Pakistan: Free Baba Jan and the Hunza 12

Baba Jan 5

By Amjad Ayub Mirza

Thousands of residents of the Hunza Valley, Northern Pakistan descended on Nasirabad on 12 June 2016 in a remarkable show of class solidarity with a village that has given birth to a great revolutionary of our time, the Awami Workers’ Party Gilgit Baltistan leader, Baba Jan.

Baba Jan, along with eleven of his companions, is serving a 40 year sentence after being accused of rioting and inciting the public to violence and damaging public and private property in 2011 having been tried under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997.

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Pakistan: new left party formed

In March 2013, the coalition headed by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) will become the first democratically elected government in Pakistan’s history to complete a full term in office. Having come to power following a popular movement that ousted the regime of General Pervez Musharraf in 2008, the PPP’s ascent to power brought with it the hope of a successful transition. However, it is a tragic comment on the state of affairs in Pakistan that the ability of a democratic government to not be ousted by the military is seen as an historic achievement. After all, there is little else to celebrate about the last five years in Pakistan’s history.

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Pakistan: a precarious balance

The decision to re-open the NATO supply routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan was not unexpected. Historically, Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, wielding tremendous influence even during periods of ‘democratic’ rule, has been a willing partner of US imperialism, and the current war in Afghanistan is no exception. For all the sound and fury that accompanied the suspension of NATO’s supply routes after a US?attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November, it was neither a principled stance against US aggression nor a response to domestic opposition to drone strikes and the Afghan war. It represented an attempt by Pakistan’s military establishment to reinforce its bargaining position in the context of a likely US withdrawal from or reduction of forces in Afghanistan.

If ten years of war in Afghanistan have made one thing clear, it is that the most powerful military the world has ever seen has failed in its attempts to conquer the country. While it is certain that the US will attempt to maintain a presence in Afghanistan to safeguard its interests, either through the establishment of permanent military bases or the manipulation of puppet governments, it is also clear that it will be unable to sustain its current level of military involvement in the country. The question of what will fill the space left by the withdrawal of the US lies at the heart of the decision to close, and re-open, the NATO supply routes.

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Pakistan: fighting religious extremism

On 4 January Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, was assassinated by Mumtaz Qadri, one of his own bodyguards. In the months prior to the assassination, Taseer had spoken publicly in favour of amending Pakistan’s controversial anti-blasphemy law, and this provided the pretext for his assassination.

The scope of the law against blasphemy, introduced in the colonial era, was widened in 1985 by the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq who made blasphemy against Islam punishable by death. Between 1925 and 1985, fewer than two dozen people were ever tried for blasphemy. But since 1985, more than 4,000 people have been taken to court for alleged blasphemy, while thousands more await trial. Having someone imprisoned for blasphemy is ridiculously easy, and is often used to settle petty scores. While many of the accused are eventually acquitted, they may spend years in jail. Convictions are often based on the flimsiest of evidence. While higher courts have always commuted the sentences imposed by lower courts in these cases, ensuring that no one has yet been executed under this law, life imprisonment is guaranteed for convicted ‘blasphemers’. Furthermore, many of those convicted, and even some who are acquitted, are killed anyway, targeted by the police, fellow prisoners and, sometimes, mobs in the grip of religious frenzy.

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Pakistan: floods exacerbate suffering

Thousands of people have been killed, millions have been displaced, and billions of dollars have been wiped off the economy as a result of the most catastrophic flooding in Pakistan’s history, described by the UN as a disaster greater in scale than the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. The flooding has led the government to appeal for huge amounts of foreign aid and assistance, arguing that its already beleaguered state machinery is overstretched and incapable of responding effectively to what has become an increasingly dire humanitarian crisis. Indeed, even though the floodwaters have begun to recede in most of the worst-affected areas, the real challenge will be to rebuild and regenerate all that has been destroyed by the floods. Given the Pakistani government’s track record in such matters, there is not much cause for optimism.

As was the case in 2005, when an earthquake in northern Pakistan killed 79,000 people and flattened the city of Balakot, those affected most by the disaster were the poor. Lacking access to adequate housing and shelter, and bereft of the resources needed to support themselves in moments of crisis, millions of poverty-stricken Pakistanis are currently living in makeshift relief camps, facing an uncertain future in which the strains of economic hardship are unlikely to be eased by timely and effective interventions by the state in the areas of reconstruction and rehabilitation.  For many of the people in these camps, however, life after the floods is unlikely to be very different from that which they experienced in the past. While the floods may have left in their wake a huge swathe of destruction across the length of Pakistan, they are hardly responsible for creating the poverty that is endemic to the regions that they devastated.

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