Workers' Liberty #2/2


The Pakistani socialists' stand against war and fundamentalism

The Labour Party of Pakistan has nothing to do with the policies of the Labour Party of Britain. The Labour Party of Britain is on the side of the dictators, on the side of the fundamentalists, on the side of the bombings; and we are just on the opposite side - on the side of the socialists and Marxists, and the side of those who want to promote peace and human rights with the active participation of the working class.

By Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the Labour Party of Pakistan

We see fundamentalists as a new sort of fascists who have to be opposed. There is nothing progressive, there is nothing anti-imperialist in the strategy of the fundamentalists against America. We have seen in practice that the fundamentalists are an outrightly extreme right wing, suppressive, anti-democratic force who have nothing in common with progressive ideas.

Some left groups say that we should side with the fundamentalists because they are opposing American imperialism. But we in Pakistan have learned this lesson through hard realities.

We have seen what happened in the Iranian revolution when the Tudeh Party, the Communist Party of Iran, made an alliance with Khomeini's fundamentalists against the Shah of Iran. The Tudeh Party played an important part in the mass movement, but, with the defeat of the Shah, when Khomeini took over, the first thing he did was to hang the General Secretary of the Tudeh Party. Hundreds of activists were hanged.

We saw a total collapse of those forces of the left who thought that maybe for the time being we can align with those forces among the fundamentalists who seem to be anti-imperialist and who are making a lot of noise against imperialism.

We have also seen something similar in Pakistan. In 1977, when there was a movement against Bhutto, sections of the Stalinists aligned with Jamat al-Islami to launch a movement against him. The Stalinists argued that Bhutto was a fascist and that we should join hands with fundamentalists to liberalise Pakistan and to get rid of him. The result was that the military took over and those left forces were put into jail by Zia.

We have also seen the example of Afghanistan. During the Najibullah period, most of his opponents within the party collaborated with the mujahedeen. They hoped that they could have an alliance with the mujahedeen - with the fundamentalists - and once they had defeated Najibullah together that they could deal with the mujahedeen. In 1992 the mujahedeen took over - and the Najibullah party was totally finished.

So, when the war against Afghanistan started, we condemned the terrorist action, but we also said that war is no way to stop terrorism. In our weekly paper, Workers' Struggle, we said 'No Terrorism against Terrorism'. But we also said, no alliance with fundamentalists.

That was nothing new for us. Since the LPP came into existence in 1997 we have said we will never have any alliance with the fundamentalists, or with any section of the religious parties. There have been many offers to us, in the trade union field and in the political field. Some of the fundamentalists said, we are against privatisation, let's get together and fight against the privatisation of the railways.

Our response was to say: if we look at your philosophy, you are in favour of private property, you are in favour of feudalism, you are in favour of capitalism - how can you fight privatisation? We won't go along with your demagogy. The only reason you say you are against privatisation is the pressure of the working class who do not want privatisation. They are forcing you to take this initiative so that you can have some social base in the working class.

The Pakistani fundamentalists and Arab fundamentalists who went to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban were massacred, whereas the local Pashtun Taliban left the jihad and just became Pashtun. They made a compromise with Karzai. Omar and Osama left the foreign fundamentalists to be massacred by the Northern Alliance and the American army. Most of the Taliban leadership were not killed. They made a compromise - maybe with the approval of American imperialism - and they escaped to safety. Karzai will be able to use them in the future if there is tension between Uzbeks and Hazaras and Tajiks and so on.

When it came to their own necks, they forgot about the jihad and their slogans that they would fight until death. It was only to Kandahar that they fought! Then they ran away on motor bikes. That has left a very bad taste in Pakistan because the Pakistani Taliban did not escape.

There is some feeling in the West that if Osama is alive, or Omar, the Taliban could regenerate. But I think that the Taliban are finished. They are totally exposed. There will be new leaders, with different forms of fundamentalism, but this current is finished.

I will just say a few words on the role of the LPP. The first demonstration we organised was on 27 September, before the attacks of American imperialism on Afghanistan, with over 500 women activists from the Women Workers' Helpline. They took the initiative to launch the first peace demonstration - and it made headlines across the country that women had come out for peace in Pakistan.

It brought an alternative view in the country. Before that, every day the fundamentalists were on the streets with their slogans that Osama was the hero of the Muslim world . There were not in general many on their demonstrations, but there was a general feeling of support for what the fanatics were saying, which is not surprising given what American imperialism has done to Third World countries. When the events of September 11 took place, many in Pakistan supported them - the majority of the working class in Pakistan sympathised with the terrorists.

That first action of ours on September 27 was very much a minority position. But then on October 15 in Lahore, over 1000 party activists rallied at the same time as the fundamentalists called a General Strike. The police pressured us to cancel our action, but we said no, you're not telling the fundamentalists to cancel their action, why should we be the ones to back down?

Over 1000 came, of whom about 400 were women, and we had a very militant demonstration against the war and against the fundamentalists. We said that we totally opposed American imperialism but that we would not support Osama and Mullah Omar, who have attacked women's rights. At the same time, we exposed the hypocrisy of American imperialism and their new-found support for women's rights. As one of our women activists said that day: 'They are killing women in Kabul. How can they defend the rights of women?'

On November 6, over 8000 people demonstrated in Rawalpindi on our initiative, and the majority of them were women. Some NGOs who were involved wanted to use the demonstration just against the fundamentalists, and maybe in favour of the army. We made sure that the main slogan and the main tone of that demonstration was against imperialism, against the bombing and so on, but we also condemned fundamentalism on the same demonstration. That demonstration really changed the mood in many organisations. It really gave courage to people to come out against both American imperialism and the fundamentalists.

Then on 10 December we had another demonstration in Lahore of 2000. On December 31 we had brought 2000 activists to the border with India, and we had slogans on both sides of the border opposing war.

For you it is probably normal to celebrate New Year. But the fundamentalists have made this big thing to prevent it. In Lahore particularly they roam around the streets in gangs on New Year's night. If someone has had a drink, or there is a party going on, they will attack and try to disperse people. The police will just stand by and watch while they do that.

The LPP announced in the press that we would go onto the main road to celebrate New Year's night as a Peace Night. Thirty of us went there. We saw hundreds of police waiting for us, and we were really afraid that we would be arrested. Actually, when we got there they said, at least someone has dared to come to this place to celebrate the New Year. They wished us Happy New Year. It was a very good initiative by the Labour Party. Thousands of people waved to us. For the first time in maybe 25 years, there was a little demonstration on the main street in Lahore to celebrate New Year's night openly and publicly. It was very symbolic - symbolic that someone had dared fight against fundamentalism - and it gained us publicity in all the newspapers.

* Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the Labour Party of Pakistan, spoke in London on Friday 25 January 2002, at a meeting organised by the International Socialist Group.

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