000 acres of agriculture land owned by Punjab government and cultivated by tenants for more than 100 years. The tenants have been demanding land ownership rights. Despite promises to do so by former prime ministers Benazhir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif, the land in question has not been allotted to the tenants.
The three-month notice was given at the end of a massive peasants' rally on June 29 at Okara. The rally was organised by Anjaman Mozreen Punjab (AMP -- Punjab Tenants Association) on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the tenants' struggle for land ownership rights. More than 5000 peasants from different agriculture farms waved red flags and chanted slogans against the regime. They blamed their poverty on the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan army's looting of resources meant for peasants. The army owns more than 25,000 acres of land in Okara and Pakpattan districts of Punjab.
Nine peasant leaders lost their lives during 10-year struggle. They include Mohammed Bashir of Renalakhurd Military Farms (January 2002), Tufail Cheema of Dulmain Gunj Army Welfare Trust Farms Depalpur (June 2002), Manzoor Theme of Khanewal Seed Corporation Farms (June 2002), Salman Patras of Okara Military Farms (August 2002), Baba Amir Ali of Okara Military Farms (May 2003), Zafar Ali Cheena of Bail Gunj Army Welfare Trust Farms (May 2007), and Mohammed Abbas, Amir Ali and Baba Rahim of Kulyana Military Estate Okara (April 2009). The rally paid tribute the the martyrs of the movement and pledged to continue the struggle until final victory.
The march took three hours to pass the main roads of Okara and ended in front of Okara Press Club, where the main leaders of the AMP spoke to the participants. Farooq Tariq, spokesperson Labour Party Pakistan, said that the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (Mian Nawaz Sharif's party) both were responsible for not implementing the promises their leaders made while they were in opposition to the military dictatorship of General Musharaf. He said this was the first mass movement to challenge the military dictatorship at the height of its repression. Farooq Tariq gave the three months' notice to the Punjab government on behalf of the AMP, demanding the government act positively to the demands of the tenants or be ready to face a gherao (picket line) in Lahore.
"We will come in thousands and will not leave Lahore until our demands are met. We have fought the military dictatorships and we will not accept the unconcerned attitude of the present civilian government", Mehr Abdul Sattar, general secretary of the AMP told the protesters. "The movement will not end until our demands are met. We want them to fulfill the promises that have been made to us while they were in exile. We will sit idle and let the time pass. We will act and act decisively."
Mehr Abdul Sattar announced that a mass rally of peasants will be held in October 2010 at Okara, in which 100,000 peasants would take part. "We will take oaths from everyone that we are ready to die for land ownership and will march to Lahore. We will fix the date of the long march to Lahore at this historic conference of peasants."
Leaders of the AMP from Renalkhurd, Kulyana Military Estate, Pakpattan, Khaenwal, Sahiwal spoke. Azra Shad, chairperson Women Workers Help Line, and Riffat Maqsood, women's secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan Punjab chapter also addressed the rally.
There were hundreds of red flags at the rally. More than 2000 motorcycles and dozens of tractors and trolleys brought the peasants at the rally. Okara residents and traders welcomed the peasants and showed victory signs to the protesters. There were hundreds of people waving to the protesters on the way to the main venue.
Ten years of tenants' struggle in Punjab
By Farooq Tariq
June 28, 2010 -- The Anjaman Mozareen Punjab (AMP) is organizing a mass peasants rally on June 29, 2010, at Okara on the eve of 10 years of AMP movement. On June 29, 2000, Major General Chattha asked tenants working on Military Farms Okara to change their status to “Thakedari” (contract labourers). The tenants rejected this order and felt that the move by the military regime under General Musharaf was to aimed at forcing them to vacate the land so it could become corporate farms or be leased to military officers.
It was just after eight months of the military dictatorship of General Musharaf and the regime had started to attack the trade unions and was implementing its neoliberal agenda by force. The regime had successfully imposed the 15 per cent general sales tax. It had attacked the Railways Workers Union and crushed its initial resistance to their regime. The military junta thought that it would be easy to ask the tenants to change their status and then they would able to get this land. It proved wrong in its assessment.
The tenants contacted different political parties and social organisations to help in their fight for land rights. More than 68,000 acres of land were cultivated by the tenants of various public sector agricultural farms, including one occupied by the military. The resistance did not start immediately. They were dozens of meetings of tenants and then they decided to form an organisation to organise the resistance. Many elderly peasants were opposed to the resistance strategy and they were ready the change their status for a good price. The young, and some college and university students and graduates belonging to tenants' families, had other ideas. They went to the meetings and decided to fight the military dictatorship.
The Labour Party Pakistan got in contact with the movement in September 2001. It was after the organisation AMP was formed and the peasants had already decided to resist. The AMP had also invited the Jamaat Islami and its peasant wing called Kissan Board. The Kissan Board leaders advocated a conciliatory strategy and were of the opinion that the tenants could not fight the military dictatorship. The LPP agreed with the resistance strategy and decided to help build the movement.
The AMP's struggle started with a slogan Malki Yaa Mout (death or ownership). Women and youth were in the forefront and courageously fought many attempts by the military dictatorship to force the tenants to vacate the land. Nine peasants were killed by police and rangers, several dozens injured and many hundreds arrested. It was a struggle supported by almost all opposition political parties, social organisations and trade unions. It was the first organised resistance to the military dictatorship. It inspired many nationally and internationally. The AMP became an icon of struggle and a reference point.
The strategy to resist without arms was successful. Resistance tactics included street blockades, occupation and blockades of roads, barricades around villages, use of wooden sticks to fight the police and rangers, rallies and demonstrations, use of the internet, solidarity rallies in large cities of Pakistan, media stories against the repression and the use of the courts. The most successful resistance was through the blockade of main roads leading to Okara and Lahore.
In 2002 and 2003, there was a Gaza-like seige for three months around 19 villages in Okara. No one was allowed to enter the villages until the tenants agreed to sign the contract system. The siege became an international story and many foreign journalists wrote articles very sympathetic to the tenants. Several of Pakistani mainstream media were inspired by the courageous stand of the poor tenants against the very powerful army.
The high point of the struggle was the refusal of the tenants to pay 40 per cent share of the crops that had been paid for generations by tenants to the military farms' administration. This was the most successful strategy and more and more tenants joined the struggle.
The movement continues. The promises of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party to hand over this land to the tenants have not been fulfilled. Both parties praised the struggle of the tenants several times and agreed that once they were in power, they would decide in favour of the tenants. It has not been done despite the two parties being in power for the last two years.
On June 22, 2010, Mehr Abdul Sattar, Nadeem Asharaf, Malik Saleem Jakar, Choudry Shabir and Mohammed Hanif addressed a press conference in Lahore to announce the June 29 rally. They gave three months' notice to government of Punjab to decide land ownership in favour of the tenants. If the PPP-PMLN Punjab alliance government does not act within three months, there would be no option but to march to Lahore.
If Punjab government wants to separate the army from civilian aspects of life, this is a test case for it. The Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee has asked all the social movements and trade unions to help the struggle of the peasants of Punjab for land rights, the only way to fight feudalism in Pakistan.