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Opportunities for Global Solidarity at the Irish Social Forum
irish social forum |
Thursday October 16, 2003 16:41 by Ian McDonald - ISF Outreach Working Group ian at theplateau dot com 086 605 9122
Dispossession, Democracy, Solidarity and Community in Ireland and Pakistan
No country in the developed world should be better able understand the life and death livelihood struggle that rages for a million tenant farmers in the south of Pakistan more effortlessly than Ireland. However, Ireland in fact appears to be complicit in directly undermining their struggle, through its support of the corporate agenda being aggressively pushed by the European Commission in ongoing negotiations on the liberalisation of trade in services. At this weekend’s Irish Social Forum (Oct 17-19), the possibility of responding to our governments’ complicity with a peoples’ solidarity will be explored by a speaker representing the struggles of these communities.
Asha Amirali, who works with the movement described in this article will be speaking it various session this saturday at the Irish Social Forum - all welcome! Details: www.irishsocialforum.org
The Dracula Strategy :
Dispossession, Democracy, Solidarity and Community in Ireland and Pakistan.
ISF Outreach Working Group
“You must not allow yourselves to be dispossessed as your fathers were… you must help yourselves, and the public opinion of the world will stand by, and support you in your struggle to defend your homesteads.”
- Charles Stewart Parnell, to a meeting to tenant farmers in Westport 1879 
Tennant farmers in Pakistan and Ireland
In October 2000, a thousand tenant farmers in central Pakistan staged a sit down protest on the lawn of a local official in protest of the military government’s intention to “modernise” the terms of their tenancy . No longer were they to be sharecroppers, required to hand over half of their produce to their para-statal landlords, but guaranteed – by colonial era law and generations of tenancy - the right to remain on the land. Rather they were to become contractors on newly commodified, and soon to be privatised land. With this commodification, they understood, would come dispossession and eviction.
The police arrived, resorting quickly to violence against the peaceful demonstrators. But watching were the women and children of these communities, who responded by directing rocks at stunned police – stunned by the unprecedentedly bold nature of the confrontation for those so seemingly powerless.
As so, under the slogan of Malkiyat ya Maut – “Ownership or Death” – erupted the struggle of the communities of a million tenant farmers in Central Pakistan, against a agenda of eviction, privatisation, and dispossession – the Anujman Muzarain Punjab, literally “Tennant’s Association of the Punjab”.
Just over a century before, tenant farmers in Ireland, also facing dispossession, launched their own anjuman mazarain - the Land League, which was to become arguably the most successful grassroots social movement in history, providing inspiration to peasants in land struggles throughout the twentieth century, and into the twenty-first.
Like their Irish predecessors, the tenancy of communities in the Unjuman Mazarain is a legacy of the British Empire. A hundred years ago, the ancestors of the Anjuman Mazarain were forcibly migrated to a then forested region, to clear and till the land, all in order to feed the British military. These families, Christian and Muslim in roughly equal proportion, endured displacement and isolation, aches and pains, diseases and death, but were in return promised ownership of their land. Such promises would be broken, first by the British, and then by successive post-colonial governments, including the current dictatorship of General Musharaf who’s promises of land reform now ring hollow of anything but bitter irony.
A larger agenda
But to understand this plight of these communities as merely a land grab of a local elite, and irrelevant to us in Ireland, would be a mistake.
For one thing, pressure that the international community might have put on the Musharaf government to restore democracy and curb human rights abuses, has dwindled, another casualty of September 11. The state responds to the Anjuman Mazarain’s growing strength with greater and greater coercion – siege, arrest, abduction, torture and murder – all under the auspices of ‘anti-terrorist’ legislation. And the world’s governments, in deference to Pakistan’s role in the “war on terror”, remain silent.
“Before September 11 Musharaf’s largest problem was that he was a dictator.”, observed one commentator, “Now it is his biggest asset”, 
But behind the dispossession of these communities lies a European complicity more overt than silence. While in Pakistan a local elite drive the para-statal companies and institutions who control the land to “realise their assets” ahead of planned privatisation, in ongoing trade negotiations, the EU is explicitly demanding the right for European corporations to go in to Pakistan, and to purchase land.
"It is of paramount importance”, writes of Comhlámh Conall O Caoimh in a paper highly critical of this and other demands made on developing countries by the EU through the European Commission, “that the landless workers seeking land reform not face additional opposition from foreign investors in addition to the local elites preventing their access to earn a living from the land." 
“It really has many impoverishing effects.” said Aasim Sajjad in a recent interview. As coordinator of the People’s Rights Movement, a federation of grassroots social movements in Pakistan, Aasim has been involved in the front of Anjuman Mazarain’s struggle, ”The possibility that there would be large concentrated areas of land given up to foreign companies is sort of an indicator of the sort of competition that small holders or landless of subsistence farmers would have to put up with, and which they essentially wouldn’t be able to put up with… Its really a very convenient alliance in many ways between lets say undemocratic institutions like the military and foreign interests, and the Pakistani people as such get the short end of the stick.” 
But if the casual dispossession of a million people suggests challenges for Pakistani democracy, European complicity in this dispossession might reasonably suggest challenges of our own.
What transparency we have regarding the European Commission’s startling demand that, effectively, European corporations be allowed a share the spoils the Pakistan’s agenda of privatisation and dispossession comes not from the openness and transparency in the way the EU conducts itself, but solely from leaked documents.
The demand comes in the course of ongoing trade GATS negotiations - the General Agreement on Trade in Services, an agreement within the WTO with the explicit agenda of progressive deregulation, commodification, and ultimately privatisation of virtually all trade in services, public or otherwise. And Europe has somehow seized upon these negotiations as a chance to eliminate Pakistan’s restrictions on foreign ownership of land, directly undermining the struggle of the Anjuman Muzariain, and indirectly contributing the dispossession and human rights abuses of these communities.
“If you look at this strictly …”, noted Susan George of ATTAC France describing the scope of GATS in a seminar at last year’s European Social Forum, “ we are really talking about all human activities, including health, education, culture, the environment “ . Only birth and death registries, the police, and the military lie clearly beyond the reach of GATS, she adds.
Although GATS negotiations represent a drives towards commodification and privatisation of everything from waste management and transport to health and education, at a time of vociferous public debate on the future of all these things in Ireland, scarcely a peep of debate has been heard on GATS in the Dail.
Additionally, GATS negotiations are conducted by the European Commission within a “tradition of confidentiality”. - which means that neither the public, nor our elected representatives are permitted to follow the negotiations.
That the Europoen Comission can make such demands on Pakistan in such secrecy can be traced to the Treaty of Nice which handed “sole competency” in most areas of GATS negotiations over the European Commission. Hence the unelected bureaucrats of the Commission conduct GATS negotiations in private, working with the secretive Article 133 Committee, reporting only to the closed Council of Ministers, for which it is illegal to find out even how your own minister voted on a particular issues. While health care, education and culture, are still negotiated in a somewhat more open and democratic way, recent drafts of the proposed European Constitution would make even the liberalisation of these areas the exclusive domain of the Commission and the 133 Committee.
Meanwhile as the European Parliament sits impotent and in the dark regarding GATS negotiations, advising the European Commission is the European Services Forum, described by Susan George as “85 heads of the biggest services providers in Europe - transnational companies. And they are the ones who are writing the text, and who are enforcing these regulations and who are demanding secrecy. “
“There is a lot at stake.” she warns, “If citizens do not rise up and counter this we are going to have a government of, by and for transnational.”
Global Elites meet global cooperation and solidarity
Back in Pakistan, sincere in their cry of “Ownership of Death”, realising their power when united, and refusing to be divide along the all too convenient fault line of Christian against Muslim, a million tenants might well hold their ground against a local elite. But what hope can their be for them against so powerful a global agenda?
To expose the global dimensions of their dispossession, and to develop a global dimension of solidarity, is critical, says Aasim, and central to the work of the People’s Rights Movement:
“What we try and do in much of our work is to link those very basic livelihood struggles to larger issues of power and resource control and decision making structures, and try to bring into the picture how those livelihood struggles are impacted by decisions and actions of people and institutions that they don’t see and that they don’t necessarily know much about. People in the [global] North and groups in the North have access to information to a much greater extent and have facilities and infrastructure to really actively engage or resist the international institutions directly. Now how do we link those thing?”
To next week’s Irish Social Forum, people from a great diversity backgrounds will bring the issues of community groups, bus workers, students, farmers, bin tax campaigners, global justice activists and many, many more. In 28 workshops and 5 plenaries, as Irish participants speak of the issues affecting their constituency in Ireland, beside them will be a number of international speakers, including Asha Amirali of People’s Rights Movement, Pakistan. In the space provided by the social forum, she will represent the struggles of the Anujuman Mazarain Punjab and other grass roots social movements, exploring new possibilities of solidarity and cooperation in the context of the struggles in Ireland and Pakistan, and beyond.
What must happen, Aasim continues, is “for people in the north to realise that there are landless tenants in Pakistan involved in monumental, really, resistance and to actively propagate these struggles, and for people in the [global] South to learn and take advantage from the fact that friends and colleagues and comrades in the north do have access and do have a little bit more infrastructure and to learn from them and to strengthen their struggles. So it’s really a mutually reinforcing connection that needs to develop and I really see no reason why it shouldn’t develop.”
“This is a case, if there ever was one, for the Dracula strategy,” concluded Susan George in her GATS seminar, ”we have to hold this thing up to the light, and when a vampire is held up to the light, it shrivels, and it dies.”
The ISF is part of a growing space for global civil society to meet and share our concerns, our analysis, and our ideas. In this space we have the opportunity to hold up to the light our common interests, and everything that unites us as people. That from this might grow a movement that will counter the complicities of out elites with a new cooperation, a new solidarity, and a new community between peoples, is the great hope of the Social Forum.
The first Irish Social Forum takes place from Oct17 –19 at the New students center UCD, Dublin. A speaker from the People’s Right’s Movement of Pakistan will we representing the struggles of the Anjuman Mazarain in various workshops and plenaries on Saturday the 18th. All are welcome. (www.irishsocialforum.org).
 Quoted in “Ireland, A History”, Robert Kee 2003, pg 120.
 Described in “The Clash of Fundamentalisms”, Tariq Ali, 2002.
 Christopher de Bellaigue “The perils of Pakistan”, New York Review of books, 15, November 2001, quoted in .
 Comhlamh briefing paper by Conall O Coaimh "Submission on WTO Services Negotiations": http://www.comhlamh.org/index.php?article_id=56§ion_id=12
 Invterview with Aasim of the People’s Rights Movement, Pakistan, conducted by in October 2002.
 Susan George of ATTAC France, speaking at a workshop on GATS at the European Social Forum, Florence, November 2002.