In the first four days after Osama bin Laden’s assassination by US forces, the mass reaction in Pakistan is very mixed.
In Punjab there is a general sympathy towards bin Laden, but not many are expressing it openly. In Sindh, the responses differ in different cities. For example, in Karachi there is more active commiseration for bin Laden and condemnation of the US attack.
Surprisingly, not much happened in Khaiber Pakhtoonkhawa, where bin Laden was killed. Similarly, Baluchistan responded meekly against the killings.
However the reaction against the attack on the compound in Abbotabad is growing and it will spread to other areas.
Many religious fundamentalists fled Afghanistan and took refuge in Baluchistan and Khaiber Pakhtoonkhawa. They ruled those provinces from 2002 to 2008.
This fundamentalist rule occurred while Pakistan’s dictator General Pervez Musharraf was playing a double game with US imperialism.
On the one hand, he joined the “war on terror” coalition. On the other, he depended on the fundamentalists’ growth to receive more military and economic support from US imperialism in the name of fighting the fundamentalists.
During this period, bin Laden must have crossed into Pakistan.
The May 2011 attack took everybody by surprise; people were bewildered and speechless.
No one expected such a brazen act so soon after the release of David Ramond, the CIA operative who killed two Pakistanis in broad daylight this year in Lahore.
In contrast to the mild reaction to bin Laden’s assassination, the mass reaction to Ramond’s murders was so strong it put the government in a defensive position. With this attack it seems that US imperialism has advanced its conquest of Pakistan.
Religious political parties like Jamaat Islami and Jamiat Ulemai Islam are silent about the killings and atrocities committed by al Qaeda, but they slam Americans for their “violation of Pakistan sovereignty”.
Hardliner Jamat Dawa of Hafiz Saeed is the most active religious fundamentalist consoling bin Laden and offering Nama Jenaza (the prayer upon death of a Muslim) in some areas. It will not be long before these parties organise sympathy toward bin Laden and take to the streets against the attack.
Capitalist parties such as the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-Q and Pakistan Muslim League-N support the US action, seeing it as a great victory against the rise of religious fundamentalism.
The government has not yet come up with a coherent explanation. Instead, various officials have made contradictory statements.
Over the past year, the Pakistan and US governments have cemented their relationship. This can be seen through more exchange visits among intelligence officials and in the number of visas provided to CIA agents.
The government has given Washington a free hand to launch drone attacks on Pakistani territory, abandoning the pretense of condemnation that was practised during the initial phase of the attacks.
The US government has provided political backing to a very fragile PPP government. Without hesitation, the PPP government acted on the advice of US imperialism, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
The open violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty by sending US Navy SEALs to take out bin Laden will not worsen the relationship between the two ruling classes. US President Barack Obama and his aides have not uttered a single word against the Pakistan government. On the contrary, they have praised the mutual sharing of intelligence.
The attack on the Osama group has been a joint effort of Pakistan and US intelligence agencies.
General Kiani, who has headed the army since Musharraf was president, is the former head of Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). He has a long history of working closely with US imperialism.
Under Kiani’s watch, the military establishment began to break its traditional links with the religious fanatics, launching military operations against them. The fanatics fought back, targeting military headquarters and killing top military officers.
As a result, there is a polarisation in the military between the officers and the ranks.
Top military officers have formed close relationships with their US counterparts. They are in control of vast assets and maintain a more liberal way of life.
But the lower ranks are still religious, sympathetic to fundamentalism, and still hold to anti-Indian and anti-Western feelings.
Because of this polarisation, Washington distrusts the ability of the army and intelligence agencies to carry out vigorous prosecution of its war on terrorism.
Despite bin Laden’s death, al-Qaeda and other religious extremist terrorist groups will grow.
In his excellent pamphlet, “Why Marxists oppose individual terrorism”, Leon Trotsky remarked: “The most important psychological source of terrorism is always the feeling of revenge in search of an outlet.”
The feeling of revenge does not end with bin Laden’s death. Religious terrorism will grow as a result of US imperialism’s actions.
A certain portion of Muslim youth who are looking for ways to oppose US imperialism may be attracted to terrorism. New terrorist groups will form.
This does not mean the religious fanatics can capture power in Pakistan. The Pakistan military is a brutal force and it has demonstrated several times how much violence it will use once its power is threatened.
The Pakistan army will work hand in glove with Washington to ensure that the fanatics do not take over Islamabad nor get their hands on the country’s nuclear technology.
Al-Qaeda and other religious fanatics are exploiting the religious feelings of millions of Muslims. Although these fanatics represent several different trends and sects within Islam, nonetheless they have been able to lay down a mass social base in several countries.
State terrorism cannot be separated from individual terrorism. Both have the same nature and direction; both give rise to the same consequences.
The most successful al-Qaeda act of terrorism, the 9/11 attacks, has not benefited Muslims and the lives of millions of Muslims are ones of absolute misery and sadness.
Imperialism responded to the attack with barbaric fury.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in 2009 about Washington’s past support to the Mujahidin in Afghanistan, out of which al-Qaeda was formed: “Let’s deal with the ISI and the Pakistan military and let's go recruit these mujahedeen... It wasn’t a bad investment to end the Soviet Union but let's be careful with what we sow... Because we will harvest.”
Over the past 10 years, both Washington and the fanatics have been harvesting what they have sowed. One act of revenge leads to another.
Religious fundamentalism cannot be defeated by force. US imperialism’s war and occupations are examples of failure, not success. The lesson is clear: “You cannot kill ideas.”
Instead, there must be a political fight to expose the real meaning of religious fundamentalism to the lives of ordinary people.
The rise of political Islam is linked to the weakness of left parties in the Muslim world. On the one hand, during the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, socialism seemed to have failed.
On the other hand, populist mass-based parties such the PPP also lost credibility. Religion seemed to be the only available anti-imperialist platform.
In reality, religious extremists such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda in no way represented an alternative against imperialism. They themselves exploit, oppress and kill those who do not share their beliefs. They pose as anti-imperialist, but are an extremely right-wing reactionary force.
Religious fanatics and the imperialist powers provide each other with justification for escalating violence. This is a never-ending cycle.
The growth of religious fundamentalism is also a response to the complete failure of civilian and military governments in Pakistan to solve any basic problems of the working class and peasants.
Successive regimes have been unable to end the grip of feudalism, the repressive and exploitive nature of Pakistani capitalists and their humiliating treatment of workers, the repression of the country’s smaller nationalities and exploitation of their natural resources.
The Pakistani ruling class has failed miserably to bring about democratic norms. As a result, when civilian regimes have been overthrown by military dictatorships, most people offered no resistance.
Today, the policies of the civilian government are dominated by US imperialism and institutions such as the IMF and World Bank that dictate misery for the people of Pakistan. War and economic misery, along with daily suicide attacks, have left the population in a fearful state.
The general psyche has become one of uncertainty about the future. Hope vanishes.
The Pakistan government must change its political and economic priorities. It must end corruption and cut its ties that bind it to US imperialism.
Bin Laden’s killing opens a new era of conflict. The groups and individuals linked to al-Qaeda, as well as other terrorist religious fundamentalists, will use the incident to mobilise people in support of their reactionary agendas.
We have to oppose US imperialism, the fundamentalists and the complicity of the Pakistan government with both of these forces.
We need a comprehensive political and economic strategy to fight the fanatics. The Pakistan state must end all forms of support to religious schools.
At least 10% of the national budget should be spent on education; education must be free to university level for all. The state must delink itself from religious practices and provide an institutional alternative to religious schools.
Pakistan must end subservience to the economic policies of the IMF and World Bank. The government must serve the interests of workers and peasants.
Pakistan must end ties with US imperialism and the war machine.
An alternative to imperialism and religious fundamentalism has been presented by the great Arab Spring. The era of suicide attacks, bomb blasts, drone attacks and other violent means is far less effective than the mass upsurge of the great Arab people against dictators and dictatorial regimes.
The Arab way of fighting back will ultimately bring confidence to the masses to go all the way from changing regimes to a socialist alternative.
[Abridged from Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. Farooq Tariq is a spokesperson for the Labour Party Pakistan.]