LAHORE — As I watched a 500-strong January 18
anti-war demonstration here, a well-dressed man with a crisp
English accent approached me. Believing I was a Western
journalist, he asked if I would be interested in interviewing the
spiritual leader of his organisation, which, he said, calls for
“holy war until America is destroyed”. I declined.
Nevertheless, I was curious about what attitude the Pakistan
anti-war movement takes to these old allies and new scapegoats of
imperialism. Later that day I sat down with Farooq Tariq, general
secretary of the revolutionary socialist Labour Party Pakistan (LPP)
and a member of the Anti-War Committee (AWC) that had organised
the protest in Lahore.
Tariq spoke about the AWC, how it had been formed on the
initiative of the LPP and had united first the left parties, then
a number of NGOs, and now some of the unions and mass
organisations, as well as how the small successes of the Lahore
group were leading to its replication around the country.
He told me that the anti-war movement must also be an
anti-imperialist movement, that it must make links with the
movement against neoliberal globalisation and explain the economic
roots of the US war drive.
While every Pakistani is invited to the group, he said, if
fundamentalists adopt the slogans of the left, they will be
hypocrites and they will destroy the movement.
As I questioned further, he smiled just a little — it was
obviously a conversation and a debate that had been had many times
before — but his face lost none of its energy.
“They want to make this whole issue a religious war. So we think
that fundamentalists are not for peace, they are for more war, a
holy war, jihad. For us, the way to stop Bush attacking Iraq is to
build up an anti-war movement, while the fundamentalists are
building up a so-called anti-imperialist jihad.
“Also it is only the left forces in Pakistan that have
consistently spoken against imperialism. The fundamentalists have
been very much part of the imperialists' policies. Now they say
they are opposing imperialism. They are not a reliable partner;
they are opportunists.
“Also the fundamentalists offer no solution. September 11 has only
politically strengthened George Bush.
“We differ from A-Z, so why should we be together? We should not
stand with them because they are saying `Down with America'. You
have to look at the deeds, what they are doing."
We talked for a while about the plight of Muslims in the West,
where Islam has become the new, post-Soviet “evil empire”, the new
enemy of “civilisation”.
Tariq explained the attitude of Pakistani Marxists toward Muslims.
"We have no problem with ordinary Muslims. The problem is
religious fanaticism. Most of the radicals are Muslims, but we
just see no point uniting with the religious fanatics."
I'm uncertain. In Australian media discourse “fanatics” are those
that oppose the US government slaughtering large numbers of
people. Who defines a who's a “fanatic”?
“The leadership of the religious organisations that are calling
for jihad are fanatics”, Tariq argued. “The departing point is the
intentions and practices of the leadership and the program they
“Bush's policies have given fanatics an easy ear so that the
followers of these fanatics wrongly believe that these people are
anti-imperialist and that they may be able to do something.
“There's a war of ideas been the fanatics and the left. So there
can be no unity."
On the other hand then, I ask, does the Pakistani state give the
left some leeway because it sees the left as some kind of bastion
against the fundamentalists that are growing in strength and
threatening to swamp it? Tariq grins.
“As you saw, the police stopped our demonstration in Lahore. The
state was quite worried by our demonstration and took serious note
of our actions. The police were worried because we had said we
would go to the American consulate which the fundamentalists
normally do not do. They just demonstrate after Friday prayers
when Muslims are there already."
The protest in Lahore was small by Western standards and the
fledgling secular anti-war movement is under attack from both
sides, from the religious forces and from the state. Tariq was not
disheartened by this.
“We have just started our work and we have got a tremendous
response while giving out leaflets and putting up posters. We are
ready to meet the challenges.
“We are planning to have a demonstration of animals against Bush.
They will be suffering from the war, so we are planning on donkeys
and horses coming into the streets, with handmade slogans. We are
also planning a children against war demonstration.
“We don't want to limit the anti-war movement just to the war on
Iraq though. The AWC will take up Palestine and we will definitely
speak against the present tension between India and Pakistan."
I note to Tariq that he doesn't seem to see building an anti-war
movement as being something separate to building the left in
Pakistan, and that left parties in Australia are often criticised
for not putting enough space between their party and social
movements. His nodding response to my questions is beginning to
“Building the anti-war movement is part of building a new left in
Pakistan. The AWC from its very beginnings has had this task, to
build the left. It is the only committee where all the left
parties are together. It has a common left platform and a platform
for common action by the left.
“We see great possibilities for building left forces and for
changing consciousness through this committee by exposing
imperialism and fundamentalism and also the friends of imperialism
in Pakistan, the parties of the rich. The AWC is not just limited
to war, but part of a broader perspective. Maybe it will lead to a
more integrated left alliance in Pakistan. That discussion is one
for the future."
He is quick to add that the AWC is not a mere party-building
exercise. "There is no greediness", he says with a jovial smile.
"It is a genuine collective effort of the radical forces against
imperialism. In the process we are building our own organisations.
There is no contradiction between these two objectives."