Ammar Ali Jan is general secretary of the anti-capitalist Haqooq-e-Khalq Party in Pakistan. He spoke with Green Left’s Federico Fuentes about growing United States-China tensions, its impacts on Pakistan and implications for anti-imperialism in the Global South.
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How do you understand the current dynamics within global imperialism?
For most of the past 30 years we had a one-sided global hegemonic order that was under almost complete US domination. But if we turn to the past 10‒15 years, we can see interesting, if very contradictory, developments.
One is that the US’ ability to impose its will has been considerably weakened, particularly after its debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq. This has been compounded by the fact the US has become a rentier state presiding over a rent-seeking economy, while global production has shifted towards the Far East.
This has led to a tectonic shift in global politics in the form of the rise of new players on the global scene. China’s emergence, in particular, has made the US extremely nervous.
Despite China’s internal flaws, many countries that have fallen out of favour with the US see China as an emerging pole to gather around. A kind of broad alliance between a rising industrial power, China, and countries in the Global South has emerged — and has the potential to displace US hegemony.
When you have a declining empire, such as the US, it often resorts to maintaining hegemony through military means. The danger is that countries, such as Pakistan, will get caught up in rising military tensions between the US and China.
Every country will, unfortunately, have to make a choice as it will be very difficult to stay neutral or remain isolated, particularly for the countries of the Global South that are dependent on foreign aid and imports.
What we are seeing is the emergence of a bifurcated world, where decisions with big consequences will have to be made.
How do you view China’s role in the region?
As far as the regional situation is concerned, China maintains a very tense relationship with India. This has a historic dimension to it, but the tensions have been exacerbated by India’s rise and its close relations with the US, given the US’ policy of propping up India as a counterweight to China.
These tensions played themselves out at the recent G20 Summit held in New Delhi, which US President Joe Biden was excited about while Chinese President Xi Jinping refused to attend in person.
This gives you an idea of the kind of tensions emerging in the region.
What about China’s role in Pakistan?
Pakistan has a very specific and unique relationship with China. The two states have a long-standing friendship and I would say that, for more than seven decades now, the two peoples have had a particularly friendly relationship.
Pakistan has relied on China for loans and funds for major investments in its energy sector, among others. This means the relationship is increasingly skewed in China’s favour. This skewed relationship also partly explains Pakistan’s internal economic collapse.
But, unlike the US, China has not asserted itself politically in Pakistan’s internal affairs. I think that is why many Pakistanis have a positive view of China. Given the bad memories associated with the US, China appears quite benign and friendly.
There is a lot of debate happening now over how China managed to become a powerhouse and where Pakistan went wrong. There are also discussions regarding Pakistan’s relationships with the US and China, and if some kind of balance can be worked out.
These are not abstract debates: former army chief of staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa categorically stated in a parliamentary session that the US had given Pakistan an ultimatum over whether to side with China or the US. This debate is likely to escalate in the coming period.
My sense is that the Pakistani ruling elites are generally more comfortable with the West, but the ground is shifting because of mass sentiment against the US and relatively popular perceptions of China.
Given this push towards taking sides, do you see any possibilities for advancing a position of non-alignment? Or to build bridges between anti-imperialist struggles when movements might seek support from a competing power?
In terms of non-alignment, I think that possibility always exists. But, we should remember that even the Non-Aligned Movement of the ’50s and ’60s was backed by the Soviet Union.
In a very practical sense, it is almost impossible to be completely non-aligned given the kinds of resources these emerging poles have. If a country wants to develop in a sovereign way, it will ultimately need to engage with these powers.
Non-alignment, particularly at the governmental level, should mean refusing to become a proxy for any one bloc, and engaging with other blocs on one’s own terms.
But my assumption is still that any country that attempts such a policy will ultimately be abandoned by one or another bloc, meaning that country will — by default — be forced to engage more with the alternate bloc.
Regarding the second part of your question, I think that we, as the left and social movements, can have more autonomy. We can refuse to be directly funded by other powers.
As leftists, we can maintain a more sovereign, non-aligned position when it comes to our political line, working out the principal contradiction we face amid the world we live in, and understanding that this can vary from country to country.
In Pakistan’s case, our biggest problem remains the US. Should we break free from the US’ stranglehold — particularly if there was a socialist government in Pakistan — we would have few options other than to engage very seriously with China. These are the obligations that geopolitics impose on poor countries.
One thing worth noting is that when countries or movements do seek assistance from other powers, it can change the public perception of those countries.
Public opinion was sympathetic to Ukraine when [Russian President Vladimir] Putin attacked Ukraine. But once it became clear that [Ukrainian president Volodymyr] Zelensky was trying very hard to build closer ties with the West and began portraying Ukraine as an ally of the West, many people in Pakistan — and many parts of the Global South — completely lost interest in the Ukrainian resistance.
The reason why public opinion turned against Ukraine, despite the fact it was still facing Russian aggression, was because people do not want to see Western interference in any part of the world given the history of US interventions.
That is one of the tragic situations of the current crisis, but unfortunately, no country can operate outside this context.
How should the left view the prospects for a multipolar world?
There is definitely a new pole — or maybe multiple poles — emerging and an opening up of space for progress. At the same time, many of the governments that have filled that space are not progressive. So, there is that contradiction that will have to be worked out.
All we can confidently say is that the US’ power to economically punish countries is declining, but is not completely gone. Moreover, its military power is far superior to any other country. That is why there are fears it may turn to its military might to offset its declining power.
The general mass consciousness of our era is one of war. Whether it becomes a hot war or remains an escalating cold war will have to be seen, but that anxiety definitely exists and shapes mass consciousness.
This is the world in which countries of the Global South are having to make decisions.
Part of the challenge for progressive movements is how to make sense of all these contradictions. On the one hand, there are more opportunities today for building alliances on the global stage and the existence of an alternative pole means at least some limits have been placed on US imperial power.
On the other hand, the goal of left movements is the emancipation of humanity, yet some of these new emerging poles have governments that maintain very little commitment to human rights or emancipation.
How do we strike a balance between the positive, while acknowledging the negative and continuing to fight for a left agenda?
We need to be able to grasp the emancipatory potential of this moment of multipolarity, while never forgetting that achieving our goals requires mass mobilisation and organisation orientated towards socialism and human emancipation.
This means that the emerging blocs cannot simply become a partnership with an imperialist power; rather within these emerging blocs we will need to continue waging our anti-imperialist and emancipatory struggles for freedom.
[A longer version of this interview can be read at links.org.au.]