Volume 3, No. 2, February 2021
Editor: Rashed Rahman
The people of Pakistan can be forgiven for their present state of dissatisfaction that has still to find organised political form, either independently under a Left umbrella, or even in support of the mainstream opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM’s) call to come out on the streets against the incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) government. The reason for their lack of direction is the vacuum of credible political leadership in the country. Removing the PTI government offers little except a return to the flawed governance of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
This alternative is not in itself inspiring, given the track record of the two largest mainstream parties in office. However, despite this caveat, a turning point may be emerging when scepticism regarding the PML-N and PPP may be overtaken by the mass dissatisfaction with the inept, incompetent PTI government spilling over onto the streets willy nilly.
The military establishment has since Pakistan’s creation, aspired to, and largely succeeded in, dominating politics and national affairs. Its incremental strengthening by the US-led west during the Cold War and after has further increased the gap between the military’s capabilities and political society. After four military coups and martial laws, the military establishment has now acquired unprecedentedly sophisticated tools for ‘managing’ national affairs. This it has accomplished in recent years by promoting the favourite/s of the month, repressing through various tools (including the National Accountability Bureau – NAB) those out of favour, suppressing the media through financial penalisation and censorship, suppressing dissident voices (especially in the last resort currently of the critic: social media), and continuing the heinous practice of ‘disappearing’ those who cannot be ‘persuaded’. Thousands of people are still ‘missing’, with their families and loved ones crying themselves hoarse for justice. Occasional reports aside, our domestic and international human rights defenders have failed to take up this critical issue in the manner it deserves.
All these suppressive and manipulative tactics have helped the establishment to bring to power through the rigged election of 2018 its favourite of the month: the PTI. It is another matter that in two years in office, the PTI has proved incredibly inept, incompetent and shortsighted even to the extent of arguably harming its own interests. Accountability is a farce enacted with malign intent against the opposition, while the PTI and its allies are extended kid gloves treatment. This no longer fools anyone.
Nawaz Sharif has intervened to stop all secret meetings of his party leaders with the military top brass after Railways Minister and political gadfly Sheikh Rashid ‘revealed’ such meetings. Interestingly, Imran Khan, not one to be left behind, has followed suit! The importance and relevance of this development is the unanswered question whether the opposition as a whole has given up its illusions about ‘reconciliation’ with the establishment in favour of a do-or-die campaign to oust the PTI satraps and restore what passes for bourgeois parliamentary democracy in Pakistan.
In the struggle amongst the various factions and parties of the political elite, what is missing is the voice of the people, disenchanted with the PTI’s performance in office and equally fed up of the daily diet of the war of statements/words between the two sides of the elite political divide that offers them no succour for being irrelevant to their concerns and suffering. The main reason for this is the weakening, if not practical collapse, of the Left. Mass agitations against military or civilian authoritarian rulers in our history owe a lot to the role of the Left. That role has gone abegging since the early 1980s, when the ‘traditional’ Left collapsed, to be replaced since then by social democratic, liberal reformist and single issue movements. Without taking anything away from their resistance to injustice and repression, these movements have failed to gell into a credible movement for change. The reasons are not hard to seek. The defeat of socialism reflected in the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European regimes in the period 1989-91, the earlier post-Mao turn in China towards capitalism, and the difficulties of the remaining socialist regimes in Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea have defined this period of retreat. What the Left has missed out on worldwide in its subsequent quest for revival is to revisit its history and past theoretical constructs in the light of 21st century global and local changes that may require a very different approach to issues, organisation of Left movements, and their linking up internationally against a capitalism that has metamorphosed into a global system of supply chains interconnecting the developed and developing worlds.
Theoretical work unencumbered by the biases and determinism of the past, truthful in its critique of the Left’s history, and courageous enough to recognize how the world and societies have changed seems the only way forward for the people’s struggle for revolutionary socialist change.