Pakistan’s Politics of Polarization

Against the Current, No. 95, November/December 2001

Farooq Tariq

THE SEPTEMBER 11 incident has had a polarizing effect on politics in Pakistan, to an extent never seen before.

The Pakistan Peoples Party, the party of the Bhuttos, is now supporting the stand of the military regime ofall-out help for the Americans.  Such is also the case with the Mutihida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the party of the immigrants with a mass base in Sind cities.

In the North West Frontier province, the National Awami Party (ANP), the largest party of the Pushtoons, has also changed sides from opposing the military regime to openly supporting the regime.

The PPP and ANP until September 11 were openly opposing the military regime and are part of the Alliance For Restoration of Democracy (ARD).  The PPP has also tried its best to please the military regime by participating in demonstrations on the government’s so-called Solidarity Day on 27th September.  General Musharaf gave the call for this day.

Some of the smaller alliances of the radical and Stalinist parties are also openly supporting the standpoint of the military regime.  “The United States must be supported to root out terrorism,” is the cry from these ex-left parties justifying their support for the regime.  These “left parties” include the National Workers Party and Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (Communist Workers Peasant Party).  They have now abandoned their anti-U.S. sloganeering.

The Muslim league of ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is trailing behind the religious fundamentalists, half-heartedly supporting the Taliban and opposing the military regime’s support for Bush.

The religious fundamentalist forces are propagandising for all-out support for Osama Bin Laden.  Over 50,000 demonstrated in Quetta on 2nd October, led by Jamiat Ulama Islam, a religious party that has openly supported the Taliban from the beginning.

This party was allied to the PPP of Benazir Bhutto in the power struggle from 1994 to 1996, the period when the Taliban took over Afghanistan.  [Bhutto’s government was toppled and replaced by Nawaz Sharif under a cloud of corruption.  Sharif, who in turn was overthrown by Musharaf, was subsequently convicted of attempted murder and ultimately sent into exile—ed.]

Benazir Bhutto, coming on side with the military regime, is now claiming that she was “about to go against” the Taliban regime in 1996, when she was overthrown.  In fact it was her period in power which paved the way for the Taliban taking over in Kabul.

The first act of the Taliban at the time was to hang the body of Dr. Najib Ullah in the main center of Kabul for a few days, after he was taken out of the United Nations office and killed by the Taliban.  Neither the UN, the Americans or Benazir Bhutto had anything in particular to say about this barbaric act.

Dr. Najib Ullah had been the head of Afghanistan government from 1988 to 1992.  When he was overthrown by the Mujahadeen in 1992, he took refuge for four years at UN headquarters in Kabul until he was killed by the Taliban.

Hypocrisy Over Kashmir Terrorism

The hypocrisy of the military regime is revealed by the fact that it has for the first time condemned in words the terrorist attack on the Indian held Kashmir assembly on October 1, where in a suicide attack 32 were killed.  The Jaish Mohammed, the religious fanatic group [with reported bin Laden links—ed.] which has claimed responsibility for this brutal attack, has a base in Pakistan.

The government had no choice.  They could not say now that the attack in New York was a terrorist attack while the attack in Srinagar was part of the national struggle, as was their policy until now.

Jaish Mohammed’s leader Masood Azhar was released only two years before from an Indian jail on the demand of the hijackers after the successful hijacking of an Indian plane.  After his entry to Pakistan from Afghanistan, he was allowed to form the Jaish Mohammed group, collect funds from all over and to train the terrorists in Pakistan.  Most of the small shops all over Pakistan have a box inside with an appeal to help the Kashmir Mujahadeen with funds.

The Kashmir Mujahadeen has nothing to do with the national struggle of Kashmir, but plans to make Kashmir another Afghanistan controlled by a new Taliban.  They had the full support of the Pakistani State under the military and under the previous civil governments of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto.

The military regime has taken a U turn—from a position of full support of the Taliban and Mujahadeen, to supporting the even bigger terror, U.S. imperialism, to carry an all out attack on the people of Afghanistan.

No to War or Terrorism!

The 11th September attack has also polarized the civil society organizations.  Some are taking a position of No to War but yes to “a measured response.”

This position was taken by a group led by former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and renowned human rights activist Asma Jahangir.  Her article in the Daily Dawn on 30th September revealed her position quite clearly.

On the other hand, many others are advocating “No to War; No to Terrorism,” condemning both and declaring their solidarity openly with the international peace movement.  Fareeda Shaheed of Shirkat Ghah and Nighar Ahmed of Aurat Foundation lead this trend within the civil society organizations.

The Labour Party Pakistan position is very close to the position of “No to War; No to terrorism.” The LPP will not have any confidence in the United Nations to solve this issue by legalizing the war on Afghanistan.  It will not support the creation of International Criminal Courts (ICC), as this would be another institution to cover over the crimes of the U.S. government.

From the very first day, the LPP condemned the terrorist attack and the policies of U.S. imperialism carried out in the past against the colonial countries.  The LPP would never justify the terrorist attack for any reason; but it was consistent in its opposition to the methods and program of U.S. Imperialism.

The party was already organizing the anti-IMF and World Bank movement in Pakistan.  It also started to build a peace movement as like others, it is anticipating a fully-fledged war on Afghanistan.

The LPP has to oppose the religious fundamentalism and the powers that were harboring it, mainly the military regime of Pakistan in general and the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) in particular.  Unlike other trends it did not support the “lesser evil” philosophy.

The position of the official labor movement is also more and more to support the military regime.  The Pakistan Workers Confederation (PWC) main leadership has openly supported the military regime, while appealing to the United States not to attack Afghanistan.

Those trade union leaders within the PWC who are members of LPP are waging a war within the labor movement for no support to war. These trade union leaders, including Yousaf Baluch, are receiving a good hearing from the workers.

The religious fundamentalists have different influence in various parts of the country.  They are now losing ground in the cities, mainly Lahore and in Karachi to some extent.  But they are in a more favorable position in the main cities near Afghanistan like Peshawar and Quetta.  They are also making headway in the small towns and villages across Pakistan.

Alignment with Imperialism

The capitalist economy internationally is in a period of crisis.  Through institutions like the IMF and World Bank they made agreements that put the entire burden on the already sinking economies of the third world countries.

Against these injustices, a strong anti-capitalist movement was developing in the advanced countries.  We saw hundreds and thousands of workers in different parts of the advanced world protesting in anti capitalist demonstrations.

After September 11 it became clear that American government has new friends, like the military regime of Pakistan, to go for war. The Americans have lifted sanctions against Pakistan and have announced a good friendship with the Pakistan military regime.

The general impression is created that the American aid would help the sick economy of Pakistan.  But this is contrary to the factual situation.  Pakistan exports have been deeply affected after September 11.  Many export orders have been cancelled or postponed.

The main crisis of the Pakistan economy is productivity, which will decrease even further.  All the conditions of the IMF and World Bank have made the life of the workers and peasants even worse than it was before the military took over in October 1999.

In these circumstances, the revival of the Pakistan economy does not seem possible even if U.S. imperialism pumps in massive injections.  It will make the life of the rich and the ruling class better but not the life of the workers.

In the eighties over thirty billion dollars were pumped into the Pakistan economy after the Russians entered into Afghanistan.  This massive amount did not change the life of the masses.  But it did help the military generals and their sons and daughters to become the new rich.

We will see many more Ijazul Haqs (son of General Zia ul-Haq, the military dictator from 1977 to 1988) and Hamayoons (son of another military general close to Zia).  They both are now very rich and are owners of factories and many big houses.  The American aid (if it comes) will be a real treat for the military generals.

The possible aid from the United States will make a difference to the life expectancy of the military regime.  Before 11th September, this regime was losing its social base quite rapidly.  But the terrorist attack and his U-turn towards American imperialism has earned Musharaf good new political friends like the PPP.

The regime has strengthened its position for the time being.  But there are religious fundamentalist elements within the army top ranks, who have been forced by the pressure of the events to keep quiet but have not been kicked out of the army.


On 14th August the military regime announced a “road map” for democratic restoration.  It was announced that elections would take place in October 2002.  The intention of the military regime was to install a civil government very dependent on the military.  But now there is no talk about any plan for the restoration of democracy.

It seems likely that the Taliban regime will loose power soon. This will definitely give a morale boost to the military regime and help them to remain in power longer than the expected three years.

Nothing can be said for sure, as the situation is very fluid.  It is a rapidly changing scenario.  But the U-turn of the military regime in favor of the United States has many negative aspects: It has given a new life to the fanatic forces.  It has endangered the life of the progressive and left forces within Pakistan.

The labor movement has to oppose the American intervention in the region.  But also it cannot close its eyes to the growing influence of the religious fundamentalists.  These fundamentalist forces are in contradiction with U.S. imperialism; but workers cannot gain by siding with one against the other.

Farooq Tariq is General Secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan.  This analysis was written prior to the beginning of the U.S. bombing campaign on October 7.

from ATC 95 (November/December 2001)