By RON JACOBS
In recent days, the already tenuous political situation in Pakistan
has made a turn toward the worse. Musharraf's government clamped
down first on the judiciary and other opponents in the government
in the first days after his declaration of martial law. More recently,
those same forces have prevented even the liberal bourgeois opposition
represented by Benazir Bhutto from gathering and arrested several
thousand members of the opposition. In addition, Musharraf has
gone on record as stating that many of those arrested face capitol
charges. One element of the secular opposition to Musharraf is
the Labour Party of Pakistan, a democratic socialist organization
launched in 1997 from various elements of the Pakistani Left.
What follows is an exchange conducted over the past couple of
days (November 9-10, 2007) between myself and Farooq Tariq, secretary
general of the Party. (Thanks to Tariq Ali for putting me in contact
with Mr. Tariq.-Ron)
Ron: Hello. To begin, can you please identify yourself and generally
describe your politics and the politics of the Pakistan Labour
Party? Also, how many members and supporters do you estimate the
Labour Party has?
Farooq: I am Farooq Tariq, secretary general, Labour Party Pakistan
(LPP). I am an activist since my student days at Punjab University
back in mid 1970s. I became active as left activist and left used
to be strong on campuses those days. Our main rivals were religious
fundamentalists. When Zia military dictatorship was imposed, I
went in exile. Spent some eight years in Holland and England.
There we built Struggle Group that got active in Benazir Bhutto's
Pakistan Peoples Party. In 1986, I moved back to Pakistan as situation
improved in Pakistan and Struggle Group had possibility to get
active from Pakistani soil itself. After Benazir's first stint
in power, Struggle Group with a perspective that PPP would now
on serve only ruling classes, left PPP and began campaigning for
an independent workers party. After building a good trade union
base, Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) was launched in 1997. LPP wants
a democratic socialist Pakistan and is a Marxist organisation
that draws inspiration from, among others, Russian revolutionary
We have a membership of over 3,000. One of the eight big trade
union federations (NTUF) in Pakistan is LPP's sympathetic body.
The NTUF (National Trade Union Federation) represents over hundred
thousand industrial workers. We run a Urdu weekly (www.jeddojuhd.com),
only left weekly published in Pakistan. Our woman members set
up Women Working Help Line (WWHL) that has a membership of almost
two thousands. Our youth front has some modest success in last
two years while our student base remains almost non-existent.
Ron: What city are you writing from? Have there been protesters
in the streets in that city?
Farooq: I am underground since the imposition of Emergency. Mostly,
I have been in Lahore and certain towns in northern Punjab.
Ron: What is the make up of the protesters in Pakistan right
now? The US newspapers describe the majority of the protesters
as being lawyers and NGO activists. Is this so? What are the demands
of the protests?
Farooq: Initially, it was advocates (lawyers), left and human
rights activists. But the situation has changed in last three
days as Benazir Bhutto has declared her opposition. Yesterday,
PPP workers fought pitched battles with police in Rawalpindi.
PPP claims that 5000 of its workers were arrested across Pakistan.
Also, government has arrested members of Justice Party of former
cricket-star Imran Khan and Muslim League of exiled prime minister
Nawaz Sharif. However, Islamists parties are not either joining
the movement nor being targeted by the regime. Their opposition
of regime remains restricted to press statement.
Ron: Do you foresee the protests continuing and perhaps growing
Farooq: There is the potential. Big possibility. This past summer,
it took sometime before masses took to roads. Masses hesitate
at first but when they see a leadership fighting, they most likely
join it. One reason is also media black out. TV channels are off
air while print media is censored. Many don't know whats happening.
Often, expat Pakistanis are more informed than us here.
Ron: What security forces are arresting the opposition? Is it
the Army, the ISI, or other police?
Farooq: It is police. But there have been reports where known
arrested activists have been handed over to ISI.
Ron: What role does Benazir Bhutto play in Pakistani politics?
Does the Labour Party consider her role a positive one? Do they
support her at all? What do you make of her arrest?
Farooq: The good news in last three days was the changing attitude
of Benazir Bhutto towards present military regime. While in exile,
she made a deal to share power with military regime. This deal
was brokered by USA. Her return on October 18 was also a US-backed
move. But while in Pakistan , there was suicidal attack on her
rally leaving over 200 dead. There was a mass negative campaign
by the chief minister of Punjab against Benazir Bhutto. Then Musharraf
imposed the Emergency on 3rd November without her consent apparently.
Most of the advocates arrested after Emergency were from her party.
It was all two much. This built a pressure. In first three days,
PPP activists were not arrested but it all changed with Benazir
coming openly against the military regime on Emergency.
Her changing attitude was welcome by LPP in press. I, on LPP's
behalf, announced in the media that LPP would join the Long March
planned for 13th November by PPP from Lahore to Islamabad . Although
we were very critical of polices she pursued in last few months
that is to say her power sharing formula with Musharraf regime,
her soft corner for the regime.
Her recent dealings have also given currency to conspiracy theories.
Many say that her opposition is just fake and all is done in collaboration
with the regime in order to restore Benazir'' image as militant
leader. LPP dont agree with such so-called conspiracies theories
about Benazir and Musharraf being friends. Benazir's opposition
of the regime has meant arrests of thousands of PPP activists
and their houses raided all across Pakistan.
Ron: I understand the situation constantly changes, but do you
believe the elections will be held in February 2008? If they are,
do you think they will be free and fair? Why or why not?
Farooq: In view of the unfolding movement, and international
pressure, yes we can hope for that. But fair and free elections
are out of question. Democracy movement will have to fight a long
war before we are able to have a democracy strong enough that
ensures a free election.
Ron: What, in your opinion, is the cause of the unrest in Pakistan?
How much of a role do religious extremists play? How much of a
role does the Army play? How is this martial law similar to previous
episodes of martial law in Pakistani history?
Farooq: In the first place, it is the mass impoverishment of
masses under Musharraf regime. Struggle for bread and butter has
become even hard. Utility bills, price hike and jobless are biggest
issues. This is the root cause of unrest. Also, military has become
a military-industrial complex that is acting like a mafia. There
is resentment against that. Then you have US presence in the region
leading to instability in Pakistan. Musharraf's pro-US policies
are universally unpopular.
Musharraf's military rule is unlike Zia dictatorship in its mask.
Musharraf claims enligtenment and moderation. Zia Islamised Pakistan.
But both these dictaorship, like earlier military regimes have
On internal front, all have been repressive when faced with opposition.
Every time military takes over, the military increases its industrial
base, thus leading to more corruption.
Ron: What do you think will be the result of the Emergency rule?
How long do you think it will be in place?
Farooq: General Musharaff would not have thought of the political
scenario that has emerged the imposition of Emergency on 3rd November.
His hopes for normalcy have been dashed despite a vicious repression
against the advocates and political activists. More unpleasant
surprises will come in future for the military regime that was
used to a rather stable political control until now.
After advocates, now students are emerging on the political opposition
to the military regime. Demonstrations took place on 7th November
2007 in certain public and private universities in the main cities
of Pakistan. "Student power rises from slumber" was
the headline of daily The News International on 8th November.
The media organization of the bosses and employees are also joining
the mass movement after unprecedented repression against the electronic
and print media by the regime.
It was a black Monday on 5th November for the stock exchanges
in Pakistan. The stock exchange crash resulted in a net loss of
four billion dollars in one day, unprecedented in last 17 years.
His imperialist backers like US, UK and European Union have been
forced to condemn Emergency at least in word for the first time
since 9/11. Any gross violation of human rights in Pakistan since
9/11, was always an internal matter for the US imperialism. Even
Australian imperialism is condemning the sorry state of affairs
of Pakistan and terming Musharraf "a dictator" for the
first time, a fact Pakistani people knew for eight years. LPP
perspective is that such an isolated regime can not last long.
The opposition movement is on and is growing.
Ron: Is there any other information or thoughts you wish to provide
Farooq: The opposition to military regime will be strengthened
by the active solidarity of our friends and comrades outside Pakistan.
The pickets of the Pakistan embassies all over the world will
be one the most effective way of opposition. It is time to show
Ron: Thanks you for your time.
Farooq: Thanks a lot for letting LPP express itself on an important
left site like Counterpunch.
Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the
Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs'
essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch's collection
on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel,
Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be
reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org