Pakistan: new left party formed

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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.

Headed by Asif Ali Zardari, often referred to as ‘Mr Ten Percent’ in reference to his stint as the Minister for Investment in the 1990s, the PPP government has presided over an administration that has engaged in astonishing levels of corruption and graft. The economy, already in freefall when the PPP came to power, continues to display anaemic growth at best, partly due to mismanagement, but also because of the destabilizing effects of Islamic militancy, the ongoing war in Afghanistan, and the government’s complete and utter failure to address the crippling power shortages that now leave the vast majority of the country’s population without electricity for up to 18 hours a day.

In the parts of the country adjoining Afghanistan, drone strikes, suicide bombings and military operations have become a part of everyday life, with the PPP government showing little sign of doing anything to address these problems. Throughout the country, religious obscurantism continues to exercise an ever-increasing hold on public discourse and behaviour; citizens continue to be prosecuted and killed for blasphemy and schoolgirls like Malala Yousafzai, currently being treated in a British hospital, are shot for simply stating a desire to be educated. Finally, in the province of Balochistan, the source of Pakistan’s natural gas, copper, and other minerals, there exists a state of virtual civil war as nationalist militants continue to oppose a central state that has engaged in the exploitation and plunder of the province for over five decades.

Given Pakistan’s history of military rule, and the military’s role in nurturing the most reactionary elements of Pakistani society, the country’s tentative transition to democracy is one that should be encouraged. However, democracy of the sort that has been witnessed over the last half decade is of arguably little value if it does nothing to address the problems faced by Pakistan’s working class, the majority of whom continue to live in conditions of poverty and deprivation. As Pakistan gears up for its next round of elections, the usual suspects have once again started to campaign for ‘change’; the PPP, a party founded in the late 1960s with explicitly progressive aspirations but now largely dominated by landed and business interests, has started to trade rhetorical blows with the Pakistan Muslim League, itself completely beholden to the interests of Pakistan’s propertied elite. Smaller parties like the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i-Insaf (Movement for Justice) have generated considerable interest, but have thus far displayed no signs of seriously wishing to challenge the entrenched interests of the military, the propertied elite, Islamists and, in the context of the war on terror, the United States.

It is here that it is important to draw attention to the emergence of the Awami Workers Party (AWP) as a new political actor in Pakistan. Formed after the merger of the Awami Party of Pakistan, the Labour Party, and the Workers Party, the AWP represents the most significant consolidation of left organisations in Pakistan since the late 1960s. While the Pakistani left has been in decline for decades, largely due to the effects of state repression, the AWP represents an attempt to bring its fractured remnants together on a platform committed to secularism, anti-imperialism, the realisation of the rights of Pakistan’s ethnic minorities and the elimination of the power of the propertied elite. At present, the AWP is a much smaller political force than the parties it seeks to confront, not to mention the military establishment. However, it has already begun its efforts to mobilise Pakistan’s workers and peasants, and intends to field candidates in the forthcoming elections. While its success in this round is far from assured, the party’s presence as an explicitly leftist alternative to mainstream politics is a significant and welcome development.

In Pakistan, it has become a cliché to claim that the country is passing through a ‘critical period’ in its history. This phrase, often employed by governments and politicians, has been used throughout the country’s history to explain its perpetual state of crisis. In reality, these crises are often created, if not exacerbated, by the very people who claim to be solving them. In the current context, the very same military that claims to be fighting Islamist militancy continues to nurture Islamist proxies to be deployed in Afghanistan and India. The same government that states its opposition to US drone strikes has been shown to be colluding with them in private. The stewards of the economy who have been tasked with arresting its decline are at the forefront of pillaging what is left of Pakistan’s wealth. All too often, the choices in Pakistan have been between military rule or kleptocratic democracy, religious extremism or imperialist violence. The AWP represents a potential alternative.

Hassan Javid