The world economic crisis has hit Pakistan particularly hard and this has intensified the social and political crisis.
The 2008 meeting of the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the Committee for a Workers’ International is taking place this week in Belgium. Representatives from 28 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the USA are at this important CWI meeting which is discussing the new era of capitalist crisis which is opening up and its impact on the class struggle and prospects for winning support for revolutionary socialist ideas. We will be publishing a series of reports on the sessions on our website. The first session was devoted to the situation in Pakistan, with comments also on developments in Kashmir.
Pakistan – Can it survive as one state?
Comrade Khalid Bhatti from the Socialist Movement Pakistan (SMP) introduced the discussion. The world economic crisis has hit Pakistan particularly hard and this has intensified the social and political crisis. There is even now, Khalid reported, a question mark over whether Pakistan can survive as one state.
This is the most severe crisis since the 1971 split betwen East and West Pakistan, which led to the formation of Bangladesh. One-fifth of Pakistan today is out of the control of the government, particularly in the North-West Frontier Province and the ’tribal areas’, and the Taliban and jihadi forces control large swathes of Pakistan. The government says that there are 150,000 Taliban fighters inside Pakistan and almost a million people allied to the jihadi groups. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to see these groups as one unified force; they are divided on regional, ethnic and religious lines. In addition, the US missile attacks on villages in Pakistan are inflaming the anger.
Comrade Jamal from CWI Kashmir added to these points later by explaining that areas of cities like Islamabad, for example, are dotted with police checkpoints to disrupt the activities of the Taliban and jihadis. Islamabad has been rocked by attacks in the city, particularly the suicide attack on the Marriott Hotel.
Since the last IEC in December 2007, Musharraf has been ousted from office by mass opposition and replaced by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) President Zardari. Many amongst the masses had illusions that the new government would improve the internal security situation and herald a change in the conditions of the Pakistani masses but this government has continued the attacks and is implementing the same neo-liberal economic agenda as its predecessor. One of the striking features of the situation is how rapidly the hopes and expectations which existed in this government have evapourated.
The world economic crisis has had a catastrophic effect on Pakistan with immediate effects on the living standards of the masses. All the claims of the Musharraf government to have modernised and raised the efficiency of the Pakistani economy have turned to dust. The IMF has demanded the acceptance of 22 conditions from the government before it offers Pakistan a bail-out. These would have catastrophic effects on the working class and poor if accepted. At this stage the IMF has refused direct loans to the government.
The working class is trying to fight back in testing circumstances. The economic crisis is having an effect on the level of struggle and so are the activities of the fundamentalists. Nevertheless, the last year has seen some important struggles including the telecom workers and a lengthy strike of water and sewage workers in Quetta. These hold important lessons for the future. However, most fighting workers organisations are in the public sector and private sector unions are weaker and in many cases, company-led.
Public sector unions have led the way in industrial struggles but there is no workers’ party in Pakistan. The PPP is an openly capitalist party as is its long-term rival the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) led by Nawaz Sharif. Neither offers any hope to the masses. However, the PPP government is weakening and the PML offers the only real alternative government for the capitalists.
Imperialism, though, would have a problem with a PML government because of its connections with sections of the Taliban. In the current situation, a return to some form of military rule cannot be ruled out. Neither can it be excluded that US imperialism would engineer the break-up of Pakistan. The US would like to create a solid base in Baluchistan for its activities and might support its independence if it would further that aim.
The political, social and economic crisis in Pakistan is creating desperation amongst the masses. Some sections could even support a takeover of the government by the Taliban in the hope that they would bring stability.
In this situation, the SMP is experiencing more difficult conditions to build after the last period of fast growth in membership and influence. But SMP is seen as the only organisation on the left with clear perspectives and policies while others are confused and divided. There are opportunities for us to welcome new groups of socialists into our ranks and also to build new trade union structures based on fighting policies involving hundreds of thousands of workers.
Spontaneous actions are still breaking out; 50,000 people protested against a recent rise in electricity prices, beating up politicians who approached them. Demonstrations take place every day on local issues; often the leaders of these movements hold anti-political opinions. There is a big gap between the most forward-looking groups reaching for socialist ideas and the demoralised masses fed up with the lies of the capitalist politicians and those on the left who have let them down in the past. SMP will do everything to politicise these struggles by raising the ideas of socialism.
Pakistan can only survive in one way; by the strengthening of this movement for socialism. Social explosions could take place at any time and SMP has to be ready for this. In many ways, the situation is similar to that prior to the mass movements and battles of the 1968-69 period in Pakistan, the most radical period in its history. If such protests develop against the government and its neoliberal policies, this would cut across support for the Taliban and right-wing political fundamentalists. This is the real hope for the workers’ movement in Pakistan.
Comrade Jamal reported that in Indian-Occupied Kashmir (IOK) governor’s rule has been imposed following the collapse of the civilian government. Kashmiri politics are directly linked to Pakistan; jihadi groups there have been sponsored by the Pakistani state. Communalism has risen in IOK. However, there have been trade union struggles in both IOK and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK). Teachers and other public sector workers have taken action in the POK; May Day saw a mass demonstration in Srinigar, the capital of IOK. An important development has been the formation of a public sector trade union forum in IOK, which organised a 500,000-strong strike on 20 November.
The struggle between imperialist powers in South Asia in the 19th century, called ’The Great Game’, has been resumed with a ’New Great Game’ in the battle for influence between the capitalist elites of the region but also involving external powers such as China, Russia and above all, the US and NATO forces.
Comrade Jagadish from New Socialist Alternative in India emphasised the conflict between the Indian and Pakistani ruling elites, played out in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The role of the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service, has had terrible ramifications for the region. The ISI was a ’state within a state’. However, the Indian intelligence service, the Research Analysis Wing, carries out its own dirty activities to counter the ISI’s influence. This is particularly the case in Kashmir.
Tony Saunois of the International Secretariat highlighted the volatile situation and the rapid evaporation of illusions in the PPP. He reminded the IEC that we had analysed in advance the character of the PPP as being a pro-imperialist, capitalist party with no recognition of its radical past of the 1960s and 1970s.
He also re-stressed the point made by Khalid that the Taliban and fundamentalists are organising in the cities but most workers are not looking to them for a way out at this time. The situation in NWFP and the tribal areas is different, with a descent into barbarism in areas. However, there are important differences here to Afghanistan; a Taliban takeover in Pakistan would lead it into immediate conflict with national minorities, for example.
So while there is a desperate situation for workers, there are still opportunities for the CWI in Pakistan and Kashmir, and strengthening our forces is important for the future social and political explosions which are undoubtedly being prepared today.