KARACHI: Hundreds of people from the coastal areas of the city took to the streets to demand the cancellation of foreign debt. The rally was organised by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, an NGO working for the rights of fisherman in the country, to mark the Day of Action.
Protesters urged international financial institutions (IFIs) to waive the country’s debts so that the money saved could be used for the rehabilitation of flood-affected people.
The protesters marched from the Sindh Assembly building to the Karachi Press Club. They were led by PFF chairperson Muhammed Ali Shah, Shujauddin Qureshi from the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), Abul Hai of the HRCP, among others.
The Pakistani government pays $3 billion in debt-servicing charges every year, claimed the protesters. They demanded the IFIs forgive the $55 billion debt.
The government should instead use this amount on welfare and social development, they said, adding that the government needs to improve the public’s standard of living and generate more employment.
Qureshi said 7.5 million people were affected by the floods in Sindh. Although water has receded in many areas and residents are returning, there is nothing left for them to do back at home. “They have lost their homes, crops and lands. The flood survivors need help rebuilding their houses and finding alternate livelihoods,” added Qureshi.
IFIs also need to stop investing in industries that damage the environment and contribute to climate change. “This change will hit the poor the hardest,” the protesters said. All developed countries, which have the economic means to act, must work to preserve natural resources, they added.
“We believe IFIs are contributing to climate change through their huge investments in developing countries,” said Muhammad Ali Shah. He hoped that their rally would help bring the IFIs’ attention to the issue.
Participants said that the rally was part of a week-long campaign against foreign debt and its impact on climate change. The campaign will start in the first week of November.
A similar demand was made in September this year by the Labour Relief Campaign at a press conference in Lahore. The Labour Relief Campaign is a network of eight social and political organisations, including the National Trade Union Federation, Women Workers Help Line, Progressive Youth Front, Labour Party Pakistan, Pakistan For Palestine, CADTM Pakistan, Labour Education Foundation and Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee.According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2009-2010, Pakistan’s external debt is around $56 billion while internal debt amounts to $54 billion.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 15th, 2010.