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Okara farm ‘resolution’

February 16, 2017

ALL disputes are in search of amicable solutions — which is another term for a compromise that ends with smiles all round. And a compromise has been reached between the Okara tenants and the military. This, of course, is the official version. The National Commission on Human Rights says it has been so told by the district administration of Okara. The state-run commission had taken suo motu notice of the issue and the NCHR head says the affair may be resolved by next month. According to a report in our paper on Tuesday, commissioner Chaudhry Mohammad Shafique said: “Three members, including myself, visited Okara and … we submitted a report to the Senate and shared it with the federal and provincial governments. We also said that the issue could be addressed amicably.” This indicates a development that must have surprised many. He spoke of a “broader agreement” and of an acceptable formula in which the tenants will pay the military a share from their crops instead of cash. In return, they will not be evicted from the area. Meanwhile, a committee drawing its members from the military, district administration and the tenants has apparently been set up to sort out any other disputes.

So, has the matter finally been settled after a long, nerve-wracking battle that pitted the military against the Anjuman-i-Mazareen? There is definitely a longing for an end to the stand-off, but does the news conveyed by the NCHR on the good authority of the obviously well-meaning Okara administration merit celebrations at this point? Not quite. The dispute involves so many elements that the NHCR and others would do well to be more circumspect before declaring the matter resolved. There are so many riddles to deal with en route to the solution. It must be ensured that what is being presented is not an oversimplified, rushed job to fix matters, and that all genuine concerns have been addressed and all groups taken on board. There has to be some confirmation by those in the forefront of the tenants’ struggle, something which is difficult to be secured, especially with many who were leading this fight — including Mehr Sattar and others who are detained and under trial — removed from the scene. It is good if progress towards finding an answer has been made, but the NHRC must take a hard look at these factors before it decides that durable peace has been achieved.

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2017