Pakistan Police attack peasants to grab land
by Leslie Feinberg On January 22, some 3500 police and constabulary laid siege to the village of Charasada in Hashtnagar, Pakistan, close to the Afghan border. The police came loaded with guns, tear-gas shells, armoured vehicles, military jeeps and tractors to destroy the peasants' precious crops. The peasants were "armed" only with organisation and resolve. When police tried to raze their crops, the peasants fought back with their fists and then burned all three tractors. Police fired on the unarmed field workers, reportedly resulting in dozens of injuries. As word of the intense conflict spread, students in the region left their classrooms to join the fray. The peasants, with help from workers and students, surrounded the armored police vans and smashed windows. The superintendent of police, two deputy superintendents and several officers were injured. Eyewitnesses report that it was a peasant woman who dealt the superintendent his blows. The peasant women attacked the convoy of police and fought "like a true revolutionary army", writes Sved Azeem, Punjab president of the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (CMKP). "They burnt the remaining tractors and again the police had to retreat while licking their wounds." There is a long background to this struggle. Peasants in Pakistan, backed by communist leadership, won concrete gains during the 1970s. After battling the despotic feudal lords and their armed agents, those who had tilled the land for centuries won some of it back from those who claimed title to it. In Hashtnagar the landlords have failed to oust them. "Almost 300 people have lost their lives in 30 years of conflict", explains Azeem of the CMKP, "but the peasants are not ready to give up the lands that provide food and shelter for their families." Why have the police attacked now? The CMKP says the landlords have been emboldened by the Pentagon's "war against terrorism" to launch a new drive to reclaim land from the peasant movement in Hashtnagar and in other areas of Pakistan. "Now the next enemy of US imperialism in the region is the forces that have refused to accept the new Afghan setup and also know how to fight US imperialism on a scientific footing", Azeem writes. "After putting up a show of 'cracking down on terrorists' to please his masters in the United States, the current President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, wants to use the anti-terrorism slogan to clean up all opposition against him." Azeem adds that after September 11, his party "had declared its apprehensions that President Musharraf would use the war-on-terrorism propaganda, created and supplied by US imperialism all over the world, as a weapon against true anti-imperialist and working-class forces in Pakistan. "Soon enough, a new poison will be injected into Pakistan's economy in the form of 'financial assistance' and 'aid', not only to reward the Pakistani establishment for assisting the US-led world coalition but primarily to preserve the decaying, corrupt, exploitative, yet compliant status quo." After suffering defeats, police charged seven individuals under the "Anti- Terrorism Act", including Afzal Khamosh, General Secretary of the CMKP; Nisar Khan, provincial President of the CMKP; and other peasant leaders. In demanding that the charges be withdrawn the CMKP said, "We are not terrorists but revolutionaries." When one peasant leader was arrested, his neighbours attacked a police convoy and captured several police officers. Others marched on the police station where the peasant leader was imprisoned and threatened to burn it to the ground if he was not released. The strength of the peasants' determination was so great that the police exchanged the peasant leader for their captured officers. Since then, the police have surrounded the entire region and are indiscriminately rounding up peasants. CMKP leaders call on progressive and revolutionary people around the world to support the courageous land struggle of the Pakistani peasants. "A new era of revolutionary change is gradually gaining, in not only Pakistan but throughout the world", Azeem said. "Yet imperialism has shown a firm grip on our region. The area of Charsada is very close to the border with Afghanistan, where US imperialism has vital interests. To preserve and advance the peasant movement in Hashtnagar is of paramount importance for the anti-imperialist forces of Pakistan and the world. The peasants of Hashtnagar are facing a do-or-die situation. They have nothing to lose, but their chains.
* * *Abridged. Acknowledgement to Workers World Service