What is to be done? (Jan 15, 2010)

What is to be done? This question has been posed in a Leninist tradition by Dr. Jaffar Ahmed from the platform of Irtiqa, which is a think-tank mainly focused on literature. By posing this question to a group of progressive intellectuals and activist, my presumption is that Irtiqa has raised this issue to develop a political, social and economic ‘manifesto’ for the progressive forces or at least a guiding document.

There are a number of small left-wing parties and organisations that are struggling to make their mark, but without much success. The left has not been able to revive from the shock of the fall of the communist government in Soviet Union and many other East European states. One young participant of the Irtiqa discussion group pointed out that left in Pakistan has till not come out from the cold war mind set. Even the terminology used by them is outdated. Frivolous leadership and polemics differences have led to unending fragmentation of the left, while the overall situation of the country is deteriorating by days if not hours. A major reason for the success of religious extremists is by default of the left in the last three decades.

Left-wing leading intellectual was right that perhaps it is high time in the noon that the left should rethink its past and develop a new thesis that is relevant to meet the challenges of the changed world.

My contention is that it is not the matter of left and right at this juncture of history. It is a matter of attending the most immediate issues first that affect the lives of a vast majority of the people of Pakistan irrespective of their class. The oft repeated mistake of working for a distant revolution and ignoring the most urgent issues of the people should not be made once again.

So let’s attempt to address the most urgent issues faced by the country without going into the usual polemics and history of the country that we all know well. The issues are first listed priority-wise, and then each one of them is explained briefly. Followed by the answer to the question “What is to be done?” The most urgent issues are:

  1. Create awareness against the threat to people of Pakistan from the  existing National Security Policy that is based on covert support to Afghan Taliban & India specific Jihadi organizations.
  2. Create awareness that the democratic institutions have to be strengthened and the security apparatus of the state should follow the policies of the elected leadership.
  3. Support all moves to surrender maximum provincial autonomy to the provinces.
  4. Work towards alleviating poverty by pushing the government to make such economic policies that brings equitable economic progress.

At present most of the political and economic problems have a direct link with the ever-growing terrorism in the country. This is linked with the National Security Policy followed by our military establishment in the last 6 decades. Right from the time when Pakistan relied on Afghan Lashkar to liberate Kashmir, to encourage Mujahedin to cross LoC in 1965, to plan a so-called Mujahedin’ operation in Kargil in 1999 and till today that our establishment backs and has been nurturing a number of non-state militant actors. To recruit and keep the young militants blood warm systematically Jihadi ideology has been promoted in this country, without realising that we would be engulfed by the same fire that was sparked for Afghanistan and India.

Today Pakistan is reluctant to withdraw its support to Afghan Taliban and India specific Jihadi organizations. They are operating freely and have given birth to a number of militant outfits which have a local agenda of establishing the Islamic Emirate of Pakistan. This is where it has come in conflict with the army which does not want Jihad in the country as it is a question of the writ of the establishment. At the same time any move to suspend Jihad in India and Afghanistan is seen by these Jihadi organizations as capitulation of our government. Inspired by the Al Qaeda global ideology these organizations are now cooperating with each other and creating havoc in the country. The bad news is that as the American and Indian pressure is increasing on Pakistan we will rein-in the Jihadists, which means retaliation from them and more dirty violence and bloodshed. And the worst news is that in spite of this situation our establishment still thinks that Afghan Taliban and Jihadi organizations are our assets though they are the liabilities.

So what is to be done by the progressive groups?

First, they should be clear that Afghan Taliban’s are not fighting a National Liberation war. Second, launch a peace movement insisting that Pakistan should not support any militant organization that is involved in cross-border interference. If we will try to evade this issue and try to justify this as being done by some right and left wing mullahs – we will fail the people of Pakistan. Three, we should not leave the media open for such fundamentalists. They have an edge in propaganda war, all progressive democratic forces should pro-actively counter this and prepare a strategy to claim its rightful space in the media.

I have dealt with the National Security Policy issue in detail because the second issue of strengthening the democratic structure is directly linked to the first issue. Till a few days back the political government had openly talked about changing the dangerous National Security Policy. But lately it seems the beleaguered President has stepped back on this important issue to save himself from the wrath of the establishment. Perhaps he is beginning to realise that Rawalpindi is nearer than Washington.

What is to be done?

We should support democratic dispensation. There is corruption in the country which should be exposed but that should not be used to bring the government down before its tenure is completed.

Another pending issue of Pakistan is giving greater provincial autonomy to the provinces. It is an urgent issue because already the patience of the people of Balochistan has exhausted from the injustices of the last six decades. They are now demanding independence. At present it looks like a demand of a few hot heads, but a closer study shows that the Baloch would not hesitate to break away if at any stage the United States and Indian governments would lend support. This eventuality cannot be ruled out if we would not desist from our policy of support to the Afghan Taliban thinking that they are useful assets against India in Afghanistan. The provincial autonomy issue is also important for Sindh and Pukhtunkhawa. Federation of Pakistan which is standing upside down on its head and has to be turned over to stand on its feet. The democratic forces should support devolution of power not only to the provinces but to the local governments also.  We should be however clear that giving more power to people in  democracy is through an evolutionary process.

Now we come to the main question: What is to be done to reduce poverty? In the first place all what I have talked about above is with a clear understanding that a peaceful environment in the country and around it and a stable government is the pre-requisite for economic progress. If there is no economic development there would be no poverty alleviation rather poverty will increase.

However, in the first phase we should strive for more equitable distribution of wealth and push the government to increase budgets for the social sector. This investment in social sector is directly related to improving the dismal human development index of the country. Revolution is not in sight,  incremental gains for the people are urgently needed. Struggle for these urgent issues is what touches people’s imagination, not a promise of distant socialist revolution. Dogmatic application of left ideology has made the left irrelevant. New paths of development would have to be carved keeping in view the basic reality that means of production and relations of production have changed beyond the old points of reference.  We are in the globalised knowledge age, whether we like it or not. Sticking to old interpretations would be left-wing fundamentalism. (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

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