Taimur Rahman Political Archive

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Archive for July, 2008

Brace Yourselves: We Must Fight the Taliban

Posted by Taimur Rahman on July 1, 2008

“The operation to root out extremists in tribal areas and on the doorstep of Peshawar has begun. There is bound to be a serious blow back. Brace yourselves.”

It seems that fear of suicide bombs has so permeated our society that many of us simply do not have the stomach for a struggle against the Taliban. But whichever way one turns, such a struggle is both inevitable and necessary. The Taliban are not interested in merely staying within the tribal areas. They are not interested in practicing their medieval barbaric ways in their own areas. Far from it. They are interested in spreading their version of Islam not only all over FATA, not only all over Pakistan, they actually believe that their dogma is the panacea for all the ills of the modern world. Therefore, they are an aggressive force that should not be mistaken for traditional tribals.

The Tehreek e Taliban is out to make Pakistan into another version of Talibanized Afghanistan. The fact that they have managed to get to the gates of Peshawar should not be taken lightly at all.

Some people mistakenly allege that the Taliban have captured the mood of resistance of the Pushtun people. But this is so far from the truth that it is almost laughable. If the Taliban had indeed captured the mood of the Pushtun people, it would not have been the case that the people of Pukhtunkhwa would have given a landslide victory to the secular ANP. Far from it. Media reports from the region are demonstrating that the people of Swat have lost their livelihood because of the ongoing fighting. Malam Jaba, Swat and so many other places that were once places where people from all over Pakistan would come and visit, have been turned into ghost towns. People are emigrating out of these
areas because there is no work. Those that remain wish for the old times to return when there was no Taliban and economic conditions were much better.

Another misconception has to do with the view that negotiations are the only or the best way forward. How can the cause of democracy, civil society, equality, or justice be served by not taking any action against those that have torched dozens of girls schools, murdered 28 peace makers, publicly executed their opponents, razed barber shops, destroyed CD and DVD shops, brunt to a crisp
tourist resorts, kidnapped religious minority groups and have brought chaos to the area? How can justice be served by not doing anything about the murder of democratically elected representatives? These last few days extremists broke into the house of Abdul Kabir in Matta Tehsil (who is the brother of PPP vice president Sher Khan). They not only shot him dead, they also shot dead his wife
and his son. This was followed by the killing of another politicians Muhammed Zameer.

Yesterday, when an unconstitutional military dictator gave the go ahead for a military operation, it was an entirely different matter. However, today the situation is entirely different. Today the democratically elected provincial and federal governments have ordered a military operation to establish law and order.

In this regard, it is also quite disappointing to see the response of the PML(N). The tragedy against ordinary people, against women and minorities, and against any form of dissent, is occurring in front of their eyes. They have not come out with any statement against these atrocities. Instead their only
statement is that they have not been taken into confidence and are even threatening to break the coalition at this sensitive moment. In reality they are completely unwilling to take a principled position against religious extremism. They are unwilling to defend the rights of women, minorities, or working people. That is why they are making excuses about not being taken into confidence while remaining completely silent on the gross forms of injustice that the Taliban are meting out to defenseless people.

The lawyers that have stood for the rule of law need to especially understand that the rule of law is being destroyed by the Taliban. The latter do not stand for the rule of law but against it. They stand for arbitrary executions in the most gruesome and cruel manner imaginable. While standing for the restoration of the judiciary, they should equally condemn the Talibanization of Pakistan.

In conclusion, the democratically elected government, despite all their drawbacks must be supported against the Taliban. Pakistan has now made it to 9th position in the most dysfunctional states in the world (we are just behind Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan). The principle reason for this chaotic situation is the growing threat of religious extremism. Although there will no doubt be a blow back to the operation in the NWFP, we have to fight the Taliban. Our survival as a democratic society depends on it.

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Two Faces of the “Democratic Movement”

Posted by Taimur Rahman on July 1, 2008

The concept of democracy is one of those murky terms that means all things to all people. Whether it is the occupation of Iraq or the Palestinian struggle against occupation both are conducted in the name of democracy. In Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto died for democracy, Nawaz Sharif suffered years of exile for democracy, Imran Khan supported Musharraf to bring about “haqiqi democracy” and then opposed him to bring about real democracy. Even the Jamaat e Islami, that long time ally of General Zia ul Haq, now speaks in the name of democracy. It would not be incorrect, therefore, to consider the term democracy to be a hegemonic concept in the world today.

Literally, the word democracy means rule by the people. According to Ellen Mieksin Wood (“Capitalism Against Democracy”) the ruling classes of ancient Rome were completely opposed to the concept of democracy. In fact, the ruling elite considered democracy no different from “mob rule”. However, modern ruling classes speak in the name of democracy. How did this transition occur?

This transition was made possible because the modern system of parliaments retains the form of democracy but excludes the political content of democracy. The political content of democracy was encapsulated eloquently in Lincoln’s famous phrase “rule by the people, for the people, and of the people”. The form of democracy is the representative parliamentary system. Thus, while the form of democracy (i.e. the parliamentary system) has become hegemonic, its political content (i.e. peoples rule) remains an elusive goal.

Democracy reemerged as a hegemonic concept in the struggle of the capitalists against the feudal monarchy overthrown by the capitalist-democratic revolutions and transformations of 1648 (Britain), 1776 (USA), and 1789 (France). And in the context of the neo-colonial world, it has come to signify the struggle to overcome both pre-capitalist and colonial relations in favour of modern representative institutions of the type found in the West today. In Pakistan, however, it has come to mean almost exclusively the struggle against military rule. Why has the meaning of democracy become so narrow in Pakistan?

The struggles against successive military dictatorships were no doubt successful in so far as they managed to displace the military rulers of that period. However, they failed to bring about any systemic change to the state or social structure of the country. Hence, in a historical sense and from the point of view of a transformation from a neo-colonial state to a democratic state they failed to achieve their goals. As a result of these failures, the expectations, the goals, the vision of the democratic movement shrank, not only in the minds of politicians belonging to various propertied classes, but even in the minds of the rank and file of the movement. Yesterday the word democracy evoked aspirations of land reforms, national sovereignty against imperialism, a welfare state that would supply health, education, and employment, a society that would guarantee equality of all nations, equal of race, gender, religion and caste and so on. Today the word democracy has become narrowed to one singular item: the struggle against military rule. In sum, the reviving democratic movement bears the imprint of yesterday’s failures.

As a result, today the democratic movements finds itself, ironically, in the company of people that were trenchant opponents of democracy yesterday (for instance the Jamaat e Islami). It should be self-evident that not all those that speak in the name of democracy today, objectively stand for its political content. It is because of this disjuncture between the content and form of democracy that the words “democratic movement” are placed in inverted commas in the title of this essay.

It is my contention that there are at least two faces of the so-called “democratic movement” (i.e. the movement against Musharraf). The first is democratic, the other reactionary.

The progressive face of the democratic movement is opposed to the coup because it violated the right of people to be governed by elected representatives, it is opposed to the parasitic economic character of the military, it is opposed to the neo-liberal policies of the regime that resulted in the rising cost of living for ordinary people, it is opposed to monopolistic practices of Musharraf¢s supporters that caused the sugar, wheat, and cement crisis, it is opposed to the wanton murder of people in Balochistan and so on.

The reactionary face of opposition to Musharraf is not primarily opposed to the above mentioned issues. In fact, they have supported or been the direct beneficiaries of many of these policies. The reactionary face of the opposition to Musharraf is opposed to the U-turn on the policies that were continuing from the Zia period. They are opposed to the de-escalation of war with India or support for insurgents in Kashmir, they are opposed to the spread of relatively liberal values on the media, they are opposed to the retraction of support for Jihadi groups, they are opposed to the operation against Lal Masjid, the clamp down on foreign jihadi groups, they are opposed to legislation such as the Women¢s Protection Bill, or the holding of mixed marathons.

While these issues are not mutually exclusive and there are many individuals that straddle the fence, however, at the mass level one can clearly identify these two political trends.

The lawyers movement, that is not outside these society wide influences, is equally ideologically split along these trends. Progressive and reactionary factions are struggling externally against the establishment and internally for the hegemony of the movement.

Since the formation of the democratic government, the lawyers movement has seen a precipitous drop in the participation of PPP. The party in power no longer needs or wants to utilize the street. They wish to utilize the National Assembly. As a result, the lawyers movement on the streets has seen a massive drop in the participation of relatively progressive PPP grassroots workers. As a result in comparison to the protests before the election, the Long March was heavily dominated by right-wing political parties.

The APDM (dominated by the JI and PTI) is attempting to dominate the lawyers movement. The genuine leadership of the lawyers movement including Aitzaz Ahsen, Munir Malik, Ali Ahmed Kurd, Anwar Kamal, Asma Jehangir has come under increasing criticism from the APDM for not undertaking a sit-in at the end of the long march. However, the question of the dharna must be seen in the wider context of the struggle between the reactionary and progressive faces of the movement.

Thus, it is vital to support the relatively progressive face of the lawyers movement and the democratic movement. Support for the progressive face of the lawyers movement will eventually widen the democratic space available to society. It would be a fatal mistake to support the reactionary face of the lawyers movement because it will result in a reversal of the democratic space available to society and society may become dominated by reactionary elements that have been the pillars of past dictatorships.

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