Pakistan: 'Left unity a precious gain'

Awami Workers Party general secretary Farooq Tariq speaks at a workers' sit-in in Punjab in March. Tariq will be an internationa

Farooq Tariq, the general secretary of the Awami Workers Party (AWP) in Pakistan, will be one of the international guests at the 10th national conference of the Socialist Alliance, to be held in Sydney over June 7 to 9. He will speak on “The Struggle for Democracy and Justice in Pakistan” on June 7 at the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville. Visit for more details.

Ahead of his trip, Green Left Weekly's Peter Boyle spoke to Tariq on Pakistani politics.

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It has been nearly a year-and-a-half since the Awami Workers Party was formed out of a merger of Awami Party Pakistan, Labour Party Pakistan and Workers’ Party Pakistan. How is the party going?

Building a united party after merger of three left groups with different political traditions and strategies was not easy. It has been a year-and-a-half of one crisis after crisis in the new party.

But the Awami Workers Party has survived its most difficult period. Now the challenge is the process of consolidation and sustainability.

If we look beyond the arguments inside the party to the movements outside, that is what keeps us united. There was a very enthusiastic response by many independents, left liberals and social activists when the party was formed. Some have joined and others refer to AWP as the main party of the left that can change things.

We realise that if this party fails, it will take long time before another effort can be made.

What would you list as some of the main achievements since the AWP formed?

The general election campaign last year ― where the AWP put up about 70 candidates for national and provincial assemblies ― was one main achievement of unity. Although none of our candidates won seats in the elections, we organised some of our best public meetings during the campaign. For example, in my bid for a provincial assembly seat, we organised about 60 public meetings, some of which were attended by more than 5000 people.

Our campaign against the remnants of feudalism in Pakistan is another positive outcome of unity. We have organised three major rallies in Islamabad, Lahore and Hyderabad. We gathered strong support for our petition to the Supreme Court of Pakistan to reverse the decision of the Shariah courts that deemed land reform “un-Islamic”.

Our campaign for land rights for shanty town residents in Islamabad mobilised thousands under the AWP banner. This campaign has made the AWP a pole of attraction for many.

On April 10, I addressed a meeting of the Faisalabad textile and power loom workers organised by the Labour Qaumi Movement. They are demanding a wage rise, social security for all workers and other improvements in conditions of work.

I said to them: “Workers must build the AWP as an alternative to the parties of the rich and the feudalists.” This received a strong applause from these workers who have waged many powerful strikes.

What are the biggest challenges for the AWP?

One of the major challenges we face is the menace of religious fundamentalism. Shahab Khatak, the AWP president at Khyber Pukhtoonkhawa (KPK) province, a legal advocate, had a very narrow escape from an assassination attempt on April 6.

Two assassins fired at him as he was on his way to court. Fortunately, he was unhurt but his car was destroyed by bullets. The negotiations between Pakistan's right-wing government and the Taliban is opposed by the AWP, which angers the fanatics.

The other challenge is keeping the precious unity of the left intact against the objective reality of right-wing advances in all spheres of life. We are fighting against all trends that want us to break apart.

Recently, you attended protests by brick kiln workers and also peasants at the Okara Kulyana Military Farms. Have there been any advances in these struggles? Has the unity in AWP helped advance these struggles?

The AWP activists who lead mass movements are taking their struggles forward with great courage. The brick kiln workers are fighting all over Pakistan to force the government to implement the minimum wage it has fixed for them. The bosses are violating minimum wage rates and we are mobilising thousands on the streets for the full implementation of the minimum wage.

The struggle for land rights at military farms has entered its 14th year of consistent struggle. The struggle began under Pervez Musharaf's dictatorship and the only force that was effectively challenging the military dictatorship at the time was the tenants movement in the military farms.

The Anjaman Mozareen Punjab, the association of the tenants, became a pole of attraction for all those who opposed the military government. We were and are in the main leadership of this great movement that still continues to inspire many. This struggle continues and unity of the left has helped them a great deal.

What has been the role of the AWP in struggles for women's rights?

The AWP is fortunate to have some of the main women activists from Pakistan's women's rights movement. On March 2, the AWP held its first women's convention. which brought together about 60 women delegates from all over the country.

The open session was attended by some 500 women. A women's charter was approved that no other political party would dare present in a society dominated by Muslim fundamentalism. The AWP's women's charter is now referred to in some of the major newspapers as one of the exemplary campaigns for women's rights in Pakistan.

What is the stance of the AWP to official winding down of the Western military occupation of neighbouring Afghanistan?

The AWP opposes NATO intervention in Afghanistan. All the three parties who merged to form AWP in 2012 always opposed US imperialist intervention in the region while not supporting the religious fanatics.

With the winding down of the Western military occupation, the situation in Afghanistan remains very complex and contradictory. While the religious fanatics will still hold some areas of Afghanistan, it seems difficult for these fanatics to take over as they did in 1996.

Afghan mass consciousness is not as it was then. A new younger generation has spoken in clear terms for a different, more democratic, vision for Afghanistan. The present presidential elections are showing the strong public sentiment in that direction.

What does the AWP say about the US drone war in the border areas?

We never supported drone attacks on Pakistan or any other country. The drone attacks on the tribal border areas allows religious fanatics to win more support for their terrorist activities. It has been used by the religious fanatics to “prove” that an Islamic state is needed to fight the Americans.

The drone attacks provoke feelings of revenge among many and that has been ruthlessly exploited by the fanatics. They recruited many people during the US drone war.

Now, during a break in the drone attacks, the fanatics are more exposed and are losing support whenever they carry out suicide bombings, which usually kills innocent civilians.

Is the Islamic fundamentalist threat getting stronger or weaker in Pakistan?

Islamic fundamentalism has emerged as the major threat to the progressive forces of our region. It should not be taken lightly. Fundamentalism is still getting stronger because of the absolute failure of the capitalist civilian and military governments in the region to solve any of the basic problems facing the masses.

The Peoples Party of Pakistan government from 2008-2013 and the present Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government that succeeded it is pursuing aggressive neoliberal policies. They are taking huge loans from the International Monetary Fund and raising indirect taxes.

The result is ever-growing poverty in the whole region. South Asia now hosts one-fifth of all the world's poor people. Yet all the governments in the region are united in implementing neoliberalism.

Privatisation has become one of their main tools to loot and plunder public assets. The end result is the growth of extreme right-wing forces.

We live a very fearful life in Pakistan today. In recent months, several well-known radical journalists and progressive activists have been targeted by religious fanatics. These neo-fascist groups are now changing their tactics. Instead of targeting bourgeois leaders, it is now middle class and left radicals who are attacked or threatened.

Recently, the AWP growth in KPK province, next to Afghanistan, has made us the target of religious fanatics. The attack on our provincial president was part of that. AWP chairperson Fanoos Gujjar addressed a press conference on April 9 in response to this attack and vowed to continue the struggle for working-class emancipation.

The AWP is contesting a by-election for the KPK assembly, to be held on April 26 for a seat in the Swat valley. The AWP campaign has the full support of Malala Yousafzia, the young woman from that area who became world-famous after she was shot for daring to speak up against fundamentalism.