PAKISTAN: Farooq Tariq: 'The struggle continues'




"The rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan is a vote of no-confidence of the working people in capitalist and feudal parties. It is the failure of these parties in power, which has given rise to religious fanaticism", argues Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan.

Born in Toba Tek Singh in 1955, Tariq has an impressive political career as a labour leader of Pakistan. During the military regime of General Zia ul-Haq, he went into exile in 1978 because of his fiery writings against the dictatorship.

The hanging of [Pakistan Peoples Party leader and former prime minister] Zulfiqar Bhutto, and Tariq's involvement in PPP activities against the military regime, forced him to leave his higher studies abroad. In 1980, Tariq became the founding editor of the monthly Struggle magazine published in Holland in both English and Urdu. The paper is still printed in Pakistan as the weekly Mazdoor Jeddojuhd.

Tariq was the first political exile to come back to Pakistan only a month after martial law was lifted in January 1988. In 1994, he left the PPP and formed Jeddojuhd Inqilabi Tehrik. Out of this struggle, Labour Party Pakistan was formed in 1997, with the help of many trade unionists and left-wing activists from different political backgrounds.

During the course of fighting for a socialist Pakistan, Tariq has been arrested several times, not only in Pakistan but in many other countries as well. In 2001, he was arrested in Pakistan twice during the Alliance For Restoration of Democracy (ARD) movement.

In a recent interview with Political Economy, Tariq spoke on several important issues, including the status of socialism in Pakistan, his party's political standing, democracy versus dictatorship, and the rise of fundamentalism. Excerpts follow:

How do you see the future of democracy in Pakistan?

We believe that without a genuine workers' democracy, there is no future for the working class in Pakistan. The capitalist democracy has failed again and again in Pakistan. Capitalist politicians cannot conceive of a democracy without the support of the military. We think military domination has to end if democracy is to survive in Pakistan. LPP was part of ARD and was fighting for the restoration of democracy.

For us the meaning of democracy is different than that of the PPP and Muslim League politicians. We prefer any democracy to a military regime.

Do you think [General Pervez] Musharraf is likely to keep his promise?

I think he will be forced to go ahead with his promise of elections in October 2002. He cannot change this, although he might like to do that. But his best effort is that he brings a democracy under his shadow. He wants a democracy that goes hand in hand with military generals. He has elevated himself as president for that reason.

Do you think the military should have a share in state affairs?

Not at all. The army should have no role in running civil affairs. In fact, there is a great need to reduce army expenditures and army size in Pakistan and India. It is an unnecessary load on society. Defence expenditure should be dramatically reduced if we are to have progress and be in line with developed countries.

Please comment on the Supreme Court's decision empowering Musharraf to amend the constitution.

LPP would not support this decision of the Supreme Court. We say that restoration of democracy cannot be done by going to the courts. This is only possible by mobilising the people against the military regime. But, unfortunately, some of the parties of the rich have a lot of confidence in the judicial system. They in fact discourage people from going for struggle and enhance illusions in the judicial system. Amendments to the constitution should be left to elected representatives to see if that is necessary. The amendments which bring relief to the masses will be supported by LPP, and we will oppose others which bring more dictatorial powers.

Do you think that a presidential form of government would be better for Pakistan?

No, we are not in favour of a presidential system. It gives much more power to one person. This normally leads to more dictatorial powers. It is interesting to note that whenever a military regime comes to power, a discussion ensues whether Pakistan should move towards a presidential system!

Do you favour the idea of proportional representation?

We are in favour of proportional systems. This gives some hope for smaller parties like us. Their voice may be heard more effectively in this system. It is a more representative system than the constituency system.

What do you think of the status of women and minorities in Pakistan?

Women in Pakistan are considered half of men legally and traditionally. We are for equal rights for women in all fields. We think that the state has to take dramatic measures to improve the conditions of women. We demand the repeal all discriminatory laws which make women inferior to men.

The religious minorities of Pakistan are subject to all sorts of discriminatory laws. In fact, they are considered second-class citizens. They are given inferior jobs like cleaning and so on. They are treated like untouchables. LPP stands for an immediate repeal of all discriminatory laws, including the blasphemy laws. Religious minorities should be offered special quotas in all the jobs created nationally. They should be given special attention in the field of education, health and information technology.

Please comment on the rise of fundamentalism, and the impact of Taliban's defeat on Pakistan?

The rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan is, in fact, a vote of no-confidence of the working people in capitalist and feudal parties. It is the failure of these parties in power, which has given rise to religious fanaticism. Religious fanaticism is an expression of the total degeneration of society into extreme conservative traditions. The rise of religious fanaticism can also be blamed on the narrow immediate interests of the ruling classes and of military regimes in Pakistan.

The defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan will affect the strategies of the military regime in Pakistan in immediate terms. But you cannot kill any ideas by force. We see that in future, the extreme fanatics might go underground, but the serious religious parties like Jamaate Islami and Jamiat Ulema Islam will grow in their influence and electoral basis. They might get an unprecedented vote in the next general elections if allowed to take part in the elections.

How do you view the recent crackdown on religious parties?

The crackdown of religious parties was expected by the military regime after it had taken a u-turn in its policy towards the Taliban. The generals could not have two policies at the same time. It is an irony of history that military intelligence was the force behind religious parties and they were used in Kashmir for jihad. But when it became clear that the military could lose power if it continued to support the Taliban, they changed the policy, and now there is a crackdown on the religious parties. This crackdown is not a serious attempt to curb the real social and political powers of these religious parties, but an attempt to please the Americans.

Why did your party dissociate with ARD?

We joined ARD in March 2001 and left it in November 2001. We left it because it had become more of a talking club, rather than an alliance for action. It was not able to implement the decisions it had taken in its meetings. We felt we were wasting our time.

Leaving ARD does not mean that LPP will not fight for democracy. It is precisely for this reason that we left ARD. It is worth mentioning that more than 100 activists of LPP were arrested during the ARD's movement for restoration of democracy.

[Abridged from the March 17 Political Economy supplement of the Pakistan English-language Daily News International. Farooq Tariq will be speaking at the Second Asia-Pacific International Solidarity Conference, in Sydney March 29-April 1.]

From Green Left Weekly, March 27, 2002.
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