Class struggle in Swat?

This question has been raised over and over again all over the world after the news that Taliban are distributing land amongst the people in Swat. Are Taliban leading a class struggle in Swat?

Afzal Khan Lala, local leader of Awami National Party (ANP), who has militantly resisted the Taliban onslaught against all odds vehemently disagrees with the notion of class struggle. Here is an excerpt from an article by Ayesha Ijaz Khan that appeared in Counter Punch:

Afzal Khan Lala takes a clear position. Having suffered the loss of two grandsons and been ambushed by the Taliban himself, he remains steadfast in his defiance, stating categorically: “The Taliban movement is not an ideological movement. All the men of Sufi Muhammad and Maulana Fazlullah are loyal to Baitullah Mehsud. In fact, all the Taliban are loyal to Mullah Omar and most of them are criminals, looters, bandits, car snatchers, absconders and drug runners. He is the centre of gravity both for Pakistani and Afghan Taliban.”

When asked if it was a class struggle, he responded: “In class struggle between haves and have-nots, you do not become a criminal. You do not harm innocent people, snatch vehicles, dump arms and ammunition; you get popular through the force of ideology and not force. Taliban are terrorists and have no ideology.”

I agree with Khan Lala. However, I don’t say that Taliban don’t have an ideology. They have a clear ideology of reactionary pan-Islamism and they do try to exploit the local class rifts. They also find good support amongst local criminals and lumpen proletariat.The real question, then, is in whose favour do they exploit the class divisions? Is it progress or regress? Revolutionary or reactionary?

14 Responses to “Class struggle in Swat?”

  1. kazimalam Says:

    Without getting into the ‘class character’ of the Taliban insurgency against the state, one should question the past of this much-celebrated ‘hero’ called Afzal Khan Lala. People from Swat say that this man formed an organization of the landlords to protect their lands against a peasants’ uprising — in the 70s probably. Not sure how true it is… Have the CMKP done any research on it?

  2. I will sincerely like to know what evidence you have one this issue, Kazim. Hearsay is not enough, to be very frank with you.

    As far as I know with my limited knowledge, Afzal Lala has been associated with ANP and had opposed the reign of Wali-e-Swat in the 1970’s. ANP was known as NAP at that time and had a very radical program (though radical bourgeois-democratic only). He also faced the brunt of Bhutto who developed difference with NAP and banned the organization.

    He opposed the formation of IJI and quit ANP over this issue (Habib Jalib also left the ANP over the same issue).

    I don’t venerate his has hero. His politics has obvious limitations. However, I do think that he has taken very correct position in the current conflict in Swat in standing up against the Taliban. I will, nevertheless, be very interested in knowing more about his past from you through authoritative sources.

  3. kazimalam Says:

    That’s why I asked you if it was true — and if the CMKP has done any research on it. It was a question — not hearsay yaar.

    A Swati friend told me about this — and quoted a feature article in Jang’s midweek magazine.

  4. Oh! Ok. I get your point better. We not done any research as such but we have not been confronted by any such evidence as well. So long there is no evidence, it ‘s hard to accept it as truth. That is why I have asked you to give evidence, if you have any with you.

    Again, I can not accept the word of your Swati friend. I will be more interested to know what articles did he quote and their references. I can only give me view after reading them first hand.

    I hope you understand.

  5. i think thats just rubbish, Afzal Khan Lala never took anything from anyone. If u say he protected his land, well i am sure we all would do the same if our properties were under threat. Thats human nature to protect yourself and your assets.

  6. Resistance to the land reforms, which provide the landless peasants with their right to the land, no matter whether the land reforms are conducted through peasant struggle or through the might of the law, is reactionary and anti-people. This has to be borne in mind.

    I am trying to find the truth to what Kazim has said. He is kind enough to show me the press clippings on which he has relied.

    Lastly, Kazim’s judgement on Afzal Lala is in the context of landlord v landless struggles of the 70’s. The context has now changed to Secular (or moderate) v Extremist, at the risk of over-simplification. There is a change in context that cannot be ignored.

  7. kazimalam Says:

    I agree with you 100% that it is but human nature to protect oneself and one’s assets — in political terminology it is called class struggle. And that’s what the title of the post is.

    Umer bhai,
    Thanks for your kind response.
    Yes the scenario has now been changed — the seculars and moderates are landowners and the extremists are landless. By the way in this changed scenario — like it or not — Altaf Husain has emerged as the strongest defender of secularism, moderation and tolerance — ask your Karachi comrades — maybe if left with no other choice they’d rather be on the side of Fazlullah than the mass murderer Altaf Husain. (I am saying this in the context of Karachi’s politics — and it has nothing to do with Lala Afzal)

  8. I beg to disagree, Kazim,

    Your sketch of “the seculars and moderates are landowners and the extremists are landless” is not based on material facts and leaves a lot to be desired.

    How do you explain the support that the Taliban are getting from various local Khans, the timber mafia of Swat, and drug traders? Are they the “landless”. Clearly they are not.

    How do you explain the murder of various activists who were associated with the ANP, PPP, and other political activists who not landlords? On they other hand, they were the landless. Why were they killed? Because they were political activists.

    How can you say that Taliban are supported by the landless when there is no land reforms program introduced by the extremists. The few examples about the distribution of land are mere incidental and included political rivalries rather than sympathy for the landless.

    It is true that, to our utter dislike, people like Altaf Hussan and MQM have stood up as defenders of secularism. This does mean by any means that the Left should abandon secularism – only because Altaf is talking about secularism (it will be very easy to fool the Left is that is to be the case). The Left has to stand by its principles. If MQM wants to talk about secularism, they can be easily exposed in the public when it is shown that they are not secular but ethnic chauvinist.

    Lastly, we have to think from the point of view of the ideas of the working class. Where do we get a chance to advance the ideas of the working class and where does the interest of the working class lie. The choice between Fazlullah and Altaf Hussain is not a choice at all. One will behead you as soon as show your communist identity; the other will shoot you when you try to propagate your ideas. This is no choice at all. If any Leftist in Karachi think that they align with Fazalullah against Altaf , its wishful thinking. You will join him in spirit though, because your body will not be intact.

  9. kazimalam Says:

    I am not the only one saying this — there is a big section of the left in Pakistan that is opposed to the war in Pakhtunkhwa. In the beginning it was local comrades only, but more recently NYT also discussed the class character of the Taliban movement in a much-circulated feature story (it is available on the net). The debate can go on and on — and of course neither you nor I am going to change our viewpoint. So let’s end it here.
    The Altaf Husain-Fazlullah thing was in a sarcastic tone. The Taliban are retrogressive — no one has any doubts — but to impose war on a populous region and joining hands with the army to displace 3.9 million people (see today’s The News) is no leftism I am afraid.

  10. I had the well-circulated report of NYT in mind when I wrote that the occasions of land distribution are incidental and motivated to settle scores with the opposition. Till today, there has been no reports of a land distribution program and the property of the pro-Taliban landlords has not even been touched. Taliban completely closed the doors of any politics to occur in their controlled areas, let alone progressive politics.

    I know that a large section of the Left is opposing the military operation. Following the crowd has never been my game. My principle point of view is very clearly and you have all right to disagree with it: will the working class gain or loose from the elimination of Taliban?

    I do condemn the situation of the IDPs. Even if it was a natural fall out of the military operation, it could have been handled better. Here again the Left does not have to lay down arms but put pressure on the State to take concrete steps in the welfare of the IDPs.

  11. kazimalam Says:

    OK — I understand your point of view.

    Our position is this: ‘war on terror’ is an imperialist war from top to bottom.

    If Marxists/leftists could not succeed in spreading secularism in the region we don’t have any right to piggyback on imperialist forces to rid us of the ‘barbarians’.

    The same state and the ruling class (including the army) which used Islam for six decades to defend class structures is now resorting to the slogan of secularism — to sustain the existing social fabric.

    During the last few days, the average death toll in target-killings in Karachi has been more than that in Malakand when it was under the Taliban (that’s just a statistical comparison), so should Karachi not be carpet-bombed by the army and 39 lakh people made refugees to rid the city of MQM thugs?

  12. The foundational argument that religious extremism has entrenched itself in the minds of the people of Swat is deeply flawed. Religious extremism has been imposed on the people of Pakhtoonkhawa. It has been as destructive for the Pakhtoon people and their culture as it is for the progressive activism.

    One cannot deny the contradiction between Imperialism and Extremism. That being so, one cannot also deny the contradiction between Extremism and the people as if it non-existant or not present. We don’t have to “piggy back” Imperialism but we also don’t have to close our eyes to extremism and portray them as anti-imperialist or pro-people. Our fight against Imperialism is different from the fight of Imperialism against extremism.

    The Pakistani state never was and is not the harbinger of secularism and nor do that claim to be such a force. The Left has no such illusions. However, the existing set-up do provide the people with some rights no matter how imperfect they may be, they were won through their struggle. We struggled for the independence of judiciary and rule of law because we knew that it will open avenues for progressive activism. We were not goats following the herd. Now, religious extremism completely deny these rights. These rights provide the Left with the space through which they can get their point accross. A denial of such rights will push the society back a hundred years and the Left by a thousand years (reference to the Zia-ul-Haq years).

    The comparison with Karachi is also not correct. The target killings in Karachi don’t depict a systemic shift in the first place, and they certainly don’t take the right from people like you to protest against them through various means.

  13. //How can you say that Taliban are supported by the landless when there is no land reforms program introduced by the extremists. The few examples about the distribution of land are mere incidental and included political rivalries rather than sympathy for the landless.//

    Can you provide more detail please? As someone from New Zealand, it can be quite difficult to gain a clear view, more easily found on the ground (or close to it). What are the details of the land reform and with the peasantry in particular? Can you link to articles in regards to the Taliban’s attitudes towards land reform? As in this comment line specifically, I get two conflicting accounts of reality. It is not only communists who can realise the need for land expropriation…

  14. Welcome to Red Diary, Joel.

    The main news item that got the story hitting was published by the New York Times:

    It is primarily on the basis of the abovementioned news item that certain leftists in Pakistan have argued that Taliban are conducting Land Reforms in Swat and, by that extension, they are not such a regressive force and don’t pose a threat to the people of Pakistan.

    My argument is that the NYT report doesn’t complete all sides of the issue in question. Taliban have only distributed the land in the course of liquidation of all forms of political activism in the areas where they were in control. If they have expelled the political landlord, they have also protected the landlords who have been sympathetic to them. If they have distributed land amongst the landless, they have also killed the landless people who belonged to (any) political party.

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