A few hours before a much anticipated budgetary session, the police in Islamabad resorted to baton charges, tears gas and water cannons to disperse protest in D-chowk organised by the Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI). The apolitical group of farmers and agriculture related individuals were “forcibly dispersed” – evoking images of the pitched battles outside the parliament in the heyday of the PTI-PAT dharna, however the attention paid to the incident was vastly different.

Even when the issue made it inside the parliament to the budgetary session – where the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah set a new parliamentary precedent by speaking before the government presents the budget – the opposition’s attention was scattered and fleeting. While the members thundered against a government that treats so harshly the people that “drive the country’s economic progress” and “fill its breadbaskets”, the protests were aimed at disrupting the budgetary session more than anything else. The same worn-out cycle was repeated; the opposition chants, bangs desks and walks out, only to be convinced to come back by a government minister or two. The protest by the farmers, the government’s harsh response, all fell to the wayside as the critique returned to corruption and electricity.

While the general lack of interest in this matter is dispiriting, it is astounding to observe that nowhere in the events of the day were the actual demands of the farmers – for which the protesters had braved police baton charges – discussed. While both the opposition and the government rushed to identify themselves as ‘pro-farmer’, the issues of the PKI were never substantially discussed. Even when a delegation led by head of PKI, Chaudhry Muhammad Anwar called on Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Lahore, the resulting press release only stated that the government had decided to resolve the problems of the farmers on priority and an Agriculture Commission will be set up to “resolve all the problems”

These vague responses to unarticulated and undebated problems lead to the policy conundrums that afflict agricultural industry in the first place. With the CPEC seeking to impact agriculture heavily, and the arrival of Chinese agricultural companies imminent, this is the most important time for the nation to talk about agriculture, and especially how the local farmers will compete in this new environment and how we can protect them.

This debate needs to be had separate of the issue for which the farmers took to the streets and clashed with police – issues which have not been publically taken up by any politician or talked about by the government.