Archive for Lal Masjid

Towards theocracy

Posted in Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2009 by Umer

Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy

Frontline on net

Note: This article appeared in the Frontline magazine of India. Therefore, the contents of the article and the message is addressed to the Indian audience. The article, nevertheless, is highly essential for us living in Pakistan.

Towards Theocracy: State and Society in Pakisan Today 

EMILIO MORENATTI/AP

Women in burqas and children from the Bajaur and Mohmand agency areas wait to be registered at a refugee camp near Peshawar in January. Today a full-scale war is being fought in FATA, Swat and other “wild” areas of Pakistan, with thousands dying and hundreds of thousands of displaced people streaming into cities and towns.  

FOR 20 years or more, a few of us in Pakistan have been desperately sending out SOS messages, warning of terrible times to come. Nevertheless, none anticipated how quickly and accurately our dire predictions would come true. It is a small matter that the flames of terrorism set Mumbai on fire and, more recently, destroyed Pakistan’s cricketing future. A much more important and brutal fight lies ahead as Pakistan, a nation of 175 million, struggles for its very survival. The implications for the future of South Asia are enormous.

Today a full-scale war is being fought in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), Swat and other “wild” areas of Pakistan, with thousands dying and hundreds of thousands of IDPs (internally displaced people) streaming into cities and towns. In February 2009, with the writ of the Pakistani state in tatters, the government gave in to the demand of the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban Movement) to implement the Islamic Sharia in Malakand, a region of FATA. It also announced the suspension of a military offensive in Swat, which has been almost totally taken over by the TTP. But the respite that it brought was short-lived and started breaking down only hours later.

The fighting is now inexorably migrating towards Peshawar where, fearing the Taliban, video shop owners have shut shop, banners have been placed in bazaars declaring them closed for women, musicians are out of business, and kidnapping for ransom is the best business in town. Islamabad has already seen Lal Masjid and the Marriot bombing, and has had its police personnel repeatedly blown up by suicide bombers. Today, its barricaded streets give a picture of a city under siege. In Karachi, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), an ethnic but secular party well known for strong-arm tactics, has issued a call for arms to prevent the Taliban from making further inroads into the city. Lahore once appeared relatively safe and different but, after the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, has rejoined Pakistan.

The suicide bomber and the masked abductor have crippled Pakistan’s urban life and shattered its national economy. Soldiers, policemen, factory and hospital workers, mourners at funerals, and ordinary people praying in mosques have been reduced to hideous masses of flesh and fragments of bones. The bearded ones, many operating out of madrassas, are hitting targets across the country. Although a substantial part of the Pakistani public insists upon lionising them as “standing up to the Americans”, they are neither seeking to evict a foreign occupier nor fighting for a homeland. They want nothing less than to seize power and to turn Pakistan into their version of the ideal Islamic state. In their incoherent, ill-formed vision, this would include restoring the caliphate as well as doing away with all forms of western influence and elements of modernity. The AK-47 and the Internet, of course, would stay.

But, perhaps paradoxically, in spite of the fact that the dead bodies and shattered lives are almost all Muslim ones, few Pakistanis speak out against these atrocities. Nor do they approve of military action against the cruel perpetrators, choosing to believe that they are fighting for Islam and against an imagined American occupation. Political leaders like Qazi Husain Ahmed and Imran Khan have no words of kindness for those who have suffered from Islamic extremists. Their tears are reserved for the victims of predator drones, whether innocent or otherwise. By definition, for them terrorism is an act that only Americans can commit.

Why the Denial?

 

To understand Pakistan’s collective masochism, one needs to study the drastic social and cultural transformations that have made this country so utterly different from what it was in earlier times. For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Indian subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian peninsula.

Continue reading

War in FATA – The Marxist View

Posted in Communist Movement, International Affairs, Marxism, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2008 by Umer

Let us begin from the first premise: What is the class character of the various forces that are in combat with each other? What are their aims? The position of the party of the proletariat must be clear; it can not consist of half-baked slogans, semi-support for one group and semi-support for the other—no it cannot be anything of the sort. Such positions, if taken to the masses, can only befuddle their minds.

“In any given situation, says Prachanda,”it is best in general terms to divide the struggle into its component parts—the forces of reaction (that seek to pull back the wheel of history), the forces of the status quo, and the forces of progress.”

I will use Comrade Prachanda’s rule of thumb as the benchmark—it is simple to grasp and easy to understand.

The present status quo is composed of an alliance between international finance capital, the comprador bourgeoisie and a section of the Pakistan Army that benefits from international finance capital. I will henceforth refer to this historical bloc simply, as the “status quo”.

1- The Taliban:

The Taliban represent the forces of reaction; let us be clear that they are not fighting a war against finance capital, or a war for national liberation. Let us also be clear that they are not even fighting a war for oppressed religious minorities.

Under what circumstances can the party of the proletariat support them? None.

2- The Pakistan Government

That a complete transition to bourgeois democracy has been made is un-dialectical. I agree. However, that is not the question that we are addressing.

As long as there is a temporary alliance between the class interests of the comprador bourgeoisie and a section of the army—leading to the formation of a new historical bloc—-they will jointly wage a battle against the Taliban.

To suggest—or to require—from contending class interests to always pursue their own course independently of other classes, even when there interests temporarily align against a common enemy is to reduce the class struggle into children’s playing field.

Yes, each class pursues a course of action, in the final analysis for its independent class aims and not for the aims of the allied class. But that does not imply that they will not ally against what they consider a common enemy. Contradictions are not immutable; antagonistic contradictions may metamorphisize into non-antagonistic ones and vice versa.

Coming back to the point—the Pakistan government at present is governed by the Pakistan People’s Party which historically represented the interests of the national bourgeoisie. That there has been a significant internal metamorphosis within the People’s Party, converting it into a party representing the interests of the comprador bourgeoisie is an important and objectively plausible hypothesis.

In either case, it is clear that they represent the forces that seek to maintain the present status quo as it stands.

3- The Pakistan Army

Does the Pakistan Army represent monolithic class interests? Or is it composed of different ideological strands?

If indeed, the Pakistan army is composed of different ideological strands, does this then imply that we can label its entire body under one caption: “Reactionary”. No it does not. Does it imply that we can label the entire Army as a force of the status quo? No it does not. Neither analysis is correct, in my opinion.

The Pakistan Army is composed of sections that represent the forces of the status quo, and forces that represent the forces of reaction. This corresponds to the historical evolution of the Pakistan Army over the course of the past 3 decades. During Zia’s military regime, the Mullahs were a part of the ruling historical bloc. As a result, a process of Islamization was conducted not only in the country, but within the Army as well. Professor Colonel Abdul Qayum was appointed as the Chief Advisor to the President, and was given the task of presenting a series of lectures on “iman, taqwa and jehad fi sabillillah” to young army officers. These three words became the motto of the Pakistan Army. Further, Abdul Qayum recalls in his book “Zia ul Haq and I”, that the process of Islamization was aimed at creating an ideologically Islamist army, though “a large chunk of officers resented and wanted a largely secular Army”. (Zia ul Haq and I, page 31)

Did the reactionary lobby within the Pakistan Army enjoy the same ascendancy within the ensuing 20 years after Zia’s death? No it did not. Does this imply that the reactionary lobby was annihilated? No it does not. The reactionary lobby continues to exist within the Army as a junior partner; however, the changing international situation and the corresponding crack in the hitherto existing historical bloc have changed the balance of forces not only in the country but within the Pakistan Army itself. During the course of the past 12 years the Askari Financial conglomerate has established itself as the leading financial body operating in Pakistan. Its interests are directly aligned with the interests of Imperialism. Therefore, it directly benefits from the dictates of imperialism.

Its ascendancy within the ranks of the Army corresponds to the emergence of the new historical bloc; the dethroning of the reactionary lobby within the Army corresponds to the fact that the new historical bloc has amputated relations with the forces of reaction. The dethroned forces exist and continue to agitate from within the ranks of the Army. Dozens of right-wing officers were forcefully retired during Musharraf’s period; hanged upon plotting his assassination thrice.

What should the Party of the Proletariat Do?

The Party of the proletariat has to decide its course of action given the situation. It cannot ask “what if” questions when the battle has already begun.

First, let me say at the outset that any moral headcount of the number of children and men being killed because of the war does no good to us. Casualty and injury are the byproducts of war; they are unfortunate but unavoidable. This is precisely why Marxist-Leninists have been the greatest advocates of peace; however, we understand that in order to make peace an objective reality the system of antagonistic classes that lies at the root of war must be eliminated. Any talk of peace without an objective appraisal of the situation and the balance of forces between the various classes amounts to pacifism. Furthermore, is it not juvenile to expect contending antagonistic class interests to “not get messy in war” when an opposing class has already taken up arms?
Second, as far as the operation and its logistical dynamics are concerned, it is obvious that the civilian government neither has the manpower nor the necessary skills to wage a battle itself. Military combat is an art and science; it is acquired through years of training. The only force capable of leading such an operation is the military itself. That the democratically elected government (both in the Federal capital and the Pakhtunkhwa province) supports the operation and has willingly given the military control of the operations (through a decision of the Pakistan People’s Party and the Awami National Party) suggests that even if the hegemony of the operation lies with the military its armed action cannot be called “unpopular” by any stretch of the imagination. The election campaigns of both the Pakistan People’s Party and the Awami National Party were replete with positions in support of an active struggle against the “Jehadi’s”. The Pakistan People’s Party contingent was targeted on numerous occasions by suicide bombers precisely because of its support for the Lal Masjid operation.

Given then that:

1- The war has already begun, and that it is pursuing a course of its own, independent of our subjective desires.
2- The Pakistan People’s Party (the party of the centre) and the Awami National Party (the party in the province) are openly and actively pursuing the war.
3- The Taliban have violated the terms of the peace negotiations and are plotting suicide bombs almost every week.

It is a matter of secondary importance (although not unimportant) then whether the hegemony of the operation lies with the elected government or with the army. Our support for the operation should be based on whether or not it seeks to annihilate the forces of reaction or not. Our Party supported the Lal Masjid operation at a time when even a partial transition to democracy had not been made. It supported the operation for its class aims; the routing of the forces of reaction by the forces of the status quo. A similar mode of analysis must be utilized to analyze this operation. Instead of falling into the abyss of pedantics we must support the operation since it takes on a head-on collision with the forces of reaction; forces which have most consistently been the enemies of progress, reason and science.

The proletariat cannot stand aloof in times of war; it does not impose pre-conditions on the bourgeois democrats for its historical struggle against pre-democratic forces. It supports every measure that challenges the forces of reaction and criticizes every move towards reconciliation. It is the most militant and consistent representative of progress; it can under no circumstances show any sympathy for forces of reaction either in the name of peace or under the guise of half-baked slogans. We must support any attempt, however imperfect, by the ruling status quo to annihilate the reactionaries. The criteria for support or opposition must be the class character of the contending forces and their goals in the broader historical context. The criteria for support must be: Does this in the broader view of history advance the cause of the proletariat by annihilating or making a dent in the ranks of all or at least one of its class enemies?

In my view, the present operation does indeed advance the cause of the proletariat by taking a head-on battle with the forces of reaction. Yes, it has many imperfections, like all political battles which are seldom in line with pedantic.

We must support the operation.

Left-wing sloganeering by the Right

Posted in Communist Movement, Marxism, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2007 by Umer

“This conflict is about class” — strange as it may sound, this quotation is neither taken from any writing of Karl Marx nor from the works of any subsequent Marxist. On the other hand, these words came from the most arduous foes of Marxists. The message of class-conflict, this time around, was highlighted by Umm Kusloom, the principal of the controversy-centered Jamia Hafsa, to Dr. Fauzia Afzal Khan, while the latter was visiting Lal Masjid to interview Ghazi Abdul Rashid at the beginning of the eventful week that concluded with the military operation. What led the former principal of Jamia Hafsa, the austere and militant teacher of Islam, to repeat good old Marx? This is not an oversight on the part of Umm Kulsoom, as the rest of the interview present at CounterPunch.org informs, but let’s look at another incident.

Few weeks ago, a writer through an eminent weekly magazine pointed towards the hypocrisy of the comments made by a religious maderassah student in the midst of the students’ convention while facing General Pervez Musharraf. The students became well-known as the video of his remarks was widely distributed on the internet. During his short speech, the seminary student primarily focused on the class inequality prevalent in the present-day Pakistani society, repeating what the leftist parties and groups have been saying for well over a century. What separated the seminary student from the Left was his proposed solution of returning back to the Islamic system. Karl Marx must be rolling around in his grave.

These fragments of events point towards something very important. To begin, the observations of Karl Marx about the economic and social structure of the society can’t be thrown away in the dustbin, as has been common in many liberal academic circles for quite a while. People, no matter what religion they follow, still associate themselves with their class. They still – to the utter disappointment of Samuel P. Huntington and his political thesis of “clash of civilizations” – tend to recognize class conflict as the primary contradiction in the modern capitalist society. At many occasions, they opt to organize on the basis of class rather than on the grounds of their religious identity. Had that not been the case, the religious preachers would not have been such a zealous enemy of the left-wing through out history; the former were becoming more or less irrelevant due to latter’s political and social program. After all, one is led to think, this word ‘class’ must have something to it. And, therefore, those who want to gain support from the people are bound to bring class-issues in their political equation. For these very reasons, the religious parties from the far-right come to take up the left-wing vocabulary.

Nevertheless, what do the religious parties and groups find more attracting in the left-wing slogans than the promises of the final abode in the heavens, with milk, honey, and, the most magnetic aspect of it, the virgins? The reasons are the same as those cited above. The evils of the capitalist system are glaringly clear to any normal person, and they are becoming more and more blatant with the passage of time. The common man can’t help but notice the vicious circle that he, along with his other fellows, has to go through in order to ensure mere survival. No ideas of eventual comfort can take his eyes away from the humiliation that defines his life.

Recognizing the sense of suffering faced by the common man, the religious parties try to rationalize it. They preach that it is divergence from “the true Islamic path” that is primarily responsible for horrible state of the current world. Satisfactory as the religious answer usually is for the innocent poor men in the absence of any alternative explanation, their movement towards Islam is not just to seek eternal solace, but is also embedded with the wish to better this world. Nevertheless, there are always others, usually from the middle class or tribal background, who usually realize religion only as an appropriate tool to reinforce familial patriarchal notions.

Magnanimous as the wish of the poor is, the right-wing alternative of the present day world capitalism is lacking in countless aspects. At the fundamental level, this analysis is not based on the material realities of the world we live, but on the notion of a priori ideal world. In other words, their solution to the worldly woes does not emerge from an understanding of this very world. How the implementation of some theocratic principles can cure the afflictions of poverty, gender oppression, and education can only be elucidated by the religious politicians through the notion of divine help. The Marxist interpretation of world capitalism as a specific stage in the historical development of mankind and its relationship with private property remain absent from the sermons of the religious men. While we can term the desires of the poor to be pious, how should the intent of the preachers be defined? Isn’t it intellectual sophistry of political and social reactionaries?

Due to the dilution of the Left – primarily because of the domination of the right-wing forces at the state level, generous foreign funding and subsequent suppression of progressive elements – religious politicians and preachers, while sensing the pulse of the people, found it convenient to take up progressive slogans. However, in the wake of a genuine pro-democracy movement, the historical gulf between the progressive and retrogressive trends is bound to reappear and reassert. The right-wing challenge to the Left can only be met through proper description of the actual material causes behind the vicious cycle in which the large majority of mankind is bound today. Once the Left returns to the scene equipped with their traditional slogans, the religious Right will not loose a moment to take up their trademark anti-communist and anti-progressive propaganda.