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Nigel Harris

Workers’ and peasants’ alliance:
the only road for Pakistan ...

(8 March 1969)

From Socialist Worker, No. 112, 8 March 1969, pp. 2 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

NIGEL HARRIS says the struggle to replace Ayub Khan is being fought by opportunist politicians anxious to halt the rising popular revolt

THE EXPLOSION of revolt which has swept Pakistan since early last November is the most important event for socialists in south Asia since the overhrow of foreign political control.

In 1958, Ayub Khan like de Gaulle in France – came to power through a military coup Now, again as in France last May, a completely unexpected revolt has cast doubt on a regime previously noted for its ‘stabiilty’. However, unlike France the revolt is not that of a mass industrial working class.

Pakistan was created out of two territories at the extreme west and east of the Indian subcontinent. The two parts are separated by 1,200 miles of India.

To the west the dominant majority, Punjabis, control the main cities and the mass of fertile land. Minority groups on the edges of Punjabi control – Pathans in the north-west, Baluchis and Sindhis – have sporadicly challenged this control.

Very poor

But in East Pakistan, opposition to the West has been continuous. The East has about 20 million more population than the West, but only equal representation in the National Assembly.

The East earns the largest share of foreign exchange, but in proportion to its population gets less than half of central expenditure. The East is very poor, densely populated and backward, separate in culture and identity (the population is Bengali.

Since Ayub came to power, the differences between East and West have sharpened.

Between 1959 and 1967, the difference in income per head between East and West increased from Rupees 88 to 150.

Weak roots

It is in the East that the banned Communist Party has what roots it retains (roots constantly weakened by Russian – and, even more – Chinese support for Ayub.

The Leftist National Awami Party (itself divided between pro-Moscow and pro-Peking factions) is also a party of the East.

Finally, the strongest opposition party the Awami League, also comes from the East. Under Shaikh Mujib-ur-Rahman, the League consistently presses for increasing separation of the East from the West. It demands a ban on capital flowing out of the East to the West, a larger share of national funds, restricting the national government (also in the West) solely to defence and foreign affairs, and giving the East representation in the National Assembly according to its population. In the past, the opposition to Ayub has been decisively weakened by its divisions. This includes not just the spectrum of small opposition parties, ranging from Right-wing religious mysticism to Stalinism, but also the rhythm of revolt which has meant East and West have reached the peak of hostility towards Ayub at different times (as was the case in the upsurge of opposition in the East in 1966).

Thus Ayub has been able to play one off against the other, or play off the relatively passive peasant majority against the much more consistently hostile urban middle class. It is the urban middle class – particularly the students and various professional groups (journalists, doctors, teachers) – of the West who precipitated and have since sustained the current revolt.

Wide attack

In November, the government de-rationed sugar even though shortages had tripled its price. Separately, students in the West launched a campaign against government controls on the universities.

The two separate starting points merged and launched a more wide-ranging attack on corruption and inefficiency in the state administration.

An answering student echo came from Dacca in the East and this helped to broaden the movement in the West into a generalised attack on Ayub’s authoritarian regime. He was denounced for destroying any semblance of a free press, and for his rigged constitution whereby only 120,000 ‘basic democrats’ in the population are able to elect the President directly.

The champion of this movement was Ayub’s former Foreign Minister (a minister from 1958 to 1966), Z.A. Bhutto, a rich Sindhi landowner-lawyer, outside the old guard of opposition politicians.

His imprisonment sparked the massive student revolt and as this campaign spread outwards, in the New Year, some urban workers also began to participate.

Yet Ayub could possibly have survived all this. What he could not survive was the collapse of his own ruling-class base and, in particular, the withdrawal of the support of the army.

Important establishment figures – Air Marshall Asghar Khan, ex-East Pakistan Chief Justice Murshed, ex-East Pakistan Governor General Azam Khan – began to ‘struggle against tyranny’.

Ayub’s governing party, the Muslim League, disintegrated. Thirty five members formed a ‘critical opposition’ group (including an ex-minister, with tacit support from the current Minister of Communications) to attack the East Pakistan provincial administration. Six others from the assembly joined Bhutto’s People’s Party.

Refused to fire

In early January, junior army officers were court-martialed for refusing to fire on demonstrators in Karachi.

On the one hand, the army faced demoralisation and disintegration. On the other, the old rulers were moving over to praise the students and suddenly discover the merits of universal suffrage, so that if Ayub fell, the status quo would not fall with him.

The old politicians – organised, regardless of contradictory politics, in the Democratic Action Committee – have been overtaken by Bhutto’s hurricane. Yet they have continued to try and lead the movement, to accept private talks with Ayub Khan as a settlement.

Ayub’s weakness has grown steadily the more concessions he has been forced to make because he is now robbed of the strength of army backing. He is withdrawing the emergency (imposed in 1965 during the clash with India), releasing some political prisoners (including Bhutto and Mujib-ur-Khan), and finally has promised not to stand in the 1970 Presidential elections.

The politicians have found the concessions a useful pretext for escaping from the popular movement to private negotiations with the President on ‘constitutional reform’. In doing so, they have forced Bhutto into raising more left-wing demands in order both to keep control of the popular movement and prevent the politicians outflanking him.

Raise issues

The combination of a regionalist and a middle class revolt can, however – as in Czechoslovakia last year – raise issues which cannot be simply sighed away in private talks.

The movement can supersede the issues of civil rights – shall there be universal suffrage? – and the trivial personal questions of the immediate status quo – must Ayub Khan go?

All these questions protect those who control the land and the industries of Pakistan – the notorious 22 families.

Behind the politicians is the opportunist, Bhutto. But behind Bhutto are the millions for whom Pakistan’s much lauded 6 per cent economic growth rate (nearly 9 per cent recently)over the past decade, has meant only increasing hardship and deprivation.

Popular power

For Pakistan’s ruling class, the first priority is to prevent the issue of popular power being raised. To do this, Ayub Khan is an excellent symbolic sacrifice.

In his place must go, at best, one of the establishment opponents like Asghar Khan - swapping an Air Marshall fora Field Marshall – or an opposition politician, or Bhutto.

And the changeover must happen before the virus of revolt infects the masses with a fever that cannot be soothed with such slight remedies.

Bhutto’s aim is to keep the pressure just to the point where he can outflank his opposition rivals. His programme of militant anti-Indian chauvinism and flirting with regionalism contains little about internal social and economic reform.

Pot boiling

Nor has the first part of the programme – the secret of his success among West Pakistan’s students – any appeal in the East. It means even higher defence expenditure and military adventures on the Kashmir border (in which the East has no interest).

To keep the pot boiling, he has recently talked vaguely about ‘land to the tillers’ and will probably get away with it since he has no peasant support. He has won some industrial worker support, but he has not raised the issue of nationalisation or workers’ control.

Bhutto is just what the ailing Congress in India needs. Another border squabble permits the ruling groups on either side of the Indo-Pakistan border to flood their domestic opposition in a tide of nationalist fervour.

For the Pakistan Left, the task must be to force Bhutto and the movement further and further left, to push the demand for civil rights into a demand for popular power, to build a movement which Bhutto cannot sell out.

A peasant and worker alliance to begin the permanent revolution in Pakistan can transform the whole perspective for socialism in Asia. Not least, it will raise for the first time on a massive scale an authentic alternative to the Indian Congress.

Nigel Harris has written an important analysis of the upheaval in China in the current issue of International Socialism. 3s post paid from 36 Gilden Road London NW5.

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