NEW POLITICAL STIRRINGS IN PAKISTAN

By Malladi Rama Rao

Two developments on the Pakistan political scene have not received attention both in the immediate neighbourhood of the country, particularly India, and in America, which takes particular pleasure in being praised as one of the trinity that preside over the destiny of the nation. Both these developments are, indeed, significant. And will have a bearing on the future of the country though to what extent remains unclear as of now.

National Workers Party, Communist Mazdoor Kissan (agricultural labourers) Party and a couple of other Left leaning parties merged to form the Workers Party of Pakistan (WPP). Given the feudal moorings of the Pakistani society, labour movement is never strong in the country. Communists are never the darlings of the masses, though Pakistan was (and is till recently) very proud of its towering Left intellectuals.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s passion for socialism saw some nationalisations but it did not give birth to any sustained public sector or working class movement.  With Gen Zia-ul-Haq converting Pakistan into an Islamist state, the room for normal political movements got narrowed and the country became a hostage to Muslim League amoeba and the Peoples’ Party of Pakistan (PPP), a Bhutto fiefdom.

Yousuf Masti Khan, Akhtar Hussain, Usman Baloch and other moving spirits of the Workers Party don’t give the impression that they are setting out to cleanse the stable. Yet, they did strike the right note when they told a press conference in Hyderabad, Sindh, on February 28 that implementation of the 1940 Resolution in letter and spirit was the only way to steer the country out of the crisis it is facing. The Resolution which envisaged the creation of Muslim majority Pakistan, envisaged equal political and economic rights and opportunities for all people.

WPP leaders are holding the new party’s first convention in Lahore, the most happening city, on March 20 and 21. The conference will bring clarity to the thinking of the new party and will also outline its agenda for action. Already some indications are available as to where the WPP stands for.

First and foremost, its emphasis is on devolution of powers to the provinces with the Federation limiting itself to defence, foreign policy, currency and communications. Its second plank is land reforms and equitable water utilisation.

‘Agricultural land should be distributed among landless peasants, farmers and farm workers’, Yousuf Masti Khan says. He is also advocating that water should be distributed among all provinces in a judicious manner under the 1991 water accord.

In a sense the timing of the WPP launch is perfect. WPP’s tag-line ‘Provinces First’ will have takers by the dozen.

The growing water crisis has unleashed regional forces as never before and has drawn battle lines between Punjab and other provinces. The utterances of chief ministers and other leaders make it abundantly clear that Punjab’s dominance of Pakistan’s political and economic lifelines is under danger. Opposition to Punjab’s hegemony is not new. But it has never been in the open as today.

Other WPP planks may not invite positive vibes in the near term. For instance, the party stands for secularism.  Yousuf Masti Khan says ‘we believe that mixing of religion with politics, extremism, sectarianism, and terrorism poses serious threats to the country’. How he and his other colleagues will articulate their secular concerns remains to be seen.

The second development, which is as significant as the launch of WPP, was the Fifth Congress of the Labour Party of Pakistan (LPP) held at Faisalabad in February. The Congress stands as a bravura expression of the growing influence and strength of emerging Left-wing politics in Pakistan. It is also a clearer expression of a resolve to ‘build a mass based working class party independent of the influence of capitalists and feudal elements’.

Undoubtedly, the organisers appear to have been carried away by their romanticism and rhetoric. How are they going to stand up and be counted in a country riven by fundamentalists and state sponsors of terror and proxy wars for either a strategic depth or a bleeding a sibling separated at birth.

For the first time in the LPP’s 13-year history, delegates for the Congress came from the Sindh, Punjab, Baluchistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Seraiki Waseeb, Pakhtunkhwa and AJK (Pakistan held Kashmir). There were leaders of trade unions, of social movements, of peasants and from the labour movement. All this and much more on display appeared as resistance that is slowly building up far removed from the media glare against the feudal forces and home grown terror elements that are pushing the country of 167 million Muslims into a medieval black hole.
The congregation opened with a two-minute silence in memory of seven comrades who had lost their lives. Amongst them Abdullah Qureshi was killed in a suicidal attack in Swat on 9th December 2007 and Master Khudad lost his life in a Peshawar suicidal attack in October 2009. These killings reflect the threat that “secular-progressive” political movements face from the growing fundamentalist web in Pakistan.

LPP has gained some prominence in recent months. First by its involvement in the Lawyers’ Movement. Second by standing up in defence of the democratic rights and privileges of the people particularly the minorities.  Third by offering a progressive alternative to the joint threats of Talibanism and militarism in Pakistan.

Well, all this is a claim of the LPP leadership and there is no way to independently verify.  One thing is clear though. And it is that by chalking out a difficult but markedly different path, the Labour Party of Pakistan has set itself on course in a country which is in the  stranglehold of  the army, a make-believe democratic set up notwithstanding.

Communism, workers movements, and imperialist forces are the catch words of a bygone age. These are no longer relevant these days when the world has become a global village and is putting in place a global society that draws upon each others’ strength for mutual good. So much so it is really amusing to hear Tariq Farooq, spokesman of the Labour Party of Pakistan, to denounce feudal forces and imperialist elements and exploiters of the toiling masses.

Tariq, like the leaders of Workers Party of Pakistan, doesn’t believe that he is a political dinosaur. ‘We are relevant to our country’, he said in a recent interview. ‘There is space to discuss liberal views in Pakistan. Well, this is what we have seen in recent months. Lawyers’ agitation and its impact are there for everyone to see. Ours is society in transition. You cannot judge us by the western yardsticks’.

He has no hesitation to concede that Pakistan’s transition from the Musharraf’s military regime to a democratic rule has not been all that fruitful. ‘It is still not as bad as in the past, you see’, he remarks with a wry smile as he warms up to his pet theme that every issue in Pakistan is politicised to give undue benefits to the feudal class and the military.

Tariq’s CV is the envy of any politician. ‘I was arrested 12 times during the reins of Gen. Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia-ul-Haq and Gen. Musharraf.  I was in exile from 1978 to 1986 in Holland during the rule of Zia-ul-Haq.  I was the first exiled Pakistani leader. I was part of 22-party alliance All Party Pakistan Democratic Movement.  For me life has been a struggle all through. Out of these travails and tribulations, my conviction led me to set up the Labour Party in 1997’.

Labour party is primarily rooted in Faisalabad. It is gradually building its support base across Pakistan co-opting the working class, peasants and agricultural labourers. ‘In our country tillers don’t own the land mostly. The army is the greatest land lord’, he says.

Estimates show that the Pakistan military owns 68,000 acres of farm land. Clashes between farmers who till the military lands and the army are a regular feature in Orakzai belt.

Mullah and Military cannot say they are not put on notice. The ‘progressives’ are trying to put their act together and shift the focus to basic economic issues of ‘Roti, Kapda aur Makan’ (food, cloth and shelter) for all.

How much support LPP has in Pakistan?  ‘People are joining us. There is an aggressive movement of civil society against feudalism. Civil and human rights activist Asma Jahangir is one of us. They are on the street. But Mullah is on the television’, he remarked in the interview pointing to the electronic media “warfare” by the fundamentalists in Pakistan.

Are the LPP and WPP two specks in the sky? Or are they an oasis in the vast desert of military dominated feudal-fundamentalist polity and society of Pakistan. The jury is still out.

(*This article first appeared on Policy Research Group’s web site, www.poreg.org)

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