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Nigel Harris

Politicians gang up
against Pakistan masses

(5 April 1969)

From Socialist Worker, No. 116, 5 April 1969, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE SPEED of events in Pakistan has transformed the balance of forces. Originally, a middle class revolt in West Pakistan united with a popular movement for greater provincial independence in East Pakistan.

Both movements were, in the midst of the battle, overtaken by a much more dramatic popular revolt.

In the West, the industrial belt ground to a halt. Much of the civil service went on strike, and even the police threatened to do so.

In the East, the industrial workers were even more solid in their action against the regime. In the countryside the peasants began settling a thousand scores with local officialdom, with the array of predatory sharks that feed off the poorest villagers.

Violent hostility

In response, Ayub Khan – already clearly deprived of army backing – conceded all the main demands of the united opposition, including finally his own immediate resignation. The more he conceded, the more violent popular hostility became – and the more terrified the opposition leaders became at the Pandora’s Box they had opened.

The counter attack began from the pulpit (the mullahs however have no love for the present secular regime), with denunciations of socialism and the demand that the mouths calling for socialism be silenced.

But to the Islamic Right, seems to have come the original rebels, the West’s middle class. Instead of championing the popular revolt, it is the middle class opposition leaders who have pleaded with the masses to be peaceful and docile, not to dismiss Ayub completely (the coalition Democratic Action Committee wanted to retain Ayub as President in any new regime, with powers to dissolve the Assembly).

It was the opposition leaders who actually accused the government of fostering popular violence for its own purposes.

Thus, the intervention of the army is a relief to everyone except the mass of peasants and workers. Bhutto, erstwhile tribune of the people, described the introduction of martial law, ‘on the whole, it’s a good thing’.

Without a passive population, the opposition leaders also stand no chance of getting a foothold in power. The tiger may growl to get them into power but when it rises to its feet, both regime and critics flee together.

In response to the threat of popular power, there is an amazing realignment of all the old enemies – from the obscurantist religious Right (Jamaat-i-lslami), the provincialist Right (Mujib-ur-Rahman), the government (Muslim League and army), the middle class liberals (Asghar Khan), to the supposedly Left (Bhutto and the Moscow wing of the National Awami Party).

The only leader who seems to have escaped this shameless capitulation is Maulana Bashar of the Peeking-wing of the National Awami Party and he seems to have done so by remaining silent.

With the introduction of martial law, the NAP has not issued any call for the struggle to be continued and, particularly, for West Pakistani strikers to foster mutiny in the army.

To do that is for the NAP to align itself unequivocally with a national class struggle, rather than flirting with East Pakistani separatism.

As it is, for the moment, the villages of the East have returned to quiet. Under cover of this military ‘peace’, the leeches will return to their victims, their savagery now inflamed with a lust for vengeance.

Purge opposition

The factories have started again. and there seems virtually no political opposition to sustain the movement further.

Ayyub’s earlier attempts to stimulate a clash with India on the East Pakistan border have not so far succeeded and will not be attempted again until the troops newly despatched to the East have purged the country of the ‘unrespectable’ opposition.

Workers will discover this week that the pay increases for which they have fought over the past month are not going to be paid. It will then become clear whether an authentic working-class opposition is prepared to resume the struggle.

It will have to be on a massive scale to prevent the barbarous provisions of the martial law regulations being used against isolated militants (as they are being used against 21 Karachi mill workers arrested last week for ‘inciting strikes’).

Only an independent workers’ movement could have gone beyond the dithering of the opposition politicians. As in France, so in Pakistan.

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Last updated: 15 January 2021