PAKISTAN: War is 'hell' for working class



The war on Afghanistan has had an enormous impact not only on the country itself but on the whole region around it, especially on neighbouring Pakistan. Reprinted here is an interview with Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan, about the impact of the war on his country.

How will the imperialist attacks on Afghanistan affect Pakistan? What does your party foresee in the short and medium term?

The attacks have provoked fundamentalist organisations in Pakistan. The US, its allies and the military dictatorship in Pakistan heavily funded these organisations in the Cold War period to fight in Afghanistan. They were considered to be "controlled" by the present military regime.

Before September 11, the regime fully backed the Taliban; after September 11, when the US offered money, the military as usual did a U-turn and started fully supporting the imperialist powers against the Taliban.

The fundamentalists are now exploiting the situation. They are using anti-US feelings to bring ordinary people into their protests. So far, the majority in these demonstrations belongs to the fundamentalist organisations.

We think that in this situation fundamentalism is growing. They do not have mass support, although there are some exceptional areas like the regions bordering Afghanistan. But these forces can create civil war in the Pashtun-dominated areas if attacks continue.

We think that the military regime will use anti-Indian slogans and border tension to divert attention, but so far that has failed. The military in Pakistan has always maintained an anti-Indian position but now it seems difficult for them: how can they continue their support for religious fundamentalist forces operating in Indian-held Kashmir while they condemn the terrorism of the Taliban?

So the situation in Afghanistan will also affect the traditionally held position of the military towards India.

How do the street demonstrations affect the "stability" of the country? What is the current position of the army?

The fundamentalists are in the streets. Their protests are more violent in the North-West Frontier Province, Baluchistan and in Karachi. They have attacked security forces and the offices of some non-government organisations also.

These attacks might extend and intensify in the near future if attacks on Afghanistan continue. Fundamentalist organisations have many people who fought in the guerilla wars in Afghanistan and in Kashmir. They also have a large trained force and they can create a civil war-like situation.

The military regime is in trouble. Its previous pro-fundamentalist propaganda and support makes it difficult to now crack down on fundamentalist organisations. They feel the danger that anti-imperialist feelings in the masses will bring the people into the streets if they take harsh steps.

Recent changes in the army's top ranks indicate that there are some disagreements within the army. These indications are encouraging the fundamentalists.

No fundamentalist force which has carried out terrorist attacks in Indian-held Kashmir is so far banned in Pakistan. They still have their bases and camps inside Pakistan, with the full knowledge and cooperation of the army intelligence services.

What is the history of these fundamentalist groups? Are their leaders sincere about their stance against the US? How powerful are they?

Mostly the protests are carried out under the flag of the Pak-Afghan Defense Council, a coalition of both small and large fundamentalist parties.

Jamiat Ulama Islam and Jamiat-i-Islami are the major and leading parties in this coalition. These parties are old, formed before the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. Other groups were formed during and after General Zia's marshal-law regime in the 1980s, like Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan, Lashkar-i- Taiba, Jaish-i-Muhammad, Hizbul Mujaheddin and some other small groups.

When the imperialist powers started funding fundamentalists fighting against Soviet forces in the 1980s, the major fundamentalist parties formed different militant groups to fight in Afghanistan. Their leaders served the imperialist powers very well when they were receiving money. Now there is no money, so there's confrontation.

The major fundamentalist religious groups have received support from the different trends within the army hierarchy. This was done, particularly during the 1990s, to hold Afghanistan under the military's control. So the Taliban was supported and created by the regime.

Since the Taliban has been in power, Afghanistan has become the largest camp for these religious groups to get military training. This has echoed back into Pakistan where Lashkar-i-Taiba, Hizbul Mujaheddin and Jaish-i-Muhammad, with the full support of the army, got involved in the jihad in Kashmir.

These groups do not get lots of votes but their organisational structure is quite strong. They also have a large network of madrassas, religious schools, which are nurseries for these organisations.

The main reason for the growth of religious fundamentalism is the total failure of capitalist democracy in the 1990s to solve any of the basic problems of the masses.

The Muslim League and Pakistan People's Party governments in the 1990s were merely stooges of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and they opted to implement the conditions of these institutions. That meant wholesale unemployment and price hikes for the already poverty-stricken masses of Pakistan.

The unemployed youth, mostly from lower middle class backgrounds, were quite impressed with the so-called revolutionary propaganda of the religious groups and joined them. Poor parents sent their children to madrassas, because they provided food and shelter. There, they were taught hard-line religious teachings and ultimately became fundamentalists.

What is your party's position on the war? Is there a possibility for an anti-war bloc?

We are against the imperialist war on Afghanistan. The fundamentalists are also protesting, but for the Taliban, while we condemn fundamentalism and the brutal regime of the Taliban.

The Labour Party Pakistan strongly condemns the US and its allies' attack on Afghanistan. The air strikes have killed civilians, despite the claims of the Americans. The attack represents the growing arrogance of US imperialism.

We are opposed to the decision of General Pervaiz Musharraf to join the "international community", under the justification of curbing religious terrorism. The decision of Musharraf to support the Americans will only exacerbate the tension within the region and again more blood will be spilt.

We are opposed to religious fundamentalism. The historical irony is that the religious fanatic forces have been promoted in Pakistan at a state level. They have been provided facilities and guns since the establishment of Pakistan.

War is no solution, but nor is the terrorism of the religious forces. So long as the system does not provide the basic socio-economic needs of the poor masses of Pakistan, they will be subjected to the poisonous propaganda of the religious fanatics.

How has the regime reacted to your party's activities?

The Labour Party Pakistan's peace rally on October 15 was stopped by the police before it reached its final destination. There has been a lot of police surveillance of LPP offices, but so far there have been no arrests made by police.

There is a ban on rallies but the LPP will not accept any such dictatorial measure from the regime. During the last two years, over 100 activists of LPP have been jailed, myself included, for raising the demand for the restoration of democracy.

How is the war affecting the lives of workers and the economy in general?

The war-like situation has made the lives of the working class hell. Prices are going up every day. On October 19, the price of electricity was increased, the fifth time in the last two years. On October 20, railway fares were increased.

More and more workers are losing their jobs as exports from Pakistan have come to a standstill. A lot of export orders have been cancelled. The textile and carpet industries have been hit hard.

According to one estimate by Dr Shah Rukh Khan, an eminent economist from Islamabad, the economy will suffer a net loss of US$4 billion due to the war. This is nearly half of Pakistan's total export earnings.

What is the US's real aim in attacking Afghanistan?

The real aim of US is to satisfy its ego that has been hurt by the September 11 events. We are totally opposed to the methods of the religious fanatics, to terrorism. But we cannot allow US imperialism to use this occasion to kill innocent Afghans.

There are economic factors involved. The US would like to hold the Central Asian countries under strict observation, to get its hands on the rich resources of the region. There is already a lot of talk about Central Asian gas pipelines and the oil from the region. They would now like to install a government of its choosing in Afghanistan.

[This interview originally appeared in the October 23 issue of the Turkish daily, Evrensel. It appears here abridged.]

From Green Left Weekly, November 7, 2001.
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