Pakistan’s left tilts towards right: Partners in crime? Deconstructing Tariq Ali and Atitzaz Ahsan

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Pakistan’s left towards rights – Tariq Ali praises Taliban and Hezbollah
by Imtiaz Baloch, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The writer is affiliated to Baloch Human Rights Council of Canada, Toronto, Ontario. He can be reached at:

Last week the British-Pakistani orator came to Toronto for a talk. It was with great hope and enthusiasm; I arrived at the University of Toronto auditorium on Nov 14, 2008 with my Baloch, Sindhi, and Kashmiri friends to listen to the man famous for his revolutionary views and eloquent speeches.

Tariq Ali’s writings had always been a great source of inspiration for us under General Zia’s military rule, fighting for democracy, justice, and equality in the Pakistan society. I am from the generation of progressive student activists who had witnessed the rise of ‘jihadi culture’ in Pakistan; funded, armed, and trained by the .. Army, ISI, Saudis, and the CIA. My generation was also a witness to two revolutions in the region on the borders of Pakistan – Afghanistan’s (Soar) April revolution of 1978 and Iran’s anti-Shah/ uprising of 1979, later stolen by the Mullahs.

But alas, my expectations were terribly let down. Thinking of the street fighting days of the 80’s, my thoughts were interrupted by the voice coming from the podium of a man I thought was the living embodiment of an era when Marxism, revolution, and Che Guevara were the idols worshipped by the left-wing students world over.

Tariq Ali spoke eloquently and took us on a journey into Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, touching briefly upon Pakistan and then rocketing back to the recent US elections and the crisis in the capitalist world. In his speech, he praised Sheikh Nasarullah’s Hezollah in Lebanon as “heroic”, conveniently forgetting to mention this group’s ideological, financial, and military support from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria.

The two states, one theocratic and the other a dictatorship – both infamous for brutally repressing their own people including torture and murder of communists.

In addition, to my amazement, Tariq Ali chose Hamas as the Palestinian voice of resistance and not PFLP or DFLP for that matter, yet another Iran-backed Islamic group striving for an Islamic state.

Finally came the bombshell. Instead of denouncing the atrocities carried out by the Taliban, the beheadings and the throwing of acid on the faces of schoolgirls, Tariq Ali eulogized the neo-Taliban as an indigenous movement representing Pashtun nationalism.

Suddenly it all made sense, for Tariq Ali. For him, the world had shrunk to the two opposite poles – America on one sides and the global Islamic militancy. Anything anti-American would do, regardless of its nature being oppressive, anti-progressive, anti-democratic and anti-human.

What Tariq Ali said that evening would make Jamaat-e-Islami, chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed and former Director General ISI Hameed Gul (godfather of the Taliban) applaud and dance with joy.

Unfortunately, that was not the end of the story. He also managed to present one dramatized case of forcible disappearance of a Pakistani citizen Aafia Siddiqui now in US custody for alleged links with Al-Qaida.

He spent considerable time talking about Aafia Siddiqui, painting a picture of a victim of American atrocities, but he did not utter a single word about the thousands of Sindhi and Baloch political activists who were disappeared by the ISI under Musharraf’s military rule and ended up in the torture cells.

Speaking of torture, Tariq Ali slammed Hasni Mobarak’s Egypt, but a kept a complete silence on the brutal practices of torture by the Islamic Republic of Iran where thousands of progressive activists have been tortured and hanged publicly. He did not utter one word against Saudi Arabia, an apartheid state where racism and repression are state policy.

Most amazingly, Balochistan was completely absent from his speech, where for the last four years people are facing a brutal military operation unleashed by the Musharraf regime. The atrocities include aerial bombing of villages by PAF; killing of innocent civilians including women and children; forced displacement of 200,000 Marri and Bugti tribal families; arrest, torture and targeted killing of activists and leaders; forced occupation of people’s land by the state to build military cantonments; development of testing sites for nuclear weapons causing health and environmental hazards.

HRCP chief Asma Jahangir, who does not claim to be a revolutionary and who hails from Lahore, has done a magnificent job in risking her life to collect all the data from the remote and restricted areas of Balochistan and in bringing the facts to world’s attention.

Tariq Ali’s evasiveness from the Baloch national question is not just a matter of ignorance of the facts, but rather based on his worldview related to the narrow vision and what fits in it. This became obvious from his response to a question on Balochistan asked from the audience. While claiming his support to Baloch rights and saying that military operation was not a good thing, he then balanced it off by dismissing Baloch nation’s right to exercise the right of self determination, because of the involvement of the “big powers” and their interests in the region.

Tariq Ali stands for the right of self determination for the people of Palestine, but not for the people of Balochistan or Kurdistan.

Later that evening at a private dinner he further explained that formation of new independent states was not on the world agenda therefore the best option for Baloch and other nationalities is to be part of a South Asian Union in which Pakistan will exist as a loose federation. How is that possible and why would Pakistan’s military sacrifice all its multibillion dollar assets, businesses and political power to become part of South Asian Union? During the debate, Tariq Ali also made a passing remark that Baloch should join Islamic Republic of Iran, knowing very well the atrocities unleashed on Iranian Baloch by the state.

It felt like asking the sheep to leave the flock and join a pack of wolves. What could be more insulting coming from a world-renowned scholar of Tariq Ali’s stature?

Moreover, when he was reminded of the fact that Iranian Balochistan also needs to be liberated from the repressive theocratic state, he simply looked the other way and smiled sarcastically. His response to a question regarding Sindh’s national rights was simply a joke to the people of Sindh. He said, “President Zaradari is now in power”. This was an utter disregard for Sindh’s national problems.

In his speech Tariq Ali spent a full 30 minutes making fun of Asif Zaradari, mocking his English accent and sinking to a level of attack that reflected a bitter personal animosity. There was not a word of criticism of Nawaz Shariff or General Musharraf.

Tariq Ali made no mention of the heroic struggle of people like Pervez Hoodbhoy and Ahmad Rashid, who has criticized in previous writings.

In listening to Tariq Ali, it seems one was listening to some .. Army Colonel lecturing us Baloch to fight the so-called “Sardari nizaam”, as if Sheroo Marri and the late Mir Bizenjo were sardars.

In general, Tariq Ali’s attitude and behaviour towards Pakistan’s nationalities question sounded like an echo coming from Islamabad’s corridors of power representing the voice of a dominant nationality that has colonized Baluchistan for 60 years, yet whose intelligentsia, including the Left is woefully oblivious of their own role as accomplices.

There seemed a pattern emerging from the speech and the discussion that completed the picture. The old Left and the neo-Taliban have bonded into a new friendship with a common cause – Bush-bashing, for which, Islamic populist sentimentalism, state and strong army have become important tools of the trade. Today, it is not surprising to see former Marxists collude with Jihadis, but to see Tariq Ali in that role was a huge let down.

Therefore, Pakistan and Iran as states and their military as an intimidating force are non-negotiable in exchange for the national emancipation of oppressed nationalities. What lessons have we learnt from the Iranian left movement and their self-destructive path of alignment with Khomeni on anti-American basis? And how that had resulted in the complete abolishment of the Left experience in Iran.

That night when I was finally leaving for home, all sorts of questions were rising in my mind. For some reason, the night seemed slightly darker than usual. The only beacon of hope was the faraway mountains of Balochistan where the sound of thunder was the call for freedom.

Imtiaz Baloch is affiliated to Baloch Human Rights Council of Canada, Toronto, Ontario

Source- Posted by: Imtiaz Baloch,, Fri Nov 21, 2008 1:09 am (PST) at

An open letter to Mr Aitzaz Ahsan

This was published in DAWN on 26 Feb 2008.

By Raza Rumi

THAT you are principled, charismatic and right is beyond doubt. You have inspired the cynical, intelligentsia, revived a moribund civil society and awakened Pakistan’s traditionally de-politicised middle class.

This is something that history shall record gloriously – reminiscent of the way you re-invoked the essential attributes of ‘Indus man’ in your treatise on the pre-historic identity of Pakistan.

Today, all efforts to generate ‘positive’ results from Election 2008 have foundered; and there is a new parliament ready to be sworn in. The new National Assembly, reflecting the fractured polity, has one common thread – nearly two thirds of its members constitute or sympathise with what was known as the opposition before February 2008. This is a moment of reckoning and most concrete outcome of a decade long struggle initiated by your friend Mr Nawaz Sharif, your leader the late Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and your supporters in the middle class and urban democrats. The movement that followed the suspension of the Chief Justice in March 2007 was a culmination of public discontent that started way before. That you provided a shape and led it, is, your stellar contribution.

This is a historic moment that cannot be squandered or lost to the politics of personalities and individuals. Most Pakistanis are in awe of the dismissed Chief Justice for his strength of character, they have tremendous respect for the members of the bench who refused to succumb to the executive diktat following the imposition of emergency in November 2007. And above all, they are also tired of General Musharraf whose good intentions have only led to the proverbial hell of energy and food crises, rampant inflation and roaming suicide bombers. But this struggle just cannot be about getting rid of the president and reinstating the Chief Justice. That would be a belittling corollary of this fabulous episode in our recent history.

The representatives of the PPP, PML-N, ANP and bulk of like-minded independents are touching the magic number of two thirds in the new Assembly. If they are asked to settle a score with an individual and honour another few, history will not record it in kind terms.

Your call for a march towards Islamabad and the restoration of judges before Mar 9 is bound to polarise the fragile parliament, the political parties that have been beaten, poached, hounded with leaders assassinated or disqualified. It is a delicate juncture of our history and any division in the moderate political class or resort to historical bickering and blame-games will rock the system only to benefit the martial corridors of Islamabad’s Byzantine palaces and their traditional occupants.

This is why many citizens are worried and skeptical that nothing changes in the murky waters of Pakistani politics. If the PPP does not agree to the restoration of individual judges then the national coalition will not be formed; and the polarisation of the 1990s will return to haunt us favouring the Hameed Guls and Roedad Khans who now speak your language but their shadows still loom large over the body politic.

The foremost objective of your movement should be to back the formation of a national coalition of the political parties who have been the victims of the nefarious Mullah-Military alliance of the last nine years. There can be no other alternative. If there are street pressures then this process will get derailed. We need the consensus of the political class on inter-party dialogue and cooperation. This should entail rectifying the Constitution and purging it of absolutist insertions, bigotry and most importantly how the judges are appointed.

If your movement ends up dividing the tenuous partnership brokered by the Charter of Democracy, then mainstream politics will once again be de-legitimised. Another saviour will emerge from the ashes of this cycle to pronounce yet again the need for genuine democracy.

Collisions at this point will only benefit the Mullah whose benefactors are retreating, but in no way giving up. This time they have to be defeated not through blood and resurrection of Garhi Khuda Buxes but through a democratic process that does not make the faceless masters an arbiter of our destiny.

Exactly after two decades, the moment has returned. It was squandered by the political forces and exploited by these faceless masters. Do we want another round of that regrettable phase where one institution gains at the expense of the millions?

Continue your struggle but look at what might be the cost of exacerbating the tension between the big political parties and exerting weight on a parliament that has yet to learn the art of being sovereign. You and your associates must also be a little self-critical. The boycott of elections was not the wisest of decisions. Events proved your late leader right – no matter how tainted the electoral process was, it was the best option available and Pakistanis seized it.

Let an un-manipulated and fully representative executive, backed by an amended Constitution emerge; and let it end the executive arbitrariness in judicial appointments once and for all. And let the Parliament institute sound mechanisms for internal accountability within the superior judiciary. Institutions are greater than individuals, as you very well know.

We know that your sense of history is unmatched. Now is the true test of your leadership where you will have to trade populism for statesmanship.

And, we have faith in you.



Kal, Aaj aur Kal – A poem by Aitzaz Ahsan

(‘hua kalematul haq wa yuridul batil’ – ‘What they say is true but what they intend is false’ – Hazrat Ali’s advice to his followers in the battle of Siffin)

Music by Shahram Azhar and Taimur Rahman of Laal, the Band.

Translation of Lyrics

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

by Aitzaz Ahsan

In the prime of our youth
We dreamt of hope

Testimonies of a new world
Anthems of a new tomorrow

A world in which no one
Suffered sorrow or knew of hunger

On this side there were multitudes
On the other the elite

On this side the hungry the naked
On the other the treasures of Egypt

On this side were mothers and sisters
On the other prisons and jails

On this side the third world
On the other the old imperial order

On the one hand [the sufis] Sachal and Bahu
On the other hand the clergy and tradition

On the one hand [the lovers] Heer and Ranjha
On the other hand dogma and oppressive relatives

On the one hand rivers of nectar
On the other the waves of drops of poison

The whole world was asking
Speak! whose side are you on?

We had already declared
That we are with the workers
We are with the needy
We are with the oppressed

And then when Che leapt forward
We all marched with him
And when Chou [En lai] raised his voice
Hand in hand we followed

We were not divided by religion
And we all become one

The history of the world is witness
Without justice there can be no democracy

If we have justice our country
Can be saved from utter destruction

Without justice all [democratic] institutions remain weak
Without justice all individuals remain oppressed

Without justice citizens are helpless
Without justice there is nothing but sorrow

Just think, in the history of the world
When has the law giver been imprisoned

Just for the ego of a dictator
Justice has been trampled

It seems that one force straddles the earth
Roaming the entire world

It seems like every power fall at its feet

It’s bombardment has resulted in rivers of blood
It has made religion extreme, and suicide bombers have grown

But hark! true law givers will return to the halls of justice
We will provide the people with bread, clothing, and housing

Flour, electricity, water, fuel will become available to the people
The unemployed will find employment and work of their choice

The state will be like a mother, it will care for all citizens
The army will be respected only when it stays at the border

March on, march on, tell the world,
that our steps cannot stop
March on, march on, tell the world, that our heads can no longer bow

The road ahead is not long, we can see our destiny
The oppressor is running scared, victory is our destiny

Victory is our destiny
Victory is our destiny
Victory is our destiny



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