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A View From the Pakistani Left
Sunday, November 11, 2007 : In recent days, the already tenuous political situation in Pakistan has made a turn toward the worse. Musharraf’s government clamped down first on the judiciary and other opponents in the government in the first days after his declaration of martial law. More recently, those same forces have prevented even the liberal bourgeois opposition represented by Benazir Bhutto from gathering and arrested several thousand members of the opposition. In addition, Musharraf has gone on record as stating that many of those arrested face capitol charges. One element of the secular opposition to Musharraf is the Labour Party of Pakistan, a democratic socialist organization launched in 1997 from various elements of the Pakistani Left. What follows is an exchange conducted over the past couple of days (November 9-10, 2007) between myself and Farooq Tariq, secretary general of the Party. (Thanks to Tariq Ali for putting me in contact with Mr. Tariq.-Ron)
Ron: Hello. To begin, can you please identify yourself and generally describe your politics and the politics of the Pakistan Labour Party? Also, how many members and supporters do you estimate the Labour Party has? Farooq: I am Farooq Tariq, secretary general, Labour Party Pakistan (LPP). I am an activist since my student days at Punjab University back in mid 1970s. I became active as left activist and left used to be strong on campuses those days. Our main rivals were religious fundamentalists. When Zia military dictatorship was imposed, I went in exile. Spent some eight years in Holland and England. There we built Struggle Group that got active in Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party. In 1986, I moved back to Pakistan as situation improved in Pakistan and Struggle Group had possibility to get active from Pakistani soil itself. After Benazir’s first stint in power, Struggle Group with a perspective that PPP would now on serve only ruling classes, left PPP and began campaigning for an independent workers party. After building a good trade union base, Labour Party Pakistan (LPP )was launched in 1997. LPP wants a democratic socialist Pakistan and is a Marxist organisation that draws inspiration from, among others, Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.
We have a membership of over 3,000. One of the eight big trade union federations (NTUF) in Pakistan is LPP’s sympathetic body. The NTUF (National Trade Union Federation) represents over hundred thousand industrial workers. We run a Urdu weekly (www.jeddojuhd.com), only left weekly published in Pakistan. Our woman members set up Women Working Help Line (WWHL) that has a membership of almost two thousands. Our youth front has some modest success in last two years while our student base remains almost non-existent. Ron: What city are you writing from? Have there been protesters in the streets in that city? Farooq: I am underground since the imposition of Emergency. Mostly, I have been in Lahore and certain towns in northern Punjab. Ron: What is the make up of the protesters in Pakistan right now? The US newspapers describe the majority of the protesters as being lawyers and NGO activists. Is this so? What are the demands of the protests? Farooq: Initially, it was advocates (lawyers), left and human rights activists. But the situation has changed in last three days as Benazir Bhutto has declared her opposition. Yesterday, PPP workers fought pitched battles with police in Rawalpindi. PPP claims that 5000 of its workers were arrested across Pakistan. Also, government has arrested members of Justice Party of former cricket-star Imran Khan and Muslim League of exiled prime minister Nawaz Sharif. However, Islamists parties are not either joining the movement nor being targeted by the regime. Their opposition of regime remains restricted to press statement. Ron: Do you foresee the protests continuing and perhaps growing in size? Farooq: There is the potential. Big possibility. This past summer, it took sometime before masses took to roads. Masses hesitate at first but when they see a leadership fighting, they most likely join it. One reason is also media black out. TV channels are off air while print media is censored. Many don’t know whats happening. Often, expat Pakistanis are more informed than us here. Ron: What security forces are arresting the opposition? Is it the Army, the ISI, or other police? Farooq: It is police. But there have been reports where known arrested activists have been handed over to ISI. Ron: What role does Benazir Bhutto play in Pakistani politics? Does the Labour Party consider her role a positive one? Do they support her at all? What do you make of her arrest? Farooq: The good news in last three days was the changing attitude of Benazir Bhutto towards present military regime. While in exile, she made a deal to share power with military regime. This deal was brokered by USA. Her return on October 18 was also a US-backed move. But while in Pakistan , there was suicidal attack on her rally leaving over 200 dead. There was a mass negative campaign by the chief minister of Punjab against Benazir Bhutto. Then Musharraf imposed the Emergency on 3rd November without her consent apparently. Most of the advocates arrested after Emergency were from her party. It was all too much. This built a pressure. In first three days, PPP activists were not arrested but it all changed with Benazir coming openly against the military regime on Emergency. Her changing attitude was welcomed by LPP in press. I, on LPP’s behalf, announced in the media that LPP would join the Long March planned for 13th November by PPP from Lahore to Islamabad . Although we were very critical of polices she pursued in last few months that is to say her power sharing formula with Musharraf regime, her soft corner for the regime. Her recent dealings have also given currency to conspiracy theories. Many say that her opposition is just fake and all is done in collaboration with the regime in order to restore Benazir'’ image as militant leader. LPP don’t agree with such so-called conspiracies theories about Benazir and Musharraf being friends. Benazir’s opposition of the regime has meant arrests of thousands of PPP activists and their houses raided all across Pakistan.