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War and poverty – faultlines in Pakistan

This article is over 13 years, 8 months old
Recent political instability in Pakistan has highlighted the strategic role the country plays in the US-led "war on terror". Riaz Ahmed, a socialist activist in Pakistan, spoke to Socialist Worker about the war, the recent resignation of Pr
Issue 2117

What was the reaction to Musharraf’s resignation?

Those that had been the most suppressed under Musharraf celebrated with the most jubilation.

Many people had hopes for change and high expectations of the coalition government led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) that came into power in February.

However many people, even supporters of the PPP, have lost confidence in the government.

A recent survey says that over 80 percent of people now say that PPP rule is a continuation of Musharraf’s.

Many people became bitter when the judges that Musharraf sacked last November were not all reinstated.

The movement in support of the judges has now resurged – the campaign set up roadblocks across the country last week.

The Pakistani military has carried out a series of brutal attacks in North West Frontier Province as part of the “war on terror”. What impact has this had across the country?

Soon after the PPP took over, the ruling class started its fourth military operation on the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan. 

Over 700,000 people were displaced in first 25 days of the military operation.

In Bajour, a small tribal area, over 250,000 people were displaced after bombing raids by the Pakistani military that killed up to 400 people.

The Pakistani military is clearly on a mission that has nothing to do with the Taliban or so-called “insurgents”.

The major objective of the Pakistani military is occupation of areas it was previously excluded from.

It has established a military base for the first time in Swat. The military had never entered the tribal areas before 2005. Now it is in almost all of these areas.

People in the North West Frontier are very angry at this war. Every day 10 to 20 children and women are killed in various parts of the province.

And wherever there is a military operation, sympathy for the resistance grows.

The Pakistani ruling class is divided over how to conduct the “war on terror”.

Those whose economic and political base is mostly in Pakistan want a more regulated war.

Those who are more strongly linked to international capital want to carry out the wishes of the US.

This division explains the instability in the ruling coalition.

However, both sections are determined to survive this crisis. So all ruling parties are united in attempts to attack the working class and make it pay for the growing economic crisis.

The government is talking a great deal about the threat of the “Pakistani Taliban”. Is this an exaggeration?

Certainly. There is no district where the Taliban rules.

There is only one village in Waziristan where the police station was converted into a Taliban police station and used to hold regular Sharia courts.

In the most impoverished areas where the military is bombing the poor there is no sympathy left for the state – and there is extreme outrage against the military.

The state fears this growing opposition. This is why it stokes up fears of the Taliban.

In turn, the Taliban’s influence grows where there is a political vacuum and where there is hatred of the state and its military operations.

There has been an impressive series of strikes in the last few weeks. What does this tell you about the mood among workers and the poor?

The weakness of the ruling class and the PPP’s ending of the state of emergency imposed by Musharraf created a feeling in the working class that the government is maybe not entirely with the bosses.

As a result there has been an upsurge in union registration, strikes and huge demonstrations.

There have been big successes such as a recent two week strike at the privatised telecom company.

This resulted in 7,000 temporary workers being made permanent, the plans to sack 12,000 workers being withdrawn and salaries increased by over 30 percent.

Now sections of the working class across Pakistan are more determined in their struggle. There is a lot of anger over inflation – which has risen by 80 percent in just four months.

Last week there was a big strike by Karachi city council workers – the first such strike in ten years.

This kind of determination to fight back in the face of inflation is becoming widespread.

Last week around 5,000 textile workers in Karachi walked out on strike in defence of 70 workers who had been sacked and held a demonstration from factory to factory.

What are the prospects for the left?

There are many opportunities for the left. But political work is getting difficult because of the “war on terror” and the state’s submission to neoliberal policies.

The biggest hurdle is the lack of an anti-war movement.

The reaction to the war is highly muted. The liberal left takes a position that favours war, as they see the Taliban as a bigger threat than the “war on terror”.

This has created some space for the Taliban – and their like – to appeal to people. And their suicide bombings create highly insecure conditions.

But the upsurge of working class struggles, the lawyers’ movement and the students’ risings provide some opportunities to build an anti-war movement and the left.

For more on the International Socialists in Pakistan go to »


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