Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Abuse of Anti-Terror Laws in Pakistan

June 27, 2016

Mubbashir Rizvi


On the night of April 15, 2016, the Pakistani state opened up a new front in its counter-terror strategy by attacking a peasant organization, Punjab Tenants Association (hereafter AMP), for convening their annual “International Day of Peasants’ and Farmers’ Struggles”. Mazhar, a resident of village 15/4L recalls the night when the military and police personnel descended on his village going door to door beating and arresting leaders and people who they thought were active members of AMP. According to Human Rights Watch (5/4/16) the military rounded up 60 men and 2 women and registered 4000 cases against the villagers under the National Action Plan (NAP), the newest anti-terror policy which has reinstated the death penalty and transferred juridical powers over terrorism cases to the military courts. The goal of this comprehensive program is to consolidate emergency powers under military coordination to shut down terrorist militants.However, there is one big problem. The peasants in Okara are not terrorists, they are tenant sharecroppers who are trying to retain rights to the land they’ve been tilling for the past hundred years. The HRW report offers harrowing testimony of beatings, and abduction of ordinary tenant farmers.

The dispute between the military and the tenants started in 2000 when the Pakistan military decided to replace sharecropping with cash contracts. These tenants feared that they will be evicted from this highly valuable irrigated land. The tenants rejected the cash contracts which they feared was designed to evict them in lean times. The tenants questioned the military’s intentions when they discovered that the land belonged to the Punjab government and not the military. The military responded with force, it employed emergency powers, counter-terror laws to clamp down on the tenant farmers. The AMP was subjected to a violent military campaign of arbitrary arrest and torture that reached its peak in 2004 (HRW 2004). The military tried to use older anti-terror charges against the farmers but a rash of bad press about the Pakistani military and police forced their withdrawal from the villages and the AMP gained some provisional success– until now.

The AMP mobilization is a critical event in Pakistani history, where a diverse group of peasants farmers cutting across lineage, caste, religion and gender risked their lives to challenge the Pakistan military’s plans to commoditize land relation on the land they’ve been tilling for the past hundred years. The tenants showed great resilience as they lived through months of siege, loss of crops and real uncertainty about their physical well being – but persisted under the banner of “whoever sows the seed should reap the harvest.” Women took a leading role in confronting the soldiers and challenging the state narrative about AMP as criminal or terrorist organization. The AMP opened up the political space for other political protests and critiques about the Military’s economic and political interests. The Pakistani state was forced withdraw from these farms in 2004 as the land dispute simmered into a detente.

However, the AMP mobilization stands in a very precarious place at the present moment. The deterioration of the security condition and the fallout from wars in Afghanistan has created the space for grassroots protest is closing down fast with the state’s expansive use of anti-terror policies to crack down on speech and political expression in order to privatize the tenant’s farmland. The military operation in military farms, after several years of relative peace, is an ominous sign that the state has invoked the National Action Plan to suspend constitutional protections in order to fight terrorism. The controversial National Action Plan was forged through a rare consensus between elected civilian leadership and the Pakistan military to give the military extra-judicial powers to counter-terrorism and bring an end to militancy. The NAP was passed in the traumatic aftermath of attack on Army Public School where Taliban militants indiscriminately assassinated students and staff. However, as the events at the Okara Military Farms show, there is a major disjuncture between the rhetoric of counter-terrorism and the state’s actual use of these emergency powers.

The Pakistani state is playing a dirty game by using NAP and Anti-Terror legislation to clamp down to arrest peasant leaders, labor union leaders and activists like Baba Jan who was arrested for demanding fair compensation for flood affected families in Northern Pakistan. The state has been zealously applying NAP to arrest dissident activists but remains silent on religious clerics like Abdul Aziz and leaders of sectarian groups like ASWJ that openly promote violence against religious minorities and progressive social activists. Indeed, as Human Right Watch, Human Rights Council of Pakistan and prominent lawyers like Asma Jahangir point out that the counterterrorism are more commonly applied against peasant farmers, labor union leaders, and journalists than they are against known militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and their leaders, who operate openly throughout Pakistan.

Pakistanis got another reminder about the impunity by which sectarian militant groups operate the very next day after the government ordered a major crackdown on peasant farmers. Khurram Zaki, one of the most vocal critics of pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz was shot and killed on the street in an outdoor restaurant in Karachi. Zaki gained national prominence last December when he led a group of civil society activists to protest the sectarian firebrand Aziz in front of his compound in Islamabad, when the cleric publicly justified the murder of 143 students and teachers at the Army Public School. Zaki was arrested for organizing this protest, while Aziz remains free and unscathed in his compound. Zaki was shot dead by Taliban assailants, who later issued a statement that Zaki’s murder was carried out in revenge for his criticism.

The Pakistani military is selectively using extra-judicial powers to carry out its agenda of land privatizations in Okara military farms, to impose massive development projects in Baluchistan despite local concerns about displacement. However, the state has not taken a hard line against known militants or taken any measures to offer basic protections to its most vulnerable citizens and activists who continue to give their lives for an open democratic society. The Pakistani state’s use of anti-terror laws to suppress free speech, right of assembly and protest is part of a disturbing pattern in the region that is which justifies unwarranted surveillance at home and abroad. These policies spawn greater distrust from state institutions, sowing divisions and create the conditions of possibility for greater militancy fueled by exclusion and dispossessions.




Case in Point: How NY Times Perpetuates Islamophobia.

July 23, 2011

Today, was a heinous day of cold blooded attack in Oslo and its vicinity. Many innocent victims many of them young died in a senseless attack which NY Times and other media outlets compared to a war zone. Sadly, if such an attack happened in Baghdad, Karachi or Kabul then the news would have been a blur or perhaps not even fit to print or put on the frontpage. But today I woke up to alert about an apparent Jihadi attack in the heart of a European capital. The newspaper offered the name of the Jihadi organization and gave an extensive rationalization on why the attack might have taken place.

So how did they respond later when it turns out (to great relief of millions of Muslims, black and brown immigrants in Europe-America bracing themselves for another round of Xenophobic backlash) that the terrorist was indeed ‘native’, white and not Muslim. Well first goes the language of terrorism and the entire blame is individualized, its all about the person who carried out the bombing or perhaps a few Nazi nutters but they have nothing to do with European culture. Unlike Jihadists who of course represent the ‘real’ of Islam. At the end of the day we are left with the sorry rationalization that such terror acts might not have been perpetrated by Jihadis but rather inspired by them, as if there is no history of terrorist violence in the West. Alas we forget: Timothy McVeigh, Columbine and countless shootings at schools, Churches, Offices. I am not even going back to WWII here.

Its really a shame that such a biased newspaper carries so much influence and weight when it comes to framing the world to Americans.

Here is an excerpt from pg 2 of today’s (7/22/11) story:
At Least 80 Dead in Norway Shooting

American counterterrorism officials cautioned that Norway’s own homegrown extremists, with unknown grievances, could be responsible for the attacks.

Initial reports focused on the possibility of Islamic militants, in particular Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or Helpers of the Global Jihad, cited by some analysts as claiming responsibility for the attacks. American officials said the group was previously unknown and might not even exist.

Still, there was ample reason for concern that terrorists might be responsible. In 2004 and again in 2008, the No. 2 leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, who took over after the death of Osama bin Laden, threatened Norway because of its support of the American-led NATO military operation in Afghanistan.

Norway has about 550 soldiers and three medevac helicopters in northern Afghanistan, a Norwegian defense official said. The government has indicated that it will continue to support the Afghan operations as long as the alliance needs partners on the ground.

Terrorism specialists said that even if the authorities ultimately ruled out terrorism as the cause of Friday’s assaults, other kinds of groups or individuals were mimicking Al Qaeda’s signature brutality and multiple attacks.

“If it does turn out to be someone with more political motivations, it shows these groups are learning from what they see from Al Qaeda,” said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism researcher at the New America Foundation in Washington. “One lesson I take away from this is that attacks, especially in the West, are going to move to automatic weapons.”

The Coming Plantations

May 11, 2011

In the last two years the Pakistani government has announced that it will allot hundreds of thousands of acres of land to foreign countries and private corporations. Proponents of the plan argue that corporate agriculture will attract investment in the rural sector and it will introduce large-scale agricultural production that will generate greater rural employment. However, there is little evidence that this plan will offer any major benefits to the rural poor. Colonial planters, like advocates for corporate farming, saw themselves as investors and innovators of commercial agriculture. The history of plantations in South America, Caribbean and Asia tells us that this kind of intensive transnational agriculture doesn’t eradicate poverty but rather that it accelerates dependency while weakening food sovereignty among poorer nations. It is ironic that the popularly elected government is now actively planning to do way with land ownership ceilings that were put in place as part of the land reform acts under Ayub Khan and Zulfiqar Bhutto’s regime.

In the coming year we will see government ministers present this plan as a generous investment, or even a favor by our regional Muslim allies. Giving large chunks of land is going to be transferred to sovereign funds owned by Saudi Arabia and Gulf Emirates, that want to secure food availability for their population goes against the logic of sustainable development and it will do little to improve the lot of the rural poor. In fact, the Corporate Agriculture Plan will worsen the precarious food security situation in Pakistan and hurt average person who is finding it increasingly difficult to afford basic food staples. Given the history of exploitive work conditions in Saudi Arabia and Emirati states it is very likely that the new corporate farms will function like colonial plantations.

Turning back to contemporary Pakistan, there has been radical neglect of important livelihood issues in the last decade as Pakistan became embroiled in a series of crises starting with the war in Afghanistan, lawyers movement, Musharraf martial law, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the insurgency in Waziristan. The ensuing crises pushed aside all substantive discussions of economic inequality and access to livelihood opportunities. The lack of planning and regulation is all too evident in the series of food shortages that have followed surplus bumper crops. A lot more ink has been spilled to explain the proliferation of religious and sectarian violence than to understand the effects economic factors that might be feeding these movements. Missing in these analyses is a discussion of residual forms of violence that lie in extreme disparities of wealth, diminishing protections for vulnerable populations like peasant farmers, the mass movement of rural poor to urban slums and the increasingly precarious access to food that feeds anti-state sentiments. In return the state has resorted to militarized response to poor peoples struggle for subsistence. In fact the extra-judicial terrorism courts provide the government an alibi to go after and arrest peasant leaders and fisherfolk who defied the imposition of corporate farming type contract and leases.

Here I am drawing on my experience in Okara military farms where the tenant farmers have been struggling to retain their access to the land they have been tiling for almost a century. Since 2000 the tenant farmers have been defying the military’s edict to impose a new tenancy system of contract farming. The tenants have refused to sign onto a cash tenancy system because it didn’t guarantee secure longterm access to the land. In fact the cash contract system will make them more vulnerable for evictions. During the course of the struggle the tenant farmers have discovered that the military farmlands are actually owned by the Punjab Government and the military’s official lease expired long before the creation of Pakistan. The food crisis in the last two years has proven the mazarin point about the significance of secure access to land for the poor. I recall talking to Nazeer Bola, a tenant farmer, in 2004 about what gave the tenant farmers the will to defy the military in 2003: He simply answered:

We knew that as soon as we accept this contract system we will be thrown out of these lands. We can accept death but we don’t accept this contract system” (interview). Losing rights over this land meant eviction and destitution to the tenant farmers.

Nazeer gave example of the indigent poor in Karachi to illustrate what life would be like for the mazareen if they lost their rights over these lands. He argued that in contrast to the extreme poverty in the cities, even the poorest group in the village (like the laborer caste kammi’s) had a marla (a small plot) where they could grow enough food to survive, whereas being destitute in the city meant having no place to sleep and no land to grow one’s food. The tenant farmers saw the new contract system as a threat to their subsistence and food security. As we have seen in the past few years the growing shortage of food available in the markets is not due to the lack of food production but to the growing speculation and de-regulation in agriculture.

So far the government hasn’t offered much information about how the lands will be allotted, are they going to allot rakhs (government owned commons that are cultivated by peasants, are they going to displace small peasant or are they going to buy land at market rate)? However, large-scale allotment of land will certainly involve the displacement of existing population of peasants, or pastoralists who reside on the land. Recently, Madagascar struck a similar accord with Daewoo to give almost 50% of its arable land to the Korean corporate giant for 99 years. According to an article in Financial Times, Daewoo will not have to pay anything in exchange for investing and making the land optimally cultivable. A representative from Daewoo was quoted by Financial Times (Nov 19, 2008) justified the transfer: “It is totally undeveloped land which has been left untouched. And we will provide jobs for them by farming it, which is good for Madagascar”. This language is eerily similar to the current government. However, the FT also raised doubts about the benefits to Madagascar by quoting a European Diplomat in South Afrcia who stated “We suspect there will be very limited direct benefits [for Madagascar]. Extractive projects have very little spill-over to a broader industrialisation.” Like SEZ phenomenon in many developing economies large scale allotment of lands will not help improve the economic capacity and development of the country. There needs to be some serious efforts to provide greater support for smaller farmers, greater availability to arable land to rural poor and a network of cooperatives for farmers to hold distributors accountable in price gouging.

In fact the history of agricultural development in USA, Japan, Korea shows that early development of agriculture infrastructure happened with a very controlled trade and regulation of agriculture in a way that supported small farmers.


Pakistan FATA: A Tea Party Utopia

July 30, 2010

Defiantly Anti-Government. Better Yet No Government

High Rates of Gun Ownership no hunting license required

Popular Militias

Absolutely  No Taxes

Review of Friction by Anna Tsing

May 7, 2006

Anna Tsing: Friction.

In Friction, Anna Tsing re-evaluates the now conventional readings of globalization, late capitalism with an original anthropological approach. Her innovative ethnography describes the changing landscape of the Kalimantan region of Indonesia in the past 25 years to study the kind of global connections that are being forged in this remote locality. Tsing draws on her long term fieldwork engagement to show the messy encounter of multinational mining companies, finance capital, Indonesian state corruption, activists and the changing livelihoods of indigenous communities is creating different notions about the present and the future. These happenings foreground the dynamic interplay between the local and the global, universal/particular processes that Tsing calls Friction i.e. a productive site of encounter between different forces of change, histories that come together in myriad of different articulations. Her main intervention here is not to see globalization as an abstract truth but rather to see it as a macro-social activity or a process that is based on the circulation of ideas, goods, and people. The book traces these various circulations in different directions; the conjuring the hype of gold rush in Canada, USA, to the deforestation and destruction of tropical forests in Kalimantan, to the epistemology of classification and occlusion of local knowledge in history of botany to the awkward translations in the making of environmental social movement in Indonesia.
All of these things are happening on multiple scales. Here, “Global forces are congeries of local/global interaction where cultures are constantly co-produced in the constant state of interaction that Tsing calls Friction” (3). The series of dense descriptions of these changes deviate from the impact model of globality that is the penetration of capitalism and its rearrangement of local cultures in its own image. Instead, pre-existing histories, knowledge’s, conflicts reshape and refract these universal scaled processes and create a new spaces of hope/disillusion, freedom and un-freedom. However, like multi-sited ethnographies there is a shortage of a detailed engagement with a local community to get a broader sense of place and self in lieu of normative, material, cultural and symbolic change. I am also not sure if the pluralization of liberalism necessarily always proves to be subversive or not. Certainly as the civil rights movement has shown that significant cultural revolutions can take place within liberal schema of things but there is always certain enduring problems about isolation of property, class differences and other ‘otherized’ population that remain outside the ambit of rights. I will think about this point more and give more in future posts.