A Multiple Party Conference in Lahore decided to campaign against servicing to the masses and organize three rallies in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. The first rally will be organized on 2nd September in Islamabad. Senator Hasil Bezinjo vowed to take the issue to the Senate and present a resolution to demand that government must refuse to pay the foreign debt. Labour Relief Campaign in association with Oxfam Pakistan called a multi party conference on Sunday 29th August in Lahore chaired by Aman Kariaper and Ammar Ali Jan. The conference was called to discuss the issue of repayments of the debts in the post-flood scenario. The conference took place at Hotel Ambassador Lahore. Twenty-eight political parties, trade unions, social movements and professional associations were invited to present their views (listed at end).
The conference began with Khaliq Shah, focal person of the Campaign for the Abolition of Third World Debt, who argued that there are strong legal, ethical and political arguments for immediate suspension of debt servicing and refusal of further loans. He also presented historical precedents from Latina America and Africa to support his argument. Debt, in his view, is not merely a financial but also a political issue. He pointed out that debt incurred by dictators is considered under international law to be illegitimate debt and its burden should not be borne by future generations. According to some estimates, he claimed, Pakistan’s debt has already been paid back at least eight times over. Hence, debt is an integral part of the system of re-colonization prevalent in the Third World.
Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, academic, writer and activist of the Workers Party Pakistan, pointed out that the debt re-scheduling touted by the previous dictator as his big success in 2008 are going to fall due in 2005 and this risked taking our debt as a percentage of GDP to more than 70%, thus approaching the 80% limit recognized by the World Bank as being unsustainable. He remarked that his group’s research indicated that up to 80% of Pakistan’s debt was incurred during dictatorial regimes. Elaborating on the political aspects of the campaign, Akhtar suggested questioning the rationale of the heavy military budget, which, even in this time of acute crisis, is not being reviewed.
In the open discussion that followed, the debt issue and its political ramifications were debated all the delegates present. Jamil Omar, president of the Awami Jamhoori Forum, suggested setting up a monitoring mechanism staffed and run by the network of activist organized represented in the conference, to ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of the funds freed up from debt servicing. He was of the view that such an effort was an ethical imperative subsequent to the cancelation of the debt.
Senator Hasil Bizenjo of the National Party fully supported the idea of debt cancelation as a means of challenging the prevalent political order and offered to present a motion in the Senate to discuss the matter.
Advocate Abid Hassan Minto, president of the Workers Party Pakistan, presented a detailed analysis of the current socio-economic situation and suggested the formation of a committee composed of like-minded political and social organizations that would build a political movement based on the demands emerging from the conference. Instead of accepting new loan offers, Pakistan must stand for the total and unconditional repudiation of its foreign debt. Time and again, countries facing tragedies, like Pakistan’s catastrophic flooding, are forced by International Financial Institutions and donor countries to mortgage their future as they borrow for relief and recovery efforts. Thus, the tragedy is magnified for years to come.
Speakers said that the recent floods represent the worst disaster in Pakistan’s history. The country has been devastated from the Northern Areas to its Southern tip. The State, stripped of its capacity to meet peoples’ needs by neoliberalism and militarism alike, has been found wanting-both in its longstanding failure to maintain existing infrastructure, and in its response to the calamity.
Evidence is also emerging that links these floods to rising atmospheric temperatures, and thus to climate change. Three-quarters of all carbon emissions have been produced by only 20% of the world’s population, and it is the poor in the developing world who are bearing the brunt of the resulting environmental degradation. The rich countries ought to offer urgent reparations to Pakistan as compensation for suffering the costs of others’ industrialization. [Soft Break]The conference will also look into the negative impact of climate change in Pakistan.
Those who spoke at the conference include Raja Zulqernain advocate general secretary Supreme Court Bar Association, Khurshid Ahmad general secretary Pakistan Workers Confederation, Nasir Mansoor deputy secretary National Trade Union Federation, Nazar Mengal of Pakistan Trade Unions Defense Campaign, Karamat Ali director PILER, Lal Khan editor Asian Marxist View, Ihsan Wain advocate general secretary Awami National Party, Former Senator Tariq Choudry of Tehreek Insaaf, Niasr Shah general secretary Labour Party Pakistan, M A Bhutta senior vice president Saraiki National Party, Ilyas Khan secretary Peoples Lawyers Forum, Manzoor Gilani president Istiqlal Party, Syeda Deep of IPSS, I A Rehman general secretary Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Farooq Tariq coordinator Labour Relief Campaign, and Asad rehman of Sungi Development Foundation.
The following points were included in the conference resolution:
· Immediate suspension of repayment of external debt
· Countries and donor institutions wishing to help Pakistan may do so in the forms of grants, not loans. No more new loans.
· Military budget needs to be reviewed.
· Setting up of an audit commission to conduct a public enquiry into Pakistan’s external debt. The commission should have constitutional cover.
· Climate change reparations to be paid to Pakistan by industrialized countries
· Federal flood relief commission to be set up to oversee all relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the wake of the floods.
· To contact SAARC secretariat for assistance and acceptance of Indian support without any conditions
It was decided in the conference to take the campaign to the masses and organize rallies in Lahore, Islamabad & Karachi. The first rally will be in Islamabad on Sept. 2, 2010.
Labour Relief Campaign formed in 2005 after the devastating earthquake in Pakistan is comprised of 8 organizations; they include National Trade Union Federation, Women Workers Help Line, CADTM Pakistan, Labour Party Pakistan, Progressive Youth Front, Pakistan For Palestine, Labour Education Foundation and Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee. LRC has been busy in organizing and raising funds for the flood victims and also launching a national campaign against payments of debts.
Following organization has been invited to the event.
1. National Party
2. Workers Party Pakistan
3. Istiqlal Party
4. Awami National Party
5. Saraiki National Party
6. Labour Party Pakistan
7. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf
8. National Trade Union Federation
9. Pakistan Trade Union Defense Campaign
10. Pakistan Workers Confederation
11. Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights
12. Supreme Court Bar Association
13. Pakistan Professors and Lecturers Association
14. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
15. Khawateen Mahaz-e-Amal
16. Awami Jamhori Forum
17. South Asia Partnership (SAP)
18. Sangi Development Foundation
19. Anjuman Mozaarein-e-Punjab
20. Labour Qaumi Movement
21. People Lawyers Forum
22. Asian Marxist Review
23. Pakistan Institute of Labour & Research
24. Pakistan Peace Coalition
25. Institute of Peace and Secular Studies
26. Jamhoori Publications
28. Women Workers Helpline