[Marxism] Pakistan in Turmoil: An Interview with Farooq Tariq

Fred Fuentes fred.fuentes at gmail.com
Sun Mar 22 21:25:16 MDT 2009

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 *An Interview with Farooq Tariq * *Pakistan in Turmoil * By RON JACOBS


Once again, the nation of Pakistan has found itself in what many
commentators are calling a national crisis.  This time around, the civilian
government of Asif Ali Zardari was forced to keep one of his party’s
election promises—reinstating Chief Justice Chaudhury (who had been
summarily dismissed by General Musharraf in 2007—a move which precipitated
Muharraf’s downfall).  This reinstatement was the result of a popular
movement spearheaded by lawyers and other elements of the religious and
secular opposition.  One element of the secular opposition is the Labour
Party of Pakistan (LPP), a democratic socialist organization launched in
1997 from various elements of the Pakistani Left.  In 2007, after the
assassination of Benazir Bhutto, I communicated with Farooq Tariq, the
secretary general of the LPP.  After the recent events, I got back in touch
with him. What follows is an exchange conducted the past couple of days
(March 16-17, 2009) between myself and Mr. Tariq.

*Hello Tariq.  To begin, can you give the readers an idea of what is
transpiring in Pakistan? In your description, can you identify the parties
and prominent individuals involved?*

What is transpiring in Pakistan is mass power. A real sense of victory after
the restoration of the chief justice Iftikhar Choudry is one of the main
features of this movement. It will be difficult for any government in the
future here in Pakistan not to implement what was promised. The Pakistan
Peoples Party (PPP) was forced to accept a demand only and only with the
emergence of mass power in the streets.

It is a victory of the people against the traditional power brokers of
Pakistan. It is a victory of hope against cynicism. There were many saying
that Iftikhar Choudry would never be reinstated because President Zardari
will never change his mind. The sheer expression of mass uprising frightened
all the major actors of the movement. They rushed to accept the initial
demand of restoration even before the long march reached Islamabad. Had it
(the long march) not been called off by the lawyers' leaders after the
acceptance of the first demand, the list of demands would (probably) have
been expanded from the political to the economic area.  This movement showed
that the people of Pakistan can make a difference. Pakistan has changed and
changed for ever.

The Long March of the lawyer's movement proved that a consistent struggle
and militant actions can be fruitful. The tactics and strategy of the
lawyers movement were a combination of the united mass action of political
parties and civil society organizations and a successful propaganda campaign
through the electronic and print media. Had the lawyers movement gone alone,
they could not have won the battle.  The main political parties that were in
the forefront of this struggle are Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, Tehreek
Insaaf, Jamaat Islami, Pukhtoonkhawa Mili Awami Party, Awami Tehreek,
National Party, Labour Party Pakistan, Khaksar Tehreek, Baluchistan National
Party, Sindh Taraqi Pasand Party, National Workers Party, Communist Mazdoor
Kissan Party and a majority of Pakistan social organizations. Of these
Jamaat Islami is a religious party and rest are Left, liberal and
progressive parties.

Anyhow, the most consistent political parties that were part of the lawyers
movement since it started on 9 March 2007 are Tehreek Insaf of Imran Khan,
an emerging party of the middle classes, Jamaat Islami, a religious
fundamentalist party and the Labour Party of Pakistan (LPP), a socialist
party.  The rest of the parties were of and are part of the movement.  The
most prominent figures of the lawyers movement were Ali Ahmad Kurd,
president Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), and three SCBA presidents
including Aitezaz Ahsan, Hamid Khan and Munir A Malik. They were all
arrested but stood firm. From the political parties, Imran Khan, a former
Pakistan cricket team captain has emerged as the most popular personality of
the movement. His party was not very well known or active by movement
standards , but because of the participation of Tehreek Insaaf (Justice
Party) in this movement, it has become a household name in Pakistan.

>From the Left parties, Labour Party Pakistan has gained to some extent.
Also, the LPP is now better nationally known with a very militant position.
The party that got the most advantage from this movement is the Pakistan
Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN). It won the February election arguing for the
reinstatement of the top judges. It used clever tactics after the elections.
It left the Alliance at the Center with PPP on this question. The PMLN
leaders and the Sharif brothers made very radical speeches before and during
the long march. The party (PMLN) was ready to take risks and loose the
provincial government in Punjab on the issue. If there was an election
today, this right wing bourgeoisie party would have a national land slide

*Does your party (the Labour Party of Pakistan) support any of the figures
involved? If so why? If not, why? *

LPP supported the leaders of the lawyer's movement all the time but with a
critical attitude. Our literature produced during the movement helped to
expand the nature of the movement. Our first poster read, "on the footsteps
of the lawyers, till the end of dictatorship". We linked the restoration of
the judges with the end of military dictatorship. We saw the potential of
this movement to expand on a national level from the very beginning. We
supported them because the nature of the movement was very progressive. It
was not a religious movement of any kind although the religious parties
tried to take it over.  However, the demand of an independent judiciary
could never be termed as an Islamic demand.

We supported them (the movement) because it was producing an anti-militarist
political tendency among a significant section of the middle class and was
producing a new layer of young political activists who were not religious
fundamentalist. We helped the movement and the movement helped the Left
ideas to grow in both the political and organizational arenas. Those who
were associated with the lawyers movement got a national identity and were
heard everywhere.

*Do the events occurring in Pakistan open an avenue for the Left? Will the
PPP cease to exist as a party or will it return closer to its leftist roots?

It is a very complex political situation. The ideas of religious
fundamentalism have a natural ally here. That ally is the presence of the
NATO forces in Afghanistan. The objective situation is very favorable for
the right wing ideas to grow. The nature of the Pakistan state is another
help to them. (After all) It is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and not a
people's republic. Yet, the ideas of the Left are growing as well. Our help
from the international scene comes from the development of Left governments
in Latin America and social movements in the advanced capitalist countries.

Internally, we are growing because of our tactics of helping and developing
the mass movements of the workers, peasant women and the lawyers. The
association with the movement is a key to our recent growth. Over 5000 have
joined the Labour Party during our "peoples contact movement (drive)" in
December and January 2009. Incidentally, our best growth was in North West
Frontier Province, where over 2000 have joined during this time.

But our most stable basis is still the trade unions and peasant
organizations. We have not left our work in this class base to join the
lawyer's movement. It was possible for our comrades in Faisalabad, the third
largest city of Pakistan, to lead over 100,000 against the shortages of
electricity in January 2009. Twenty of them were arrested on 14 March 2009
and we had given a call for a general strike on 16 March, the day lawyers
won. I was told by the comrade that the call has been supported by the
traders as well. It would have been a total success if the lawyer's movement
would have continued on the day (March 16). The success of the lawyer's
movement has opened a new avenue for the growth of Left ideas. For the first
time, we are witnessing the educated youth joining our party. Earlier, we
were a handful of comrades within the party who had university degrees.

The PPP is the main loser of this whole episode. It has politically moved
much towards the right since it came in power a year ago. It has tried to
implement the neo-liberal agenda that was initiated by General Musharraf. It
is seen as a party allowing the American imperialists to attack Pakistan
directly without any state resistance. It failed to implement the promises
of reinstatement of the judges despite written agreements three times. The
leader Asif Zardari is probably the most hated politician among the
mainstream leaders. He is seen as a liar, deceiver, swindler, trickster,
charlatan, quack and cheater. A day after the reinstatement of the top
judges, he made a statement that he wanted to reinstate the judges. This was
after he was seen as the main hurdle in the path of reinstatement.

The PPP is distributing sweets all over Pakistan after the reinstatement
claiming that they have fulfilled the promise of Benazir Bhutto. Yet for
over eight months, their entire leadership was arguing that Benazir Bhutto
never promised to reinstate them. They were saying that Iftikhar Choudry is
a politicized judge. Their argument was that he should take a new oath like
some other judges have taken. They were making a point that Iftikhar Choudry
is just one person. They were using all sorts of  arguments against the
judges in all the television and print media debates. Yet only a day later
(after the reinstatement), they wanted the Pakistani people to believe that
it was the PPP who had reinstated and fulfilled a promise of Benazir Bhutto.
They believe the memory of the people is very short. They believe that we
should forget our jails, arrests, tortures, ungrounded life, the barricades
in the road to stop the long march and whatever else. The PPP leaders have
become real hypocrites.

The party is not finished but is losing its support rapidly. It will remain
as a major party unless another party replaces them with a revolutionary
programme. The PMLN can never replace the PPP. It can win an election for
the time being but it can never have the permanent support of the people
because the nature of PMLN is almost the same as PPP. Both are right wing
bourgeoisie parties with populist appeal at some times.

There is no possibility of the PPP taking a Left route. The reason is very
simple, PPP leadership from top to bottom is committed to power and to
(certain) people. They have proved again and again that they will serve the
interests of the ruling class and imperialism and are not for the (majority
of) the people. They have even abandoned the gesture of leftist ideas. It
will remain in the political scene as a party of the capitalists and
feudalists. All the time it is losing support. Benazir Bhutto's death gave
it a breathing space but that is lost already.

*What about the conflicts in Swat and other parts of the Northwest Frontier
Province (NWFP)? How are they affected by what occurs in Islamabad?*

In Swat, the government signed a surrender pact with the religious
fundamentalists. Under their pressure, so-called Sharia courts have been
established and the normal judicial structure has ceased to exist at
present. It is a victory of the extreme religious fundamentalists in the
area. They now control at least major parts of NWFP including the Malakanad
division. There is a peace in Swat at present at the cost of abandoning all
sort of normal democratic institutions and ideas. The public girls schools
are now open with a totally different character. They have become the public
Madrassa. The girls have to read what the student girls are reading in
(mosque-run) Madrassa.

The Islamabad answer to all this is to accept the Predator drone attacks by
the Americans. On one side, they are signing surrender agreements with
religious forces and on the other side (they are) helping American
imperialism to fashion their air attacks. This entire situation is paving
the way for the growth of extreme religious ideas in all parts of the NWFP.
The government of the Awami National Party is unable to mobilize the mass
support they had enjoyed only one year earlier on the question of peace in
the region. The religious fanatics got less than three present votes in the
February 2009 general elections as compared to 15 percent in 2002. The
Islamabad government seems paralyzed in this situation. They are waiting for
miracles to happen. They are still acting like it is "business as usual".
There is no thought out strategy by Islamabad to handle the conflict with
religious forces.

*From your perspective, what role do you think Washington is playing in the
struggle between the forces represented by Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif?*

Washington is trying to bring them together and asking them to resolve their
conflicts. The American ambassador in Pakistan is very busy between Raiwind,
the residence of Nawaz Sharif, and Islamabad. They are asking both sides to
come together to fight effectively the "war on terror". They always frighten
both of them as to the consequences of the conflict between them. The best
option (as Washington sees it, would be) that the both should form an
alliance at (the) center and in other areas. Nawaz Sharif has been saying
all the time that he was forced to go for the Long March. It was not his
choice. He did not want the masses to come on the roads but the sheer
bull-headedness of Zardari forced them to this situation. The feudal ego of
Zardari has meant that the Sharif brothers are out of power for the time
being. A day after the success of the movement, Nawaz Sharif told his
supporters to behave and that he respects Zardari and Gilani of the PPP. His
brother Shahbaz Sharif told a television that those who make a mistake in
the morning and then come back home in the evening must be forgiven.

*The last time I spoke with you (November 2007), I asked the following
questions. I am hoping you can respond to them with your country's history
since that time in mind: What, in your opinion, is the cause of the unrest
in Pakistan? How much of a role do religious extremists play? How much of a
role does the Army play?*

There are multiple reasons for the constant unrest in Pakistan. The foremost
reason is the inability of the ruling classes in Pakistan to solve all the
basic problems faced by the masses. There exists a feudalistic relationship
and land is not distributed to peasants. This brings a very feudal culture
and atmosphere in Pakistan. Both the main bourgeois parties, PPP and PMLN,
do not speak about it anymore. The major parts of the main leadership in
both parties are from the feudal class. They use the ownership of land for
political purposes and to win the elections. Sixty-one years of independence
have brought no real independence for the majority of the people. This is
the real crisis of leadership in Pakistan. Both main parties rely on the
military generals. Even in this (most recent) crisis over the  days from
12-16 March 2009, the army chief was mediating between the president, prime
minister and the Nawaz brothers. The Nawaz brothers (said they) were very
thankful to the "positive" role of the army chief.

The failure of reformist parties like the PPP paved the way for the growth
of religious extremism. The extremists were and are supported by a major
section of the army. It is a very complex relationship between the rich, the
army and religious extremists. It changes and adjusts all the time. 9/11
made an indispensable difference to this relationship. The fact is that the
support of the ruling class for religious extremism is not open as was the
case in the past, but the presence of the American forces in the region has
given a real momentum for the growth of the religious fundamentalists.

The military is out of power in public but not in real terms. No military
general has faced any truth commission after their unconstitutional rule.
General Musharraf was given a guard of honor when he resigned on 17 August
2008. He still lives in an army house and enjoys all the privileges. The
military power in the budget allocated to "defense", is a defense of the
ruling class in real terms. Over 30 percent of national income goes to
defense budget. The whole society is militarized.  (There are)  a lot of
weapons everywhere and it is not decreasing.

*Mr. Sharif was quoted after the crackdown by Pakistani police failed to
stop the protests earlier this week as saying what happened was the
"beginning of a revolution." Is this true? If so, would it be a revolution
for the majority of the Pakistani people or merely the elites who seem to
take turns ruling the country? *

Mr. Sharif has used the words of revolution, rebellion and upsurge several
times after his government dissolved in Punjab and governor rule was
imposed. He told a gathering that he is flying a flag of revolution and to
side with him. His brother Shahbaz Sharif has recited Jalib and Faiz Ahmad
Fiaz several times in public-- both poets are known for their revolutionary
poems all over Pakistan. The word revolution to Nawaz Sharif  means nothing
and only comes out of his mouth when he is in the  opposition. The
revolution means for them, their power and that is it. The Nawaz brothers
economic priorities are absolutely the same as those of the PPP. They both
are for the neo-liberal agenda and both are happy to work with American

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