14 June | 2024

Lahore, Pakistan

A ‘nation’ where ‘oligarchy’ maintains dominance over entire structure

Recent ‘land grab’ by exploitative system in Punjab districts is a stunning illustration of prevailing bureaucratic elite takeover. Local people are outraged over land acquisition for corporate ‘agribusiness farming’ and worry about negative effects this decision will have on their social, economic, and environmental well-being

Have you ever pictured a society in which the state doesn’t exist to serve needs of the people but instead is dominated by a bureaucratic elite oligarchy? In many postcolonial cultures, political parties and politicians serve as simple pawns in a power struggle, and colonialism’s legacy has produced a complex web of power relationships that determines how the state interacts with its citizens. Rosita Armitage – in her book Big Capital in Unequal World: The Micro-politics of Wealth in Pakistan – examines the rise of the one percent elite this South Asian nation and how they have concentrated wealth and exploited classes.

The study reveals a sinister nexus between bureaucrats, political leaders, and business elites who protect their ‘common’ interests. The bureaucracy, business, and political groups all have their own strongholds, and individuals climb the ladder of advancement within their respective groups. Together, they form an elite that directs Pakistan’s path, creates laws that benefit its members and is impervious to calamities or troubles. The recent ‘land grab’ by the exploitative system in the Punjab districts of Bhakkar, Khushab, and Sahiwal is a stunning illustration of this prevailing bureaucratic elite takeover.

The local people are outraged over the recent land acquisition for corporate ‘agribusiness farming’ and worry about the negative effects this decision will have on their social, economic, and environmental well-being. Worries regarding effects on the local population, including risks to their livelihoods, displacement, biodiversity, and environmental degradation, have been expressed as a result of the exploitative system acquiring 45267 acres of the land in these areas. For Pakistanis, it is nothing new because this oligarchy has maintained its dominance over the entire country’s structure and has maintained its authority from the beginning of Pakistan’s existence till the present.

In Pakistan, the ‘colonial system’ is still in place because of this oligarchy. East India Company first entered India for trade purposes in 1608; within a few decades, they started plundering the region with the support of the local bourgeoisie. Pakistan’s elite oligarchy is a prime example of these colonial roots. Here the capitalist colonial system is firmly anchored in the concept of exploitation. We must first examine Pakistan’s ‘complicated’ political system to comprehend the underlying causes of this land grab there. According to Hamza Alvi, a foreign imperialist bourgeoisie rather than a rising ‘national’ bourgeoisie establishes the state in such countries.

‘Bhakkar is a desert region, and as food production in deserts is quite limited, majority of this district’s residents are involved in small-scale farming, agriculture, and shepherding’

The ‘national’ bourgeoisie’s direct control over the colonial state ends with independence, but its influence is still very much present. In post-colonial society, there is the metropolitan bourgeoisie, which is now joined by various neo-colonialist bourgeoisie, and together they form a significant part of its class structure. Because of the strength and influence of the neo-colonial bourgeoisie, the class base of the post-colonial state is complex and not fully submissive to the indigenous bourgeoisie. In post-colonial societies, the state has a fair amount of autonomy and mediates between the competing interests of the three propertied classes—the metropolitan bourgeoisie, the indigenous bourgeoisie, and the landed classes—while also acting on their behalf to uphold the social order in which those interests are rooted.

An explanation of the state’s multi-class relationship in post-colonial societies is necessary, as is an analysis of its ramifications. We are aware that Pakistan’s elite capture is safeguarded by the intricate web of relationships between classes, governments, and the society. The elite’s recent acquisition of 45267 acres of land, walled housing authorities, and a sizable amount of offshore businesses are continuations of this hegemonic capture of this class. The system owned 230,376,5 acres in Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab alone from 1965 to 2003, but how did this land affect Pakistani society’s economy? Pakistan is an agricultural nation, but farmers there are unable to purchase fertilizer, pesticides, or diesel, and a large portion of their land is already in danger of going extinct.

If we look at the geography of Bhakkar and Khusab, the land that is given to the exploitative system then we can understand the severity of the issue. Bhakkar is in a desert region, and as food production in deserts is quite limited, the majority of this district’s residents are involved in small-scale farming, agriculture, and shepherding. They pasture their sheep, goats, and camels in forest areas for shepherding. There are hundreds upon thousands of animals that are directly associated with these government woods. What effects would the Punjab government’s land allocation to the system have on the social, economic, and political circumstances of the residents of the Thal Desert in Bhakkar?

The recent land assignment will have a significant impact on the area’s social, economic, individual, collective, and biodiversity. If we consider how the land grab will affect society, it will probably have a negative effect. The system acquiring the land will have a substantial influence on their capacity to make a living because the populations rely primarily on agriculture for their survival. Many of the individuals are already struggling to make ends meet, and losing their land could make things far worse for them. Their social circle will be disrupted if they don’t have land for their animals, and this social disruption will either lead them or impact their individual lives.

Most of the families – residing close to these forests – are poor families and have many animals as a result of this forest land, when this land will come under the control of someone else and their entry will be barred, what they will do is have no other option and no other land where they pasture their animals. The psychological impacts of the land control will impact their family system as a result of this social unrest and economic issues. How would the government respond to these queries if we accept the government’s claim that this property will be a source of food production?

In Pakistan, there are no electricity subsidies, investment in agri-research is nearly nonexistent, and farmers are already experiencing economic decline owing to urea scarcity, diesel, the latest technology, and pesticides. What about Pakistan’s expanding population? Pakistan’s resource drain has left 4.5 million acres desolate. The government is disturbing the economy of farmers on the one hand because there is no interest of the government in agriculture, but on the other hand, allotting already-used land to someone else in the Thal desert to disturb their remaining industry is also a terrible act against the environment, the local population, and the social structure of the desert.

Once penned by eminent Saraiki poet Makhmoor Qalandri, ‘Brown insects are abusing our original land and culture, but no one is reading to talk about these brown insects.’ If we look at the economic pattern of Bhakkar and Khushab, majority is having a lot of animals in their homes and on the government farms. Only a few hundred animals will be available when the government will use forest land for ‘agricultural’ purposes and natives do not have a place for their animals. Thousands of animals will be vanished due to lack of place and grazing in the area and their home natives cannot provide basic needs to their animals.

‘The land grabbing in Bhakkar, Khushab, and Sahiwal will probably have a negative social, economic, and environmental impact, harming cultural legacy of indigenous tribes and damaging lives of nearby communities’

When this forest land will be used for agribusiness and will be leveled for agribusiness, there will be a threat to Thal’s biodiversity. Tribes living in this forest territory have been actively existing for millennia and believe it to be their home. Once provided the landscape, Thal desert’s ancient trees will eventually vanish from the area because of selected agricultural reforms. The Thal region believes in the process of evolution, and this evolution is consistent with the behavior of the region. However, abrupt change as a result of ‘agricultural reforms’ will affect social behavior. The local people are worried about the recently-arrived people because they will disturb the region’s law and order.

If we consider the camel population in Thal, thousands of these desert-specific animals are directly and indirectly part of this forest land. The government’s farms in the forest, such as Rakh Mahni Farms, have fewer camels than the average individual. After the forest is destroyed, the purity of the race in camels will be disturbed due to the disruption of social change within the society and the social chain of animals. We have observed in the Thal desert that this type of the government project does not improve the lives of native people because only a few groups of people profit from it, such as the indigenous bourgeoisie and those with waning interests.

To sum up, there are numerous reasons to be concerned about the exploitative system of the land grabbing in Bhakkar, Khushab, and Sahiwal. This action will probably have a negative social, economic, and environmental impact, harming the cultural legacy of indigenous tribes and damaging the lives of nearby communities. The government must take action in order to safeguard rights of local populations and make sure that their interests are not neglected. The global community must speak out against this flagrant violation of environmental and human rights and put pressure on Islamabad to act in the best public interests.