Mir Ali is a town of around 50,000 people in the Waziristan region of northern Pakistan. Last week the Pakistani military bombed it as part of its long running battle with Taliban forces in the area. An estimated 250 local people were killed, with Pakistan losing 47 soldiers.
Waziristan is on the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan and is home to around a million of the poorest people in those countries. It has been occupied by the Pakistani military in collaboration with US forces for around three years.
The tribes in Waziristan have a long history of resisting foreign occupiers, and the authority of the Pakistani state has withered away in the area of late with the military suffering heavy losses.
After every humiliating defeat, the Pakistani military inflicts enormous casualties on civilians. Some 740 local people have been killed by the military since July. North Waziristan has been bombarded by Pakistani planes for ten days or so this month.
In the past Pakistan dealt with defeats by negotiating with the Taliban. But the US and its allies are not happy with the Pakistani state signing deals which don’t aid the “war on terror”.
Moreover, the military pressures on the Pakistani army are now combining with domestic political pressure on the country’s dictator, General Pervez Musharraf. The judiciary and lawyers have been up in the arms for the last seven months, weakening his authority. Many people now sense that it is possible to challenge military rule.
The ruling class fears this power from below and is divided. In May this year the state was forced to call a temporary halt to military operations in Waziristan and privatisation across the rest of the country.
Musharraf held “presidential elections” on 6 October which were bitterly resisted. Hundreds were injured and imprisoned before they took place.
But Musharraf won. Most parties did underhand deals with the military regime to allow him to contest the elections.
This included the supposedly liberal Pakistan People Party (PPP) which shocked the country by getting the dictator to issue a law granting immunity to politicians of 1980s and 1990s from corruption, fraud, bungling and murder charges – including the PPP’s leader Benazir Bhutto.
The US and British governments have backed Musharraf on every occasion. David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, was instrumental in securing the deal between Bhutto and Musharraf. Richard Boucher, the US’s assistant secretary of state, helped ensure that Musharraf issued the immunity bill favouring Bhutto.
Pakistan’s established parties, whether left wing or Islamist, have failed to put the imperialist war in Waziristan at the centre of Pakistani politics. The Islamist MMA won huge victories in 2004 by opposing the US attack on Afghanistan. But it is now unpopular for collaborating with the regime.
The left in Pakistan, meanwhile, remains confused about its opposition to imperialism. A big section is dominated by Stalinism and views the Islamists as public enemy number one.
They fail to see that huge sections of the masses follow Islamists because of their anti-imperialism. Instead they condemn the Islamists more than US forces.
But the recent bombings in Waziristan have sparked anger across the country. Anti-war activists are trying to broaden the alliance of those opposed to war in Waziristan into a more general anti-imperialist platform.
The Pakistani masses have recently shown an unprecedented capacity for fighting back. Their struggle against Musharraf has soon turned into a struggle against his US backers.
But middle class opponents vacillate and leave the political space open for parties such as Bhutto’s PPP and the Islamist MMA to fill the gap.
We need a strong working class movement to fight for a political organisation that links the struggle against military rule, privatisation and war into a unified battle against imperialism.
Riaz Ahmed is editor of The Socialist in Karachi