Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Pakistan is pushing ahead with a plan to sell or lease agriculture land to foreign investors even as opposition grows at home. A Saudi delegation is due in the country at the end of Ramadan this month for further talks on a plan to lease an area of land more than twice the size of Hong Kong, a Pakistani official told Reuters this month.
The Saudis are looking to boost their food security and Pakistan will presumably will reap monetary benefits in return. But what about Pakistan’s own food security in the longer term, All Things Pakistan asked in a recent post.
A stampede for food in Karachi on Monday, although not related, underscored Pakistan’s own vulnerabilities and the plight of some of the nation’s desperately poor. Eighteen women and children died iin the stampede that erupted when a local businessman was handing out wheat flour among hundreds of poor women gathered in a narrow lane.
Those were the destitute, but giving away rich land to foreigners to cultivate and take the produce to their homeland will ultimately hit the ordinary Pakistani, the small farmer and those who indirectly depend on farming for their livelihood, critics are warning.
Any student of history will tell you that a recurring feature of 20th century revolutions and civil wars was conflict over land ownership, driven by the resentment of the rural poor against the concentration of agricultural wealth in the hands of the elite. (Cuba and Vietnam, where Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh picked up support by championing farm reform, are good places to start.)
So Pakistan’s plans to sell farmland to rich Gulf investors deserve serious attention, even if land ownership does not have the same ability to grab headlines as its nuclear weapons.
A report in the Financial Times that Saudi Arabia has agreed in principle to defer payments for crude oil sales to Pakistan worth $5.9 billion has raised speculation about what it is looking for in return.
The Daily Times suggests that the Saudis are buying political stability in Pakistan, which may include throwing a lifeline to President Pervez Musharraf. “Apparently, the immediate impact will be on PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif’s politics of confrontation with Musharraf, which will have to be diluted significantly in line with ground realities,” it says. ”The Saudis, like the Americans, want a stable transition to civilian rule and no confrontation between the politicians and the military, including Musharraf.”
But the idea appears to be gaining momentum. Saudi Arabia is holding talks with officials in Pakistan, among other countries, to set up projects to grow wheat and other grains to protect itself from crises in world food supplies. Dubai-based private equity firm Abraaj Capital has already said it is looking at investing in agriculture in Pakistan and other Gulf countries are also showing an interest.