Pakistan: Social and economic crisis -- background and perspectives

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By Farooq Tariq

February 11, 2008 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Pakistan is once again in the grip of military rule. Since 1999, the military generals have taken over the state and have ruled in the name of a ``smooth transition to democracy''. Thirty-three years of Pakistan's more than 60 years of existence have been under direct military rule. That reveals the real state of democracy, peace and security in Pakistan.

To understand the shortcomings of the democratic system in, and governance of, Pakistan, one must see where the weaknesses are in the political structure of the country. To begin with, government power is concentrated in the hands of an elitist bureaucracy and an over-ambitious military. The deeply rooted dominant feudal system in most of Pakistan and the weak capitalist class shares a common interest with the army, that is to loot and plunder national assets under the rule of suppression.

The religious grip on the society has played an important part in sustaining the military rulers and the politics of suppression in the name of ``fate'' and god-given circumstances. The religious political parties have taken refuge under military rule directly, but after 9/11, the rules are changing. The traditional partnership of mullah and military is no longer the same and is breaking down under the pretext of the ``war on terror''.

The murder of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007, marks a new period in relationship between the religious fundamentalists and the state apparatus. The imposition of emergency rule on November 3, 2007, was also announced as a necessary step to curb the activities of the religious fundamentalists. The whole question of peace and security has become a hostage of the complex relationship between these two sides.

The historic perspective

The Pakistan Muslim League, a conservative right-wing political party with most of the feudal and capitalist leaders, did not struggle for independence. The formation of the All India Muslim League in 1906 by ``nobles, Jagirdars, Taluqdars, Zamindars, Lawyers and Merchants, subjects of His Majesty the King-Emperor in different parts of India'' wanted, as its constitution stated, ``to foster a sense of loyalty to the British empire among the Muslims in India''. In fact, it was an attempt by the British masters of the Muslim notables to counter the constitutionalist and secular Indian National Congress.

The Muslim League negotiated the partition with British imperialism. The so-called Pakistan movement was based on the theory that the Muslims of India were a nation and had a right to separate statehood. The idea of the two-nation theory, that Muslim and Hindus are two national identities, was false from the beginning. A nation cannot be identified as just based on religion. The partition of the Indian subcontinent was one of most horrific blunders of history and, unfortunately, it [was embraced by] the majority of Muslims and Hindus after the Second World War. It was accepted not only not only by the feudal and capitalist parties, but also by the Communists at the time. Several vague theories were presented after 1945 to prove that Muslims are an exploited nation and their right to independence must be supported. This was a false notion.

Partition was marked by the largest demographic movement in recorded history. Nearly 17 million people -- Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs -- are reported to have moved in both directions between India and the two wings of Pakistan (the eastern wing is now Bangladesh). Sixty million of the 95 million Muslims on the Indian subcontinent became citizens of Pakistan at the time of its creation.

The birth of a strange country

Partition gave birth to a strange country: Pakistan. The new-born confessional Muslim state of Pakistan had two wings: East Pakistan and West Pakistan, separated by 1600 kilometres of Indian territory. To carve out East Pakistan, the province of Bengal was partitioned. The eastern part became East Pakistan, while rest of Bengal became an Indian province.

Pakistan's foundations were shaken by two controversial decisions made by the country's founder and first governor-general, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He dismissed the Congress-led government of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) by decree, and instead of ordering fresh elections, appointed a Muslim League leader as chief minister with the mandate to whip-up parliamentary support for him. Second, he declared to a large Bengali-speaking audience in Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan, that Urdu would be the only state language.

The democratic process in the newly established Islamic Republic of Pakistan was in danger from the very beginning because of this ideological confusion and mixture of theories related to it. The first action created a precedent for the next governor-general Ghulam Mohammad, a former bureaucrat, to dismiss the country's first civilian government in 1953. Since then, governor-generals, presidents and army chiefs have dismissed as many as 10 civilian governments that together ruled the country for 27 years. The remaining 33 years-plus have seen direct military rule.

From 1947-58, Pakistan had seven prime ministers. Six in a span of seven years replaced Liaqat Ali Khan, the first prime minister, who was killed in 1951. While, provincial elections were held in East Pakistan, as well as in three West Pakistan provinces: Punjab, Sind and NWFP. However, the ruling Muslim League was too afraid to face the electorate. It kept on postponing national elections and the formation of a new constitution; Pakistan was still run according to 1935 Act of British India with some amendments.

The East Pakistan population had to fight hard to establish their native Bengali language as their first language. As was the case of Sind language in West Pakistan. Since 1947, raging controversies over the issue of the national language, the role of Islam, provincial representation, and the distribution of power between the centre and the provinces delayed constitution making and postponed general elections. In October 1956, a consensus was reached and Pakistan's first constitution was declared. Ministries were made and broken in quick succession and in October 1958, with national elections scheduled for the following year, General Mohammad Ayub Khan carried out a military coup without any bloodshed.

The first military dictatorship

In 1958, Ayub Khan first introduced martial law in the country. The coup was a response to the growing popularity of the left-wing National Awami Party (NAP) and the bureaucracy's failure to build a viable ruling-class party. The NAP opposed Pakistan's membership of the anti-communist, imperialist-dominated alliances, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organisation. It demanded the abolition of feudalism and the separation of religion and state. In his 10-year rule, Ayub Khan promoted landlords into the political and bureaucratic establishment, when he decided to shield army rule with a customised democracy; he reshaped the Pakistan Muslim League into the Conventional Muslim League.

Since then, the army has been sharing power with the bureaucrats, the landlords and the capitalist class in Pakistan, whether at times of pure army rule or purported democratically run governments. The army picks and chooses the bureaucrats, the landlords-cum-politicians and even the judges of the highest civil courts. The regime has depended on its neo-colonial links established with the United States and its global defence treaty system aimed at containing the influence of the ``communist block''.

Ayub Khan declared Western-style parliamentary democracy as being contrary to the ``genius'' of the people of Pakistan. With the help of his bureaucratic advisors, Ayub Khan devised a system of partyless indirect elections, misnamed ``basic democracy''. The provinces of West Pakistan were amalgamated into one administrative unit and a movement for autonomy that arose in the tribal areas of Baluchistan was crushed with a massive military crackdown. Severe restrictions were placed on civil liberties and the freedom of the press. He ruthlessly curbed trade union activity, banned political parties and peasant organisation, and took over the left-wing chain of newspapers run by Progressive Papers Limited (PPL). The PPL takeover was a big blow to the Pakistani left. While PPL takeover symbolised press censorship, the brutal murder of left-wing student leader Hassan Nasir became a symbol of state repression and resistance in the 1960s. Hassan Nasir was tortured to death at the historic Lahore Fort, which had become a notorious torture cell. Hassan remains a youth hero in Pakistan to this day.

Ayub Khan, to get legitimacy, got himself elected through a sham election in 1965. The election was a tough contest between Ayub and Jinnah's sister, Fatima Jinnah. The elections were indirect, as only 88,000 local councillors constituted the electoral college. Ayub won by securing 49,951 votes (63.31%) against Fatima Jinnah's 28,691 (36.36%). In East Pakistan, the contest was close: Ayub got 21,012 votes, while Fatima polled 18,434.

The September 1965 war between India and Pakistan showed another ugly face of the military government of Ayub Khan. For 17 days, the war brought real havoc to the lives of many thousands, particularly in West Pakistan. It was a war without an aim. It was a war of waste, just for the ego of Pakistan's military rulers and India's rulers, who were all eager to promote nationalism through war.

Pakistan’s economy, from the beginning, was built on US aid. From June 1950-December 1959, Pakistan received US$1119 million in US aid. For its second five-year plan (1960-65), Pakistan received a total of $1818.7 million in aid. However, there was a difference between the first period (1950-59) and the second five-year plan. In the first period, of the $1119 million dollars, $933.72 million was in the form of grants and just $185.25 million in loans repayable in rupees. In the second five-year plan, it was mostly loans payable only in ``hard'' foreign exchange. The burden of debt repayment rose from $17.2 million in 1960-61 to $95.7 million in 1966-67, but Pakistan's capacity to repay capacity did not increase. In addition, the aid was now tied to the purchase of goods and services from the donor countries, use of their cargo and acceptance of their technical experts.

According to some estimates, 40% of ``aid'' would go back to the donors. Pakistan under Ayub openly and officially advocated the capitalist doctrine of ``functional inequality'' on the familiar plea that government should tolerate ``some initial growth in income inequalities to reach high levels of saving and investment''. A more outspoken champion of this doctrine was Pakistan’s Harvard advisor to the Planning Commission, who espoused the concept of ``social inequality of greed'' by pointing out that income inequalities not only contributed to the growth of the economy but also made possible a real improvement for lower income groups.

Poverty increased to an unprecedented levels and the social development found no place among the priorities of the dictatorship. On the other hand, the gulf between rich and poor had increased dramatically and wealth had been concentrated in the hands of 22 families. The 22 families owned 66% of industrial capital, and also controlled banking and 97 per cent of insurance.

This was at a time of unprecedented growth for the capitalist system on an international level. Yet Pakistan missed the bus due to the military's dictatorial measures and actions. It was more interested in ever-increasing expenditure on the military. All this was backed up by its international imperialist friends, the US and Britain. The prolongation of the Ayub dictatorship for almost 11 years was mainly due to high economic growth rates and rapid industrialisation, which was the result of the spin-off effect of the boom in the West during the 1950s and the '60s. However, this industrial growth never managed to develop society and raise the living standards of the people as a whole.

The revolutionary sixties

On November 7, 1968, an anti-Ayub movement began that lasted five months. The movement started with student unrest, and was joined by industrial workers and professionals. It spread across East and West Pakistan and united the masses in the two wings for first and last time against one common enemy: Ayub Khan. There were strikes, demonstrations, rallies and picket lines all over the country by the newborn working class. The movement was a brilliant act of unity by the people of both regions.

On March 26, 1969, Ayub resigned but instead of handing power to the speaker of the National Assembly, as envisaged in his own constitution, General Yahya Khan became the new military ruler. The military dictatorship was forced to announce the first ever-general election in 1970. Yahya Khan's illusions of a split vote were shattered with massive victory of the Awami League in East Pakistan and the newly established Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in West Pakistan. The Awami League won a clean-sweep in East Pakistan. While the PPP emerged as the largest party in West Pakistan, it had no support in Baluchistan and the NWFP, where the left-wing NAP and fundamentalist JUI had won most of the seats.

The military regime refused to hand over the power to the majority Awami League. Instead, it started crushing the Awami League in East Pakistan. The martial-law administration put the figure of Bengalis killed at 30,000, but Indian media and insurgents were spoke of 1 million. A large number of East Pakistanis, particularly Hindus, fled to East Bengal in India. Ironically, quarter of a century ago, many from East Bengal migrated to ``Pakistan'' leaving behind non-Islamic India. Now they were escaping to India to save their lives. India exploited the immigrant crisis to its full. India claimed 9 million refugees had taken refuge in its territories.

To ``settle'' the refugee problem, India intervened in East Pakistan and its army was given a saviour's welcome. A panicked Yahya attacked India on the West Pakistan front only to be humiliated. On December 17, the Pakistan army surrendered on the East Pakistan front, which had now become Bangladesh. The establishment of Bangladesh in 1971 proved the failure of the two-nation theory on which Pakistan was created. The national exploitation and brutality of the Pakistan army's attempt to crush the national liberation movement led to an unprecedented national struggle by the Bengali masses and they won victory after the defeat of the Pakistan army during the second 1971 war between India and Pakistan. Bangladesh was born and Pakistan was limited to West Pakistan.

The civilian rule of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto

The humiliated generals handed the rest of Pakistan over to PPP leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the last week of December 1971. While an elected civilian took over, it was as a martial-law administrator. Yahya Khan handed over power at the time when the army generals had lost authority and legitimacy to rule.

The Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto government introduced some reforms in its initial period in power, from 1972 to 1974. Bhutto undermined the influence of the big feudal lords through land reforms and reduced the economic power of the big industrialists through his nationalisation of 31 industrial concerns in 10 basic industries. Under pressure from below, he carried some 35% of the economy was nationalised. These were the most radical reforms in the history of Pakistan.

However, at the same time, he expanded the police force to curb the trade union movement. A typical example was the incident in Karachi in June 1972, when police killed 12 workers in an industrial district. The workers were demanding better wages.

Bhutto's reform plan was in the hands of the bureaucracy and there was no real plan to continue ahead on that road. His reforms become counter-reforms in a short period. Inflation and price hikes lead to crisis, which was further aggravated by the 1974 world recession. By 1977, power was firmly reestablished in the hands of the feudal and capitalist families.

Under Bhutto, the armed forces continued to swallow as much as 40% of the national revenues, and an expensive nuclear program was initiated to build a bomb to counter the perennial ``threat'' from India. A new paramilitary force, the Federal Security Force (FSF) was also created to suppress any civil unrest or emerging challenge to his regime. Bhutto also demonstrated that the central state's writ would prevail within the federation by dismissing the non-PPP provincial governments of the NWFP and Baluchistan, and prosecuting their leaders for anti-state activities.

The best assurance for the survival of democracy is its work, work that secures the essentials of a civilised existence for the people and respect for their dignity as human beings. Missing this point, Bhutto continued to strengthen the institutional power of the central state hoping that this would secure his personal rule, a mistake he discovered at his own peril. The discontent of the masses was exasperated by the rightward capitulation of Bhutto. A right-wing reactionary movement was initiated at the behest of the CIA and this culminated in the military coup of July 4, 1977, led by General Zia ul Haq. Bhutto was interned, imprisoned and later assassinated on the gallows of the vicious new dictator in April 1979.

The military dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq

General Zia ul Haq, staged his coup promising to hold ``fair and free'' elections within 90 days. However, he soon settled down to rule Pakistan with an iron hand until his death in 1988.

In 1981, he nominated a Majli-e-Shura, a 350-member consultative body comprising feudal lords and big beards. It was an attempt to create a social base for the extremely unpopular military dictatorship, which had been lambasted by Amnesty International for torture, imprisonment and human rights violations. Press censorship was so grave that even four journalists were awarded lashes.

This was the beginning of one of the most tyrannical epochs of Pakistan's tragic history. Thousands of workers, peasants, youth, students and political workers were tortured, lashed, imprisoned and hanged in the jails of the military ruler. In the 1983 movement in Sind province, the army alone killed 1063 people. All this brutality was not only tolerated but was actively encouraged and supported by US imperialism.

The Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD), an alliance of major parties including the PPP, and heroic sacrifices in Sind by democracy workers forced Zia to announce some concessions. He called general elections but before they were to be held in 1984, he got himself elected president in a sham referendum. It was a strange referendum. The choice was not to elect or not to elect Zia. The question was, do you want an Islamic system in Pakistan? In the case of YES, Zia would be president for the next five years. The MRD's appeal to boycott was unnecessary because nobody bothered go to vote. It was a total boycott. The official turnout at the referendum was claimed to be 62.15%, with 97.71% voting YES.

Washington used the Zia dictatorship as a bulwark of reaction in the whole region. The developments in Afghanistan made Zia the favourite of US imperialism. The counter-revolution in Afghanistan was the biggest covert operation ever carried out by the CIA in its entire history. Four million Afghans were displaced and hundreds of thousands killed in this imperialist-sponsored Islamic Jihad (holy war). The US spent $7 billion in direct cash on this operation.

Religion became a political weapon for the Zia military regime to sustain its power. In Zia's hands Islam and Islamic ideology became a versatile tool for the extension of state control in the domain of personal and private lives of citizens, as well as their public, political, professional and cultural activities. The introduction of the patriarchal medieval Islamic code, shari'a law, was part of this exercise, which for better or worse, remains the law of modern Pakistan.

The phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism gained new force from the flow of money through US patronage. The Zia dictatorship was based on very strong fundamentalist overtones. It used Islam to gain a social base amongst primitive sections of society.

In 1985, a general election was held on a non-party basis, to keep the PPP out of the election process. The MRD boycotted the election. The new National Assembly accepted constitutional amendments proposed by Zia granting him the power to dismiss parliament and the prime minister. He also took an oath at the first session of the National Assembly as ``elected'' president. Despite the oath, he kept his post as military chief. However, he soon ran into trouble with his hand-picked prime minister Muhammad Khan Junejo.

Zia did not accept the decision by Junejo to sign the Geneva Accord for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

Zia and his clique had their own agenda in Afghanistan that clashed with the purpose Washington had in mind. Zia dismissed the prime minister and his assembly on May 29, 1988, under the powers granted by the same national assembly. Fresh elections were announced but again on non-party basis. On April 10, 1986, when Benazir Bhutto landed in Lahore, a million-strong reception calling for revolution sent a strong message to Zia. However, before he could stage his next political trick, his death/murder on August 17, 1988, to use Ian Talbot’s words, ``released Pakistan from this political cul de sac''. What had proved Zia's trump card, i.e. Afghanistan, also proved to be his death warrant.

The 10-year-cycle of civilian rule

Following General Zia ul Haq's death in 1988, the military allowed formal parliamentary democracy to return, permitting party-based elections to be held under the 1973 constitution. The constitution was heavily amended and distorted, especially with its eighth amendment giving the president power to dismiss the directly elected prime minister and dissolve the parliament.

Successive civilian governments tried their best to please the military establishment and US imperialism by implementing polices that pleased them. Benazir Bhutto was the first to start implementing a neoliberal economic agenda, when she came to power in 1988. She privatised, restructured and downsized state institutions, liberalised the economy and reduced import taxes. She lasted only 20 months. Nawaz Sharif came to power in 1990 but did not alter any of Bhutto's economic or political priorities. Both were brought to power by the powerful military establishment, on the basis of their a promises to maintain the ever-increasing military and defence budget and the repayments of the loans. The Nawaz Sharif era, 1997 to 1999, brought more and more military personnel into civilian institutions, thus helping to increase direct intervention by the military institution in civilian life.

The Nawaz Sharif government that won the general election in 1997 with 40% of the vote and a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly used this majority to amend the constitution to remove remaining trade union rights, and against the rights of minorities, women and small nationalities. It tried to bring the bureaucracy under its absolute control.

Nawaz wanted a Mughal Emperors-type rule, in which his words must be translated into actions within seconds. It introduced a telephone helpline where he would listen to any complaint and, after hearing it, within minutes would take an action. The TV would follow the story and the impression was given that justice had been done within seconds. This was without any proper investigation of the complaint and so on.

Despite his demagogy, the Nawaz government was unable to implement the agenda of the IMF -- the speedy privatisation of the main public sector institutions like the railways, telecommunications and electricity. It also developed contradictions with the international corporations that had made contracts with the Benazir Bhutto government to build the power generation plants. These power companies had signed contracts with the Benazir government to sell electricity at a higher rate than internationally competitive rates. They bribed the government of Benazir to do this. This led to the intervention of World Bank who asked the Nawaz government to seek a compromise with the power companies.

The Nawaz government tested a nuclear bomb on May 28, 1998, despite the hypocritical opposition of the US government. It went to war with India and lost. It retreated humiliated from the border. All these developments led the Nawaz government into isolation from its own religious constituency and from its international backers. The Nawaz government was seen as a very weak, unstable and isolated government. As a result, the 1999 takeover by the military was not met with any resistance from the masses. There was to some extent a sense of relief by the masses that they were rid of another corrupt politician.

However, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had clear political differences and dissimilarities. Benazir claimed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's legacy, while Nawaz would offer prayers at Zia's grave on the anniversary of his death. Benazir, herself a feudal lord from Sind, represented the class interests of the feudal lords, while Nawaz represented the industrialists. Benazir was seen as modernised politician, while Nawaz had a clear tilt towards right-wing and conservative religiosity.

Both were similar in their failure to push any pro-working class reforms. Both left a big burden of foreign loans. By the time, Nawaz was deposed, Pakistan owed $25 billion in debt and debt servicing was the biggest item of the annual federal budget. Most of these loans were incurred during the 1988-99 period. Between 1947-70, Pakistan ran up a modest foreign debt of $3 billion and the country was widely cited as one of the developing world's best users of foreign loans. Bhutto and particularly Zia proved profligate but their appetite for foreign loans was nothing compared to Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Zia left an evil legacy of, among other evils, a $13 billion debt. Benazir and Nawaz borrowed and failed to pay the $13 billion. Most of the money ended up in off-shore bank accounts. The masses that are taxed more heavily each successive year to retire the debt have not benefited at all.

General Pervez Musharraf seized power on October 12, 1999, repeated all the old excuses of being forced to take power. The military establishment and its apologists argue that the military's political intervention was necessitated by the widely discussed incompetence and corruption of the civilian politicians of 1990s. That was a lame excuse. The usual demagogy of all military rulers was repeated in Musharraf's first speech, the only difference being that he did not immediately announce martial law.

Pakistan’s problem, quite clearly, does not lie with specific politicians and their flaws. It is the product of an attitude that puts generals on a pedestal, refuses to recognise politics as a legitimate occupation and refuses to allow the will of the people to manifest itself in free and fair elections. General Musharraf's claims of building ``real democracy'' ring hollow in the absence of real elections. During the eight years of General Musharraf, the implementation of the neoliberal agenda has resulted an ever-growing price hikes, unemployment and poverty. The neoliberal policies imposed by the IMF and the World Bank have doubled poverty in Pakistan in less than a quarter of a century. The number of poor living below the poverty line was 20% in 1980. Now it is 40%.

The rise of religious fundamentalism

When analysing Islamic fundamentalism, one must understand that the religion of Islam and Islamic fundamentalism are not the same thing. Islamic fundamentalism is a reactionary, non-scientific movement aimed at returning society to a centuries-old social set-up, defying all material and historical factors. It is an attempt to roll back the wheel of history.

The growth of fundamentalism in Pakistan has been a link in a chain. The post-Cold War period has seen the growth of far-right ideas. In the Muslim world, it has expressed itself in the form of Islamic fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a political and not religious phenomenon. It is best defined as a counter-thesis of modernism.

Fundamentalism finds its roots in the backwardness of society, social deprivation, a low level of consciousness, poverty and ignorance. Like fascism and national chauvinism, Islamic fundamentalism finds its base in the petty bourgeoisie. However, it is not only the petty bourgeoisie that is attracted by fundamentalism; the movement also impresses those who have fallen from among the petty bourgeoisie into the ranks of the proletariat and semi-proletariat. Similarly, sections of the proletariat that are newly formed and not yet equipped with class consciousness and/or do not have an experience of class struggle are also likely to become supporters of this movement.

Islam has been a political religion since the beginning. During the Cold War, imperialism used Islamic fundamentalists against the left. The fundamentalist parties were the closest friends of imperialism in the Muslim world. However, in the post-Cold War era, imperialism does not need them as it did in the past.

Partly, the growth of fundamentalism in Pakistan results from peculiar regional and national conditions. Above all, it is the confessional nature of the Pakistani state that makes Pakistan vulnerable for the growth of fundamentalism. Created in the name of religion, like the confessional state of Israel, Pakistan is an unhistorical state. It is not a nation-state. It's borders have been drawn in the name of religion. Religion was and still is exploited to provide a basis for the country.

After its creation, the military-cum-civilian establishment, in order to keep the country intact and run the state in a multi-national country, has constantly used religion as a tool to deny the rights of small nationalities. State and religion have been combined. Pakistan has become a semi-theocratic state, if not a completely theocratic one.

Successive regimes have always exploited religion to justify their rule or to win popularity. Unelected governments have used religion to argue that Islam and Western democracy cannot co-exist, while so-called elected governments use religion to gain popularity whenever it they are threatened. Even a populist leader like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto used the phrase ``Islamic socialism'' in the late 1960s, and when he was facing a movement in 1977, he decreed Friday a weekly holiday and other cosmetic Islamic reforms. After decades of exploitation of religion by rulers, there is a developing view that if Islam is the only solution to all problems, then one might as well give the government to those who practice Islam most consistently, i.e. the fundamentalists.

There were efforts to promote fundamentalism from above. However, there was a fundamentalism from below that involved very political work by fundamentalist groups of all varieties. Here the alternative society built by them providing basic needs otherwise denied by the state, like education for instance, has helped build a strong social base for beards.

The madrassas [schools run by Islamic groups] are instrumental in this regard. According to a report released in May 2003 by the Interior Ministry, there are 6870 madrassas (at the time Pakistan came into being, there were only 247 madrassas). There are 1.5 million students enrolled at these madrassas. In comparison, there are 1.7 million students at primary-level state schools. The figures cited by the Interior Ministry report are deceptive -- only registered madrassas figured in the report. Conflicting media reports have put the number of schools as high as 30,000 to 50,000. Even if we go by the figures available for registered madrassas, in 1979 there were only 100,000 madrassas students in Pakistan, while in 1970 only 54,166. In 1979, there were 1745 madrassas in Pakistan. By 1988, there were 2801 madrassas. In 2000, figure was 9880, an increase by 136%. More privatisation, more madrassas!

Education in Pakistan is becoming more and more a business. Private schools have overtaken the public schools. There are more primary school students in private institutions than in the public primary schools. This is the natural result of the ever-reducing government spending on education. Less than 2% of the national income is spent on education in Pakistan. Nevertheless, the military regime cannot keep the same old relationship with the religious fundamentalists as before September 2001.

The semi-fascist thugs are found in every major city and are in growing numbers. During Musharraf's eight years of rule, the religious parties formed a united alliance called Mutihida Majlis Ammal (MMA -- United Organisation for Action). The MMA won more than 15% of the vote during the October general election in 2002. They formed a provincial government in the North West Frontier Province, and part of the provincial government of Baluchistan. The NWFP province is next to Afghanistan. The formation of the government by the religious fundamentalists in these provinces had given a major boast to the Taliban Mujahidin in Afghanistan. It is here where Washington wanted Musharraf to crackdown on the provincial government. Musharraf said that the Americans do not have to come directly, he could do the dirty work himself.

The religious fundamentalists have several trends within their ranks. Overall, they are united in their extreme right-wing, semi- fascist approach in politics. They promote conservative family values, which mean that women’s rights are only considered half of those of men. Their anti-imperialist sloganeering does not make them a real anti-imperialist force.

Religious fundamentalism has grown tremendously, particularly after the collapse of Stalinism. It has provided to some extent a feeling of security for many ordinary Muslims. Some of the religious parties have built their infrastructure on a mass basis, in the shape of religious educational institutions, Mosques and charity organisations with the assistance of US imperialism during the 1980s. The strength of the religious fundamentalist forces in Pakistan is mainly due to the heavy economic and social help they have received within the state. These forces have also grown because of the masses' tremendous disappointment in the main political parties and their failure to offer any help during their periods in power from 1988 to 1999. The religious parties now offer an alternative to these capitalist-feudal political parties.

The new scenario, both regional and international, was conducive for the ``beards and turbans''. Khomeini’s grip on Iran and Taliban's control of Kabul had strengthened their confidence. A barrage of bearded triumphalism was let loose. The rise of Hindu fundamentalism further complemented the growth of the religious fundamentalism in Pakistan. The fundamentalists' counterparts in India and Pakistan objectively help each other. It is like that of the Hamas-Sharon mutual support.

With 9/11, the era of the ‘clash of fundamentalisms’ had begun. The Taliban were unleashed on suffering Afghan men and women by Pakistan's ``khakis''. Sides were switched when Musharraf got a call from Washington after September 11. The Taliban overnight became terrorists. As in Afghanistan, the Taliban were hated in Pakistan. However, the US invasion of Afghanistan was even more hated. Musharraf's decision to join the born-again Christian US president's ``crusade on terrorism'' was widely unpopular in Pakistan and lost whatever limited mass support he had on the day he jumped on ``war on terrorism'' bandwagon. The mainstream political parties, particularly Bhutto's PPP, tried to prove themselves more loyal to the empire. Benazir sent emissaries to Washington pleading that she would prove more useful to US imperialism in this war than Musharraf would. She did not succeed.

Public anger in Pakistan was given vent through the fundamentalist parties. The reaction to the US invasion of Afghanistan was strong in the NWFP and Baluchistan, owing to their ethnic and geographical proximity. The fundamentalists already had pockets of support in these areas. Now, by championing the cause of anti-imperialism by opposing US terrorism against Afghanistan, the bearded leadership in these two provinces cleverly channelled this new found support into electoral success. While the possibility cannot be ruled out that a section of Pakistan's secret police ISI helped put the MMA together, their mass support during the elections was beyond doubt. There was a massive wave in favour of the MMA in the NWFP. Once voted into power in the NWFP (in Baluchistan, the MMA is a coalition partner with pro-Musharraf Muslim League) the MMA failed to deliver. The masses' hopes soon turned to desperation. To save its dwindling mass support, the MMA started the ``Talibanisation'' of the NWFP.

The rise of religious fundamentalism is a real threat to the democratic development. However, the US approach of suppression of religious fundamentalism is no solution. Force cannot eliminate them. They may be suppressed for a time in one area, but will grow in another different.

The military empire

The Pakistan army is not merely an army. It is a state within a state; a successful state within a failed state. It is the most organised, largest and successful political party, with over half a million ``paid'' full-time members. It has ruled Pakistan for 33 years. The last stint that started on October 12, 1999 is yet to finish. The military is the biggest conglomerate in Pakistan: running more than 20 different business concerns. It is the biggest feudal lord in Pakistan: besides large military farms, it has landholdings as large as 1000 acres. In rest of the world, an army is meant to serve its country. In Pakistan, the country is meant to serve its army. In 2007, military enterprises accounted for nearly 3% of the country's GNP.

Pakistan has an economy that depends on loans from international donors, mainly the IMF and World Bank. The accumulated loan is as high as $42 billion.

For fiscal year 2004-5, Pakistan announced a $12 billion budget. As always, the biggest budget item was debt servicing, which devoured a whopping $5.4 billion or nearly half of the total budget. This represented a 6.4% increase over the previous year. The next biggest item was the $3.4 billion defence budget, which amounted to 21.7% of Pakistan's total budget -- an increase by 7%. However, the people of Pakistan are not allowed to know where their taxes go. In the name of secrecy, the military budget is not debated in parliament. On the development front, which includes social programs for the poor, Pakistan spent just $2.19 billion.

The army is the biggest hurdle in any progressive change in Pakistan. In its effort to continue the status quo, it is fully supported by the most abhorrent, reactionary and backward-looking member of Pakistan's ruling troika, the feudal lords.


Despite the abolition of jagirdari (feudalism) in Pakistan, it still exists in its naked form. Small landowners, who constitute 93% of landowners, own only 37% of Pakistan's cultivable land. The other 7% own 63% of the land. In the provinces, the situation is as follows:

Punjab: 80% (peasants) own 7% of the cultivable land, while 0.5% (feudal lords) own 20%.

Sind: 60% (peasants) own 12%, while 1% (feudal lords) own 30% of the land.

NWFP: 72% (peasants) own 8.2 per cent, while 0.1% (feudal lords) rule over 12.5%.

The case of Baluchistan is simple: peasants own nothing. The land belongs to all-powerful tribal chiefs.

Pakistan was a reward from the British colonial masters to the Muslim feudal lords for their loyalty and cooperation. British imperialism introduced European-style feudalism in Indian sub-continent. During the process of colonisation, the British colonial masters needed a supportive class to strengthen its grip on India. It built a class of feudal lords. Tribal chiefs, soldiers, state officials who betrayed India and helped the British conquer India were rewarded with feudal estates. A report on feudalism prepared by the ruling Muslim League and presented to then party chief and Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan on July 11, 1949, revealed that no Pakistani feudal lord held any feudal estate prior to 1857, when the British Raj was finally established all over India.

The feudal lords, mainly from Punjab, ruled and plundered Pakistan in collaboration with the civil bureaucracy until the masses took to the streets in 1958. The frightened ruling feudal lords stepped aside for military to takeover in order to evacuate the streets. The army generals under pressure from masses introduced limited land reforms. A Land Reform Commission set up by General Ayub Khan presented its report on January 20, 1959 and on January 23 Ayub addressed nation on radio to announce his land reforms.

The first land reform fixed the ceiling for private ownership of land at 500 acres irrigated and 1000 acres unirrigated. It was more a cosmetic exercise than a significant social change. The ceilings were fixed in terms of individuals rather than families.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto made a second attempt at land reform in 1972. This time, the ownership ceiling was reduced to 150 acres of irrigated land and 300 acres of unirrigated land. These reforms looked good on paper, yet the impact was severely diluted when they were implemented because, once again, the ceilings were in terms of individual rather than family ownership. That meant a number of large landowners managed to keep their holdings within an extended joint-family framework and gave up only some marginal, not very productive, swampy land.

Bhutto announced other land reforms on January 7, 1977, and the ceiling was halved: 100 acres of irrigated land or 200 acres of unirrigated land. Unlike his previous land reforms, the new ceiling legislation provided for compensation at the rate of Rs30 per Produce Index Unit for land resumed by the state. The futility of these land reforms can be understood by the figures presented by the Federal Land Commission in 1998. Only 987,935 acres (or less than 3% of the country's cultivated area) have been resumed so far. Of these, only one-third has been distributed to 288,000 beneficiaries.

In 1989, the Federal Shariat Court declared the land reforms ``unIslamic'' and ordered a freeze on implementation on Bhutto's land reforms from March 23, 1990.

Eliminating feudalism by setting a ceiling on land ownership is problematic. It does not alter production relations. If the character of these relations -- economic, political and social -- remain feudal, setting a ceiling is therefore meaningless. In addition, the ceiling may pass over a number of feudals with small holdings. Again, feudalism in an agricultural society like Pakistan has important extra-economic dimensions. Control of land in an agrarian society means control of the means of production --land -- and related employment opportunities and channels of influence. Control of a great deal of land means control of people. This is how feudal lords in Pakistan control politics. In turn, their control over politics ensures the continuation of feudalism. It therefore is a vicious political circle.

With this background of growing militarisation, the rise of religious fundamentalism and its failed capitalism, Pakistan has become a real danger to peace and security of the area. There is a direct threat of military intervention by the US and Pakistan's relationship with the Indian government is not normalising. The people of Pakistan suffer from the implementation of the neoliberal agenda. The economy is being monopolised by the multinational companies. Poverty is at a historic high. Unemployment is on the increase. There is growing feeling of instability among the masses.

Successive governments have failed to build an industrialised infrastructure. The basic task of modernising society has still to be fulfilled. The present establishment, a combination of the military and the civil bureaucracy, in close association with the capitalists and feudal lords, has dominated Pakistan's 60 years of so-called independence.

Something has to be done to change the course of life in Pakistan. That can only be done by a mass movement of the ordinary people of Pakistan, in solidarity with the international, anti-imperialist movement.

[Farooq Tariq is spokesperson for the Labour Party Pakistan. Email Visit or]