Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
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.
Waqar Ahmed Khan, the Federal Minister of Investment, said last month Pakistan was offering one million acres of farmland for lease or sale to countries seeking to develop food supplies, and was holding talks with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and other Arab states. He said all land up for sale or lease was currently unused and promised to hire a security force of 100,000 men, funded by foreign aid, to protect their investments.
His comments prompted a column in U.S. website The National Interest, which argued that the farmland sales would serve as a recruitment tool for Islamist militants who have already picked up support by championing the cause of Pakistan’s rural poor against the feudal elite which dominates the country.
Defence analysts in South Asia have been saying for so long that India and Pakistan might solve their problems over Kashmir only to end up at war over water that I had almost become inured to the issue. That was until I read the following comment on an earlier blog about Gulf investors buying up farmland in Pakistan to offset food shortages at home:
“Tough challenges await the investors in this sector due to serious water and energy shortages that the country suffers from at the moment,” it reads. “For effective investment in the agriculture sector, the government must clear these impediments first.”