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Pakistan: The Left and the “War on Terror”

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In recent months, Western media coverage of Pakistan has centred on Taliban attacks on civilian targets such as Karachi airport and Shia communities. Every revolutionary, every communist, indeed every sincere democrat, will condemn such reactionary violence.
It is quite clear that the Pakistani Taliban target ordinary people, workers, and religious minorities with their terrorist campaigns.

However, this is not the whole story. These attacks are the Taliban's response to the latest military campaign in Waziristan and the “Federally Administered Tribal Areas” (FATA). The pretext for this campaign is the Pakistani version of the “war on terror”, which the army and the state conduct in accordance with, and in the interests of, US imperialism.

When the current prime minister, Nawaz Sharif was elected, he promised to settle the dispute via negotiations with the Taliban leaders in Waziristan. From the very beginning, US imperialism, along with parts of the ruling class and military, opposed all such negotiations, even though it was itself searching for a deal with “moderate” Taliban in Afghanistan.

For its part, the Pakistan government continued with its support for the “war on terror” in Afghanistan by allowing not only US bases and supply routes in the country but also US drone attacks on supposed “Taliban” and “terrorists” in the FATA region. This has meant daily terror for ordinary people, particularly in the rural areas. Hundreds, if not thousands, of rural poor people, amongst them a large proportion of women and children, have been massacred by these supposedly “surgically precise” weapons, written off as the “collateral damage” of the campaign against terrorism.

Since 2004, the Pakistan military have waged campaign after campaign in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, without any sign of success. Their own “war on terror” has led to hundreds of thousands of homes being destroyed and those who lived in them becoming refugees in their own country. Moreover, while the Pakistan state does not allow these “internally displaced persons” to leave the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it only provides the most minimal aid and shelter for as many as half a million people.

Finally, one needs to understand that the FATA is one of the least developed parts of Pakistan. Investment in infrastructure, education, industry etc. has been neglected by all governments. The literacy rate is less than 40 percent for men and only 7.5 percent for women. This reflects the backward social structure of the region and helps to explain how landlords and the tribal elders of Pashtun “clans” have continued to play a leading role in society.

Since the foundation of Pakistan, the area has been under direct federal state administration. This denies the Pashtun population any meaningful form of self-government and makes the war an important element in their national oppression. No wonder, then, that the people in these areas see the US and the Pakistan state as their main enemy. They know very well that the current attack by the army will lead to more deaths amongst the civilian population. This is also why even ultra-reactionary Islamist forces, like Al Qaida and now Tehrik i Taliban Pakistan, could present themselves as fighters against state oppression and imperialism.

In such a situation, the Revolutionary Socialists in the Awami Workers' Party, AWP, argue that the Pakistan working class must oppose the military's renewed attacks. We call for the immediate withdrawal of the army from the FATA. Only armed self-defence by workers and peasants can protect women, religious minorities and political opponents from the sectarian attacks of the Taliban.

At the same time, we defend the right of the people of Waziristan and all other parts of the FATA to defend themselves against the effects of the imperialist war. This is the only way to win the Pashtun masses away from reactionary leaderships and to an alliance with the Pakistani left and working class.

Islamisation – the main danger?

As with previous campaigns, this latest offensive by the Sharif government and the army has the backing of all the bourgeois and nationalist “opposition” parties. The pretext of opposition to “Islamism” has also brought more or less uncritical support from major forces of the liberal and even “socialist” left.

Initially, the AWP supported the military operation openly and, one has to admit, large parts of the “left” outside the AWP cheered this scandalous position. Under the pressure from members and the left wing in the AWP, however, the leadership of the party was obliged to “modify its position”.

Introducing their new statement, the party's president, Abid Hasan Minto, the chairman, Fanoos Gujjar, and general secretary, Farooq Tariq, explained, “After discussion among the leadership of AWP, we have made some changes in our statement on the present military operation”. Its first paragraphs read:

“The Awami Workers' Party (AWP) has demanded public disclosure of all aspects of the ongoing military operation in North Waziristan and a time line for the return of displaced populations in all Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

“The AWP has also asserted its long-held view that millenarian violence in Pakistan cannot be eliminated through military means only and therefore the parliament and elected government must outline concise and long-term initiatives so as to address and root out the ideological and material causes of religious bigotry and violence.”

Let’s be clear. This is still a cover for the military attack on the Pashtun people in the FATA. Even the government will agree, that “millenarian violence” cannot be eliminated by military means “only” and its history is full of empty phrases and pledges to bring about “improvement”.

Of course, it is legitimate to demand the disclosure of all aspects of the military operations and, we would add, all the secret treaties and collaboration with the US. But, in the statement, this only serves to then demand that the government should not resort “only” to military means. Instead of pointing to the inherently reactionary nature of the offensive, it then demands that the Pakistan government and state should “outline concise and long-term initiatives so as to address and root out the ideological and material causes of religious bigotry and violence”.

This is demanding the impossible. The Pakistan state, by its very nature, is incapable of “outlining”, never mind implementing, such an initiative. The Pakistan state itself was constituted as an “Islamic republic” in collusion with imperialism. It cannot exist as a bourgeois, semi-colonial state without resorting to the oppression of minorities, without dividing the people along national or religions lines.

Of course, the state apparatus fights the Taliban and other ultra-reactionary forces when they challenge its control, its monopoly of state power and therefore its legitimacy as a “viable state”. At the same time, a semi-colonial capitalism like Pakistan, dominated by US imperialism and the global institutions under its control (IMF etc.) will always reproduce the socio-economic conditions that give rise to misery, under-development, exploitation of the regions, tensions between town and countryside, oppression of nationalities, religious minorities, women and all the other features of Pakistan society.

The current period of capitalist crisis and the struggle for a re-division of the world by the old and emerging imperialist powers can only strengthen these conditions. It is simply a utopia to suggest that the Pakistan capitalist state can provide any rational and lasting way out for the “people”, that is, for all classes in society, for all nationalities etc. However, this is exactly what the statement by the AWP suggests when it concludes:

“The AWP has demanded that the elected government adopt a holistic and coherent policy towards this issue and to disclose this policy to the parliament and to ordinary Pakistanis more generally.”

With the same logic, we could demand that a tiger should become a vegetarian. The class nature of the state, the social interests that the government and parliament defend, do not matter for the AWP leaders. The government is not branded as a major part of the problem(s) the Pakistani people face, but rather as a misguided defender of the good, which seems to be in need of some friendly advice from the AWP leaders:

“The AWP leaders also reiterate their principled stand against the use of religion in politics, which has allowed various groups operating under the patronage of the establishment to wreak havoc in Pakistani society and also to make enemies of our neighbouring countries.

“It is only by separating the affairs of state from religious faith that sectarian organisations can be brought to book, and the national security obsession of the Pakistani state be done away with. It is in this long-run transformation that the Pakistani state can become responsive to the welfare needs of its own people, rather than be held hostage to the manipulations of the establishment and the religious right.”

First of all, there is good reason why Pakistan became a religious state and why politics and religion have been mixed from the beginning and this was not only a Pakistani affair. It was tied into the plans of the British imperialists (and then the US) for “ordering” the region after the break up of the colonial system. The Pakistan state has been built on the religious “principle” in order to incorporate patronage etc. in its political system.

Intervention in other countries, whilst it is legitimised with religious arguments, is not rooted in religious reasons at all. If we take, for example, the US war against the Afghan government and against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan, the use of religion, and fundamentalism, was a tool of Reagan's cold war policy, not the reason for interference in Afghanistan by Pakistan or any other powers.

The “security obsession” of the Pakistan state is not an accidental part of this apparatus, it could never be done away with on the basis of the current class system. The ruling class need the state and its “obsession” to keep the very state together. In addition, the Pakistan military and government, obsessed as they might be, are not the masters in their own country. They are the government and army of a semi-colonial state, which is an integral part of an imperialist order. At the end of the day, the whole policy towards Afghanistan and the war on terror is determined by the US security needs, not by anybody else’s “security obsession”.

This is just one example of how the AWP leadership turns things upside down in order to justify its support for the war in Waziristan. It portrays Islamism, no doubt an enormous danger and enemy of all workers and peasants, of women and youth, of the nationally and socially oppressed in the whole country, as the “main enemy” of the working class and democratic movements.

Thereby, it suggests that the main task is the struggle for “democracy” against “fundamentalism”. Analytically, this goes hand in hand with downplaying the nature of the Pakistani state and hiding the real main enemy of the workers and peasants; the ruling class and imperialism.

Politically, it leads to more or less “critical” support of the military attacks and to siding with the ruling class against the Pashtun people. It will lead to an increase in national and religious divisions, since all the reactionary leaders in the Pashtun community will tell those workers and peasants who look for support from the working class throughout Pakistan, that “the left” is backing the Sharif government, the generals and imperialism. And, for once, they would be telling the truth.

Opposition from the left

If the left, if working class activists, want to stop such a development, they need to stop the leaders of the AWP and other “left” leaders echoing the arguments of bourgeois liberalism, instead of giving a clear anti-imperialist and internationalist argument. Therefore we welcome the fact that leftists in the AWP have started to stand up against the scandalous position of their leaders.

On June 22, they signed a statement drawn up by anti-war students, entitled, “Stop the military operation in Fata!” The full statement can be seen at:

It is certainly a step forward that the left wingers and oppositionists in the AWP have gone public on the issue. The demand to stop the military operation and to withdraw the army immediately should be a key demand that the AWP fights for and tries to rally the entire working class, student, women and peasant movements behind.

However, the statement also includes some weaknesses that it needs to overcome in order to strengthen the struggle against the reactionary and counter-revolutionary line of the AWP leadership.

The statement does not expose the real basis of the intervention in the FATA. All the talk about fighting "Islamist extremism" should be exposed as just a cover for the government and the military's policy of supporting the US "war on terror". It allows them to pose as a "democratic", anti-sectarian force whilst actually creating masses of refugees and denying any self-rule to the people in the FATA region. Of course, the Pakistan state cannot allow this since it would encourage all oppressed nationalities in their demands and struggles for self-determination.

Although the statement correctly demands the end of the military campaign, it should go further and demand the immediate withdrawal of the army from the FATA region and a complete end to the war on terror operations and the drone attacks, the closing of US military bases and of supply routes for the US/NATO operations in Afghanistan.

All the supporters of the military intervention, even those who might be “very critical”, will no doubt argue that the ordinary people of Waziristan and other parts of the FATA have to be defended against Taliban terror, and present the army as a “lesser evil”. Given that the state's operations have themselves killed thousands of civilians, this is a very dubious line of argument but, more importantly for socialists, it denies any role for the people themselves to take an active role in their own defence. Therefore, one should include the call for self-defence organisations of the workers and peasants against violence and coercion from both the state forces and the Islamists.

Some of the demands raised by the statement are themselves problematic:

It calls for “Formulating and implementing a pro-people development policy to reverse the systematic underdevelopment of the FATA region.” This is vague at best and could be misunderstood as a call for just another bourgeois "development programme" which the state and its bureaucracy would control and which, like many before it, would actually achieve nothing. We should be more precise and demand a programme of socially useful public works (education, infrastructure, health, social services, transport) under the control of the workers and poor. Such a programme should be funded by taxing the capitalists, the large landlords and the rich.

“The security establishment must end its policy of supporting militant groups for strategic ends, both within Pakistan and in neighbouring countries such as Afghanistan.”

This is just a nice wish at best, in the worst case it sows illusions in the army. The Pakistan military establishment has proved time and time again that it supports para-military or militant groups for its own ends. It has proved time and time again that this is a major tool for securing the rule of the capitalists and landlords and the interests of imperialism. It will not change itself. Its policy needs to be exposed, its operations and aims made public and we need to build a mass movement of the working class, the peasants, women and oppressed nations to break up its might.

“Cutting off sources of funding and support for militant groups operating in the country, for example from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.” This immediately poses the question, who should cut off the funding? But it does not answer it. The Pakistani state? We should rather demand the publication of the details of all such transactions and their investigation by working class organisations which should then decide which funding should be blocked.

The penultimate paragraph argues: “What Pakistan needs is a new social contract based on the radical equality of all its peoples. The time is for a peoples' movement against the Pakistani military and ruling classes' continuing relationship with militant groups and US-Saudi imperialism. Progressives in Pakistan must remain committed to building a pro-people, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist political alternative without blinding themselves by expressing support for short term measures that only serve to intensify the contradictions bred by almost 70 years of subservience to imperialism and exploitative capitalist development.”

The call for a "social contract" is not anti-capitalist. It would mean a form of "compromise" between the masses and the ruling class and, in a country like Pakistan in particular, it is completely utopian to believe that such a contract could be formulated. The inequality of the people, the national oppression of many, is itself a part of the system of class rule and imperialist domination of the country.

Likewise, we should be clear that we want a mass movement with the working class at the centre. The call for a "peoples' movement" could otherwise be understood too easily as a movement not only of the workers, oppressed and peasants, but also the “liberal” or “democratic” sections of the bourgeois class. Whilst the working class and the left certainly will not prevent anybody from fighting for progressive goals, we need to be clear that only the working class is able to lead the struggle in a consistent, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist direction.


The Pakistan government and the military are fighting a war against the people. They do so under the pretext of "anti-terror-operations" whilst terrorising the people in the FATA and other parts of the country for decades. They fight the so called "war on terror" in the interest of the biggest reactionary force on the planet, US imperialism, in order to secure the profits and wealth of the so called elite of the country, the capitalists and the big landlords.

We need to put an end to these reactionary wars and the lies spread to justify them. Equality between the peoples, their right to decide for themselves on their future can only be secured, if we struggle against the wars on Pashtun. We must not entrust the Pakistani state with the struggle against reactionary religious violence and terror, but call for the creation of self-defence organisations of the masses in town and countryside against Islamist and state harassment and attacks.

For this, we need to build a mass movement of the working class, the peasants, women, the poor and all oppressed against the war waged in FATA. We want to build a movement that organises mass protests, solidarity action, demonstration, pickets. We call on the trade unions, left wing parties and student organisations to join us in building such a movement.

AWP members must reject the support central leaders have given to military operations and any suggestion that these could lead to anything progressive. In the AWP, we call on the members to fight to overturn this policy which covers up a war waged by the military, the government and imperialism.

The AWP must rather take a leading role in the creation of a mass working class, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movement, in order to fight for a real alternative to Pakistan capitalism.