Left: the missing link in Pak politics

Today, Pakistan is battling one crisis after another. Most of these problems are linked with the civil-military imbalance and our warped national security paradigm. One of the biggest threats to our social fabric is religious extremism. The partition of the Indian subcontinent took place for many reasons but from the day Pakistan came into being, the ‘religion’ card has been used as if it was the raison d'ĂȘtre for our country’s existence. The military and the ruling elite have used religion to further their interests. The tragedy of Pakistan is that our political spectrum is heavily tilted towards the Right. Left politics is sadly missing.

When Pakistan came into being, the Left faced the worst possible adversity due to its ideals and beliefs, which were in stark contrast with that of the feudals, Islamists and the ruling elite (military, bureaucracy and the political class). The leftists were perceived as a grave threat to the overall subservient-to-imperialism culture prevalent in the country, especially in Punjab. It led to the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) being officially banned in 1954. Though the ban on the CPP was a huge setback for the Left movement in Pakistan, the leftists continued to make intellectual, literary, cultural and social contributions to our society. Thus, in an attempt to target socialist literature, the July (1969) Martial Law Regulation No. 51 included “a maximum penalty of seven years rigorous imprisonment for any person who published, or was in possession of, any book, pamphlet, etc, which was offensive to the religion of Islam” (Feldman, Herbert, The End and the Beginning: Pakistan 1969-1971, pp 46-47).

In present day Pakistan, we have a preponderance of centrist or right-wing parties. Even those political parties that were socialist in orientation like the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or the Awami National Party (ANP) – and are still quite progressive – have adopted the neo-liberal paradigm. Various factions of the Pakistan Muslim League are either right-wing or centre-right. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) is secular but due to its ethnic exclusivism and fascist tendencies, it has not been able to become a mainstream national political party. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is also right-wing in nature. It goes without saying where the religio-political parties stand as far as their agendas are concerned. The military is the mother of religious extremism in Pakistan as it has nurtured and supported the jihadi groups and religious Right. Our civil society, despite being bold and daring, is too weak and scattered to effectively fight religious extremism. Therefore, Pakistan needs the revival of leftist politics so as to counter religious extremism.

In an essay on the history of the Left written in December 2007 for Panos South Asia, I had observed: “If the leftists in Pakistan want to revive the Left movement, then they first have to explain to the masses what socialism stands for. They also have to explain the failures of socialism and for this they have to have a programme of broad parameters. They must do it in the Pakistani context. In the Pakistani context, the leftists will first have to understand the dynamics of feudalism, quasi-capitalism, imperialistic interests, religio-political and socio-cultural factors. All these have to be analysed first and then a foundation built on it. We must not forget that society and the world are not static; the pace of change has accelerated. Economics and politics of the world are now inter-linked. Unless the leftists in Pakistan understand the dynamics of change themselves, they cannot present an advanced theory. And without an advanced theory, no movement can be effective.”

The Left in Pakistan collapsed due to a number of reasons, including internal squabbles, but now it must re-emerge and save the country from further deterioration into a dark abyss of extremism and international isolation. The Left is the one force or ideology that can consistently be expected to stand up against the military establishment unlike the mainstream political forces that have to reluctantly compromise with the establishment to come to power. If we want to roll back General Ziaul Haq’s legacy and address the national question, an organised Left movement is our only chance. The Left will fight for the rights of women and minorities, turn Pakistan into a progressive society and will consequently end the dominance of the military establishment.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


Niaz Betab said…
Informative with a great touch of reality. I think their was an attack on Quaid e Azam by the religious extremists reasoning you created the country for Muslims, and now you talk of others safety and place in this God gifted country, as claims Zaid Hamid. A country where army is allowed or brought deliberately in politics gets a gloomy future. It is what happened.
Prabha Mohan said…
I enjoyed reading this recapitulation of left politics (or the lack thereof) in Pakistan. I am curious to know how it is possible for the left to get engaged in a political process where the right dominates everything currently. And also what this means in terms of economic activities.

Perhaps part of the problem is that 'left' is being looked at only as the "hard left" (both by supporters and opposers)... whereas the happy medium might be amid the several moderate belief systems closer to the center (with economic beliefs leaning one way and the political beliefs the other).
vivek v s said…
i share your thought 'left is right'. how ever the moderate left with presure of time leans towards riht. this is our experience in india. i think a system that prevails in the latin america is much better than what we have here in india. however if you are expecting a buffer between the right wing and socialist or even the military highjack of political decisions- i think the organizing power and educating the public functions of left are very good. Most people may misread you of communism, but in reality the 100% secular, welfar state ideologies are not possible in a neo-liberal and fundamentalist system. the revolution is only chance to implement it, waiting for an evolution is foolishness. the spirituality of islamism is dieletical meterialim and good islam is a pure left, we have the phylosophy and ideology within the national ideology itself. vivek

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