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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Pakistan ‘Democracy’ brings no benefit for the poor

FRFI 215 June/ July 2010

As the summer begins in Pakistan, soaring temperatures are matched by rising prices and increased electricity black-outs. For the people of Pakistan, everyday life has yet to see the promised benefits of the transition to democracy. This is not surprising: the movement that ousted General Pervez Musharraf in 2008 lacked any clear ideological vision for Pakistan. Necessary though it was to end Musharraf’s dictatorship, the vacuum created by his removal was filled by the same corrupt and discredited political elite that has historically dominated Pakistan’s politics.

 

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Pakistan: military fight against Taliban counterproductive

FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010

As the military operation launched by the Pakistani government against the Taliban in the northern areas of the country enters its eighth month, there are several fundamental questions about the effectiveness of the Zardari government’s approach to dealing with the Taliban. While there can be no doubt that the Taliban and its millenarian vision must be challenged in Pakistan, the state’s response has been insufficient and misguided.

Military force

Following abortive attempts at appeasing the Taliban at the start of 2009, the government and military establishment have initiated and sustained a military campaign against the Taliban in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). While the military has retaken control of Swat from the Taliban and dislodged it from key towns in FATA, the human cost has been tremendous. Over three million people have been displaced and now live in makeshift refugee camps scattered across the rest of the country. Information from the battle zone is tightly controlled by the military, making it virtually impossible to independently verify government claims of success, or to determine the number of civilians killed in the conflict, or the extent of the damage to cities, towns, and villages in the region.

 

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Poor communities devastated by earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir

Poor communities devastated by earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir

On 8 October an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale devastated parts of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The earthquake has so far claimed more than 90,000 lives and if the relief effort is not stepped up the death toll will be far greater. This terrible disaster has worsened the suffering for the people of the area already divided by India and Pakistan’s dispute over territorial control of Kashmir.

On 11 October, India responded to the relief operation by supplying medicine and other supplies. They have also opened up the Line of Control with Pakistan to make rescue work easier.

Pakistan is internally divided by language, class and social conflict. All forms of democracy have failed in Pakistan and military dictatorship is entrenched. Following the 1947 partition, Pakistan has repeatedly been involved in direct conflict with India. Its brutal politics led to the civil war of 1971 resulting in the division of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. Under the leadership of General Musharraff, Pakistan plays the role of US lackey in South East Asia. He provided the US administration with a naval base during the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. He systematically oppresses both radical and reformist political groups and is a great supporter of globalisation.

 

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Pakistan: Dictatorship and resistance

The movement now challenging General Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule in Pakistan is the greatest threat to his control of the state since he seized power in 1999. Although it is dominated by largely bourgeois and petty bourgeois elements lacking the organisational capacity to foster popular participation in the struggle against military rule, the movement itself represents an opening of the political space within Pakistan that has historically been dominated by an extremely reactionary military. While the extant political parties in Pakistan, dominated as they are by the interests of the propertied classes, are not going to promote the interests of Pakistan’s underprivileged majority once the current regime collapses, the current wave of popular protest presents an opportunity for the impoverished masses to organise and advance their own independent interests in a situation freed from the repressive authoritarianism of the military. HASSAN JAVID reports.

The proclamation of emergency rule in Pakistan is the latest episode in a saga stretching back to General Musharraf’s failed attempt to remove Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry from the Supreme Court in March 2007. Despite having tacitly supported military dictatorships throughout Pakistan’s history, the judiciary had begun to assert its own independence by investigating reports of the Musharraf government’s increasingly evident abuses of power. Consequently, the court proceeded to block the privatisation of the Pakistan Steel Mill, one of the largest industrial units in the country, on the grounds that the bidding process had disproportionately favoured groups with links to members of the government, and also started to look into the ‘disappearance’ of hundreds of people allegedly involved in terrorist activities. Musharraf’s subsequent unconstitutional dismissal of Iftikhar Chaudhry was an attempt to coerce the judiciary into obedience and was met with fierce resistance by judges and lawyers across the country. In scenes reminiscent of the movement that toppled Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military dictator in 1968, rights activists and political parties rapidly joined the lawyers who had taken to the streets demanding an immediate end to military rule. As protests wracked Pakistan’s major cities, Iftikhar Chaudhry was reinstated as Chief Justice in July, following a ruling by a panel of Supreme Court judges formed to investigate the allegations levelled against him by the government.

 

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Pakistan: instability deepens

In the days following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi on 27 December 2007, Pakistan was brought to a complete standstill as thousands of protestors demanded that Bhutto’s killers be brought to justice. Much of the agitation was directed against the state, with Musharraf being blamed for not taking security measures that could have prevented the assassination. Indeed conspiracy theories swiftly circulated directly implicating the regime in the incident.

This is very doubtful. Bhutto and Musharraf had been on the verge of striking a political deal that would have seen Bhutto’s PPP come to power with Musharraf as President following general elections scheduled for 8 January. The widespread protests at Musharraf’s crackdown in 2007 questioned the regime’s ability to maintain its hold on power. In the face of waning international support and rising domestic op position, reaching a power-sharing agreement with a popular mainstream party like the PPP was one of the few means through which Musharraf could hope to cling on to power.

 

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Pakistan at a critical juncture

On 20 September, close to 60 people were killed and over 250 were wounded when a suicide bomber targeted the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. It was the 29th suicide attack to have taken place in Pakistan in 2008. Less than a mile away from the site of this latest bombing, Pakistan’s newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari had just delivered his inaugural address to a joint session of parliament that had been attended by Pakistan’s military chiefs and foreign diplomats. The speech was considered to be significant, not only because it was symbolic of the country’s transition towards democracy, but because it addressed key issues facing the government, not least of which were the rising militancy of the Taliban in the country’s north, and the repeated violations of Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty by US forces based in Afghanistan.

Since coming to power in February, the democratically-elected government, led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which replaced the dictatorial regime of General Musharraf, has reeled from crisis to crisis. In addition to an escalating military conflict with the various elements of the Taliban based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and increasing incidents of terrorism across the country, the government has had to contend with a rapidly deteriorating economic situation and the fallout from the global food crisis. While many of the problems can be attributed to external factors, such as the state of the global economy, as well as the flawed policies of the previous regime, the new civilian leadership’s handling of these issues has been inept, giving rise to an increasing disenchantment with democratic rule. Given the weakness of progressive, left-wing political forces in the country, the transition to democracy and away from authoritarian rule was seen as a positive political development in Pakistan. The failure of the current democratic regime would be disastrous for Pakistan.

 

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