Workers Party Pakistan: Pakistan’s New Left – by Muhammad Ali Siddiqi

The Workers Party Pakistan should refrain from playing the role of a traditional opposition party which considers it obligatory on its part to oppose every government move.

Pakistan’s New Left
By Muhammad Ali Siddiqi

The formation last week of a new alliance of progressive parties in Islamabad must arouse interest in us all, irrespective of how we feel about the word ‘Left’.

The very fact that such a merger should take place serves to underline the long overdue need for progressive forces to assert themselves and come out of the depression that has been their lot since the collapse of the Soviet system of states in early 1991. To repeat a cliché, there is a role wandering in search of an actor, and the new alliance under the leadership of Abid Hasan Manto seems eager to grab it. The most important point highlighted by Manto was that it was the Islamist forces which had filled the vacuum left unattended by Pakistan’s demoralised Left.

The issue now is: how does the new party — the Workers Party Pakistan (WPP) — create space for itself in the situation now obtaining in Pakistan? Is it going to revive the time-worn and hackneyed phrases which have outlived their utility or is it going to come out with something new and original that has a meaning for the people of Pakistan? Just as his ‘New Left’ in the post-Thatcher era secured Tony Blair three unprecedented terms as Labour prime minister, so too does the WPP have a chance now to craft a new ‘ideology’ suited to the changed national and international situation.

Some pitfalls must be avoided, the first of them being the temptation to jump on the anti-American bandwagon. Anti-Americanism is not going to get Pakistan’s New Left anywhere. Denouncing America in a most impressive manner is being done quite adequately by the Islamist forces, which have the support of such men as Oxford graduate Imran Khan and a strategist like Islami Jamhoori Ittihad founder Hameed Gul. Their denunciation of America and the ubiquitous Blackwater, which is to be found in every Pakistani’s backyard, may be considered ‘news’ by sections of an obliging media, but this doesn’t serve to highlight much less solve the Pakistani people’s problems, especially their economic misery.

The fate of the now forgotten Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) — the clerics’ six-party alliance — is before us. It rode the anti-American wave in the aftermath of the US-led attack on Afghanistan in October 2001 and did so well in the 2002 general election that it was able to form government in the NWFP. Once in power, the MMA forgot that it owed something to its voters.

It had the Hasba bill enacted (frozen by the higher judiciary), and it forbade male doctors from attending to women patients, but it never occurred to the MMA leadership that it should build some schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and power stations and draw up economic policies to make a difference to the Frontier people’s dark existence. In fact the Islamist forces in Pakistan have no concept of a modern state and its obligation towards the citizens, and if they have then their priorities do not include it.

The force behind the MMA was the Jamaat-i-Islami. It chose to boycott the 2008 election because it knew the party had no chance at the hustings. For Pakistan’s New Left there is a lesson in this. Slogan-mongering, wheel-jam strikes and tyre-burnings may demonstrate street power, but that will neither help the WPP in the long term nor solve the problems of the people of Pakistan. Ultimately, as they have demonstrated several times, the people of Pakistan are quite capable of making a difference between substance and rhetoric.

Two, in the past, the leftist parties had shown themselves to be utterly indifferent to Pakistan’s foreign policy concerns. (We can see this in the behaviour of today’s Islamist parties and their supporters in the media.) The WPP should avoid repeating the mistakes of the leftist parties in the past. During the Cold War it made sense for left-leaning parties to oppose Pakistan’s membership of US-led military alliances. Pakistan, as Henry Kissinger said, was then America’s most ‘allied ally’. This meant not only getting economic and military aid from the US, it also opened the floodgates of American investment, with the result that Pakistan saw the birth of a native comprador class which had no stakes in the state of Pakistan or in the welfare of its people.

Today you don’t have to be an economic wizard to realise that Pakistan’s economic problems cannot be solved without the flow of foreign capital and technology. At present investment is taking place only in food franchise outlets and the mobile phone industry. Feudal landholdings must, no doubt, be broken up, as declared by Manto. But one cannot solve the acute unemployment problem without welcoming foreign capital and technology in a big way. Opposing foreign investment now will mean adopting policies and attitudes which have outlived their utility. If the WPP chooses to adopt the Cold War idiom it will have to be re-crafted in a way that makes sense to the people of Pakistan and they see in the New Left a genuine hope for the betterment of their lives.

Three, the WPP should refrain from playing the role of a traditional opposition party which considers it obligatory on its part to oppose every government move. On the contrary there may be moments when the WPP will discover common ground with the two mainstream parties in an atmosphere of uncertainty in which the Taliban are trying to demoralise and weaken state institutions with a view to doing another July 5, 1977.

Four, the New Left should know who the enemy is. Well-funded, armed to the teeth, and with collaborators embedded in the media and civil and military bureaucracy, religious militancy poses the greatest threat to the Pakistani people’s political and cultural freedoms. It is here that the New Left should play its long overdue role and resist any attempt to turn Jinnah’s Pakistan into a barbaric theocracy that the very name Ziaul Haq symbolises.

Source: Dawn, Wednesday, 03 Mar, 2010



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