BBC News – Uncovering Pakistan’s secret human rights abuses

M Ilyas Khan

Dera Ismail Khan – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 02 June 2019. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Pakistan’s long battle with militants as part of the post-9/11 “war on terror”. Evidence of murder and torture by soldiers and insurgents is emerging only now. The BBC has gained rare access to some of the victims.

It was early in 2014 when TV news networks trumpeted a major victory in the war against the Pakistani Taliban, the killing of one of the group’s most senior commanders in a night-time air raid.

Adnan Rasheed and up to five members of his family were reported to have died in the strikes in the North Waziristan tribal area, near the Afghan border.

Rasheed, a former Pakistan Air Force technician, was well-known. He had written an extraordinary letter to Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl and activist shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in 2012, attempting to justify why it had happened. He’d also been in prison for trying to assassinate former President Pervez Musharraf, until he broke out.

Now it appeared that his luck had run out.

Quoting security officials, news channels reported on 22 January 2014 that Adnan Rasheed’s hideout had been targeted two nights earlier in the Hamzoni area.

Waziristan and other parts of the vast mountainous tribal region have been controlled and locked-down by the Pakistani military since the US invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, which saw Taliban fighters, al-Qaeda jihadists and other militants flee over the porous border.

Outsiders, including journalists, cannot get in, so verifying claims from the security forces is extremely difficult. Those who have reported stories from Waziristan that don’t reflect well on the military have found themselves punished.

It turned out a year later that the jets had hit the wrong target, Rasheed confirmed this when he emerged in a video to prove he was alive.

Instead of taking out a top militant, Pakistan’s military had actually killed the family of a local man who had his home blown to pieces.

The authorities have never acknowledged they made a mistake. The BBC travelled to Dera Ismail Khan, a town on the banks of the river Indus that is the gateway to the remote and forbidding tribal areas, to meet the man whose house was hit.

“It must have been 11 pm or thereabouts,” recalls Nazirullah, who was 20 at the time. He and his wife had recently married and had the rare privilege of a room to themselves. The rest of their large family slept in the only other room in their house in Khatei Kalay village.

“It was as if the house had exploded. My wife and I were shaken out of our sleep. There was a strong smell of gunpowder in the air. Both of us rushed to the door and stepped out, only to discover that the entire roof of our room had already collapsed, except a corner where our bed was.”

The roof of the second room had also collapsed, and a fire was raging across the compound. Nazirullah heard cries from the rubble and, with his wife, frantically tried to help those they could see in the glow of the fire.

Neighbours helped them dig out the injured and the dead.

Four of Nazirullah’s family died, including a three-year-old girl. His niece Sumayya, whose mother was among those killed, was then just a year old, and survived with a fractured hip. Another four members of the family were rescued from the rubble. All suffered fractures and other injuries.

Nazirullah’s family has since moved back to Dera Ismail Khan, where life is more peaceful.

Like many others in this part of Pakistan, they have had to move several times to escape an insurgency that has been raging in the tribal areas for nearly two decades.

According to authorities and independent research groups, militant violence since 2002 has forced more than five million people in Pakistan’s north-west to leave their homes to seek refuge either in government-run refugee camps or rented houses in peaceful areas.

There are no official figures of the total death toll of this war but estimates from academics, local authorities and activists put the number of civilians, militants and security forces killed at well over 50,000.

Local rights activists say scores of civilians have been killed in successive air campaigns and ground operations by the military. They have been collecting video and documentary evidence to back up their claims.

These activists are linked to a prominent new rights campaign called the Pashtun Tahaffuz (Protection) Movement (PTM) which emerged early last year and has since been publicising alleged rights abuses in the tribal region that victims had previously been too scared to report.

“It has taken us almost 15 years of suffering and humiliation to gather courage to speak up, and to spread awareness about how the military trampled our constitutional rights through both direct action and a policy of support for the militants,” said Manzoor Pashteen, the top leader of the PTM.

But the group is under pressure. The PTM says 13 of its activists were killed on 26 May when the army opened fire on a large group of protesters in North Waziristan. The army said at least three activists were shot dead after a military checkpoint was attacked.

The PTM denies this but two of its leaders, who also serve as MPs, have been arrested.

A number of cases highlighted by the PTM, and which the BBC investigated independently, were shared with a Pakistani military spokesman but he declined to respond, calling such allegations “highly judgmental”.

There was no response to BBC requests for comment from the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, even though Mr Khan raised the issue of rights abuses in the tribal areas when he was an opposition politician.

How 9/11 put the Taliban into Pakistan [bold]

It all started with the al-Qaeda attacks in September 2001 in New York and Washington.

When the US attacked Afghanistan in October 2001, the Taliban forces that had sheltered al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden melted away without a fight.

Pakistan, which was one of only three countries to have recognised the Taliban when they seized power in Kabul in 1996, had an interest in keeping the movement alive as part of its efforts to prevent Indian influence from spreading in Afghanistan.

So while Pakistan had been dependent on US military aid for decades and the then military regime of General Pervez Musharraf had joined the US “war on terror”, it also allowed the Taliban to carve out sanctuaries in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal areas, notably the districts of North and South Waziristan.

But the Afghan Taliban did not cross the border alone. Militants from a complex array of different groups poured into the tribal region and some were far more hostile to the Pakistani state.

Jihadists with global ambitions also began plotting attacks from Waziristan, prompting demands from Washington that Pakistan do more to crush Islamist militancy.

As violence spread, Pakistan was caught “between an inclination to fight militant forces and yet having to partner with some to strengthen its future bargaining position”, said Ayesha Siddiqa, a security analyst and author of the book Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy.

In 2014, Pakistan launched a new operation in North Waziristan that increased pressure on militant groups and their safe havens and was credited with reducing attacks elsewhere in the country.

‘The Taliban and the military are doing the same thing’ [bold]

When the Taliban arrived in the tribal areas in 2001, they were given a cautious welcome by the local people. But this quickly turned into disillusionment when they started to take over tribal society by enforcing their strict religious codes.

During the first phase of that relationship, local youths joined the militants’ ranks in their hundreds, thereby causing tribal rivalries to seep into the militant network. This was reflected in subsequent factional wars.

In the second stage, the Taliban embarked on a campaign to eliminate officially recognised tribal elders who were a hurdle in the way of the insurgents’ drive to subjugate the tribes. At least 1,000 tribal elders have been killed by militants since 2002 and some estimates from non-governmental organisations put the figure at nearly 2,000.

One such assassination in North Waziristan in July 2007 is emblematic of how militants were able to subjugate the tribes.

“When they kidnapped and killed my brother, the tribe in our region was still strong, but because the military allowed [the militants] the freedom to move against our people, it broke our back,” says Mohammad Amin, a Wazir tribesman from Razmak area of North Waziristan.

His brother’s body was found dumped in an abandoned truck the day after he was kidnapped by militants. Mohammad Amin and other tribesmen were able to trace the attackers and confronted them. The ensuing gunfight left Mr Amin’s son, Asadullah, a cousin and all four Taliban fighters dead.

The tribe’s subsequent calls on military officials in the garrison town of Razmak to curb Taliban violence were frustrated when militant leaders based in that very town threatened reprisal.

A decade on, Mr Amin is in no doubt that “despite occasional clashes with each other, the Taliban and the military are doing the same thing”.

PTM activists have also documented several cases in which the security forces appear to have treated the local population brutally.

In May 2016, for example, an attack on a military post in the Teti Madakhel area of North Waziristan triggered a manhunt by troops who rounded up the entire population of a village.

An eyewitness who watched the operation from a wheat field nearby and whose brother was among those detained told the BBC that the soldiers beat everyone with batons and threw mud in children’s mouths when they cried.

A pregnant woman was one of two people who died during torture, her son said in video testimony. At least one man remains missing.

The stories of survivors are painful too. I met Satarjan Mahsud in the town of Ramak, 100km (60 miles) further south down the Indus river from Dera Ismail Khan.

We sat inside a white tent and he told me his story over tea, with two young children at his side

One evening in April 2015 militants fired at a military post in Shaktoi, South Waziristan. Satarjan says troops responded by capturing suspects from a nearby village and shooting two of them dead.

Early the next morning, on 21 April, they extended their search across the valley to Satarjan’s village where they found weapons stashed on a hill behind his house.

“The only people present in the house at that time were my brother Idarjan, his wife and two daughters-in-law,” Satarjan says.
Image caption Satarjan has spent four years trying to trace his brother and nephews, to no avail.

The soldiers knocked at the door. His brother answered and was immediately overpowered, tied up and blindfolded. The troops asked where other male members of the family were and rounded up Idarjan’s four sons from elsewhere in the valley.

Witnesses later told Satarjan that the boys had been beaten, and his eldest nephew, Rezwarjan, received a lethal blow to the head. All of them were thrown in the back of a pick-up truck which the soldiers had commandeered, and driven away to the army camp in the area.

The driver of the truck later told Satarjan that Rezwarjan was “already half dead and couldn’t hold himself in a sitting position, so the soldiers decided not to take him to the camp”.

He told Satarjan: “They asked me to stop the truck, shot Rezwarjan in the head and threw his body on the road”.

Satarjan was working at a factory in Dubai at the time. He heard about what had happened and began the journey home. He took a flight, a bus and then walked for 15 hours to reach the village where Rezwarjan’s body was found on 23 April.

Locals there told him they hadn’t been able to take the body across the valley to his family home because of a curfew, so they had buried it there on the hill.

He then walked across to his own village where he found his house deserted. The wives of Satarjan’s brother and nephews had been taken in by relatives.

Satarjan knew the women wouldn’t know the whole story because the curfew forbade travel between villages and there was no mobile network in the area.

When he met his sister-in-law, she told him what she knew: that her husband had been taken away by the army and that the younger men were missing.

“I was in two minds about whether to tell her. But then I thought it would be easier to give her the bad news about Rezwarjan once my brother and the boys had returned. I knew the army had nothing against them and would let them go soon”.

So he made up a story, telling her that when the army raided their house, the boys got away to safety in Karachi, far away in southern Pakistan. He assured her that her husband would soon be released.

On 26 April 2015, he moved the family to Ramak. Since then he’s had no word from the military on the fate of his brother and three nephews. Weeks have turned into months, and months into years.

He is not alone. Local activists say more than 8,000 people picked up by the army since 2002 remain unaccounted for.

Meanwhile, Satarjan has been dodging questions from the women about why they can’t visit their village.

“I tell them our house in Shaktoi has been demolished by the army, which is partly true. But the real reason is that if they go there, neighbours will come for condolences and they will find out.”

He says it would be better if he knew his brother and nephews had been jailed, or even killed. But not knowing anything is agony.

“I can’t tell my sister-in-law her sons are missing, or dead. I can’t tell the two young wives that they have been widowed,” he says.

These individual stories are shocking but they are not unique. The PTM alleges that hundreds of people from the tribal areas could tell similar stories.

But they remain officially unacknowledged.

They are the consequences of a war Pakistan has gone to great lengths to hide from the world. This conflict on the Afghan border has for years been an information black hole.

And when the PTM broke through this chokehold last year, its media coverage was put under a comprehensive ban. Those in the media who have not heeded the ban have faced physical threats and financial pressure.

The military has openly called the PTM’s patriotic credentials into question, accusing it of links to “hostile” intelligence agencies in Afghanistan and India.

And some PTM activists who were documenting cases of abuse and running the group’s social media campaign have been jailed.

The treatment of the activists who are finally, after years of silence, raising the alarm on the abuses of a long and secret war suggests that those who have suffered in the conflict face an uphill battle for justice.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-48139648

The Tribune – Corridor to be ready by September – Vijay Inder Singla

Gurdaspur – Panjab – India, 01 June 2019. State PWD Minister Vijay Inder Singla today said the construction work of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor will be completed by September 30.

He said 25 per cent of the construction work of the passage that will link Dera Baba Nanak and Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan’s Punjab province had been done.

During his visit to the site. Singla said all four state highways leading to Dera Baba Nanak would either be widened or four-laned before the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev in November this year.

Cabinet Minister and Dera Baba Nanak MLA Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa apprised Singla of the problems pilgrims travelling to the town may face if the roads were not widened. (TNS)

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/corridor-to-be-ready-by-sept-singla/781942.html

Gentbrugse Meersen – Gentbrugge

Gentbrugse Meersen
10 May 2019


2013 Geboortebos / Birth wood


Dedicated to all Ghent children born in 2013


The area where the cattle graze


Path to Koningsdonkweg

Gentbrugge
Tuinwijk Ter Heide
12 May 2019


Tuinwijk = garden neighbourhood


Some of houses have been drastically restored …

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Disaster for Democracy: How the Modi Wave has flooded India with Fascism (Part II)

The Rise of Modi: RSS Pracharak to Prime Minister

Pieter Friedrich

Milestones marking the route to the May 23, 2019 results were laid both a century and a half-century ago.

In 1925, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was formed. A paramilitary force, uniformed and armed, it was dedicated to the idea that all Indians collectively constitute a Hindu race; committed to basing the entirety of Indian society, culture and politics on religion; devoted to the notion that only a race traitor would vote for anyone but a Hindu nationalist; and convinced that it was treason against the mother nation for an Indian to be anything but a Hindu.

The second milestone happened in 1971, when Narendra Modi joined the RSS as a pracharak, a full-time worker sworn to celibacy.

Modi joined in Ahmedabad, the largest city (and then capital) of Gujarat. Modi’s home state, Gujarat, lies just north of Maharashtra, the state in which the RSS was founded and in which it maintains its headquarters.

At the time, M S Golwalkar was nearing the end of his tenure as the RSS’s longest-serving and most influential leader.

Golwalkar had just excited controversy with a keynote speech at a 1968 RSS rally in Ahmedabad, in which he demanded that India be declared a Hindu rashtra (nation).

The following year, his petition was sealed in blood when the RSS led riots that left over 400 Muslims dead. When Golwalkar died in 1973, the RSS was just becoming a political force and Modi was just beginning his public life. In 1980, the RSS founded the BJP as its political wing.

Its principal apparatchiks were drawn from the ranks of RSS pracharaks. Thus, in 1987, only two years after another series of riots in Ahmedabad, the RSS assigned Modi to help build the new party.

For months, beginning in February 1985, mobs led by members of the RSS and BJP first attacked lower caste communities and then Muslims. Survivors accuse even the police of joining in the violence, which left hundreds dead.

Modi was definitely present in Gujarat during the violence. His role, however, remains unknown. Yet his work within the BJP soon precipitated even deadlier riots.

In the early 1990s, Modi began to validate the party’s religious nationalist credentials and emerged as a key organizer of its Ram janmabhoomi (Ram’s birthplace) campaign.

After Golwalkar founded the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) as the RSS’s religious wing, the VHP initiated an aggressive movement to reclaim the site where the mythological figure Ram was supposedly born.

On that site, they insisted, now stood the sixteenth-century Babri mosque. Claiming that the mosque was built following the demolition of a Ram temple, they demanded the temple be rebuilt.

Recognizing the political potential of this move, the BJP joined the VHP’s campaign and adopted the construction of the Ram temple as a plank of the party’s agenda.

In 1990, BJP President L K Advani began a Ram rath yatra (Ram chariot procession), criss-crossing India in a minibus decked out as a chariot. He was trailed by thousands of kar sevaks (volunteers) from the RSS, VHP and other affiliated groups.

Violence, unsurprisingly, plagued the procession. Riots broke out along the way. Hundreds died in conflicts between Hindus and Muslims. Yet this seemed to prove a successful strategy for the BJP.

Despite not actually securing power, they performed exceptionally well in the 1991 general elections. In 1992, however, the movement spun out of control.

In December of that year, Advani headlined a rally outside the Babri mosque. He was joined by Murli Manohar Joshi, who had succeeded him as BJP president.

As they spoke, the 150,000 strong crowd moved towards the mosque and began to tear it down. The demolition quickly devolved into a massacre. Nationwide riots, lasting for months, left up to 3,000 Muslims dead.

When India’s central government briefly banned both the VHP and the RSS, Modi joined Joshi on a trip to the US. They were greeted on arrival by Suresh Jani of New Jersey, who had in 1991, on Advani’s orders, co-founded the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP) to counter the negative international press the party was receiving as a result of its Ram janmabhoomi campaign.

During his US tour, Modi stayed with Jani, as well as with Bharat Barai of Indiana, who was then a governing council member of VHP America.

Back in India, Modi swiftly advanced up the BJP hierarchy. By 1995, he was working out of the national party headquarters in New Delhi. He did not, however, forget his friends in the OFBJP, returning to the US for another tour in 1997.

When the BJP emerged victorious in the 1998 general election, he was rewarded with the powerful position of party organizing secretary.

Then he got his hands on real political power.

In October 2001, Gujarat’s chief minister Keshubhai Patel was in failing health and had lost his party’s political confidence. He resigned.

Modi was appointed as his replacement. Thus, the backroom apparatchik, unmarried, with no family, whose life was wholly dedicated to the party, assumed his first ever political office.

For four months, he remained an unelected executive. Finally, on 24 February 2002, he won a seat in the Gujarat legislative assembly.

Three days after the election, carnage engulfed Gujarat.

On 27 February, a train was set on fire in the city of Godhra. The passengers were mostly Hindu pilgrims returning to Gujarat from a journey to the Ram janmabhoomi. Fifty-nine people (including women and children) died in the blaze.

Modi immediately labelled the conflagration an act of terrorism and blamed it on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
That day, his government transported the charred bodies over 100 kilometres from Godhra to Ahmedabad. Footage of the uncovered corpses was televised before they were handed over to the VHP.

With BJP backing, the VHP launched a state-wide shutdown on the 28th. Then the blood began to flow. For three days, mobs ran rampage throughout the state. Over a dozen cities witnessed major incidents of violence. By the end, up to 2,000 (or more) Muslims lay dead.

Ten years later, a special investigation team (SIT) submitted a report to the Supreme Court. It concluded that there was “not enough evidence” to prosecute Modi for involvement in the pogrom. Indeed, there was little direct evidence proving that he sanctioned the violence, although there was no exculpatory evidence either. There was, however, a mountain of circumstantial evidence.

Eyewitnesses claimed that the attackers were armed with voter lists naming Muslim victims. Witnesses identified BJP state legislator Maya Kodnani as a leader of the assailants and even claimed that she had issued weapons and given orders. Phone records later showed that she was at the scene of the crime and in frequent contact with police and government officials, including Modi’s office.

A few months after the pogrom, BJP state minister Haren Pandya told Outlook magazine that he, along with other state and police officials, was called to a meeting at Modi’s home on the night of the 27th and ordered to stand down so that the mobs could “vent their frustration”.

Sanjiv Bhatt, a high-ranking police officer, later made the same claim. Survivors say that, when they appealed to police, they were sometimes told by officers, “We have no orders to save you.” Witnesses claim police even fired on victims.

Pandya was murdered in 2003. “My husband’s assassination was a political murder,” asserts his wife. In 2005, his alleged assassin was murdered. BJP state minister Amit Shah, a confidante of Modi’s, was accused of orchestrating the assassin’s killing after hiring him to murder Pandya.

In 2007, Tehelka magazine conducted a sting operation. Speaking with over a dozen perpetrators of the pogrom, they secretly filmed them not only confessing to their involvement but implicating Modi. Interviewees included a BJP state legislator as well as leaders of the RSS and VHP.

“He had given us three days to do whatever we could,” said legislator Haresh Bhatt, describing Modi. “After three days, he asked us to stop and everything came to a halt. We had three days and did what we had to in those three days.” The evidence was enough to convince the British and American governments to turn their backs on Modi.

In 2002, the UK imposed a diplomatic boycott on him, forbidding its officials to deal directly with the Gujarati government. In 2005, the US denied him a visa after he was invited to speak at an Indian diaspora event in Florida. What most politicians would have interpreted as a nail in the coffin of their political career, Modi and his supporters instead perceived as laying a firm foundation for his future.

In the US, Bharat Barai set to work promoting Modi within the Indian-American diaspora. Rather than the butcher of Gujarat, he was cast as an economic messiah who introduced the world to the Gujarat model of development.

Every Gujarat Day, beginning in May 2007, Barai began hosting video conferences in which Modi addressed the diaspora. Meanwhile, in India, saffron terror, a phrase coined to describe terrorism perpetrated by the RSS or its ideological affiliates, was on the rise.

In 2006, a bombing at a Muslim cemetery in Malegaon, Maharashtra killed forty. In 2007, someone planted a bomb aboard the Samjhauta Express, a train running between Delhi and Lahore.

Seventy people, mostly Pakistanis, died. A bombing at the Mecca mosque in Hyderabad killed sixteen. Then a bombing at a Muslim shrine in Ajmer, Rajasthan claimed the lives of two.

In 2008, another bombing in Malegaon killed nine. As the investigation into the attacks developed, evidence implicated Swami Aseemanand (an RSS pracharak), Sadhvi Pragya Thakur (a leader of RSS-affiliated groups), and a number of other Hindu nationalist activists.

In a filmed confession, Aseemanand not only named Thakur, but claimed the violence was directly sanctioned by RSS head Mohan Bhagwat.

Back in the US, as Barai continued to help Modi grow in popularity, Suresh Jani became president of the OFBJP. Fifteen years after the two American devotees of India’s BJP hosted the young apparatchik in their homes, they were now conducting a systematic campaign to boost his image and name recognition abroad. Their efforts were to prove fruitful.

By 2011, Modi was rumoured to be the BJP’s candidate for prime minister in the 2014 general election. His name was floated at least a year before the Supreme Court’s SIT supposedly cleared him of guilt for the 2002 pogrom.

In 2012, his backers declared the SIT’s conclusion that there was “not enough evidence” to prosecute to be a “clean chit” and treated it as a green light to push the RSS pracharak into India’s highest office.

More to follow
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Dawn – A farmer in Punjab is rejuvenating sand dunes through drip irrigation

For as long as Hasan Abdullah can remember the 50-acre sandy dune on his 400-acre farmland in Sadiqabad, Pakistan’s Punjab province, was an irritant, nothing grew on it.

Zofeen T Ebrahim

Sadiqabad – Panjab – Pakistan, 01 June 2019. His farmland lies beside the vast Cholistan desert in a canal irrigated area east of the Indus River in Rahim Yar Khan district. Abdullah inherited it in 2005, when his father passed away. Until then he had been working in information technology.

In 2015, after much research, Abdullah took a “calculated risk” of cultivating the “barren” dune using the drip irrigation system. The government’s announcement of a 60% subsidy on drip irrigation was “a big incentive,” he said. Agriculture, through wasteful flood irrigation, accounts for over 80% water usage in a country facing severe water shortages.

Today, Abdullah’s dune is a sight to behold: fruit orchards have flourished in the sand. He admitted that without drip irrigation the “dune would never have produced anything.”

Water mixed with fertiliser is carried out through pipes with heads known as drippers, explained Abdullah, which release a certain amount of water per minute directly to the roots of each plant across the orchard.

And because watering is precise, there is no evaporation, no run off, and no wastage.

These new water saving techniques will be key to the future survival of Pakistan’s farmers, who face growing water shortages. Pakistan’s per capita water availability is very low, yet the agricultural sector is deeply inefficient in its water use and its productivity is low.

Farmers in Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, grow water intensive crops such as cotton and wheat using flood irrigation. Their challenges will only grow with climate change. The water flow of the Indus River, which the farmers rely on for their water supply, is predicted with the rapid retreat of the Himalayan glaciers.

The power of the drip

Using drip irrigation, farmers can save up to 95% of water and reduce fertiliser use, compared to surface irrigation, according to Malik Mohammad Akram, director general of the On Farm Water Management (OFWM) wing in the Punjab government’s agriculture department.

In flood irrigation, the traditional method of agriculture in the region, a farmer uses 412,000 litres per acre, while using drip irrigation the same land can be irrigated with just 232,000 litres of water, he explained.

The water on Abdullah’s dune is pumped from a canal, which is part of the Indus Basin irrigation system, into a reservoir built on the land. “Being at the tail end [of the canal system], we needed to be assured the availability of water at all times and thus we had to construct a reservoir,” said Abdullah.

For years now, farmers at the head of the canals have been “stealing” water causing much misery for farmers downstream.

Costly savings

But drip irrigation is expensive. Out of Abdullah’s 40 acres of orchards on drip irrigation, 30 acres are on sand dunes and ten acres are on land adjacent to the dune, locally known as “tibba” – a small sand dune surrounded by agricultural land. On the 30 acre-dune patch, Abdullah grows oranges on 18, feutral (another variety of orange) on another six acres, lemons on five acres and on one acre he has experimented with growing olives, which bore fruit this year.

In took three years of “micromanaging the orchards” before the orange and olive trees began fruiting last year. “We hope to break even this year and next year we should be in profit,” he said. It will take another four years to recoup all his investment, he calculated.

Abdullah was the first farmer to experiment with this new approach. Among many challenges that came his way was to get his farmhands to understand the new way of watering.

Akram has had a similar experience, “It is difficult for a traditional farmer to come to terms with it. Unless he sees the soaked soil with his eyes, he cannot believe the plant has been well watered.”
Solar provides respite

While Abdullah was saving water, the cost of diesel for running water pump was proving astronomical. Abdullah may not have been able to carry on farming with drip irrigation had the government not announced an 80% subsidy on solar power plants for farmers in 2018. He promptly took it up.

“Solar has been a life saver for us,” he said. Not only did the running costs decrease considerably, the solar system paid for itself in just one year, leaving only the costs of labour, fertilisers and chemicals.

Cultivating using drip irrigation is also not labour intensive. Abdullah’s 40-acres are tended to by just four labourers, who not only look after the orchards and watering system, but manage the solar plant too. “If we were doing traditional farming, our costs would have been much higher. We would need a tractor, six to eight labourers and a lot more water,” he said

For his orchards, the drip irrigation runs for about seven hours every day. “If it were running on diesel, we would be consuming 35 litres of diesel a day at the cost of PKR 4,270 (USD 30) per day,” Abdullah estimated.

Furthermore because it is precision watering to the roots, weed growth is minimal.

Trendsetting

Since he set up his drip system, Abdullah has received a trail of visitors. A young farmer from neighbouring Bahawalpur who visited the dune in 2015 was so impressed he set up the drip irrigation over 700 acres of land he was looking after for an ex-army officer.

“Ours is the only farm in Pakistan that has set up a drip irrigation system over such a huge tract – and in the desert too,” said Asif Riaz Taj, who manages Infiniti Agro and Livestock Farm. Now in their fourth year, the orchards have started fruiting over 70 acres. But it will not be before its sixth year, Taj said, that they will “break even”.

Infiniti’s orchards get water from both groundwater using turbines as well as from the canal. “We have installed a 150 kilowatts solar plant for extracting water,” said Taj. The area is not completely sandy, such as the dune on Abdullah’s land, but it is still arid, and benefits hugely from drip irrigation.

Abdullah acknowledged that the drip system required a huge initial investment and warned that “unless one had strong financial backing”, it would be difficult.

“Our upfront cost was PKR 3.5 million (USD 25,000), but our running costs [of farming on the dune and tibba] went up to PKR 10 million (USD 70,621),” he explained. He was fortunate he had income coming from his other nearly 400 acres of land where he grows sugar cane, cotton and wheat.

Drip irrigation fails to fly

Despite such a resounding success at Abdullah’s farm, saving on water and the attractive government subsidies, few farmers are taking to drip irrigation, said OFWM’s Akram. Nevertheless since 2012, his department has installed 50,000 systems on 5,000 sites (with an average size of 10 acres). It should have been much more.

“The mindset change from the farmers has been slow and despite all out efforts we have been unable to push this water-saving technology,” he admitted.

The installation costs are prohibitively high despite the 60% subsidy, Akram said. Farmers also say drip irrigation is not appropriate for all kinds of irrigation, particularly not for row farming like wheat, maize and rice.

Farmers complain that the agricultural department and the company don’t provide proper after sales services. The untrained and uneducated farmers have to find solutions themselves or are left to the mercy of the drip system vendor. Corroborating this, Abdullah said: “That is one of the biggest causes of failures.”

Akram vehemently denied this, saying that the both company selling the drip irrigation system and the agriculture department handhold farmers, training them to resolve glitches coming their way.

Abdullah, however, is among the converts. He plans to expand the drip irrigation further for olives and mango orchards once profits are up.

This article was originally published on ‘The Third Pole’ and has been reproduced with permission.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1485906