Peasants Conference demands land rights

On 17 April 2008, the international day of peasants, a massive peasant conference in Okara gave two months to the government of Pakistan Peoples Party to fulfill the promises they made while in opposition. Held at Village 15/4L Military Farms, over 5000 participated in the conference organized by Anjaman Mozareen Punjab (AMP). Peasants came from all over the districts while representatives of different peasant and political organization came from all over Pakistan .

This was the first show of strength by the AMP after the formation of the new government. The peasant’s leaders reminded the PPP government of promises of Late Benazir Bhutto, who declared the PPP will give ownership rights to the tenets working at Military Farms. They also reminded of 8 pages declaration by Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) for supporting the rights of the peasants to the land that they cultivating for over 100 years.

Both promises were made by the two former prime ministers during the thick of the militant movement by AMP in 2002/2003 against the military efforts to take over this land from the peasants. The AMP resisted and seven peasants were killed, hundreds injured while over 100 false cases were registered against the leaders of the movement. In retaliation, the AMP declared that they have paid enough and will pay no more. They refused to pay the 50 percent share of the crops; they were paying for over 100 years to Military Farms administration. Till today, the rebellious peasants are not paying successfully and have taken over the land  under their control.

The peasants came with red flags flying over their tractors and trolleys and waving the red flags in the processions, they were non-stop for over two hours. Village after village came out to participate in this historic conference. The slogans were very militant, “We are hungry because the Army generals have looted everything, Ownership or death, Down with military dictatorship and long live peasants workers unity.

Farooq Tariq secretary Pakistan Peasant Rabita Committee and spokesperson Labour Party Pakistan spoke about the courageous movement of the peasants and declared that give us ownership right within two months, or we will have a long march to Islamabad .  He said that if we can fight the military dictatorship than we can also do the same with civilian governments if they do not fulfill the promises. Farooq Tariq, the main speaker at the conference, told the history of the peasant international day and said the history is littered with the bloods of peasants fighting for land rights.

Farooq Tariq demanded an immediate withdrawal of all the false cases against the peasant leaders registered during the last eight years. He said unfortunately false cases are still registered while the civilian government is in power.

Mehr Abdul Sattar, general secretary AMP reminded the new government about their promises of land rights and asked to fulfill it. He said we have given sacrifices and many of us have lost lives. However, it will not in vain.  He said that the local administration should stop taking orders from the military generals and start a new round of talks with us about how to proceed further. He made it absolute clear that no one in Pakistan can take this land back from us and we will fight until the end. He said that we will organize the international day of peasants every year in Okara.

Asif Khan Chairman Liberal Forum Pakistan spoke about the need of a new agenda for the peasant and agriculture. He said we fully support the demands of the peasants for land ownership and demanded an end of feudalism in Pakistan . “go for a land reforms and give the land to the tillers, of Pakistan has to grow” was his message.

Asim Sajad Akhtar, convener Peoples Rights Movement (PRM) said that peasants have all the rights of ownership of the land. “The AMP was the first organization to start the fight against the military dictatorship, now every one is against the military dictatorship. Peasants demands restoration of judges and an end of military dictatorship” he said.

Nadeen Asharf vice president of AMP told the conference that a three member federal cabinet committee is formed two day earlier to solve this issue. We welcome the formation of the committee and expect that the committee decided in our favor of land rights. Asif Zardari co chairperson of PPP has asked all the relevant documents that we have submitted to them through a PPP member of parliament. We will march to Islamabad if our demands are not met, he said.

The four hours conference ended with a great enthusiasm. It was broad caste live by different private television channels and dozens of journalist were present at the conference. A team of senior journalist traveled from Lahore to Okara, a distance of two hour, to cover the conference, showed the interest of the media in this conference. Radio FM 103 had a live broad cast reports of the conference.

Report by: Tariq Mehmood

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