PAKISTAN: Use of anti-terror laws against peasants' movement

The basis of the movement pits the tenants in opposition to the administration of Okara Military Farms which demands share-cropping rights. Tenants have argued that the land does not belong to the military but to the provincial government. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, chairman of the political party in power in the Punjab, had earlier promised to extend land ownership rights to the tenants.

The Pakistani state's black brush is being used to paint any
dissenting voices as terrorists under the National Action Plan. It is
now been directed towards the ongoing peasants' movement in the
heart of Punjab province. Enabling conditions in the security
framework has allowed the state to create an atmosphere of repression
and impunity in the Okara Military Farms. It forms a narrative that
demonises the peasants and allows for unbridled violence under the
guise of national security.

On July 17, 2016, in the dead of the night, police vans snaked their
way into Chak 4-L. At approximately 2am, some 80 policemen made a
forced entry into the house of Mehr Abdul Jabbar. He is the younger
brother of incarcerated peasant leader Mehr Abdul Sattar. They broke
down the front door, indiscriminately opening fire, shattering
cupboards and other household equipment. In 15 minutes they departed
but left behind a cloud of uncertainty and fear that spread among the
villagers jolted awake by the gunfire.

Within half an hour, several private television channels broke the
'news' that the Okara police had rescued six hostages from
Jabbar's house. They found a good deal of Indian currency and
ammunition, including hand grenades.

A charade was necessary to feed the narrative: Sattar was an
anti-state agent working for India, that he had a cache of illegal
weapons at home and that he was harbouring criminals in his house, who
had shot at the police. Police were lauded as heroes for successfully
freeing 'hostages' from the peasant leader's house.

Sattar was arrested on April 15, 2016, accused of being a foreign
agent working for the Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). The
allegation was tied to Sattar's visit to Nepal in 2007. He attended
a meeting of the South Asian Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE)
as secretary of the Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee. To provide
weight to this accusation, the police staged a raid at his house on
July 17, claiming that they found INR 85,000 there. This apparently is
all the proof required to brand someone a spy and an anti-state agent.
Due process is lost.

Hundreds of villagers, on tenterhooks after hearing the gunfire,
gathered around the house in the aftermath of the raid. Jabbar's
wife, who was at home with her children when the policemen broke in,
explained to them that while they had not harmed her or her children,
they had taken away clothes, cell phones and had ransacked the house.
One of the policemen took pictures and made videos of the house.

This raid comes barely a week after the same police claimed to have
killed six AlQaeda 'terrorists' on July 12 at the house of the
younger brother of another peasant movement leader in Kulyana Estate.
The case was further skewed by the fact that the police had murdered
the terrorism suspects at another location – the dera (a private
place for meeting guests) of Major (retd) Faqeer Hussain. Villagers in
the area vouch for the time the 'encounter' took place (2am) and
explained that it was not carried out at Malik Naeem Jhakkar's
house. Malik Saleem Jhakkar, a peasant movement leader, has been in
jail for the last two years. In his absence the Police moved into
Naeem Jakhar's house seizing his tractor and animals.

A week after this incident, on July 19, the Shuhda Foundation of the
Lal Mosque mullahs claimed that two of those allegedly killed at
Jhakkar's house had been in police custody for over a year. The
statement, coming from unlikely quarters, only strengthened what the
peasants of Kulyana Estate have all this time been trying to explain
– they had nothing to do with terrorists.

The Anjman Mozareen Punjab (AMP) has long opposed brutal Islamist
militancy, calling for civilian state intervention to protect the
lives of citizens. Events unfolding this month, speak of a blatant
attempt by the state to box in leaders of the AMP with the same
extremist elements the peasants have opposed. Attempts have been made
in support of the powers that are trying to build a case for the
persecution of peasants and the undermining of the AMP's struggle
for land ownership rights.

This encounter, if staged, is revealing the dangerous tactics police
and intelligence officials are employing, to implicate and criminalise
peaceful political activists.

Furthermore, they speak volumes of the extent of the misuse of the
National Action Plan and anti-terrorism laws. The police appear to
have adopted a no-holds-barred approach to prove that the arrested,
five main leaders of Anjman Mozareen Punjab – Mehar Abdul Sattar,
Nadeem Asharf, Malik Salim Jakhar, Hafiz Jabir and Shabir Sajid –
have been funded by foreign elements including foreign intelligence

The peasants' struggle is not a recent occurrence nor has the
brutality emerged out of a vacuum. People arrested for leading the
movement, have been demanding their rights to own the land they have
cultivated for more than 16 years. Peasants of the Okara Military
Farms have lived in and tilled the land there since 1910. State
accounts have been contrived around the movement. They want to
criminalise their demand of the right to own the 68,000 acres of land
they have been attached to for generations.

Since 2001, the police have registered 348 cases against the tenants
of Okara. Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act is added to create extra
pressure and to tighten the noose around the movement. Most of these
cases were registered in the aftermath of protests by tenants against
state injustice. Where women are mostly spared in times of war, the
women peasants in Okara have been dealt the same hard blows as the
men. The reason-because women peasants had organised and mobilised in
a manner unprecedented in any peasant movement in the Punjab.

More importantly, never before had any segment of the have-nots, the
oppressed and the financially and politically weak, dared to challenge
the most powerful institution in the country. Peasant farmers of Okara
have stood up to the administration of the Military Farms and the
military officers there.

Hundreds of criminal charges later, the accusations directed against
the peasants have been repudiated. As many as 11 tenants in their
struggle for land ownership rights have lost their lives to state
brutality. Not a single casualty has been reported by those wielding
the guns. There has never been an attack on the oppressors by those
oppressed – yet the brutality continues unabated.

Security agencies' blundering attempts to connect peasants to
terrorists in their custody speaks volumes of their desperation to see
the movement meet an early end. The staged encounter on July 12, is
one of the tactics the state has employed to turn public sympathy away
from the peasants. It is an attempt to snatch away their moral and
ethical claims to lands the state elite would like to own.

Decimating the peasants' movement would be the first step.

The aftermath of the police encounters and the staged raids has
created an environment of apprehension among the tenants. With their
leaders in prison, the tenants now fear that the wrath of the security
apparatus will be turned on them.

The basis of the movement pits the tenants in opposition to the
administration of Okara Military Farms which demands share-cropping
rights. Tenants have argued that the land does not belong to the
military but to the provincial government. Prime Minister Nawaz
Sharif, chairman of the political party in power in the Punjab, had
earlier promised to extend land ownership rights to the tenants.

It was after the tragic mass murder of children by religious
extremists at an army-run school in Peshawar that the security
apparatus was given a free hand to rein in terrorists and extremists.
Two years after the incident, the National Action Plan has now been
directed towards the most vulnerable segments of the society to
silence those who dared raise their voices for their rights to be

Despite warnings and remonstrations from human rights quarters,
including the National Commission for Human Rights and the Senate
Committee on Human Rights, the violence does not appear to have
abated. It has worsened with the peasants of Okara in the middle of
this brutal onslaught.