Flood devastation and political turmoil wrack Pakistan

Flooding in Pakistan. Photo: Rabdul Majeed Goraya/IRIN/CC

The economic and political turmoil which was taking place in Pakistan has been dramatically worsened by the apocalyptic floods which have devastated the country. The country, if it holds together as a country, will not fully recover from the floods which have swept through it unless the workers and poor take over the running of society and sweep away capitalism and landlordism. A deluge of monsoon rains lashed Pakistan in early September, on top of the unprecedented flooding which began in Balochistan and Sindh in March.

Flood waters now cover an estimated 100,000 square miles. It has caused death, hardship, and misery for millions. An estimated 33 million people have been displaced and lost their homes triggering a housing and health catastrophe. The ailing economy has been shattered by these developments. Particularly badly hit have been cotton and rice crops which will have international repercussions. 

The textile industry accounts for 10% of GDP. Up to 50% of the cotton crop has been destroyed, along with wheat and other agricultural products which now threaten to trigger a further food crisis, hunger, and famine. Amongst the hardest hit provinces is Sindh, which produces around one-third of the country’s food supply and has seen around fifty percent of its crops damaged or destroyed. Small local farmers have lost everything and will not recover. The larger feudal landowners will not be affected in the same way and will attempt to profit from the human misery that surrounds them.

The flooding is undoubtedly a reflection of the global climate crisis that is unfolding at an alarming rate. It is also compounded by the action of local feudal landlords through deforestation and diverting water flows to maximize profits for themselves.

Pakistan was in the throes of an economic crisis prior to this environmental disaster, suffering from a debt crisis and soaring inflation. The external debt prior to the current crisis stood at US$28 billion. Earlier in the year, it was on the brink of a debt default similar to Sri Lanka. The IMF was demanding an end to all oil subsidies and an increase in electricity tariffs. Khan is accused by the current government of breaking the IMF agreement. The war in Ukraine has also complicated and added to the crisis in food supply and also politically.

The then Prime Minister Imran Khan, a bourgeois populist leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), who has also been involved in corruption,  enraged the leaders of Western imperialism by criticising NATO and articulating pro-Russian sentiments about the invasion of Ukraine. Khan was in Moscow on the day of Russia’s invasion.

Radical following 

Although a rich bourgeois, Khan has a radical following, especially amongst large sections of the younger middle class, and is perceived as not being a part of the rotten corrupt cabal of capitalists and landlords who rule Pakistan. As a result, he is not trusted by them. He has had a checkered relationship with the military. In the past, he collaborated with them but has also come into conflict with them. He was in dispute with the army chiefs prior to his removal from power in April 2022. All governments in Pakistan remain in office at the behest of the powerful military which rules the country even if not formally in office. Despite recent divisions between Khan and the tops of the military, it is not excluded they will collaborate together again in the future.

Sections of his PTI parliamentary bloc split away and backed a move in parliament to remove Khan from power, which was led by a coalition, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). The PDM includes the main capitalist parties in the country – PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party. With the backing of the army, the PDM replaced Khan’s government with an unstable coalition of 13 parties headed by the right-wing PML-N and Shehbaz Sharif. 

The new government immediately negotiated a deal with the IMF which would have meant further poverty and worsened conditions for the masses. The floods have now turned a horrific situation into an apocalyptic nightmare for the mass of the population.

Even before this crisis, the government lacked a solid social base. It did not control any of the four provinces which make up Pakistan. Moreover, Imran Khan and his PTI were mobilizing large rallies in Lahore, Karachi, and other cities demanding fresh elections. In parliamentary by-elections, in June, the PDM did very badly which is why the new government does not want an early election as demanded by Khan. Despite his role, Khan is perceived by millions to be anti-corruption and against the elite capitalists and feudal landlords who rule Pakistan.

The horrific conditions which now exist have led to an upsurge of protest and anger against the ruling politicians in all provinces. In areas like Sind, political leaders like the Chief Minister, Murad Ali Shah have been forced to flee from angry crowds when visiting flood-hit areas. The anger and desperation of many have been reflected in the masses storming food stores that the official political parties, like the PPP, have been allowed to establish.

No trust can be placed in the government of existing political parties or capitalist state in Pakistan. In the devastation of the flooding which has taken place the working peoples themselves need to come together to elect democratic committees to organize emergency relief measures. The collecting of available food and its distribution should not be left in the hands of corrupt political parties. 

Committees of the people need to organise the collection and storage of food supplies and distribute it fairly on the basis of need. This type of work has been taken up in Sindh by the Sindh Workers’ Alliance which has organised food and medical aid for workers devastated by the flooding (see: Pakistan flooding disaster – Urgent appeal from the Sindh Workers’ Alliance | (socialistworld.net)

It is likely that Khan and the PTI will gain from the crisis as anger against the government grows and a tide of ‘lesser evilism’ develops given the absence of a viable alternative at this moment.  In the worst-hit provinces, Balochistan and Sindh, there is a strong sentiment against the national oppression suffered by the people, where already strong nationalist and independence movements exist. Following the floods and lack of effective measures and corruption by the PDM government, support for them is likely to grow. The possible disintegration of Pakistan is posed during this crisis with serious repercussions throughout south Asia. These trends can be fueled by the political and humanitarian crisis which exists in neighboring Afghanistan that is continuing to unfold and worsen since the withdrawal of western imperialism. 

The military and the Punjabi elite would furiously resist any attempt at independence by either Baluchistan or Sind. However, a serious conflict and struggle is likely to unfold as the crisis intensifies. The Pakistani government prevented reports of the floods which started in Baluchistan. By the end of August, 20 million people had been affected. This is a reflection of the oppression suffered by the Baluchi people.

Socialists oppose all national oppression and support the right of the peoples of Balochistan and Sindh to national self –determination. Socialists also support the unity in the struggle of all working and oppressed peoples throughout Pakistan and south Asia to establish a democratic, voluntary socialist confederation of the peoples in the area.  

Crisis in Afghanistan

The consequences of the crisis in Afghanistan combined with the social and economic collapse in Pakistan have led to a resurgence of jihadist forces in some areas. These have been partly emboldened by the anti-western rhetoric of Imran Khan. 

Pakistan has entered an era of intense turmoil and crisis. It is a nuclear power that the military has struggled to maintain and keep together as whole sections of the country have been slowly disintegrating. How long they will be able to do so when facing such a devastating crisis is now in question. Crucially, Pakistan will intensify the instability and crisis developing in the whole of south Asia from Afghanistan, to Sri Lanka, India Bangladesh, and other countries.

Capitalism and landlordism, with the shackles of feudalism dragging behind it, can offer no solution to this crisis or alleviate the suffering of the masses. It is necessary to look to the working class and the oppressed to offer a solution. For this, the building of a new party of the working masses is essential, with a programme to break with landlordism and capitalism, seek to link the struggles of the working peoples throughout south Asia together and to establish a democratic voluntary socialist confederation of the region. 

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September 2022