Pakistan: The Mummification of the Class Struggle?

"The highest heroic effort of which old society is till capable of is national war; and this is now proved to be a mere humbug, intended to deter the struggle of classes, and to be thrown aside as soon as that class struggle bursts out into civil war."

Karl Marx, The Civil War in France



The 'illegalization' of the economy

Any meaningful analysis of Pakistan has to treat "Pakistan and the Taleban-controlled Afghan territory as one economic zone" (B. Raman). Otherwise, one would not understand how an economy in deep crisis, deprived of financial loans and with a burgeoning labour dispute does not simply fold in on itself.

 There was a concerted effort by the previous Nawaz Sharif government to transfer all heroin-related infrastructure to Taleban controlled territory, a process expedited by the present government of Perviz Musharraf. Significantly, "while the opium cultivation in Afghanistan is largely in the hands of Afghan farmers, all heroin refineries in Taleban territory are owned by Pakistani narcotics barons, enjoying the protection of the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment" (ibid.). The billions earned each year in the narcotics trade plus a tax collection improvement of around 20 percent has prevented the collapse of the economy.


The return of the mummy

After a long lull, the class struggle went into overdrive in the 90s and resulted in stagflation. Pakistani proletarian migration to the middle east (and its benefits) was curtailed due to the Gulf War and world recession. Disputes, riots and strikes were responded to by ever-harsher IMF inspired austerity measures. Child labour disputes played a prominent role in these escalations. Some six million children are forced to work in Pakistan and there are 20 million bonded workers (Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign Bulletin). In the carpet industry alone there are 1 million child labourers (this amounts to 90% of the workforce). Employers are quoted as saying that they choose factory locations according to the "availability of children". The 300,000 children in the Brick-Kiln industry are virtual bonded labourers. Even to keep this miserable occupation they have to bribe the police routinely. 50,000 children, some as young as 5 years old, work in football manufacturing industry, manually sewing thick leather. A prominent militant who successfully organized a strike against privatisation, and the abolition of contract and child labour was assassinated in 1995 as reprisal. Two years later 20,000 carpet-workers in Lahore went on strike demanding wage rises, retirement pay, and an end to child labour.

In 1997 Pakistan witnessed the spread of disputes to the banking sector when hundreds of militants were made redundant unceremoniously as a way of breaking up their organization and curbs were imposed on strikes. The frequent exhortations by the IMF to impose a 15 per cent general tax on imported and processed food, gas and petroleum is both unpopular and unworkable as "the revenue collection system still suffers from widespread corruption and inefficiency" (Financial Times, 2/Sept/1999). In order to abide by this tight agenda the Pakistani bourgeoisie launched an attack on electricity and water workers through downsizing and 'privatisation'. For instance, the federal government "inducted 30,000 to 35,000 junior commissioned officers and around 250 officers of the Pakistan army into the Water and Power development Authority" (Green Left Weekly, 27/Jan/1999). 'Privatisations' were resisted by workers at Habib Bank through a successful three-week strike and rail workers who launched a national campaign involving mass protest meetings and hunger strike camps. Women have played a prominent role in campaigns against imported baby food as a substitute for mother's milk and the tobacco companies who target 'third world' countries. The state hits back by imposing Islamic morality. "At any one time hundreds of women are imprisoned under the Zina Ordinance, a law that punishes extra-marital sexual intercourse...The Zina Ordinance also applies to rape. Under this law...specific types of evidence must be produced which exclude the testimony of women. By bringing a charge of rape, a woman is taken to admit that unlawful sexual intercourse has taken place. A rape victim can therefore be punished after a trial in which she was given no chance to testify" (Amnesty International). In fact around 15% of women who bring a case against rape are themselves charged and imprisoned! Here the state, Islamic jurisprudence and rapists form a terroristic united front against women (especially proletarian women) in order to weaken the whole movement.

Ethnic Cleansing as Immobilization

For decades the division of proletarians into Hindus or Muslims, Indians or Pakistanis and more recently the fragmentation of Pakistan itself into Eastern (Bangla Desh) and western sectors aided the bourgeoisie in its strategy of divide and rule. For example, the underprivileged position of Bengali bureaucrats and army officers was "a driving force behind Bengali nationalism in Pakistan that led eventually to the liberation (sic) of Bangladesh" (Hamza Alavi). We are beginning to see the gradual break up of such demarcations as the subcontinent's proletariat tentatively creates horizontal links regardless of nationality, ethnicity and religious affiliation. A major factor has been the realization that since Pakistan and India now both possess nuclear weapons a border dispute at Kashmir can now result in total mutual annihilation. Pakistan is one of few societies where there exists three different modes of surplus value extraction: the pre-formal method of extraction which is a return of all those methods deemed too antiquated for modern capitalist development (e.g., child and bonded labour and in exceptional cases slavery); the formal method of extraction (which dominates most of Pakistan); and the real method of extraction (which has been inaugurated through the nuclear industry and other advanced sectors of the economy). This latter tendency not only determines the rate of exploitation in the rest of society but also aggressively sucks up surplus value from the lower rungs.

The history of nuclear development in India and Pakistan shows how every major capitalist power is implicated in the subcontinent's arm race. With regard to India, President Eisenhower offered atomic technology in 1953 for "civilian use". Three years later the US supplied India with heavy water, which is used to control nuclear fusion. In 1959 US trains Indian scientists in reprocessing and a decade later France agrees to help India develop breeder reactors. The USSR becomes India's main supplier of heavy water in 1976 and a year later India develops supercomputers capable of testing nuclear-weapon explosions. In 1998 India conducts five underground nuclear tests, declaring itself a "nuclear state" (New York Times, 28/May/1998).

Pakistan launched its program somewhat later reflecting its less 'developed' economy. In 1972, following its third war with India, Pakistan starts its program with the aid of Canadian 'Imperialism'. Five years later, Britain sells 30 high-frequency inverters for controlling centrifugal speeds. In 1981 the Reagan administration begins "generous military and financial aid because of Pakistani help to Afghan rebels battling Soviets" (ibid.). Two years later, China supplies Pakistan with bomb design. Pakistan becomes a nuclear power in the same year as India, 1998. Looking at it historically, it seems that the US, British and Canadian ruling classes have tried to extend their influence in both India and Pakistan whereas Russia and France have concentrated on India and China has opted for Pakistan. We expect these rivalries to intensify.


Bangladesh: the other side of the coin

If Afghanistan should be perceived as an integral economic part of Pakistan then Bangladesh and Pakistan should be viewed as an integral political entity. For whatever happens in one society has an immediate political ramifications for the other. So let us look more closely at Bangladesh.

Natural disasters (e.g. floods) are usually blamed for the economic plight of Bangladesh. But the 1990s saw a massive escalation of the class struggle in the country. In 1990 violent riots broke out in the capital, Dacca (International Communist Group, Communism, no. 12). Two years later several thousand striking proletarians were brutally repressed in Dacca, and a year later striking textile workers were the target. The same year witnessed the shutting down of four universities described by the state as "centres of conspiracy and terrorism" (ibid.). In 1994 despite the unions' best efforts to sabotage the struggle of dockers at the port of Chittagong, all traffic was halted. Harvests were burnt as protest against wage cuts in the same year. In 1995 textile workers blocked many roads and railways in protest against their work conditions. The Pakistani and indeed Indian proletariat observed these events with interest but, as far as we can gather, without active participation.


Bonaparte come back: all is forgiven!

General Perviz Musharraf was promoted as the Chairman of the Chief of Staff Committee at the beginning of October 1999 by the civilian government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Merely a week later he had organized a coup against his boss. Well, there's gratitude for you!

 The reasons for the take-over were numerous but chief amongst them were the following: proletarian strikes by cotton growers across the country who blocked roads and organized mass demonstrations (cotton amounts to 70% of total 'legal' export); the government's attempt to introduce an unpopular tax was successfully defeated by small traders; Sharif's highway construction mentality had overseen the bulldozering of many historical buildings creating resentment amongst the urban population; the IMF's plans for 'privatisation' had met fierce resistance especially in the railway, telecommunication and electricity industries; Sharif's attempt to disentangle Pakistan from Afghanistan by blaming the latter for terrorist activities inside Pakistani borders did not go down very well with the 'intelligence community'; and finally, having realized that the General was as ambitious as he was ruthless, the government tried in vain to get rid of him only a week after promoting him. This was the last straw. The coup was inevitable.

Today, the General seems more secure than his predecessor. The demonstrations in Pakistan have been confined to ethnic minorities, so far. The USA needs him, at least temporarily. The IMF has been more generous with loans and debt repayments, up to a point. And the Pakistani proletariat, as opposed to Afghani proletarians inside Pakistan, has been relatively quiet, at least up to now. And the General has been careful not to alienate rich landowners who were last taxed heavily under Bhutto's government (despite Bhutto herself coming from the same background!). Having said all that, this war is less predictable than Kosovo and the Gulf War. If things do not go according to script, who knows, anything could happen!

(Afghan Series, Number 4) 8.11.2001

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