Land allotments to military

During his visit to Bahawalpur, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif expressed grave concern over the large chunk of land occupied by the military in Cholistan. Mr Sharif said that only the people of Cholistan have the right to have that land and there should be no occupation by outsiders (read the army). He also criticised the occupation of lands by influential people without any allotment.

Allotment of land to the high-ups in the military is not a new phenomenon. Under various schemes from the 1960s onwards, many senior and junior army officers were allotted agricultural lands in Sindh, Cholistan and some other districts of Punjab. Former President General Pervez Musharraf allotted a large chunk of land to himself and other Generals in Cholistan. Since the area is known for its brackish water, there was a plan to build two canals from the proposed Kalabagh Dam to irrigate Cholistan’s dry lands. But when Musharraf tried to build a consensus on the building of the Kalabagh Dam, he did not succeed because of the resolutions passed unanimously by three provincial assemblies, i.e. Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan, rejecting the project. Musharraf’s assurances of constitutional guarantees for a fair division of water share failed to impress the small provinces. In his bid to woo the three provinces, Musharraf had said that he was willing to give up the idea of building the canals for Cholistan, which were intended to irrigate thousands of acres of land belonging to armed forces’ officers. He faced resentment and opposition from these allottees at this announcement.

The armed forces are known to enjoy a privileged position as far as perks from state largesse are concerned. Particularly barrage land allotments to armed forces personnel, under rules and laws framed in British colonial times that have continued to the present day, have evoked great resentment in the past from local people harbouring the legitimate expectancy that they, and not armed forces officers, should be the beneficiaries of such development. The civilian and military authorities should realise that the time has come to revisit such rules and laws bequeathed to us by our colonial masters on the grounds of equity. Lands allotted to the armed forces must be surrendered to the poor peasants in Cholistan and other areas in Pakistan so as to reform the system as a first step. The next step is to implement land reforms. The Pakistani nation is forced to have ignorant ‘leaders’ who are mostly feudal landlords-turned-politicians. Through land reforms, the landlords’ far-reaching power over the local political and economic scene can be reduced and a necessary shift of power be made to benefit the poor, as befits a modern independent state. Altering the feudal-peasant relationship by liberating the peasantry from the clutches of the landlord class would also serve as one more brick in the foundations of forging democratisation of society.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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