Archive for Pakistan Politics

Victimising labour

Posted in Law, Pakistan with tags , , , , , on June 11, 2009 by Umer


Umer A. Chaudhry

Just as Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani reiterated the strong resolve of his government to revise the anti-workers legislation of the country on May 30th, an ugly episode unfolded in Lahore that exposes the deep prejudice against the working classes entrenched in the folds of the Pakistani State. Niaz Shaikh, a labor leader associated with the Labour Party of Pakistan and National Trade Union Federation, was arrested from Model Town, Lahore, by police on May 25th on baseless charges of dacoity that purportedly took place in 2006. His real crime, however, was that he assisted the disorganized workers of the factory unit of an interior designing company to form their first trade union. Such crimes seldom go unnoticed by the owners of the industries who are well aware of how to use the corrupt law enforcement officers. This time around, Niaz Shaik had to face to the brunt for helping poor workers in their legitimate struggle for the fundamental constitutional right to form a trade union.

When the Prime Minister of Pakistan announced his government’s plan to form a new labor policy that will end all anti-workers legislation on May 30th, Niaz Shaikh was presented in handcuffs at the court of the Senior Civil Judge and Judicial Magistrate at Model Town Courts, Arif Khan Niazi, for the extension of physical remand. Upon hearing the issue in detail, the Judge held that the charges of dacoity on Niaz Shaikh were not proved. Niaz Shaikh was discharged and Police was ordered to open his handcuffs. Had the entire drama ended there and then, it could have been a triumph of justice. Justice, however, is never easy to find in Pakistan. The Police, in utter disregard of the Court’s order, refused to remove the handcuffs of Niaz Shaikh and rearrested him. Neither the Court nor Niaz Shaikh was informed if any charges other than the 2006 dacoity lied against him. He was arrested, in plain violation to his fundamental rights and in complete disrespect of the verdict of the Court.

After the second arrest, it took more than a day to find the whereabouts of Niaz Shaikh. His supporters in the meanwhile were running between Model Town and Garden Town in his search, only to find later in the day that he was detained in Garden Town. A new case was framed against Niaz. He was allegedly involved in cheating and criminal intimidation all the while when he was under arrest in Model Town. The workers of the Interwood, in the meanwhile, were being constantly harassed and threatened by the law enforcement agencies.

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Naghma-e-Zakhm-e-Dil: Songs of the Wounded Hearts

Posted in Communist Movement, Marxism, Pakistan, Poetry, Literature, Art with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2009 by Umer

by Shahram Azhar

Many people who know little or nothing about Laal’s evolution question the practicality of building socio-political movements through music and poetry. Too obviously, there is some truth to this skepticism; music, in its essence is a language constructed on notes and percussion. Revolutionary movements on the contrary are political-economic-social movements that are led by oppressed classes to overthrow a system of exploitation. However, revolutionary movements are not chaotic movements built in days or even months. Revolutionary science teaches us that a protracted process of ideological struggle precedes revolutionary movements—in the words of the greatest revolutionary of the past century, Vladimir Lenin: “Without revolutionary theory, there will be no revolutionary movement”.

In every epoch the ruling classes befuddle the minds of the oppressed classes by systematically propounding and enforcing ideas that seek to maintain the balance of class forces intact. In order to reproduce their class hegemony on a continuous basis they must convince the broadest sections of the masses that the status quo is in the best interests of the oppressed classes as well. This, the ruling classes achieve by monopolizing the means of propaganda: schools, religious seminaries, media, art and academic inquiry, in other words all the instruments of mass knowledge are directly or indirectly controlled by the ruling classes. It is through these institutions that the oppressor convinces the oppressed that the current system of production and distribution is sane, just and stable. Once that has been achieved the ruling classes are said to have established their ideological hegemony over all other classes. The consolidation of this ideological hegemony exhibits itself most vociferously in official discourse as an overarching objective of the educational, literary and cultural pursuits of the ruling classes. Marx said:

“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this In Its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch.”

It is precisely here that the role of revolutionary intellectuals and artists acquires primary importance: the destruction of the power of the ruling class first and foremost assumes the destruction of its sources of power. Now, power itself can be divided into various forms. The ruling class does not rule through force alone. It rules because it has convinced the oppressed segments of society that it deserves to rule. X cannot be a slave-master to Y, if Y is no longer willing to accept X as his slave-master. If Y must no longer accept X as his slave-master, Y must first be convinced that he too has the intellectual and physical abilities to become the ruler.

Therefore, in order to defy the domination of the ruling bloc, oppressed classes and their ideologues must challenge the ideas upon which their power rests. Too obviously in every society, revolutionaries must possess the ability to creatively apply the general science of revolutions to the objective, concrete situation of their society. Revolutionaries must find a way to propagate their ideas in a manner that pushes the broadest sections of the masses towards revolutionary action. Revolutions are built when a significant proportion of the population is convinced that the ruling system of oppression and exploitation must be torn asunder. Revolutions are built when the forces of love and humanity conquer the forces of hatred and barbarity. Revolutions are made when millions upon millions are united by their wounds against a common enemy.

In Asiatic (i.e., where the Asiatic Mode of Production prevailed) societies, from Arabia to India, poetry and music have played an extremely important role in forming the psychological make-up of society. Let us take the most familiar example. In ancient Arabia, competing tribes had poets and musicians as their ideologues. Poets (who were also musicians) were warriors, propagandists and strategists and led their armies from the front.

In colonial India the poetry of Nandlal Noorpuri and Ram Prashad Bismil became immortalized in their death: Sarfaroshi key tamanna abb hamaray dil main hai (The desire for sacrifice is now in our hearts). Faiz Ahmed Faiz, in his book Mah-o-Saal-e-Aashnai remembers this time as the formative phase of his life as a revolutionary and says that “as a result of this movement there was a significant change in the nature of national protests. Now, the slogans of Swaraj and Band-e-Matram had been replaced by the slogan of Inquilab Zindabad! (Long Live the Revolution!) and people sang “Sarfaroshi key tamanna abb hamaray dil main hai” instead of “Saaray jahan say acha Hindustan Hamara” (Better than the entire world, is our Hindustan).

In the Punjab the poetry of Ajit Singh Sikka inspired the peasantry to revolt against the local landlords. His poem “Pagri Sambhal, Jatta Pagri Sambhal” (Hold you turban, Jut,  hold your turban) united the peasantry across the Chenab and the Ravi and gave birth to one of the greatest revolutionary leaders from the sub-continent: Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, who formed the Naujawan Bharat Sabha (NBS) and later the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army with the explicit aim of creating a socialist republic. One of the principal methods of ideological propagation that the NBS employed was poetry recitation and music. In fact, Bhagat Singh and his comrades continue to resonate in popular culture with the song that they sang to the gallows: “Mera rang day basanti chola, maayay, mera rang day basanti chola” (Dye my robe the colour of spring, mother, dye my robe the colour of spring).

These poets and revolutionaries in turn, inspired a new breed of revolutionary poets and poetesses. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Habib Jalib and Amreeta Preetam first, and later Ahmed Faraz and Jaun Eliya continued to hold aloft the banner of purposive art and poetry. The power and strength of their ideas can be seen through the fear that these immortal revolutionaries instilled in the hearts of military dictators, capitalists and jaageerdars. These fearless freedom fighters would stop at nothing less than the complete abolition of exploitation and injustices. In a time when the military dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq had banned the publication of anti-dictatorship material, poetry recitals became an extremely important method of defiance. The poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib was banned from newspapers and declared illegal. Yet, it continued to inspire millions upon millions of workers and peasants towards rebellion.

In his poem, “Hum jo taareek rahon main maaray gayay” (We, who were slain in unlit pathways), Faiz declared:

“Qatl gaahon say chun kar hamaray ala

Aur niklaingay ushaaq k qaafilay”

(Picking up our flags from these grounds

will march forth more caravans of your lovers)

And so it is with Laal: As individuals who seek to build a socialist revolution in Pakistan we have decided to re-lift the flags of our heroes. As long as there is oppression and injustice in our land, we will fight. As long as there are those who live through the labor of others in comfort and luxury, we will fight. As long as there are those who consider themselves the masters of the universe and all its wealth, we will fight.

Our poetry and music is for all the wounded hearts and the oppressed millions who continue to live in conditions of bondage and slavery. In the words of Jalib:

Jo sadaaayain sun raha hoon

mujhay bus unnhey ka ghum hai

Tumhain shair key pari hai

Mujhay aadmi ka ghum hai

(The calls that I hear

Only these worry my soul

You are concerned about the poet

I am worried about humanity)

Shahram Azhar is the lead vocalist of the musical band Laal (the Reds) and a member of the Communist Workers and Peasants Party (CMKP) of Pakistan.

Class struggle in Swat?

Posted in Pakistan with tags , , , , on June 5, 2009 by Umer

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?

The Baloch Question

Posted in International Affairs, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , on April 26, 2009 by Umer

by Umer A. Chaudhry

The brutal murder of three nationalist leaders of Balochistan and the ensuing crisis has brought the issue of the Baloch national struggle to the forefront once again, only to be met with feigned surprises and arrogant dismissals by a major part of the rest of Pakistan. We in Pakistan — and particularly those of us in Punjab — love to externalize the roots of problems that irritate our sensibility. Therefore, fingers were immediately pointed at foreign involvements, scarcely any thought given to our own attitude towards one of the largest provinces of our country. The deliberate lack of introspection combined with the respect that wild conspiracy theories continue to enjoy renders it very much necessary to take a dip into the history of Balochistan, for that is where the roots of the question lie.

The roots of Baloch nationalism can be roughly traced back to the middle of the nineteenth century when the region became a victim of foreign aggression from both eastern and western sides during the decline of the Khanate of Kalat. For the expansionist British colonizers, Balochistan was a strategically important region to manage the buffer state of Afghanistan against Russia and maintain communication links with Central Asia and Persia. Starting from 1839, after the assassination of Mir Mehrab Khan in a British regiment’s attack on Kalat leading to the installation of an unpopular Khan, the British made several inroads in the Kalat State. British power was consolidated in Balochistan through a number of treaties, culminating in the treaty of 1876 through which the sovereignty of the Khan of Kalat over the region was brought under the administrative control of the British.

In the same period, the Baloch region suffered intrusion from Iran on the western side under the leadership of Qajar King Nasir-al Din Shah, with a major war fought in Kerman in 1849. With Iranian expansionism in Balochistan on the rise, the British decided to adopt the policy of appeasement towards the Iranians to dissuade them from the Russian influence. In 1871, the British agreed to the Iranian proposal for the division of Balochistan and appointed a Perso-Baloch Boundary Commission with Maj. General Goldsmith as its Chief Commissioner. The ‘Goldsmith Line’ thus arbitrarily divided the cultural, social, and economic unity of Baloch people while excluding the concerns of the people and government of Balochistan. The sovereignty of the Khanate of Kalat, which was not a part of British India, was seriously compromised, leaving behind a deep sense of injustice, discrimination, and alienation among the Baloch people. Later in 1893, the areas of Outer Seistan and Registan were handed over to Afghanistan by the’Durand Line’, further aggravating the Baloch anger.

The Baloch people have never been passive in accepting the foreign domination, interference, and arbitrary partitions. The end of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century saw the rise of resistance through a number of violent revolts and rebellions as well as peaceful protests against the injustice meted out to the Baloch people by the British colonizer and the Iranian kingdom. The concerns of the Baloch were not given any due consideration and, as was typical of the colonial rule, the Baloch resistance was suppressed with a heavy hand.

The next major incident that catalyzed the Baloch national struggle was the forced annexation of British Balochistan and the Khanate of Kalat to Pakistan after the independence and partition of India. The Baloch concerns arose when the referendum in British Balochistan, which was leased to the British by the Kalat State through a treaty, was carried out despite the objections raised by the Khan of Kalat. Once again, the Baloch saw foreign powers interfering in their affairs without their permission. Later, the newly born State of Pakistan forcibly annexed the Kalat State through an armed attack on 26 March 1948, even though the Khan of Kalat had announced independence on 12 August 1947, which was his right under the British withdrawal plan for India agreed upon by all major parties. The Khan agreed to merge the Kalat State with Pakistan on 27 March 1948, and the Pakistan Army marched into the capital of Kalat on 1 April 1948 as sign of their ‘victory’.

The forcible annexation of Balochistan intensified the Baloch grievances. For the Baloch, the coerced annexation to Pakistan was another attempt to curb their right of self-determination and to decide the destiny of their nation. The aggression was not accepted with silence and Prince Abdul Karim Khan, brother of the Khan of Kalat, initiated a revolt against the Pakistan Army. This revolt was brutally crushed within a short span of time and Prince Abdul Karim Khan was arrested and imprisoned.

The second Baloch rebellion in Pakistan started in 1958 in the aftermath of the ‘One Unit’ policy that was advocated vigorously by the politically dominant bureaucratic establishment of Pakistan in 1955. Following this policy, several Baloch states were forcibly dissolved and annexed into Pakistan, leading to popular resistance. In 1958, Khan Ahmed Yar Khan, the Khan of Kalat, organized a rebellion calling for secession from Pakistan. The Khan was arrested on the charges of sedition, his palace was taken over by the army, and marital law was imposed. This led to a long resistance, lasting four years, by the Baloch people against the aggression of the center. Around the same time, another rebellion was organized by Nawab Nawroz Khan, popularly known as Babu Nawroz, fighting the forces led by Lt. Col. Tikka Khanwho became notorious as the ‘Butcher of Balochistan’ and later as the ‘Butcher of Bengal’. Nawab Nawroz Khan, who was in his 80s at that time, was lured into surrender by a false oath on Quran for amnesty. The oath was not honored. Nawab Nawroz was arrested with his followers. His sons and other leaders of his movement were executed. The life of Babu Nawroz was, however, spared because of his old age and he died in custody. Khan Ahmed Yar Khan was granted amnesty and freed.

The year 1973 saw another eruption of nationalist anger in Balochistan when the central government, led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, refused to accede to the Baloch demand for provincial autonomy. Encouraged and aided by the Shah of Iran who was weary of the possible spillage of Baloch nationalist upsurge in Iranian Balochistan, the demand for provincial autonomy was nipped in the bud in Pakistan by the planted conspiracy of the ‘London Plan’: arms and ammunition allegedly en route to Kalat were discovered at the Iraqi embassy. The Baloch political leaders were arrested on the pretext that they hatched a conspiracy against Pakistan and were arbitrarily removed from ministerial positions. The National Awami Party (NAP) was banned though a Supreme Court order and their leaders were arrested, includingAtaullah Mengal, the then elected Chief Minster of Balochistan, along with Khair Baksh Marri and Ghaus Bax Bazenjo. They were all charged with high treason, persecuted at the specially constituted Hyderabad Tribunal.

The Baloch resistance of the 1970s arose under the leadership of the left-oriented Baloch People’s Liberation Front (BPLF), which was joined by people from all across Pakistan giving the movement a very progressive color. The Pakistani government, using the military aid provided by the Shah of Iran, conducted a merciless and savage operation killing thousands of Baloch civilians and displacing hundreds of thousands. The 1973-1977 civil war became one of the most widespread and bloody civil unrests against the federal government in Pakistan after the secessionist war of liberation in Bangladesh. The Baloch movement was quelled with the coup of General Zia-ul-Haq, and nearly all the insurgents were granted amnesty. Many Baloch outfits maintained their operations in Balochistan and amongst the Baloch refugees in Afghanistan.

The next and the fourth insurgency in Balochistan started in 2005, around the same demands of provincial autonomy and control over the province’s natural resources. Instead of giving due consideration to the recurrent demands of the Baloch people, the federal government under the military dictatorship resorted to the same old colonial tactics of high-handedness and initiated a full-fledged civil war in Balochistan. The assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti became yet another turning point in the Baloch resistance and the estrangement of Baloch population. The arrogant, nay evil, response of General Pervez Musharraf in congratulating the military commanders and intelligence services for successfully carrying out the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti added extra fuel to the fire. The brutality as well as circumstances of the recent killing of the three Baloch nationalist leaders of Balochistan — Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, Lala Muneer Baloch, and Sher Mohammad Baloch — have further aggravated the Baloch rage towards the federal government and now increasingly, but understandably, towards the rest of the population of Pakistan who have been silent bystanders.

The objective of briefly narrating the history of the Baloch crisis is only to highlight the real causes of the current conflict in the province. The lack of respect for self-determination of the Baloch people, the denial of provincial autonomy, the highly oppressive and arbitrary manner in which their leaders have been treated, the savagely cruel conduct of the federal government in times of crisis, the refusal to let the Baloch exercise their rights over the natural resources of their province, the outright discrimination against the Baloch people in the matter of economic and social rights — these are among the important factors that have brought the conditions to what they are today. Rather than externalizing the problem, we must see it in its proper historical context. The federal government of Pakistan has to do more than make half-hearted attempts to restore confidence of the people of the province. Nothing short of provision of maximum provincial autonomy, respecting the right to self-determination of the people of Balochistan, can begin to alleviate their pains and angers.

Umer A. Chaudhry is a lawyer based in Lahore, Pakistan and a member of the Communist Workers and Peasants Party (CMKP) of Pakistan.

Book Review: Islamisation of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks

Posted in Books & Authors, International Affairs, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2009 by Umer

by Yoginder Sikand

Name of the Book: Islamisation of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks

Author: Yvette Claire Roser

Publisher: Rupa & Co

Price Rs. 195

Pages: 109

ISBN: 81-291-0221-8

Reviewed by: Yoginder Sikand

Contrary to what professional historians might claim, there is really nothing as an objective, unbiased and completely accurate writing of history. After all, not everything, even of significance, of what happened in the past can possibly be included in a text, and history book writers have to pick and choose from past events that they deem fit be recorded. The very process of picking and choosing from the past is determined, among other factors, by the subjective biases of the history writer as well as his or her own social and institutional location. Then, history writing is not simply about narrating the past but also involves a certain element of evaluating it. Here, again, this is strongly determined by the personal biases and preference of the individual historian.

The element of bias is greatly exacerbated when history textbooks are—as they are in almost every country today—commissioned by the state. The state wishes to mould its citizens in a particular way, to make them what it considers as ‘good’ and ‘law-abiding’ citizens, who have completely internalized the underlying logic and ideology of the state. The state, in its capacity of representative of a country’s ruling class, seeks to impose through state-sponsored history texts the hegemonic ideas of this class upon its citizenry. It is thus not surprising that such texts generally parrot the state-centric view of history that seeks to bestow legitimacy on the state and the country’s ruling class and ‘normalise’ their logic and world-view.

This incisive critique of state-sponsored social science textbooks in Pakistan highlights the convoluted politics of historiography and what this means for the production of a ‘social commonsense’ for a state’s citizenry. Although Roser does not say it in so many words, the current turbulent political scenario in Pakistan, in particular the rise of radical Islamist forces in the country, cannot be seen as inseparable from the narrow political agenda that the Pakistani state, ever since its formation, has consistently sought to pursue as is reflected in the social science textbooks that it has commissioned, and through which it has sought to impose its own ideology on its people.

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The Dawn of Freedom

Posted in Pakistan, Poetry, Literature, Art with tags , , , , on March 20, 2009 by Umer

This translation of a famous poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Subh-e-Azadi, was introduced to me by Mat Noir in a comment at the Red Diary.

The Dawn of Freedom (August 1947)

This leprous daybreak, this night-bitten dawn,
this is not the dawn we awaited with longing sighs;
this is not the dawn that drew our friends on
believing that, somewhere in the desert of these skies,
they would find the resting-place of the stars,
somewhere find where night’s sluggish tides reach shore,
somewhere find the boat of heartache and drop anchor.
When we friends set out by the secret byways of youth
how many hands bid us stay, pulling at our hems!
From eager bedchambers in the palace of truth,
sweet arms kept crying out, flesh calling us to come;
but dearer was the seductive face of daylight,
dearer still her robe aglow with sprites:
my longing seemed to buoy me, my weariness grew light.
It is said that the division of day from night is done,
it is said our goals are realized and unflawed;
but only the ways of our hurtful leaders are new-sprung,
collective joy decreed, the anguish of separation outlawed.
The fire in our livers, the burning in our hearts, the riots in our
this severing cannot cure any of these.
When did that dear morning wind arrive—and must it go yet?
The lamps on these byroads have not felt its breeze;
no one has come to lighten this night’s heavy load yet,
our heart’s inheritance has not been bestowed yet.
Come with me, come, our goal lies down the road yet.

Left with Hope

Posted in Communist Movement, International Affairs, Pakistan with tags , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2009 by Umer


Umer A. Chaudhry

More than 125 years after his death and 150 years after he wrote his most famous piece of work, Karl Marx seems to have managed his return from Highgate Cemetery of London. His specter is no longer haunting merely Europe, rather it has expanded its reach to every corner of the world. All this when only a few years back it was declared and uncritically accepted that there can be no alternative to new-liberal capitalism, history was stated to have ended, and even the human capacity to observe and understand the world was questioned based on, amongst other things, the limitations of language. On the other hand, the world also saw, with the alleged ‘death of Communism,’ a sharp revival of the politics and militancy in the name of religion. Set against this backdrop, even the modest re-emergence of Karl Marx in the political and social discourse is highly remarkable. After all, the modern capitalist class structure, upon whose criticism Marxism proudly stands, did not collapse along with the Berlin Wall.

The return of Marxist discourse is not unaccompanied by a noticeable global upsurge in the political presence of the Left. The victory of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) in the Himalayas early in 2008 gave a major boost to the Leftist political activists around the world. The history and strategy of the Nepali Maoists were critically discussed and appreciated with reference to all accessible records and statements of the Party via various Internet forums and meetings around the globe. The out-pouring of Chinese students in opposition to Free-Tibet protests in many parts of the world just before the Beijing Olympics compelled many to have their first look at the history of China and the Chinese revolution. The mounting strength of Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales added by their increasing confrontations with U.S. Imperialism in Latin America became another source of inspiration for the world’s Left. The communist parties in India entered into a major struggle with the Congress Party, conducting mass demonstrations against the Indo-U.S. nuclear deals. Even in Russia, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation has maintained itself as the country’s second largest party and its largest opposition party. All in all, the global recovery of the Left, though not at a very grand scale, is apparent to every perceptive eye.

In Pakistan, the Left has also made a modest yet a noteworthy reappearance. It was mostly due to the movement against the unconstitutional and illegal imposition of emergency that the Left has been able to gain visibility at a larger scale. Many journalists expressed their surprise at activists robustly raising the traditional slogans of the Left during major rallies of the lawyers’ movement. Many lawyers, who had any past association with the Left, were instantly attracted towards the sight of the red flag and the octagonal Mao caps. Young students, out of curiosity, inquired about the new crimson element on the streets and got to know about the strong tradition of resistance and struggle that Left carries forward. They were even more astonished to know that Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib, whose poetry also returned and was received with great appreciation, were also leading figures of the Left in their times.

Many people, however, are still not clear regarding why the Left engaged with the lawyers’ movement in the first place. It was not a knee-jerk reaction and obviously not an ignorance of the fact that the lawyers’ movement hosts a whole lot of forces, including the staunch right-wing elements of mainstream political parties- traditional foes of the Left. On the other hand, the Left participated in the lawyers’ movement to connect it with other anti-dictatorship movements that occurred in the past eight years, in order to help in building a larger movement for democracy, secularism, social justice, and rule of law – something running contrary to the goals of the religious right-wing. The Left made attempts within its capacity to build a movement that could address the basic question of the Pakistani State and society, and efforts were made to invite groups like Anjumen-e-Mazareen Punjab (AMP), Railway Workers’ Union (RWU), and the striking PTCL workers to the lawyers’ processions. However, it can be a criticism of the Left at the lawyers’ movement that it did not build any bridges with mass working class organizations, as was done during the anti-Ayub movement of the 60’s, though heavy focus was laid on traders’ organizations. The Left may not have succeeded in giving a more progressive and inclusive shape to the lawyers’ movement, despite all out efforts to do so. Notwithstanding, the Left stood staunch as to its goal and, at the very least, floated the right idea.

Nevertheless, a degree of confusion did exist during the course of the lawyers’ movement when many parties of the Left -including Labor Party of Pakistan (LPP) and National Workers’ Party (NWP)- decided to join the All Pakistan Democratic Movement (APDM) and boycotted the elections early in 2008. One of the parties of the Left that did not join the APDM, a noteworthy exception, was the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (CMKP), which held that the Left must unite itself as a secular-democratic force in efforts to distinguish itself as a progressive force in the democratic movement, refraining from partaking in an alliance that has known reactionary right-wingers as its leading faces. The APDM-Left, conversely, either argued that the APDM was not dominated by the right wing, or that the alliance helped them in expanding the scope of their political activity. Be that as it may, the Left managed to make unified calls for the struggle against the Army dictatorship and its political cronies during the vital days of the February elections; only to have been responded by threats by elements of the State as a witness to their efficacy.

Another debate that was waged with passion in the circles of the Left, which are accessible to intellectuals and students through Internet forums, was the position regarding the conflict in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The Left that mingled with APDM called for an immediate stoppage of the military operation for the reasons that it targeted civilians, lacked efficiency due to double-dealings of the ISI and was conducted under the directions of the U.S. Imperialism. The CMKP, finding itself alone here as well, took a different stance. Vehemently opposing the civilian casualties, the double-dealings of the ISI, and the U.S. drone attacks, the CMKP argued that history and circumstances have led Pakistan to such a stage where extremism cannot be rooted out through peaceful dialogues and negotiations. Such means, it is believed, have a negative outcome as they allow the militants to get back on the offensive. Hence, it is essential to use force to deal with the threat of religious fanaticism. There are many other arguments, with varying degrees of sophistication, made for or against the afore-mentioned positions; what was most awe-inspiring was the level of thoroughness of some of the debates.

The aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks has appeared as a great challenge for Pakistan’s Leftists. To understand the predicament faced by them, it must be understood that the Left has always directed its efforts against the Military-Mullah alliance: the elements of quintessential mainstream politics in Pakistan. These two institutions have always stood in the path of even the smallest transition of our country towards democracy- both feed on jingoism and excessively anti-Indian hate-mongering, in order to conceal their retrogressive and narrow political stance.

The distressing tragedy of Mumbai was followed by astute chauvinist nationalism, employing the electronic and print media to further its cause. The image of retrogressive forces is being resurrected, in a planned manner, and zealous calls of “unity” are being given. This is responded to with indifference and total underestimation of the unjust and negative politics of the Army and religious fundamentalists. Television channels are opened for people like Hameed Gul to beat their jingoistic drums in the name of religion and false patriotism. The Left, in these circumstances, is left with no option but to end its year by placing a struggle on the cards against the politics of hate-mongering and jingoism. In this, so far with some formal engagement, the Left appears to stand united.

All in all, the politics of the Left has generated great interest fresh circles. The youth and the oppressed, thoroughly disgusted with military dictatorship, religious extremism and the mainstream parties of Pakistan, are eagerly seeking a new alternative on the political scenario. The Left appears as a major hope. The Left must maintain clarity with regards to its political position while becoming as accessible as possible towards those who are willing to struggle for the solution that guarantees democracy, progress, and social justice. The Left must stand steadfastly with its commitment towards peoples’ democracy, secularism, land-reforms, independence from Imperialism, equal rights and opportunities for women, minorities, oppressed nations, and most notably, the emancipation of the workers and peasants.

This article was published in The Friday Times on 26th December, 2008.

Peace and unity

Posted in International Affairs, Pakistan with tags , , , , on December 18, 2008 by Umer

WHAT unfolded after the tragic terrorist attacks in Mumbai is a matter of serious concern to all those who want peace and harmony in South Asia (Cover Story, December 19). In Pakistan, the media and right-wing religious forces constantly try to portray India as being dominated and ruled by anti-Pakistan political parties. Indian media also attempts to air anti-Pakistani feelings and have, to an extent, played into the hands of right-wing powers there.

At a moment when we should all join hands under the banner of peace, we are being divided by those who claim to uphold the cause of freedom of opinion. It is important for the people of India and Pakistan to stand up against the tirades of hate, and support activities that promote peace in the region. Only with our unity can we fight terrorism and religious extremism. Peace is the only option.

Umer A. Chaudhry
Lahore, Pakistan

Published at Frontline