Land Tenure Conflict in the Punjab, Pakistan

Prepared for: Ronald Fisher, PhD, American University

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Prepared by:
Alfonso Abente
Dejana Perrone
Ashley Souther
Viktor Zikas

April 2, 2020

SIS 609.001
Spring 2003
Conflict Analysis and Resolution


This conflict is currently taking place in the Punjab Province of Pakistan. Punjab lies in the eastern portion of the country bordering the Punjab region of India. It is comprised of 10 districts covering 205,344 square km of Pakistan's 803,905 square km. The capital city of Punjab is Lahore. With a population of 5.5 million, Lahore is the second largest city in Pakistan. Pakistan claimed its independence from Britain on August 14, 1947.
Analysis of the Parties
Central Parties
There are two parties to this conflict. They are 1) the former tenant farmers represented under the association Anjuman Muzareen Punjab (AMP, Punjab Tenant Association) 2) the government of Punjab represented by the Punjab Seed Corporation (PSC), the Okara Military Farms, the Renala Military Farms, and the livestock department. The AMP is a part of the People's Rights Movement, a confederation of diverse social movements working for the rights of dispossessed and disadvantaged Pakistanis (Amirali, 2002). The PSC and the military farms are agencies of the government. There are no significant groupings or factions within either party.
Peripheral Parties
The Kissan Board, a private group advocating for the welfare of farmers, Caritas Multan, an NGO, the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), representing legal rights of the farmers, and the Labor Party Pakistan (LPP) have entered in support of the farmers or in condemnation of government violence (IRIN, 2002). GoPunjab, the Revenue Department, and the Court of Law are involved on the government side (Jacob, 2003).

Identities of the Parties
The Farmers
The AMP was formed in October 2001 and is made up of Muslim and Christian farmers. The AMP has units in all seven villages of the Punjab Seed Corporation. The population of these villages is about 22,000, or 2,500 households. The AMP claims to represent as many as 1 million people. About 70% are Muslim and about 30% are Christians (Jacob, 2003). Christians comprise about 1-2% of the total population in Pakistan while Muslims comprise about 97% (, March 20, 2003).
The AMP farmers are landless farmers who have worked under tenancy status as established by British colonial rule under the "Abadkari Scheme" in the early 1900s. The Abadkari Scheme undertook the relocation of Muslim and Christian families from East Punjab to clear and till newly irrigated land in the Punjab (Jacob, P., 2003; Amirali, A., 2002). Agricultural workers currently comprise about 47% of the labor force in Pakistan (, March 20, 2021). Literacy among farmers, especially the Christians, is the lowest in the country where about 35-43% of the population is literate. Thirty-five percent of the population in Pakistan lives below the poverty line (, March 20, 2021). Most of the 1 million farmers that belong to AMP live below the poverty line (, February 20, 2021).
The Government
The provincial government of Punjab owns the land. Various government agencies such as the PSC, the military, and the livestock department manage the land. The government of Pakistan is a military government, and the military comprises half a million people (Moreau, 2002).

Relationship of the Parties to Each Other
Oppression, exploitation, misunderstanding, suspicion, mistrust, and coercion (intimidation, threats and violence) have marked the relationship of the parties (Jacob, 2003; IRIN, 2002; Moreau, 2002).
Capabilities, Resources, and Limitations
The Farmers
The AMP is limited in all areas of capabilities and resources. Their strongest asset is that they have been able to organize themselves and maintain the organization for the duration of this conflict. Otherwise, they are heavily reliant on outside assistance for representation and humanitarian aid. The farmers have adopted a mode of nonviolent resistance, as they are not equipped with weapons more powerful than “thappa” sticks (see explanation in ‘expression of conflict’ section).
Although minority peoples in Pakistan have representation in Parliament, it is not significant and they do not have input at the provincial level to elect representatives. They are accruing debt to family members and moneylenders, children have not started school and no marriages have taken place this year (Jacob, 2003).
The Military
The military commands 45% of the national budget. Although limited on cash, it compensates its members with free housing, education, healthcare, lifetime employment including post-service retirement, and land. The government, therefore the military, has owned the farmland since independence. The military has at its disposal guns, trucks, access to public services (fuel, water, electricity), as well as food, income and goods from other services it owns and foreign trade. The military owns and runs two of Pakistan's largest industrial and business conglomerates, the Fauji Foundation and the Army Welfare Trust. These companies extend to banking, real estate, airlines, insurance, and construction (Moreau, 2002).
Background and Historical Context of the Conflict
The 1902 construction of the Lower Bari Doab canal brought irrigation to a previously barren land composed of rain forests and sand dunes. The colonial government brought in farming families to till and cultivate the land under the "Abadkari Scheme." The land was owned by the government and continued to be after independence in 1947. The farmers had been granted tenant status under the Tenancy Act of 1887, which defined the tenant-landlord relationship, and officially maintained that status until June 7, 2020 (Jacob, 2003; Amirali, 2002; Nawas, 2001).
In 1954, the post-independence government of Punjab created the PSC, one of the current government agencies that manages the farms in the Punjab. At the time, the objective of the government was to produce and promote good quality wheat and cotton seeds. Part of the legislation determined that farmers would keep 60% of the crops and the government would receive payment in kind for the use of the land equaling 40% of the crops. The agreement also stipulated that the farmers would receive subsidies of seed, fertilizer, and water.
Challenges to the tenancy agreement began in 1975 with Writ Petition No. 1124/1975. For 18 years this petition was appealed, dismissed, and resubmitted until February 28, 2021 when it was determined by the government of Punjab that "the produce of agricultural land belonging to the government shall be shared in the ratio of 50:50" (Jacob, 2003).
The legislation now in contention was first presented in June 2000. It proposed to change the status of peasant farmers from tenant to lessee. Under the proposed legislation farmers would be granted initial 3-5 year leases (Amirali, 2002), after which they would be required to "Thekka", or bid for land under cultivation (Jacob, 2003). The highest bidder would receive the land.
This received an unfavorable and intense response from the tenant farmers. They feared being evicted and demanded land ownership. Sentiments of resistance were shared and spread, and farmers organized themselves into the AMP in October 2001. Despite objection from the tenant farmers, the Punjab government passed the legislation changing the status from tenancy to lessee on June 7, 2002. As the government continued to demonstrate its unwillingness to negotiate and its willingness to use violent and lethal force, fear and suspicion grew, and objectives solidified culminating in the coining of the slogan, "Ownership or Death" (Jacob, 2003).
Analysis of Sources of the Conflict
The sources of the Punjab land dispute can be viewed from two perspectives. The AMP asserts that the national government has arbitrarily altered the tenant system over the past few decades without consultation; government started those changes by changing the share formula from 60% (retained by farmers) - 40% (given to government) to 50%-50% respectively. It is also important to mention that farmers are not allowed to sell their crop in the open market. Moreover, the June 2002 legislation changed the status of the farmers to lessee and required farmers to pay $50 rent, permitting the government to legally remove the farmers if they fail to pay the rent. In response, the AMP wants to purchase the land or revert back to the tenant system.
However, the government looks at the conflict through a different lens. The government has compared their land reforms to those made by other governments and international organizations, making it look like a common practice worldwide. More importantly, the government views farmers as trying to ‘milk the system.’ The government cannot comprehend why farmers are so discontent, after the government has generously provided three safety nets for the farmers: (1) the new lease system permitting the next of kin to remain on the land, (2) permitting the purchase of houses on governmental property, and (3) the government has purchased land from nearly 15,000 farmers at market prices (Moreau & Hussaun, 2002).
However, two different perspectives given by the parties provide only a partial explanation about the source of the conflict, therefore, by utilizing a prism of John Burton’s ‘eight individual needs’ (only select needs will be discussed) a more complete picture will be presented. According to Burton, individual needs are those things without which individuals cannot function in society. The first need is responsiveness from the central authority. The failure of the government to respond to the needs of the farmers plants the seeds of conflict. For example, protests from the farmers at the introduction of the legislation in June 2000 fell upon deaf ears in the Punjab government. The non-responsiveness of the government provides a glimpse into how the escalation of the conflict occurred. The fear of the government was that, should they capitulate to the farmers demands, it may have had a ripple effect throughout the Pakistani society, thus encouraging other groups to revolt.
The second basic need applicable to this case is the need for security. One aspect of security is financial security. A large portion of the farmers are substantially in debt due primarily to the recent increase of farming taxes. If the farmers were able to gain ownership of the land, this would provide collateral to initiate the difficult path back to solvency.
The government has used coercive strategies, described in the next section, against the farmers. The third need is for distributive justice (Burton’s 5th). The majority of the farmers have been tending ‘their’ land for over hundred years. These farmers ardently believe the land is rightful theirs and only seek justice-ownership of the lands.
The fourth need is the need for meaning (Burton’s 6th). These farmers have been labeled ‘landless’ farmers, which has had an immense psychological impact on the farmers. Land is a determinant of identity in an agrarian society. Without ownership of land, farmers lose a sense of meaning, self-worth, and recognition in society.
The fifth is the need for control (Burton’s 8th) . The new lease arrangement empowers the government to swiftly oust the farmers from the land, thus removing control over their own lives. Kriesberg's paradigm provides insight into how the loss of control affects the process of escalation. The government has, in the past, offered land as a ‘perk’ to military officials and other loyal constituents. The farmers perceived the new lease system as an avenue for the government to quickly remove them from the most profitable lands so the government can hand the land to its loyal constituencies.
Issues in the Punjab Land Tenure Dispute
This conflict really is a confluence of different issues – issues that overlap, extenuate, and exacerbate each other to form the conflict dynamic. This becomes apparent when examining the positions of the respective parties; they both have different issues that they feel are important and that drive the conflict. One such aspect is the legal aspect of the conflict. To hear the government’s side of the conflict is to hear that it is about its legal precedent and the government's right to change the farmers' status. Their view of the movement is that the Tenants Association should take their grievance to the courts rather than the streets. The official position is that economic reform of the outdated and inefficient state-run farm enterprise system (ala World Bank regulations) is the reason for the 2002 legislation. Also, they claim a precedent for the state reclamation of land after the expiration of old British 99-year leases. “Just like Hong Kong going back to China, these old British leases are now running out. Though it is tough on the tenants, it is right and proper for these lands to go to the government,” said Feroz Khan, Pakistani Brigadier General (Khan, March 13th).
The social aspect of the conflict, however, is stressed by the farmers. They view themselves as the oppressed agrarian class in a semi-feudal society ruled by the military elite. In this sense, the conflict has been repeated time again throughout history when unfair land policies drive the farmers to social fermentation and mobilization. Such a conflict led to the 1887 Land Tenure Act which protected the occupancy rights of small cultivators from absentee landowners. Whether it is the British or the Pakistani military, the farmers feel that they are the victims of unfair land policies and usury at the hands of the authorities. The only solution they see is for Pakistan to follow the road to modernization that leads through progressive land reform for the agrarian class.
The government, however, insists that there is more to the Tenant Association movement than grassroots unrest. They maintain that there are political dimensions to the conflict and that dissident PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) cabals are “making hay” with the farmers' issues. “The authorities believe that some political groups and vested interests are preventing the farmers from reaching an understanding with the government” (IRIN news). Although the government dismisses the movement as being politically motivated and insincere, the AMP leadership has consistently challenged the government on human rights and land reform policies since the 1970s. They claim the heritage of the South Asians who fought for independence from British Imperialism and also the activists opposed to the Pakistan Army’s misconduct in East Pakistan (Bangladesh).
The most obvious issue of contention in this conflict is the dispute over resources. Both parties agree that the conflict is essentially over land and the resources it produces, although they have different versions of the issue. The farmers believe that the 2002 legislation is just a ruse to force the farmers off the productive land, take away their right to occupancy, and force them once again to cultivate untamed jungle as they were made to do by the British 100 years ago. The government, however, maintains that they pursue resources through modernization of economic policy and that the farmers are being given a fair chance to continue farming.
The different issues involved in this conflict attest to the complexity of the situation. Not one, but all of them must be appreciated to fully understand the conflict dynamic and the relation of the parties involved.
Expression of the conflict
The AMP and the government seem to be determined to achieve their goals. The government is mostly using a coercive strategy while the AMP is using nonviolent means. The government’s use of force seeks to achieve the following: convert the farmers from tenants to lessees, claim most of the produce cultivated by the farmers, and stay in control of the land. However, farmers are not that easily coerced into giving up their lands and are ready to fight for their tenantship rights through nonviolent protests and other means. Both parties are following different agendas and different strategies, therefore, a closer analysis of the strategies used by the parties will better explain the situation.
The Punjab Seed Corporation, along with the government, uses numerous tactics to achieve its goals: intimidation, last chance offers, legal obstacles to farmers rights, and promises that are never met. For the government, it is much easier to use these means because they have military and other resources. Moreover, the government keeps pushing ahead with it tactics, which cause numerous human rights violations against their citizens.
In order to illustrate the severity of the situation in Punjab, it is important to see how the government uses intimidation and other tactics against the farmers. According to Kriesberg (1998), coercion is used “… as [an] effort to intimidate and defer or to force the opponent to comply with the demands made by coercer” (p.101). For example, there were instances when the leaders and activists of the AMP have been taken to court and falsely accused of crimes and misconducts. Villages, in which resistance to the government’s policies was high, were attacked by the military and houses of the leaders were raided. The government has also turned off the water and electricity supply to villages. Moreover, those farmers that did not pay their share of the crop were labeled as “defaulters”, and as a result they have no legal rights in the court of law. After all the damage and suffering caused, the government would present the farmers with the “last chance offer,” hoping that the farmers would agree out of despair. It is apparent that the government combines its strategies with coercive and persuasive tactics and most of the time, these tactics have been successful; many of the farmers signed the new lessee agreements.
However, there was one tactic that the government did not succeed at – turning Muslims and Christians against each other. In the region where religious segregation has been the primary catalyst for conflicts, Muslim and Christian farmers in Punjab have united for a common cause, forgetting their prejudices. What seems to be even more surprising is that Muslims have been supportive of Christian leadership.
Interestingly, the AMP uses a nonviolent approach to the conflict, although their slogan is “ownership or death.” For example, farmers decided to refuse give the government its share of the crop and when farmers realized that the government would not listen, they started burning the crop. Furthermore, some of the farmers started to build their houses on the land on which they have no legal rights. However, one of the most fascinating tactics used by the farmers includes the Thappa Force of Women. In Punjab, women seem to be more active than men, especially in terms of resisting police actions; therefore they act as the first line of defence. The women’s force is called Thappa because thappa – a wooden stick that is used to wash cloths – is their only weapon. Along with Thappa Force, “there is a coordinated response mechanism that has been employed through which a hooter is sounded if an action is anticipated. When this hooter sounds, virtually every man, woman, and child emerge from their homes to defend themselves through non-violent means” (Special SAT Report, 2002).
Although farmers have requested help from international organizations, not much help has been received. Most of the NGO’s and Pakistani politicians are afraid to be involved because it could cause them unwanted problems in the future. The situation is becoming too dangerous for the farmers; it is evident that government has the military might to suppress the movement. Because of government's tactics, farmers are suffering gross human rights violations. Immediate action needs to be taken to resolve the situation.
Based on the research on the background and nature of this conflict, any specific recommendations cannot be made. It is the opinion of the authors of this report, that in order to choose or implement any of the options that will be suggested in this paper, further observation and analysis needs to be done on the ground in Punjab. Furthermore, the role of culture in Punjab and its function in conflict resolution in the community should be explored; it is important to know and explore the cultural differences between the farmers and the military. The AU Conflict Analysis team proposes the following as options to be explored, although we advocate only the Consultation approach at this time. Nevertheless, as more facts and information become available and as the dynamics of the conflict change, any of the four options for may be appropriate. Therefore, the four options are:
1- Mediations
2- Negotiations
3- Do Nothing
4- Consultation

While mediation and negotiation may be suitable interventions in the future, we believe that the parties are not yet ready. At this time, it is unlikely that the government could be persuaded to participate in a negotiation or mediation. Further, the power asymmetry between the farmers and the military government posses an obstacle to a fair and productive negotiation or mediation.
The option of doing nothing, although not preferred, was also considered. This is an egregious land tenure dispute with real civil rights issues in contention. There is evidence of a disregard for human rights and needs. Therefore, active human rights monitoring should be pursued by external, neutral and impartial party. The government continues to offer the new lessee agreement as a way out of the conflict. Any intervention must be weighted against the possible cost. In the case of South Asia, past and ongoing conflicts show that the human cost of conflict can be high. The birth of Pakistan was marked by communal violence in which millions were killed. The Pakistani army has been guilty of massive human rights violations in Bangladesh. In light of the Musharaaf government's tenuous hold on legitimate power, it remains wary of social fermentation. The AU team recognized the potential for danger to the farmers inherent in any intervention.
At this stage of the conflict, it seems that third party consultation is the best step towards a amicable and sustainable relationship, facilitating the process toward resolution of the conflict. However, before any steps are taken towards consultation, the question of culture needs to be addressed, and the following questions considered:
• Who would act as the third party?
• Who would represent each side as participants in the consultation process?
• What will be the structure and design of the entire consultation process?

The third party consultants must be trusted by both sides. They must be perceived by the each party as non-threatening. The participation of grassroots, religious, and community business leaders would give the consultation legitimacy. The presence and expertise of national and international NGOs would provide the coordination and resources to make it possible, but should maintain a low profile. In addition, “soft-liner” representatives would be good candidates to attend the meetings. “Soft-liners” would have resources and influence on the decision making processes of the parties, and yet flexible to participate in the process.
Once the first two questions are addressed, the third party should facilitate and help participants to agree on the structure and design of the consultation process. The following is a proposal of a broad framework for implementation. This framework is divided into three phases: short, medium, and long term. Each phase deals with the reality of the situation and tries to move the parties incrementally towards a more trusting relationship.
Short Term
The team proposes that both parties commit themselves to a series of small steps or measures toward mutual de-escalation, followed by a strategy of Confidence Building Measures. The role of the third party at this stage would encourage the parties to formulate and implement such a strategy. Currently, there is a need for both parties to move away from coercive, escalatory strategies and toward non-coercive, de-escalatory actions.
Mid Term
At this stage, confidence building measures, in conjunction with participation in consultation, should be pursued with the goal of achieving an environment that is conducive to collaboration and problem solving. Also at this time, the participants should explore the conflict from their own and the other side’s point of view. The exploration of relational issues will preface the development of a framework for the resolution of this conflict.
Long Term
Based on our research, we derived three possible scenarios which would potentially satisfy the goals of the intervention. One would be that the Tenant Association farmers are allowed to buy the land at a specially financed rate. This would be inclusive of the government's demands for reform of the tenant system and free market reforms. As the Government plans to auction off the land, farmers would be given special consideration in light of their history on the land. Concerned NGOs with experience in micro-finance operations around the world could help to organize and ensure the financial arrangement and minimize government risk.
Other options include the farmers signing a lessee agreement but only if it was an extremely long-term lease, not unlike the old British 99-year leases that were close to ownership. Although this solution relies on semantics, the use of the other party's language (lease agreement) can be very effective psychologically. The last foreseeable option would be for the parties to go back to some variation of the old tenant agreement. However this seems the most unlikely of possible options and could result in a continued cycle of violence.
The AU Conflict Analysis team was asked to provide a report to the SO identifying possible options for intervention in the Punjab Land Tenure Dispute. This report presents several possible options for consideration by the SO. Further analysis and diagnosis of the conflict, the parties, and potential interventions are required.
Works Cited
Amirali, A. (2002). Rebellion in Pakistan. February 27, 2003,

Jacob, P. Farmer's Movement in Khanewal (Peerowal) Punjab. March 6, 2003, email.

Nawaz, K. (2001). Land Tenure. February 25, 2003,

Moreau, R. & Hussain, Z. (2002). An army of land grabbers. February 20, 2003,

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(2002). IRIN. February 26, 2003,

(2002). Pakistan: Brutal state repression against landless peasants in Punjab. February 20,



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