fishing boats of Sindh, exploited and plundered
Lands, Army Grabs Fishing Business of Coastal Sindh
M A Siddiqui
October 31: After rummaging through, and occupying the fertile
lands of Punjab, the Pakistan
Army is now imperiously conquering the coastal areas of Sindh,
depriving even the poor fishermen of their daily catch of fish,
despite the din of noise and protest in the Sindhi Press and some
sections of the mainstream Pakistani media, the treatment being
given to the squealing and screaming locals is nothing short of
a humiliating gesture using the middle finger.
pattern is exactly the same as used in Punjab where thousands
of hectares of the most productive land was grabbed, in the name
of protecting the frontiers from the enemy, declared commercial
and sold at market rates, bringing millions upon millions for
the higher and middle ranking officers.
Rangers in Sindh were allowed to involve in fishing business by
late General Zia only on 7 lakes and Sindh waters known as Zero
Point at Badin. The Sindh government under Ali Mohammad Maher,
a puppet Chief Minister who was then booted out because of reports
that he was incompetent and gay, signed an agreement with the
Rangers to take over possession of 29 lakes and Zero Point.
clause of the agreement that Rangers would vacate these areas
after a certain time was ignored. Rangers are now involved in
fishing, in water tanker business, illegal checking of traffic
and making money from petty offenders and have grabbed possession
of most of the hostels and big buildings in Karachi and other
cities of Sindh. It is purely an illegal occupation.
interior of Sindh the force being used is the Thar Rangers, the
specialized units of the Pakistan Army deployed in the interior.
“The impoverished fishermen of Badin and Thatta are trapped
in a no-win situation. The rangers are meanwhile raking in the
bucks, for doing nothing whatsoever,” said an early report
in the Monthly Herald of Karachi. The report was largely ignored
but its content raised chilling questions. The Army has just added
a new line of business to its Military Incorporated: Seafood
In one reported case of brutality, fisherman Mitthan Mallah was
“caught and arrested” carrying just two kilograms
of the over 80 kg fish he had caught in the day. The 80 kilos
of saltwater fish had already been snatched away from him by contractors
appointed by Rangers at rates abysmally lower than the market.
his way home, Mitthan had to pass through one of the 11 checkpoints
set up by the Rangers in the Badin coastal area. When the secret
2 kg cache of fish was discovered amongst his belongings, a rangers
official smashed his face with a rifle butt, leaving a permanent
a fisherman but no one in my house has eaten seafood for six months,”
Mitthan, a poor man who has no choice but to accept his sorry
fate, told The Herald. The marauding men with the guns
in uniform, obviously don’t care.
was almost 20 years ago in 1982 when the Thar Rangers had asked
the Sindh government for exclusive fishing rights over a few outlets
of the right bank outfall drain (RBOD). The catch from Badin’s
coastal areas, they argued, would help ensure the welfare of the
Rangers personnel posted in the area.
During the Zia dictatorship, in 1980, Rangers were sent to guard
the borders of Badin. In 1982, they wrote to the Department of
Fisheries for lease of fish ponds in the area to generate some
revenue. However, they did not pay the leasing amount after obtaining
the leases from the provincial government.
Once they got to know the business, The Rangers began controlling
the fishing market by forcibly stopping the fisherman from selling
their catch in the open market. The fishermen were forced to sell
to the contractors appointed by the Rangers.
initial contract extended by the Zia regime to the Rangers had
erupted into their full control of the coastal fishing areas,
as well as inland areas during present times.
This led to a revolt by the fishing
community with civil groups and political parties supporting the
fishermen. Activists among the fishermen formed a Resistance Group
called the Fisher Folk Forum (FFF).
usual repression and harassment followed with the threat of using
the gun lurking in the background. The situation worsened when
the Thar Rangers resorted to raids, torture and filing of false
FIRs against the fishermen similar to the treatment meted out
to the tenants at Okara Military Farms by the Punjab Rangers.
According to PPP leader and former
Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, almost 15,000 fishermen have been
forced to internally migrate following persecution by law enforcement
agencies. They could no longer earn a livelihood or feed their
children once they were stopped from catching fish.
Benazir said in particular the allegations
that individuals belonging to the Rangers subjected women and
children to torture in Kandri village needed a high level judicial
probe. She hoped that human rights agencies would raise this issue.
She has raised a strong voice for
these fishermen but the Rangers, encouraged by the success of
their colleagues in Punjab, just don’t care. And General
Musharraf and his junta do not mind because they are themselves
involved in land grabbing and extending the corporate interests
of the Army all over the country.
There was speculation of kickbacks
being involved in the handing of contracts to outsiders. The price
differential between catching the fish from the coastal areas
and selling it in Karachi went from Rs 15 in the coastal areas
to Rs 500 in Karachi with fishermen getting a pittance.
Moreover, over farming meant that the fish catch, which had been
200 tons per vessel in 1992 had dropped to 75 tons per vessel
since 1998. There were complaints that the fishermen of the Sindh
coast were physically forced to anchor their boats offshore by
Rangers to ensure monopoly for the outside contractors.
the issue got more attention and big political voices like that
of Benazir Bhutto took up the case, the Rangers tried to explain
their position which basically took cover behind the excuse that
they were guarding the country’s borders.
A press release issued by the Pakistan Rangers Sindh Headquarters,
said that statements being issued in this regard by the leaders
of Fisher Folk Forum were devoid of facts and motivated. It said
the area being mentioned by the press in district Badin is not
a routine international sea, in fact, it is a coastline being
shared with India. The coastal area under the control of the Rangers
for security reasons is common international border with India
where, at many places, no defined demarcation exists, it added.
In fact, some of the water pockets locally called ‘Dhands’
are shared by India and Pakistan. The area mentioned is a restricted
area against the general impression being created of a very large
area. It said this particular area is under the jurisdiction of
Rangers being an international border for checking any possible
incursion of illegal immigrants, terrorists and smugglers into
Pakistan area from Indian side.
Rights of the fishermen and rules of the fishing in the area are
in the knowledge of the Sindh government, the Rangers statement
said, dismissing all protests.
It said: “It is pertinent to mention that rates for the
fishermen for their catch have already been fixed. These rates
are open to revision for each renewed annual contract. It said
that contractor was not authorized to stop any fisherman from
catching fish. Locals of the area are much satisfied with the
dealing of the Rangers and welfare projects already initiated.
It added Fisher Folk forum is unnecessarily exploiting the situation
and trying to use the names of the innocent poor community."
“The locals of the area are very much alive to the situation
and currently not participating in a false, fabricated and incorrect
campaign against uniform personnel dedicated for ensuring peace
and harmony within their area of responsibility,” it added.
But the clarification by the Rangers has raised many more questions
and no one is buying this flimsy pretext to take over the livelihood
of fishermen in the name of security.
Analysts say the statement has in
fact corroborated the fishermen’s complaints that Rangers
control the lakes, ponds and other waters in the ‘border
areas’. Rangers’ stance is that yes, they control
the waters but their action was legal and duly authorized by competent
authorities. In this regards they point out to two agreements
that they had signed with Sindh government in years 2002 and 2003.
fishermen say that it was not Rangers’ job to control fishing
in the coastal areas or to award/sub-lease contracts to their
favored people to deprive the local fishermen from their only
source of livelihood. The fishermen are demanding that government
agreements with Rangers should be voided to end the exploitation
of the poor fishermen.
simple fact is that because they have power, the Rangers have
become middlemen, touts and traders of the fish caught by the
locals, buying it at dirt cheap rates and selling in the market
at 20 times the purchase price. It is simple extortion and exploitation.
Fishermen cite the example that what they are forced to sell for
Rs 15 or Rs 20 a kg to the Rangers who sell the same fish for
Rs 300 in the Karachi wholesale market.
FFF is desperate and fighting a much bigger and ruthless business
adversary, supported by the Generals in Islamabad. But their campaign
is picking up steam, international human rights organizations
and think tanks have become involved and another chapter is now
being documented in the history of the black deeds of the men
in uniform of the Pakistan Army.