by Theo Russell
Based on a talk by Taimur Rahman at a New Worker public meeting on 3rd April 2008.
PAKISTAN is the seventh largest country in the world, has the fifth largest army, and five national and ethnic groups.
There are many national and class contradictions within the state as well as contradictions with imperialism.
Almost two thirds of adults (64 per cent of the total population and 77 per cent of female adults) are illiterate; 28 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line; 45 per cent have no access to health services; 50 per cent have no clean water and 40 per cent of children under five are malnourished.
The British conquered Bengal in 1757 and it took another 100 years before the Punjab was occupied in 1858. The War of Independence in 1857 was defeated largely by Punjabi troops, and the Punjab – especially the West Punjab, which is today part of Pakistan – became the main base for British military recruitment in India.
The base for this recruitment was a peasantry which had been indebted by British policies, but sections of which still regarded the British as better than their previous rulers, the Pathans, or the Sikhs with whom they had fought a series of wars.
The Indian National Congress, founded in 1885, contained strong pro-land reform elements and was seen as a threat by the Punjabi landowners, who moved towards the Muslim League. In this way divisions were created which were used by the British to bring about partition in 1947.
The Communist Party of India, founded in 1925, decided in 1948, a year after Pakistan’s creation, to divide the party into separate parties for India and Pakistan in view of the very different conditions in each country.
In 1951 elements in the Pakistan army opposed to US imperialism and the political dominance of the Muslim League approached the Communist Party for civilian help to overthrow the government. At that time the party was facing severe repression and its leaders were operating underground.
The army conspirators promised that the party would be allowed to function openly and take part in elections, in return for the support of the party and its trade union and peasant committees for a new military regime. But when the plan was betrayed the United States ordered its allies in the Pakistan army to crack down on the Communist Party.
In the 1954 Rawalpindi Conspiracy case, the party’s leaders and the army officers involved in the coup attempt were charged with treason. The party and all its organisations – women’s, students’, trade unions and writers’ – were banned.
Hassan Nasir, a renowned trade union leader and poet, created an underground organisation but he was arrested, brutally tortured and killed in 1960 in Lahore Fort. From then on the party continued to operate underground working closely with the secular socialist National Awami Party, which supports a non-aligned foreign policy.
There are four main political trends in Pakistan:
• Conservatives, supporting military dictatorship and the Muslim League. • Democratic forces including parties supporting bourgeois democracy such as the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and left parties such as the Awami National Party and communists. • Nationalist parties in Sindh, Baluchistan, and North West Frontier Province. • Fundamentalists, supporters of Sharia law and political and social reactionaries. The main groups are the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) and the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of Islamic parties.
Pakistan has been dominated by undemocratic rule for most of its history. In 1951 the Prime Minister was assassinated, and in 1958 military rule began. There have been only six years in the 1970s and 11 in the 1980s and 90s of democratic rule.
Unlike some Middle Eastern or African states, military rule does not enjoy a popular base. The 1956 and 1973 constitutions were suspended in by the generals in 1958 and 1977 respectively,.
In 1988 democracy was restored under US pressure, and the 1973 constitution was reinstated in 1991. However once in government the democratic parties lost popular support due to corruption and in-fighting. Along with the collapse of the Soviet Union, this led to widespread de-politicisation and demoralisation in Pakistan.
In the past 10 years the US has favoured peace between India and Pakistan to avoid the threat of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Muslim fundamentalists or their allies.
The 1991 war with India in the Kargil area of Kashmir created a rift between the civilian and military sections of the ruling class which led eventually to the return of army rule. After 11th September 2001, Washington backed General Musharraf taking power as president, and pressed for showcase elections which took place in 2002.
The Communist Mazdoor Kisan Party (Communist Workers’ and Peasants’ Party) was created in 1995 when the Mazdoor Kisan Party, which broke away from the Communist Party of Pakistan in 1970, re-merged with the CPP.
The CMKP’s current strategy is unity with the broad democratic movement, the Muslim League (Nawaz) led by Nawaz Sharif, the PPP, the Awami National Party, and the nationalist parties, against military dictatorship. The other leftist parties in Pakistan have either become isolated from the masses or compromised with the military.
In Pakistan there is a political cycle that sees the people demanding change every seven to eight years. In 2007 the trigger was the dismissal of chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry which sparked national outrage. Chaudhry, politically a conservative, was reinstated, but when Musharraf declared a state of emergency last November the entire Supreme Court was dismissed.
This turned out to be the last straw, and the military was overwhelmed by the popular reaction. The return of PPP leader Benazir Bhutto, even though it was arranged by Musharraf and the US, was objectively favourable to the development of the democratic movement.
Benazir was hated by the fundamentalists, and the second assassination attempt against her succeeded. Most people in Pakistan believe that the army was behind the fundamentalists in the operation.
There was a massive popular reaction to her murder. In Sindh alone arrest warrants for more than 600,000 were issued, and hundreds of thousands gathered at Benazir Bhutto’s burial place.
The mass pressure forced president Musharraf into elections in which any party close to the military and the fundamentalists was almost totally wiped out, including many political "giants".
The fundamentalists were reduced from 56 to five seats and the leader of the MMA, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, lost in his seat to a young People’s Party candidate. The only exception was in Baluchistan, where the local nationalist party made the error of boycotting the election.
The religious fundamentalist parties have never enjoyed popular support and are the creations of the Inter-Service Agency (ISI), a dominant force forces in Pakistan. The fundamentalists’ success in the 2002 elections were thanks to rigging by the army, recently admitted by the retired former number two of the ISI.
The masses are not interested in military rule or corrupt government. They want basic democratic rights and welfare measures. The CMKP has supported this line in its campaigns and its membership has grown rapidly, with a particularly strong base in the students’ movement. The party worked closely with the lawyers from the start of their campaign.
The CMKP did not stand candidates in the elections, but its materials, with the slogan "Don’t vote for military – Don’t vote for Musharraf", and displaying the CMKP’s logo, were distributed and displayed by all the other democratic parties. Taimur spoke at one People’s Party mass workers and peasants rally, where the CMKP’s demands and slogans were warmly welcomed.
The 2008 elections, the result of mass struggle against the dictatorship, have provided a boost for the democratic and progressive trends in Pakistan. Following the February election the opening of new parliament was disrupted by wild chanting of slogans from the public gallery, amid an atmosphere of change and progress.
Among the first decisions of the new PPP-Muslim League (Nawaz) government were to release the judges from house arrest, order a new investigation into the murder of Benazir Bhutto and to restore trade union and press freedoms.
All these actions were supported by the CMKP and have created far better conditions for its work. Democratic rule is also a major boost for national rights in Pakistan.
Another positive development is that India has recently said that relations with Pakistan are the best ever, with new a government in power that favours a peaceful approach. The broad political and mass consensus in Pakistan supports this position, which is a major change over past decade.
The CMKP’s campaign priorities are now for lower prices of basic goods, improved power supplies, against privatisation, and the full restoration of trade unions and student unions.
A new generation of young people with no experience of the Soviet Union or socialism is now emerging. They are receptive to socialist ideas and there is a rediscovery taking place. But the military is still extremely powerful, controls vast economic interests, and remains loyal to imperialism.
The right-wing trade union bloc now affiliated to the ITUC controls the Hydro union, probably the strongest in Pakistan with 100,000 members in one location. The railway unions have the same number of members but they are scattered.
A left trade union bloc was created by the Communist Party in the early 1950s but when the left and communist movements fragmented, the right-deviationist social democrats took the trade union movement with them. In rural the areas the unions have been very weak since the 1970s.
Since 2000 the CMKP has made a major effort to win the trade unions back from the social democratic revisionists. The unions are very demoralised but the All-Pakistan Trade Union Federation (which is mainly based in the
cities) is now linked to the CMKP.
The 900,000 strong Landless Tenants’ Movement, which is organised on army-run estates in the Punjab, staged an uprising in 2000-2002 in which the CMKP took a leading role. But after its leaders were arrested and tortured; divisions were created and the movement split. In 2005 it was revived and has organised huge convoys and mass rallies, some of which were addressed by the CMKP.
While there is no prospect of the PPP implementing land reform, there is an excellent chance of progress for bonded labourers, who are employed by rich peasants rather than by the big landowners. Their case is supported by the Supreme Court and even by the Islamic fundamentalists.
The bonded labourers are a separate caste and isolated from the rest of the movement. Unfortunately they are very dependent on lawyers and NGOs (non-governmental organisations), who have poured in funds for camps, buses and so on, while trying to exclude political parties and de-politicise the bonded labourers. As a result the movement has fractured.
The CMKP still controls the valley of Hashtanagar in North West Frontier Province, which was seized in an armed peasant campaign. This is the only major peasant movement to survive in Pakistan.
The prospects for reducing violence in Pakistan itself have also been boosted by the new government. No sooner had the new government been sworn in than US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte arrived in Islamabad to demand the continuation of military operations in the border areas, but the new government refused to accept this.
This week an anonymous US official warned "The bottom line for us is that we need to see more results. Any agreement must be enforced."
The leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban, an alliance of fundamentalist groups, has declared a ceasefire as part of secret peace talks with the new civilian-led government and the Awami National Party. There have been virtually no suicide bomb attacks since February. The fundamentalists are likely to accept changes in return for Sharia law in the areas they control.