Farooq Tariq, Awami Workers Party: 'Left unity a precious gain amid right-wing advances in Pakistan'

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Farooq Tariq

April 10, 2014 -- Socialist Alliance/Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- One of the international guests at the 10th national conference of the Socialist Alliance, to be held in Sydney June 7-9, 2014, will be Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the Awami Workers Party (AWP) in Pakistan. Conference organiser and Green Left Weekly correspondent Peter Boyle interviewed Tariq on April 10. He will speak on "The struggle for democracy and justice in Pakistan" on June 7 at the Addison Road Community Centre, Marrickville, Sydney.

Get your ticket here.

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It has been nearly a year and a half since the Awami Workers Party was formed out of a merger of the Awami Party Pakistan, the Labour Party Pakistan and the Worker’s Party Pakistan. How is this united party going today?

Building a united party after the merger of three left parties with different political traditions and strategies was not an easy task. It has been a year and half of one crisis after another within the new party. But the Awami Workers Party has survived and passed through its most difficult period. Now the process of consolidation and sustainability remains the challenge.

If you look beyond the arguments inside the party and look at the effect on the movements outside, that is what kept us united. There was a very enthusiastic response by many independents, left liberals and social activists when the party was formed. Some have joined and several others keep referring to the AWP as the main party of the left that can really change things.

We realise that if this party fails to unite the left, it will take long time before another effort can be made.

What would you list as some of the main achievements since the AWP formed?

The general election campaign of 2013 – where the AWP put up some 70 candidates for national and provincial assemblies – was one the of the main achievements of the unity. Although none of our candidates won seats, we organised some of our best public meetings during the election campaign. For example, in my bid for a provincial assembly seat, we organised some 60 public meetings and some were attended by more than 5000 people.

Our campaign against the feudal remnants can also one of the positive outcome of our unity. We have organised three major rallies in Islamabad, Lahore and Hyderabad. We gathered strong support for our petition to the Supreme Court of Pakistan to reverse the decision of the Shariah courts that have deemed land reform as “un-Islamic”.

Our campaign for land rights for shanty-town residents in Islamabad mobilised thousands under the AWP banner. This campaign is still on and has made the AWP a pole of attraction for many.

On April 10, I addressed a meeting of the Faisalabad textile and power-loom workers organised by the Labour Qaumi Movement. They are demanding a wage increase, social security for all workers and other improvements in conditions of work.

I said to them: "Workers must build the Awami Workers Party as an alternative to the parties of the rich and feudals. We lost elections but have not lost our will to continue the struggle for a socialist Pakistan and a socialist world. I am confident that workers in Faisalabad one day will elect power looms workers to the parliament." This received a strong applause from these workers who have waged many powerful strikes.

What are the greatest challenges for the AWP?

One of the major challenge we are facing is the menace of religious fundamentalism. Shahab Khatak, the AWP president at Khyber Pukhtoonkhawa (KPK) province, a legal advocate, had a very narrow escape from an assassination attempt on April 6. Two assassins fired at him while he was on his way to the courts. Fortunately, he was unhurt although his car was destroyed by the bullets that were sprayed at him. The present right-wing Pakistan government's negotiations with the Taliban is opposed by the AWP and this has angered the fanatics.

The other challenge that the AWP is facing is to keep the precious unity of the left forces intact against the objective reality of right-wing advances in all sphere of life. We are doing our best to keep the unity and we are fighting against all trends that want us to break apart.

Recently, you attended actions by two long-standing movements of the oppressed – the brick-kiln workers and the peasants at the Okara Kulyana Military Farms. Have there been any advances in these struggles? Has the unity in the AWP helped advance these struggles?

The AWP activists who are leaders of different mass movements are taking their struggles forward with great courage. The brick-kiln workers are fighting all over Pakistan to force the government to implement the minimum wage that government has fixed for them. The bosses are violating the minimum-wage rates and we are mobilising thousands on the streets for the full implementation of the minimum wage.

The struggle for land rights at the military farms has entered its 14th year of consistent struggle. When I visited Australia for a speaking tour of different cities on the invitation of Socialist Alliance in 2002, this peasant movement had just started. It was a period of the Pervez Musharraf dictatorship and the only force that was effectively challenging the military dictatorship was the tenants movement in the military farms.

The Anjaman Mozareen Punjab (AMP), the association of the tenants, became a pole of attraction for all those who opposed the military government. We were and are in the main leadership of this great movement that still continues to inspire many. On April 6, I attended a fifth anniversary of the murder of three peasant activists by the goons of the military farms administration in 2009. More than 5000 participated, including some 1000 brave peasant women. This struggle continues and unity of the left has helped them a great deal.

What has been the role of the AWP in the struggles for women's rights in Pakistan?

The AWP is fortunate to have some of the main women activists of the Pakistan women's rights movement. On March 2, the AWP held its first women's convention, which brought together some 60 women delegates from all over the country. The open session was attended by some 500 women. A women's charter is been approved that no other political party would dare to present in a society dominated by Muslim fundamentalism. The AWP women's charter is now been referred in some of the major newspapers as one of the exemplary campaigns for women's rights in Pakistan.

What is the stance of the the AWP to official winding down of the Western military occupation of neighbouring Afghanistan?

The AWP has been opposed to NATO intervention in Afghanistan. All three parties who merged to form AWP in 2012 always opposed US imperialist intervention in the region, while not supporting the religious fanatics. With the winding down of the Western military occupation, the situation in Afghanistan remains very complex and contradictory. While the religious fanatics still hold some areas of Afghanistan, it seems a very difficult option for these fanatics to take over as they did in 1996. Afghan mass consciousness is not as it was then. A new younger radical but not Islamist generation has spoken in clear terms for a different, more democratic vision for Afghanistan. The present presidential elections are showing the strong public sentiment in that direction.

What does the AWP say about the US drone war in the border areas?

We have never supported drone attacks on Pakistan or any other country. The drone attacks on these tribal border areas give a justification to the religious fanatics for getting more support for their terrorist activities. It has been used by the religious fanatics to “prove” that an Islamic state is needed to fight the Americans. The drone attacks provoke feeling of revenge among many and that has been ruthlessly exploited by the fanatics. They have recruited many during the US drone war. Now, during a break in the drone attacks, the fanatics are more exposed and are losing support whenever they carry out another suicide attack, which usually kills innocent civilians.

Is the Islamic fundamentalist threat getting stronger or weaker in Pakistan?

Islamic fundamentalism has emerged as the major threat to the progressive forces of our region. It should not be taken lightly. Fundamentalism is still getting stronger because of the absolute failure of the capitalist civilian and military governments in the region to solve any of the basic problems facing the masses.

The Peoples Party of Pakistan (PPP) government from 2008-2013 and the present Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) government that succeeded it is pursuing policies of aggressive neoliberalism. The PMLN is taking huge loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and increasing indirect taxes. The result is ever-growing poverty in the whole region.

South Asia now hosts one-fifth of all the poor people of the world but all the governments in the region are united in implementing neoliberalism. Privatisation has become one of their main tools to loot and plunder public assets. The end result is the growth of right and extreme right-wing forces.

We live a very fearful life in Pakistan today. In recent months, several well-known radical journalists and progressive activists have become the target of religious fanatics. These neo-fascistic groups are now changing their tactics. Instead of targeting bourgeois leaders, it is now middle-class and left radicals who are being attacked or threatened.

Recently, the AWP growth in KPK province, next to Afghanistan, has become the target of the religious fanatics and the attack on our provincial president was part of that. AWP chairperson Fanoos Gujjar addressed a press conference on April 9 on this attack and vowed to continue the struggle for working-class emancipation despite these threats. The AWP is contesting a by-election for the KPK assembly to be held on April 26 for a seat in the Swat valley. The AWP campaign has the full support of Malala Yousafzia, the young woman from that same area who become world-famous after she was shot for daring to speak up against fundamentalism.

Photos below by Khalid Mahmood are of the Faisalabad textile and power workers rally on April 10 organised by the Labour Qaumi Movement.

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Photos below by Khalid Mahmood are of a Punjab nurses sit-in in March 2014, addressed by Farooq Tariq.

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