Monday, April 15, 2013

A revolution in Pakistan?

There is a general consensus in Pakistan that the country is heading in the wrong direction. The same perception exists outside Pakistan with the term “failed state” raising its ugly head more frequently in the international media. How does the country get out of the precarious situation it finds itself in today?

The solution offered by mainstream political parties and the civil society is that the continuation of the democratic process affords the best chance to the country. However, pose the same question to a man on the street and the answer could range from bringing back the army to lining up all the corrupt politicians and putting a bullet in them. Some other would maintain that the root of the all the trouble is economy, poor law and order and the scourge of terrorism.

Given that both military dictators and civilian rulers have betrayed the people of Pakistan time and again, it is surprising that there is not much talk of a mass uprising to destroy the prevalent power structure and replacing it with a system that is responsive to the needs of the populace.  On the national level there is only one political party, the Awami Workers Party (AWP) that endorses bringing about a revolution in Pakistan. However, even this coalition of the fragments of the left-wing political groups has admitted that this is not the right time for revolutionary politics, and has thus, decided to participate in the election process by fielding a few candidates.

So, why is there no revolutionary movement in Pakistan?

The answers may be found in the history of anti-colonial movements in the subcontinent. There were only two major armed struggles in the undivided India against the British rule. First, the war of independence of 1857 that, some historians claim, was more of a mutiny than an organised and protracted struggle. After putting down the peril of the 1857 uprising, the British ruled in peace for nearly eight decades. This period of peace ended in 1942 when the Indian National Army led by Subhash Chander Bose, a communist intellectual, fought against the British rule with the support of the Axis powers. Another revolt took place in 1946 when the sailors of the Royal Indian Navy mutinied against their British officers.

Other anti colonial efforts like the “Quit India” movement were non-violent civil disobedience movements and not revolutionary struggles.

The Pakistan Movement itself was mainly a legal and constitutional battle. Mr. Jinnah was the ideal leader to spearhead this movement because of his expertise in constitutional law.

While these struggles did hasten the departure of the British from India, the primary reason was that in the aftermath of the Second World War, Britain was in no position to maintain its rule and had already accepted that quitting India was its best option.

Compared to the other movements of national liberation like Algeria, Nicaragua and Mozambique, the independence struggle in India was predominantly legal and constitutional with non-violent means used to put pressure on the coloniser. Also, there was little participation of the working class in the struggle. In contrast, the Algerian war of liberation that was fought from 1954 to 1962 was lead by FLN – a socialist organisation formed by the merger of smaller groups. While estimates vary, anywhere between a million and 1.5 million Algerians were killed in the eight years of the struggle. The population of Algeria was just 10 million in 1960 and it lost a staggering 10 per cent of its population in achieving independence.

Thus, when Pakistan was created it did not have any historical experience in revolutionary struggles. In Pakistan the only time there was a serious attempt at mobilising the working class to bring about a radical change was between 1968 and 1972 during the anti Ayub Khan movement led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). A number of left groups that were influential in the working class became energised and played an important role in bringing PPP into power. This is where the left in Pakistan made a bad judgement and instead of continuing the struggle with the factory workers as vanguard, it stopped and pinned their hopes on PPP to bring about radical changes. It soon faced a rude awakening when PPP abandoned its socialist agenda, dismissed left-wing provincial governments in NWFP and Balochistan, arrested the left-leaning leaders and then slapped some with charges of treason. The left in Pakistan never recovered from this debacle.

Another malaise also crippled the left – its derivative nature resulted in uncritically following the dictates of direction taken by the two main communist centres of power – China and Russia.  In 1971, when it should have condemned the military action in East Pakistan it supported the massacre simply because China (for its own strategic interests) was supporting the Pakistan army. Wars have historically provided the best opportunity for leftist revolutions. Russia is a case in point. The West Pakistani left missed an opportunity again and instead of gaining advantage from the weakness of the state alienated the left in East Pakistan.

Whatever juice remained in the left movement was squeezed out by the draconian policies of the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, and the demoralisation that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Currently, Pakistan’s left is the weakest it has been since 1947.

Today, the only struggle that can be remotely called revolutionary is the nationalist struggle of the Baloch. No national organisation of the left in the country has the ability to mobilise the downtrodden classes.

To prevent Pakistan’s headlong fall into an abyss, changes are needed at the grassroots level through a revolutionary movement. This is the responsibility of the left in Pakistan. The left must muster up its resources, organise itself, do a fresh analysis of what needs to be done and get ready to pick up the pieces again and rebuild a better country.

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