Demanding land rights is not terrorism

By Farooq Tariq

Army's anti-farmer operations in OkaraA massive repression of the peaceful peasant movement, the Anjuman Mozareen Punjab (AMP), is underway. Most of its leadership has been arrested under false anti-terrorist laws. Dozens of members are missing, while over 50 remain behind bars. All have been declared “terrorists” by the Okara district police, working hand in hand with the Military Farms administration, which mainly serves military officers.

The source of the problem is that while 14000 acres of land in the Okara district is owned by the Punjab government, it is occupied by the Military Farms administration. Since 2001, the tenants of the Military farms have refused to turn over half of their crops (bitai), which they and their families had been paying for over 90 years. How could ordinary people dare to say no to the military officers? That is their real “crime”; their demand of their land rights.

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Don of Dons

Bahria Town Karachi

When the Panama Papers story broke, I wrote that just because someone wasn’t named in the leaks it doesn’t mean that they are corruption free. I noted a few examples of privileged institutions showing signs of severe corruption that have never been given the attention like politicians. However there was no way I could have predicted what would come next.

Dawn’s report exposing Bahria Town is amazing for many reasons, beginning with the fact that it ever saw the light of day. Like the Panama Papers, what is shocking is not to find out that there is corruption, but to see it laid out so plainly before our eyes. The Bahria Town report is even bigger than Panama Papers though because it directly exposes the one institution that is considered beyond criticism: the military.

The Bahria Town expose is a big story by itself, but it is made even more stark as it is read while Army troops are literally going to war against their peasants. No, this is not a typo. TV anchors will not be covering this development as closely as PM’s shopping spree medical care in London, but it is no less reality.

Chotu gang operations may be in the headlines but Army is also carrying out operations in Okara where they have deployed heavily armed troops against Pakistani farmers who dared to protest their conditions.

Army's anti-farmer operations in Okara

This is not the first time that Army has turned its guns on the farmers who work their land. Conditions at Okara Military Farms have been lamented by the peasants who work there for years, and only two years ago Army troops opened fire on the farmers for daring to protest against being treated like disposable serfs by their feudal military lords.

Panama Papers has shown us just how wide spread is the problem of corruption in our society. But Bahria Town and Okara Military Farms are showing us that overseas accounts and posh London tailors are peanuts compared to what is taking place right before our eyes. Our political leaders may be feudals, but in reality they are mere vassals compared to the real Lords of Pakistan.