Pakistan was reported to have expelled the head of an American NGO providing cover to Blackwater operations on Pakistani soil. Now this deported American, Crag Davis, is back in Pakistan. And he is not alone. Close to 2, 000 Hummers have arrived at a Pakistani port that are not destined for Afghanistan. The world’s biggest US embassy is under construction in Islamabad. As if this is not enough, the US embassy has hired a huge number of houses across the Pakistani capital to serve as unofficial local franchises. Welcome to the silent American occupation of Pakistan, with the blessing of the elected Pakistani politicians and a silent Pakistani military.
Before the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was given orders to the contrary, press reports of August 6 show that its spokesman, Mr. Basit, on August 5, at the Karachi Press Club, had already given out the fact of the 1, 000 US Marines coming to Pakistan for the protection of the new, imperial US embassy in islamabad .Now we are seeing houses being barricaded for US personnel all across the capital and we know of the 300 plus ’military trainers’ already ensconced in Tarbela. In addition we have the notorious Blackwater (now hiding under a new label, Xe Worldwide) and the rather obvious CIA front-company, Creative Associates International, Inc. (CAII), operating not only in Peshawar but now in Islamabad also it transpires – and a recent reflection of this was the sealing off of the road in Super Market [a stone throw away from the houses of senior Pakistani officials] last week right in front of a school!
Whatever the US embassy gives out or the terrified Pakistani leadership echoes, the reality is that there is a questionable and increasingly threatening US armed presence in Pakistan and this may be augmented soon by an ISAF/NATO presence. Incidentally, to add to the suspicions of the US presence, reports are coming in of around 3, 000 Hummer vehicles, fully loaded, awaiting transportation from Port Qasim. Will some of these go to the Pentagon’s assassination squads, who may take up residence in some of the barricaded Islamabad houses and with whom the present US commander in Afghanistan was directly associated? Ordinary officials at Pakistani airports have also been muttering their concerns over chartered flights flying in Americans whose entry is not recorded – even the flight crews are not checked for visas and so there is now no record-keeping of exactly how many Americans are coming into or going out of Pakistan. Incidentally the CAII’s Craig Davis who was deported has now returned to Peshawar! And let us not be fooled by the cry that numbers reflect friendship since we know what numbers meant to Soviet satellites.
Now another threat, in the making for some time, is becoming more overt. Pakistan’s precious and fertile agricultural land is up for grabs to the highest foreign bidder. Pakistan is not alone in being targeted thus by rich countries with little or no food resources. The UN has already condemned this purchase of agricultural land as a form of neo-colonialism. Over the past five years in a hardly-noticed wave of investment, rich agricultural land and forests in poor countries are being snapped up by buyers from cash-rich countries. Leading this grab of poor country resources are the rapidly industrializing states and the oil-rich countries who have, between 2006-2009, either directly through governments or through sovereign wealth funds and companies, already grabbed or are in the process of grabbing between 37 to 49 million acres of developing countries’ farmland (a July 2009 report by Robert Schubert of Food and Water Watch).
Wealthy countries like Japan and South Korea are acquiring farmlands abroad for food security while oil-rich countries are seeking cheap water and cultivated crops to be shipped home. The land buyers from the oil-rich arid countries are seeking water as much as land because by buying or leasing land with sufficient water, they can divert their own domestic irrigation water to municipal water supplies. The foreign land purchases destabilize food security since land given to foreign investors cannot be used to produce food for local communities – the foreign investors’ intent being to take the food back to their own food-scarce countries. Many of the land purchases comprise tens of thousands of acres which are then turned into single-crop farms – and these dwarf the small-scale farms common in the developing world, where nearly nine out of ten farms (85 per cent) are less than five acres. Such land grabs have now been recognised as harming the local communities by dislodging smallholder farmers, aggravating rural poverty and food insecurity. With Gulf countries importing 60 per cent of their food on average, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are leading the investments into Asia and Africa to secure supplies of cereals, meat and vegetables. The rise in demand for food imports for the GCC comes at a time when exportable agricultural surplus worldwide has declined. How does all this impact Pakistan? Pakistan has rich agricultural land and adequate water although the latter’s distribution has been subject to political machinations. There has also been a seemingly deliberate effort by successive ruling elites to undermine the country’s agricultural potential and nowhere is this more brazenly evident than at present with power outages preventing crucial water supply through tubewells; and many rich lands being converted into housing colonies! Then we have had artificially created sugar and wheat shortages – ’artificial’ because for the last few years our wheat and sugarcane crops have been bountiful. As for the wonderful local fruit, that is also being diverted to feed external populations through exports that are not only depriving the locals of their land’s bounty but also raising local prices so only the rich elite can consume what is left. Now it has come out that we are selling land to the Gulf states, thereby undermining our local agriculture further. Abraaj Capital and other UAE entities have acquired 800, 000 acres of farmland in Pakistan (we have learnt no lessons from the sale of the KESC and the PTCL). Qatar Livestock is investing $1 billion in corporate farms in Pakistan. But all this produce will be taken out, so the argument that this foreign investment will bring in new technologies into our agricultural sector does not hold. In any case, one does not have to sell one’s land to foreign forces to acquire new technology which is available in the open market and the government can help local farmers acquire it. Not surprisingly, the Gulf countries are pleased with Pakistan’s rulers bending over backwards to accommodate their needs at the expense of the ordinary Pakistani – for none of the food produced on these lands will be available cheaply for Pakistanis; it will go to feed the Gulf populations. Gulf countries are happy because their imported food bill will cost 20-25 per cent less, positively impacting on their present high inflation rate. We may import this food from them for a price, just as our government has now decided to import sugar from the UAE. Of course the UAE itself imports sugar so the absurdity should be abundantly clear to all, including our profiteers!
In the visibly servile mindset of our leaders, instead of offering incentives on a similar scale to local farmers, Islamabad is offering legal and tax concessions, with legislative cover, to foreign investors in the form of specialized agricultural and livestock ’free zones’ and may also introduce legislation to exempt such investors from government-imposed tax bans. The most worrisome aspect of such wheeling-dealing is the government’s decision to develop a new security force of 100, 000 men spread across the four provinces to ensure stability of the Arab investments. This will cost the Pakistani state around $2 billion in terms of training and salaries and the real fear is that this force will be used to forcibly eject local small farmers from their lands. Concerns have been further heightened because no labour laws will be applicable to corporate agricultural companies and there will be no sales tax or customs duties on import of agricultural machinery by these investors. Nor will their dividends be taxed and 100 per cent remittances of capital and profits will be permitted. So where is there even an iota of advantage for the ordinary Pakistani as opposed to the rulers?
With the US increasingly occupying Pakistan with their covert and overt armed presence, and the Gulf states taking over our rich agricultural lands our rulers are voluntarily making us a colony again – as we were under the British who used our men to fight their wars and our cheap labor to ship the finished produce back to Britain!
Have we come full circle after 62 years of our creation?
Author: Dr.Shireen Mazari