Monday, December 31, 2007

A little basic history for U.S. Progressives About Pakistan by Norman Markowitz

Presidential candidates are talking vaguely about the crisis in Pakistan and the TV stations and the press are busy reporting on the crisis, and murder of Benazir Bhutto, who did it and why. Everybody knows that General Musharraf is a military dictator. The politicians and the media keep on saying that the U.S. is for "democracy" but this must be weighed against the dangers from "Islamic terrorists" who control substantial territories in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas. And the discussion goes round and round, even though most Americans and all of the major political candidates (in terms of what they are saying at least) really don't know anything about Pakistan, South Asia, or for that matter what the U.S. has been doing there since the 1950s.

First Pakistan today. It is one of the poorest and most backward countries in the world. According to statistics that U.S. politicians and mass media are uninterested in, nearly 50% of its male population and nearly 75% of its female population are illiterate.

Child labor is very widespread, heroin addiction, a legacy of the last military dictator, General Zia's alliance with Ronald Reagan in the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, is very widespread, and a subculture of violence, with large number of people owning weapons permeates the society. By all standards, it is far more backward than the India of of which it was carved in the late l940s, an India which is is a parliamentary democracy and, with all of its huge problems, including poverty, has made great strides in education and general social economic development.

Pakistan is also a theocratic state in that Islam is the state religion and while their may be ostensible "religious freedom" for non-Muslims, the significant non Muslim population that existed in the late 1940s when Pakistan was carved out of majority Muslim regions by the initiative of the Muslim League of India, with the support of the British empire, which was withdrawing from India after three centuries of colonial rule

Why did Pakistan come into existence? The idea of a Muslim homeland on Indian soil only came into existence after WWI and had very limited early support among Indian Muslims. The idea was also subject to many interpretations--an autonomous or semi-autonomous area for Muslims in a larger India, a pan Islamic state or empire that would include both Indian Muslims and Muslims from regions bordering India, a separate Muslim state.

British colonialism had long played the large Muslim minority against the Hindu majority and other Indian communities, defining its "mission" in India as one of "protecting" the Hindu and Muslim communities and the "princely" (feudal) states. The radicalizing influence of Mohandas K. Ghandi and the anti-colonial mass movement he led on the Indian National Congress, and the influence of Marxist and Communist activists and movements in India became a major problem for the British colonialists, who often found it useful to favor and work with the more conservative Muslim League, led by North Indian landlord interests, which claimed to represent the interests of India's Muslim minority.

Further radicalization of the Indian masses in the 1930s, the emergence of Gandhi's colleague, Nehru, as a major political leader of the Indian National Congress with a commitment to a secular, independent, and socialist oriented India. created even greater problems for both the British colonial authorities and the Muslim League, who in local elections in the late 1930s (the most significant elections to that point in the long history of British colonial rule) did very poorly among Indian Muslims.

It was at this point, with the movement for an independent India ascending and left forces ascending with it that the Muslim League began to seriously contemplate a Muslim homeland or Pakistan, meaning literally "land of the pure" in order to maintain its power in the country, both with British authorities and with the Muslim population. In 1940, for the first time, the Muslim League at its Lahore Conference, formally committed itself to establishing "Pakistan" although what this meant remained unclear and many scholars believe that the League was attempting to gain concessions from the British colonial authorities as Britain had its back to the wall in 1940 in its war against Nazi Germany.

Muslim League support for the British war effort during the war along with the Indian National Congress's refusal to grant support unless Britain commit itself to "quit India" led the British to arrest the leadership of the Indian National Congress and intensify its alliance with the Muslim League, undermining attempts to establish a post colonial united India.

In 1946, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, longtime leader of the Muslim League whose political career had taken many twists and turns, committed fully himself to a separatist Muslim state on Indian soil and stimulated widespread ethnic religious violence by calling for a national day of "direct action" to advance that goal. The violence then became a sort of pretext for British support for partition, which Gandhi, Nehru, and the Indian National Congress actively opposed but could do nothing to prevent if they were to gain British withdrawal and an independent India. Lord Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy, declared both the Independence and the Partition in 1947, as the British withdrew in ways that greatly intensified ethnic religious violence as millions of people fled the homes and villages that their families had lived in for centuries to go to either India or Pakistan.

The partition was in many respects British colonialism's final insult to the people of India. There was never a referendum as such on whether or not to divide the country. Areas became part of India or Pakistan depending on the majority ethnic religious composition of the area, not necessarily the will of the people. In some provinces, feudal rulers chose. Pakistan until 1971 was divided into West Pakistan and East Pakistan, the latter a region separated from the rest of Pakistan by a thousand miles of Indian territory with a heavily Bengali population which faced extensive discrimination at the hands of the Pakistani central government.

The British empire had obviously hoped to use Pakistan as an ally for its larger imperial interests in the region, as against socialist oriented India. Under the rubric and guise of defending the "free world" in fighting the cold war, the U.S. absorbed the British empire and everyone else's empire. India became a leader of the non-aligned nations in the 1950s. continued to be socialist oriented under Nehru, and developed good relations with the Soviet Union. Pakistan developed what has essentially been a military junta state, the kind of state that the U.S. long supported in Latin America, in which political parties and elections do exist from time to time but are routinely suspended when the "wrong" parties and leaders appear to have a chance to win.

Since Pakistan loyally supported every cold war alliance system the U.S. and Britain created in the region, repressed workers and left organizations on its own territory, it became a "free world" ally of the U.S. who either ignored or praised its string of military dictators, who, in the Latin American tradition, became somewhat more "liberal" or somewhat more "conservative," depending on who was in power in Washington.

In 1971, after the military ruler General Yahya Khan canceled elections that had produced an overwhelming defeat for him and the Muslim League in East Pakistan and arrested the leaders of the victorious party, a popular uprising in East Pakistan was savagely repressed by the Pakistani army (although the numbers are subject to debate some figures go as high as 1.5 million) until Indian intervention led to the surrender of the Pakistani army and Independence for East Pakistan, which is Bangladesh today. In the aftermath, a non Muslim League parliamentary government was formed by Benazir Bhutto's father, a centrist politician who improved relations with the Soviet Union and other socialist countries and undertook some limited reforms but continued to identify himself with Pakistani nationalism against India.

He was overthrown and executed by General Zia, a tyrant whose limited support, even among the traditional reactionary landlord class which had always been the central force within the Muslim League, led him both to turn to extreme clerical elements for support, brutally repress domestic opposition and, through his support of right-wing Muslim guerrillas in Afghanistan in alliance with the Reagan administration and the Central Intelligence Agency, help set the stage for the eventual establishment of Al Qaeda and the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister after Zia's death in a mysterious plane crash at the end of the 1980s, failed to seriously address the economic and social problems of the people, was defeated in elections and then brought to power once more after her Muslim League opponents failed in their policies. General Musharraf established a military dictatorship at the end of the 1990s in the country and remains, in effect, military dictator, as U.S. media and politicians talk about scheduled elections in Pakistan (Pakistan has had all kinds of elections over the years, but elections have been stolen, canceled, or simply declared null and void when the dominant allied factions of the Muslim League and military didn't approve of the results).

Progressives should know this about Benazir Bhutto. Although her death is tragic and, a little bit like a centrist Democratic party politician in the U.S. she was a lesser of two evils as against Musharaff, she did not seek any real resolution of the conflict with India while she was Prime Minister and in her second government gave de facto support and recognition, from my reading, to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, as part of its anti-Indian policies. The Bush administration and its Dr. Strangelove "neocon" advisors probably wanted to see some Bhutto-Musharraf coalition take shape, since Bhutto was in no way an opponent of U.S. imperialism in the region.

Continued support for Musharraf and the reactionary ruling groups in Pakistan strengthens Al Quada and the Taliban forces in the region and intensifies the misery of the people of Pakistan. Denial that Pakistan and India were part of the same national community and that there must be a larger policy of reconciliation and development for all of South Asia, the three states that represent what was once India, has been a hall mark of U.S. imperialist policy. A progressive U.S. policy for the region, one that works for and builds peace, must begin by withdrawing its military support for Pakistan, its adventures in Kashmir and other places against India, and making regional cooperation and disarmament, including nuclear disarmament the centerpiece of its policy

Norman Markowitz

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