As the autumn haze sets in, Pakistan seems to be engulfed in an environment of gloom, confusion, apathy and sorrow. The masses are bewildered at what is going on and what is about to happen. It is a country not directly at war and yet all the social and economic implications of a war are very much present. Pakistan society seems to be in a state of war - a war nobody wants to wage, since not even the ruling junta is prepared to commit Pakistani troops to this most peculiar conflict.
As US forces dropped bombs on a war ravaged, drought-ridden Afghanistan and the people saw images of distraught refugees fleeing to the borders of Pakistan in droves, and news came of civilian causalities, most wondered if war was the only option. If terrorism could be avenged by retribution without striking at the root cause of the malady - poverty, unemployment, hunger, ignorance and disease - it would only result in enhancing the menace and misery for the oppressed.
With every day that passes, the fear of the regime is becoming more and more intense. The frustration of the U.S. high command is also very evident. Three weeks is long time in this era of advanced tech warfare. This has been one of the most vicious bombing campaigns on one of the poorest country in the world. Yet after almost three weeks of intense aerial bombardment not a single key target has been hit, nor any significant war aim achieved.
To get things in perspective, the entire Afghan economy is worth no more than $ 4 billion, while the US congress has given Bush a $ 40 billion war chest. Already missiles, bombs and other weaponry worth $1.5 billion have been used in Afghanistan and the real war is yet to begin. General Myers the other day claimed that they have 'achieved air supremacy'. He fools no one but 278 million Americans. Just two F-16 falcons from the Pakistan Air Force could achieve air supremacy in about half the time that a stealth bomber takes to reach Afghanistan from the USA.
To begin with, Afghanistan did not have a single target worth more than a Tomahawk missile (average unit cost: $1.4 million). By the third day of high altitude bombing the Americans had run out of what they called 'fixed targets'. They since have been looking for 'emerging targets'. After a full week of bombing, visiting and revisiting the same sites, AC-130 low flying gun ships were introduced. The hit and run commando attacks and the so-called ground offensive have not produced and dramatic results either. From a military point of view these intermittent shock troop attacks are designed to produce startling results. A Pakistani official conceded, 'It is no less than a miracle that in more than two weeks of satellite guided bombing no important Taliban or Al Qaeda commander was killed or hurt, which means that the entire command structure of both organizations is still pretty much intact'. The repulse of the attack by the Northern Alliance forces on Mazar a Sharif by the Taliban has also baffled US and Pakistani officials.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the plan of any war gets distorted out of all recognition by the dynamics of the war as soon as the engagement with the enemy begins. This is being proved in Afghanistan. Apart from the frustrations it is experiencing in its military misadventure, US imperialism is also suffering severe setbacks in the diplomatic and political fronts. The idea of a post-Taliban broad-based government in Afghanistan is a non-starter. The plan for the formation a new monarchy under Zahir Shah through the convening of the Loya Jirga with representation of all the ethnic groups is flawed from the start. On 24th October a conference for Peace and National Unity of Afghanistan was convened by the intelligence agencies in Peshawar Pakistan. 800 'delegates' comprising of tribal chiefs and religious leaders attended it.
The main leader being projected is Syed Ahmed Gilani, a close aide of King Zahir Shah and one of the Islamic rulers of Afghanistan in the post PDPA set up. These were the same leaders who had created a mess in Afghanistan in early 1990's and were ousted by the Taliban. The interesting thing is that no Taliban section could be lured to this meeting and that German and Iranian diplomats were present in the proceedings. The meeting resolved to convene a Loya Jirga to form a 'broad-based' post-Taliban regime. This is imperialist aggression on the diplomatic front. While thousands of ordinary Afghans are being slaughtered in US raids, thousands being denied entry to Pakistan to escape the bombing and millions rotting in the refugee camps in atrocious conditions, these cut-throats and bandits are being given special perks and privileges to set up a puppet regime on behalf of imperialism. This would be another failure. The institution of the Loya Jirga is an obsolete and non-representative body, which has nothing to do with the vast majority of the population.
The Loya Jirga is an ancient assembly of tribal chiefs. It dates back more than 2500 years ago when emperor Kanishka used it to perpetuate his rule in this region. It continued to function till 1976 when president Daud declared a republic in Afghanistan. Kanishka convened to reform the Buddhist religion to his own ends. Genghis Khan convened another one [his was called Qurlatai].There is no doubt the imperialists are bombing Afghanistan back to the stone age, but no society can remain there in the present world of 'globalisation'. If it is forced to remain in a primitive age then it comes onto the stage of world politics with a vengeance. This has been the result of the Americans dumping Afghanistan after abusing it in the 80's.
The composition of the Afghanistan's population is as follows: Pashtun, 38% [ further fragmented into Gilzai and Durrani tribes], Tajik 25%, Hazaras 19%, Uzbeks 6%, Aimaks, Turkmen, Baloch and others constitute12%. The Taliban are predominantly Durrani Pashtuns while the so-called northern Alliance are predominantly made up of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and Turkomans. The only Pashtuns in this Alliance are Professor Abdul Rab Sayyaf of fundamentalist Ittehad-a &endash;Islami and former governor of the eastern Nangarhar province, Hajji Abdul Qadeer. The experiment of uniting these various factions through the medium of the Loya Jirga has attempted several times in the-post PDPA period in Afghanistan. In one instance in the early 90's the Pakistani regime under Nawaz Sharif convened a meeting of these groupings in Islamabad. After intense parleys they were brought to an agreement. After the meeting, all these fundamentalist mullahs were taken on a special flight to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. Here they were brought in front of the Kaaba [the holiest site of Islam] where they swore before Allah to keep the coalition and abide by the agreement they had signed.
But no sooner were they back in Afghanistan than the in-fighting flared up, leading to yet another bout of bloodshed and destruction. Most of these mullahs are heading various groups cobbled together in the Northern Alliance and in factions that are now being forged into a post Taliban 'broad based government' through the auspices of the Loya Jirga. Not only do they represent diverse ideological, social ethnic, sectarian, religious and nationalistic backgrounds but they also represent different factions of drug barons, who have enriched themselves with black money. Another important faction of the Northern Alliance (which prefers to be called the United Front) are the Hazaras who trace their antecedents to the Mongols. They receive active military and financial support from Iran are predominantly Shia.
Due to its strategic position Afghanistan has been subjected to the proxy wars between different imperialist powers for centuries. It was called the 'Great Game'. Now with the possibilities of piped oil and gas from Central Asia, through Afghanistan to the straight of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf this great game has assumed a new vigor. Apart from the oil conglomerates the conflict has also sharpened between different countries of the region. India Russia and Iran have a de facto coalition in supporting the Northern Alliance. This conflict in Afghanistan has exploded the geo-political conflicts between these countries and Pakistan, who wants to dominate its western neighbour and reap economic political and diplomatic benefits in the continuing tussle with India.
Before the 11th of September the Pakistani regime, having succeeded in installing the Taliban regime in Kabul, was very happy with the position. The ISI. the Pakistan intelligence service, had nurtured the Taliban regime, with covert support from the Americans, who had also played a role in the installation of this regime. Ever since the 11th of September, the Pakistani regime had to make an about-turn in its Afghan policy. The Americans are skeptical about the Northern alliance, especially due to the involvement of Iran in its activities. Now, very reluctantly, the Americans are trying to strike a deal with the Northern Alliance. But this new complication has changed the already sufficiently obscure aims of the aggression against Afghanistan.
One of the most daunting issues for the Americans and the Pakistanis is the active involvement of the Russians and Iranians in this conflict. The Russians aim to keep control of the northern Alliance right to the end. Now there is evidence from the Pakistan foreign office that elements of the Russian army, belonging to its 201st division deployed in Tajikistan, have joined Northern Alliance forces in its drive to capture Mazar a Sharif. The 201st division is also equipped with heavy artillery units. This has been proved by the visit of Putin to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, where he met professor Bhurhanuddin Rabbani the head of the Northern Alliance "government", together with General Fahim - who replaced Ahmed Shah Masood as the military commander of the Alliance, Abdullah the foreign minister, and the Tajik President, Imamali Rakhmanov.
In the statement issued after the talks, Putin rejected any role for "moderate" Taliban elements in any post-Taliban set-up. The Iranian president Khatami in an earlier statement had said that there could be no moderate elements amongst the Taliban as they were all fanatics. He further went on to say that "the Americans and the Taliban are two sides of the same coin". This does not present a very comforting scenario either for the Americans or the Pakistanis!
The authorities in Kyrgystan have intercepted a train destined for Northern Afghanistan via Tajikistan delivering Iranian arms. The return to power of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan would be considered good news in Tehran. In reality even at this stage the Northern alliance is experiencing deep divisions. While Russia, Iran and India are trying to reinforce their stooges of the Northern Alliance, senior officers from the US special forces are now counseling other military commanders of the Northern Alliance, particularly General Abdur Rashid Dostum, as he prepares to lead about 2000 troops for the battle for Mazar a Sharif! So much for the unity of the Northern alliance.
The war has still to be won. It will not be a walk-over. And what will happen when it ends? The Pakistani intelligence has been trying to create a split in the Taliban. Till now it has failed. It is inevitable that there will be groupings within the Taliban. Amongst the second and the third tiers of the Taliban leadership; it is not hard to detect a measure of ideological diversity. Such diversity is natural, considering the composition of the Taliban ranks. Both the administration and the military are composed of a section of former communists, "jehadi" and former commanders who remain affiliated with different mujahideen groups and religious students from a variety of backgrounds in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East, the Far East and Central Asia.
Behind the monolithic façade, the Taliban leadership is divided into a number of groups that extend patronage to their respective clients and use their support to maintain their positions in the lucrative corridors of power. Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund, the vice-chief of the Taliban cabinet, leads the largest of these groups. A well-known hard-liner, Akhund rose to prominence following the death of Mullah Mohammad Rabbani, the head of the Afghan cabinet. Rabbani was the last of the moderates amongst the Taliban leadership. But he was side-lined by Mullah Mohammad Omar in 1998, and most of his supporters were removed from positions of power following his death last year.
Akhund's group includes powerful figures such as justice minister Mullah Turabi, chief of Idara-a Umoor [institution of works], Syed Mohammad Haqqani, Kabul Mayor Maulvi Abdul Mannan Niazi, assistant minister of the dreaded ministry of vice and virtue, Maulvi Mohammad Saleem Haqqani, assistant minister of intelligence, Maulvi Abdul Haq and health minister Maulana Abbas Akhund. The entire group is made up of hard-liners and controls all departments that are instrumental in implementing the religious and military policy of the regime.
Maulvi Abdul Kabir, a vastly influential man who holds the offices of finance minister, governor of Nangarhar province, and chief of Afghanistan's eastern zone, leads another group. This faction controls territories that have been growing poppy and are used for smuggling goods into Pakistan. Most of the benefits of this trade are said to have accrued to this group, which is also said to be involved in land scams, and the smuggling of Afghanistan's archeological relics. This group dominated the cabinet till the early part of this year, but subsequent reshuffles have reduced the number of Kabir's supporters. However his group still commands the loyalties of the assistant minister of the interior, Maulvi Noor Jalal, the minister of the frontier affairs, Jalaluddin Haqqani, some frontline commanders Laghman and clan elders in the provinces of Nangarhar and Paktia.
The Taliban's defence minister Maulvi Obaidullah leads the third group. This group commands the loyalties of most field commanders of the Taliban, and has exercised steady influence within the Taliban administration. Ideologically, this group is closer to the one headed by Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund, but the two have tribal and territorial differences. There have also been reports of differences between Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden. In the recent period Mullah Omar has been obliged to support Bin Laden as a result of the assassination of Ahmed Shah Masood in September, which was organised by bin Laden, using two Arabs posing as journalists.
However, relations between the two men have not always been smooth. In 1998 Osama bin Laden held a press conference in a remote mountain area, after the bombings of American embassies in Africa. This press conference was held with a lot of razzmatazz. Osama's men started shooting from the hilltops as his motorcade of pickups arrived. He was holding an AK476 Kalashnikov rifle, which, as his men were keen to narrate, he is supposed to have snatched from a Soviet soldier in a hand-to-hand combat during the "Jihad".
Mullah Omar was furious that Bin laden had held the May 98 news conference without his permission. He even warned him that Afghanistan could have only one ruler&emdash;either him or his Saudi "guest". Bin Laden was later summoned to Kandahar and told by Omar bluntly not to test the limits of the Taliban hospitality.
Subsequently, Bin Laden had to issue a statement declaring his acceptance of Omar as Afghanistan's Amir Ul Momineem [commander of the Faithful] and Taliban policies.
In spite of this, the fragility of these relations means that they can erupt into a conflict. The 13000 strong and well-equipped Al Qaeda is almost a parallel state in Afghanistan. The US attack seems to have had a temporary effect in pushing the two sides closer together and suppressing dissent within the Taliban ranks. But that can change as pressures and strains of the war aggravate the contradictions between these two power groups.
Kabul is already a ghost city and even if the Taliban are ousted from whatever state government remains, the war will not come to an abrupt end,. In a recent interview the Taliban Army chief Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani said, "We will retreat to the mountains and begin a long guerilla war to reclaim our pure land from the infidels and free our country againÉSoviets were a brave enemy and their soldiers could with stand tough conditions. The Americans are creatures of comfort"É
The Taliban leaders can decide to send non-combatants across the border to Pakistan and disperse their forces in the countryside, out of range of US air power. It would leave a covering force in and in front of Kabul to raise the price of an attack by the Northern Alliance, but the bulk of its forces would be saved and ready to fight in the spring. There are also a large number of youth that are crossing into Afghanistan from the border with Pakistan to reinforce the Taliban. Most of them are going for the battle to defend Mazar a Sharif. the bodies of several Pakistanis killed in Afghanistan have been refused entry by the Pakistani authorities. This has given rise to violent protest demonstrations by the relatives of those killed and the fundamentalists, mainly in the border towns.
All the facts on the ground indicate that this war cannot end the conflict, nor can it can come to a decisive conclusion. The basic character and dimensions of this war are different from the wars in which US imperialism had indulged in recent years. The continuation of this conflict is already creating tremors throughout the region. The impatience of the rulers of the Muslim regimes for a quick end to this war shows the enormous pressures they are facing from below. To their dismay, this conflict will not end before the fasting month of Ramazam, and it will go beyond their so-called parameters. However its forms and intensity may vary.
One of the regimes facing serious a challenge to its rule is the reactionary monarchy in Saudi Arabia. British Imperialism re-installed this regime in the early thirties of the last century. It has been a stooge of British and US imperialism for all those years. It has been one of the most brutal and repressive regimes in history. But Western media very conveniently kept silent about the atrocities committed by this monarchy.
Women are barred from driving and are subject to some of the most humiliating and repressive laws. Most Saudi Princes have harems with hundreds of concubines languishing in what amount to luxurious prisons. Yet no human rights are evoked by the west here. The immigrant workers here are treated as slaves, forced to live in atrocious conditions. Yet the "international community" has exempted this atrocious regime from the application of ILO conventions or any laws safeguarding workers' rights and conditions.
This monstrous regime bases itself on a harsh version of Islamic fundamentalism, known as 'Wahabism'. This is a puritanical sect whose followers consider themselves the only true believers. For 250 years, the Wahabis have given the al-Sauds legitimacy in return for a license to wage Jihad, first against neighboring tribes, then against Shia Muslims, the Ottoman Empire and the Soviet Union. For decades, the al-Saud has succored their present opposition. The ultra-orthodox elements were given a free rein in the schools, the media and the police to enforce bans on music, dancing and the showing of female faces. In addition, Saudi school leavers were given grants to train in Osama bin Laden's camps, and public sector workers were encouraged to spend their holidays on package tours to Afghanistan. It is no wonder that 12 out of the 19 hijackers who carried through the September 11 attacks are believed to be Saudis.
The Saudi monarchy used its huge oil revenues to foster its version of fundamentalism throughout the whole region. The main purpose was to undermine and crush revolutionary movements. It was one of the main backers of reaction in Afghanistan, and funded the so-called 'Jihad' in the eighties. It was also was the biggest donor to the Taliban Regime - till September 11.
But even before this crisis the regime was faced with internal contradictions, arising out of the social turmoil in Saudi society. With the present sea-change in US foreign policy. the tactics used by the Saudi regime to perpetuate its rule have come back to haunt it. The same fundamentalist clerics whom the monarchy used for justifying its rule have now turned against it. One of these clerics - a blind 80-year-old man called Sheikh Hamoud bin Oqla al-Shuaibi - issued a fatwa that in effect excommunicated the al-Saud royal family. Anonymous statements pronounced the expulsion of King Fahd and his 30,000 strong family from Islam.
The elite is terrified. Not only have the Saudi rulers refused to provide bases for the US attacks on Afghanistan, but they also refused to allow Tony Blair to visit Saudi Arabia. Prince Bandar the Saudi Ambassador in Washington came out with a rare admission of vulnerability: "In a western democracy, if you lose touch with your people, you lose elections. In a monarchy, you lose your head."
The other factor that has aggravated the crisis of the regime is economic decline. The fluctuations of the oil market, mega prestige projects and other factors have had dire consequences for the Saudi economy. In the last decade the per capita GDP of Saudi Arabia fell from about $ 18000, to less than $ 6000 now. The plight of the immigrant workers has worsened. Due to the slowing down of the economy, several major construction and other projects have been dumped. More that 120000 migrant workers have been expelled to their impoverished native lands over the last year. Those who remain have seen their salaries drastically slashed and are now forced to live even in worse conditions than the countries where they had originally come from.
On the other hand, the luxurious lifestyle of the royals goes on as if nothing had happened. The present monarch, King Fahd, at the time of the death of his predecessor, king Khaled was gambling in a casino in Monaco. When he heard the news of his accession to the throne he tried to break the bank in a game of black jack, and lost $ 10 million. He left the table with a smile to assume the rulership of his country.
There is a seething hatred of the regime amongst the Saudi masses; quite a few of whom still live as Bedouins in tents in the deserts. Some provinces have a very low standard of living. These disparities are creating new conflicts and tensions amongst different clans, tribes and regions of Saudi Arabia.
Initially, this hatred can take the road of fundamentalism, but that will change. In October 1979 there was a left wing coup attempt lead by some Saudi and Yemeni officers. The CIA drowned this in blood. Similar attempts and even coups from within the royal family are possible in the next period. A mass revolutionary movement in Pakistan Egypt or any other major Muslim country will have profound effects on the consciousness of the Saudi masses.
From the banks of the Nile to the coasts of Sumatra, there is not a single regime. All are facing the impact of the war in Afghanistan. Every bomb dropped and every missile that impacts on the rugged landscape of Afghanistan send tremors that travel afar. In Indonesia the weak and vacillating Megawati regime has been forced to change its stance on Afghanistan. In Malaysia, Mahatir has come out in open opposition to the US attack. The Afghan crisis has played a significant role in the politics of Bangladesh, and even the recent election. There have been widespread demonstrations in most Asian countries.
These anti war demonstrations in Asia are not restricted to Islamic countries. The Israeli atrocities in Palestine have further exacerbated the situation. The continuing intifada has become a nightmare as much for the Arab rulers as for the Israelis. Such is the intensity and resilience of this movement that the Americans have been forced - at least in words - to accept the idea of a Palestinian state [whatever that means in the present situation] to appease the Arab rulers and help them stave off the rising tide of revolt. But it is too little, too late. Things have gone too far.
The coming recession will further worsen conditions and fuel the hatred of US imperialism in particular and capitalist rule in general. The American aggression against Afghanistan has further inflamed these emotions. In most Islamic countries there is an upsurge, though for the time being tainted by Islamic fundamentalism. But a deeper investigation shows us that the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism is far from a cohesive ideology or a unified political force. The various factions of islamic fundamentalism are, in fact, more in conflict amongst themselves rather that with the so-called infidels.
The western media is trying to portray this conflict as a clash between Islam and Christianity or Judaism. This is simply absurd. Even in Afghanistan, the conflict has been between different Islamic sects representing the conflicting interests of different capitalist groups. There are 72 sects in Islam. They carry out more killings in clashes between various Islamic sects than have occurred in conflicts with non Muslims. In the present conflict, we can see that these contradictions are very much present.
The JUI - a large fundamentalist party in Pakistan - supports the Taliban, whereas the Jamaat a Islami supports Gulbadin Hekmatyar, the butcher of Kabul. The conflict between Iran and the Taliban is a clear manifestation of that. The medieval (even pre-medieval) ideology of Islamic fundamentalism has an entirely superficial character. The more fervently and ferociously it is imposed in modern conditions, the more contradictions and conflagrations it produces. The modern interpretations of Islam are as futile as the orthodox doctrines. It is the product of stagnated societies and betrayed movements.
The past three decades have provided a fertile ground for these ideas. As a result of the crisis of capitalism, nearly every Muslim country has experienced the kind of social stress that generates severe doubt, discontent and despair. Populations have exploded. Cities, once the abode of privileged, have been overrun by impoverished, disorientated provincials. The authoritarian nature of most post-colonial regimes, the frequent failure of their grand plans, and their continued dependence on western money, arms and science, has discredited their brand of secularism. The intrusion of increasingly western ways brought by so-called globalization has engendered schisms by seducing some and alienating others. Growing gaps in wealth, both within these societies and between the poor nations of the Muslim world and the oil rich Arabian Gulf, have spawned resentment.
This sudden accumulation of woes has reinforced the notion that perhaps they are being tormented because they are Muslims. In response to all these pressures, the outward nature of the faith itself has changed. A religion that once included diverse strands of mysticism, and even mild paganism, has begun to harden round a very rigid literal interpretation. Money, migrant labour and pilgrimage to Mecca have spread far and wide the Saudis' bleak desert version of Islam. To the dismay of many Muslims, this doctrine of subtlety, nuance and compromise, is being presented as a new orthodoxy. The imperialists are exploiting this to terrify the workers of the West.
This hard-edged Islam has produced a new kind of a preacher. As the clerics of the Ottoman Empire foresaw five centuries ago when they banned printing, the spread of literacy has ended the professional scholars' monopoly on interpreting religion. Their hold, already undermined by their association with unpopular capitalist regimes, is further weakened by the dispersion of Muslims in small communities around the globe, communities that are often isolated amongst non-believers. Amid the general dislocation, staid supporters of older tolerant ways are often shouted down. The increasingly dominant voice is an angry one, which interprets the woes and miseries inflicted upon society by imperialist exploitation as an outcome of religious prejudice.
In reality, this rise of Islamic fundamentalism is another manifestation of the combined and uneven character of socio-economic development under the drag of capitalism. But the most important factor of this upsurge is the vacuum created by the collapse of the left, and the betrayal and corruption of the traditional political and trade union leadership. The sell-out of these leaders in the form of NGO's [those bastions of political corruption] and their slavish capitulation to US imperialism has filled the hearts and minds of the workers and youth with agonizing indignation and a burning desire of revenge.
Without the outlet of a way forward, they stray onto the path of Islamic fundamentalism as a means of venting their frustrations. In capitalist societies riddled with corruption, the slogans of piety and honesty do have a certain initial attraction. But once lured into these fundamentalist outfits, these youth find themselves transformed into criminals and vagabonds.
But if we look at the fate of the three most advanced fundamentalist regimes, i.e. Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan, they are in disarray to say the least. The mullahs in Iran are confused and baffled by the sharp turn of events. They didn't have the slightest notion of how events could turn against them. Their anti-Americanism is always overtaken either by Iraq or by Afghanistan. It is ironic that their bitterest enemies have become victims of US aggression. This in itself is not a good omen for those who wish to govern a society with anti-imperialist rhetoric.
After more than two decades of despotic rule by the mullahs in Iran, their days also seem to be numbered. They were able to perpetuate their rule for a relatively long time, mainly through building up the false idea of external aggression and hatred towards America. That sentiment amongst the youth and the masses in Iran is evaporating quite rapidly.
The oil revenues, a certain growth in the economy also helped them prolong their rule. And of course through a crude combination of repression and reform they were able to perpetuate their rule.
Dialectically all that is now turning into its opposite. There are already visible cracks within the regime. The impending crises will further split them apart. The present factions of 'reformists' and conservatives are two sides of the same coin. The Iranian economy cannot endure the pressures of globalisation. Sooner or later it will have to budge.
The world economic slump will have a devastating impact on oil revenues and will aggravate the already burning political crisis in Iran. With the majority of the population under the age of 25, the repression of the fundamentalist state will not suffice to control the situation. As the shock caused by the war and US aggression in the region begins to dwindle the outbreak of a mass upsurge against the fundamentalist regime in Iran will be inevitable. And it is no accident that the women of Iran will be in the forefront of this struggle to overthrow this regime of religious despotism. Its repercussions on the whole region will be unprecedented. There have already been massive strikes by the Iranian workers against non-payment of wages and other demands. This strike wave can attain massive proportions in the coming period.
The repressive regimes in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other central Asian states are far from stable. The war and the plunder of their oil, gas and other minerals by the imperialist vultures will inevitable give rise to mass movements. These tottering regimes will be no match for a movement in these culturally advanced societies, subdued temporarily by the shock of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the extremely difficult objective situation that ensued. The involvement of Tajiks, Uzbeks and other central Asian Nationalities in the Afghan inferno will also help to galvanise movements in these societies against imperialist aggression and the social crisis.
The condition of the Indian regime in this crisis is pathetic. Its shameful and humiliating sycophancy towards US imperialism stinks. The US policy shift towards Pakistan, for its own interests and strategic needs, has exposed the weak and disgraceful nature of the Indian bourgeoisie. In its rivalry with Pakistan the Indian rulers are becoming hysterical at the prospect of the US propping up the Pakistani regime.
First they offered military and naval bases to the Americans even when the imperialists had not asked for them. The US strategists simply brushed them to one side. Then they requested that US imperialism expand its operations beyond Afghanistan. By this they meant Kashmir, where 600,000 Indian troops have failed to quell a mass upsurge of national liberation. More than 70,000 people have perished in this insurgency. Most of them were innocent civilians.
After a rebuttal from the US the Indian home minister LK Advani, the arch fundamentalist bigot, attacked the Americans and acted in a similar manner as Arial Sharon acted in response to Bush's declaration of the possibility of the creation of a Palestinian state. The BJP has once again come back to its crusade of building a mythological Hindu temple at the sights of Muslim mosques. In fact they started once more to whip up Hindu fundamentalist frenzy to divert the attention of the masses from their diplomatic, economic and political failures.
There is no doubt that there is involvement of Islamic fundamentalists in the conflict in Kashmir. Of course this was orchestrated by the ISI. But this is only the beginning of the story. The movement in Kashmir is of a mass character. It is more comparable to the Intifada in Palestine than with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
There are numerous fundamentalist organizations in Palestine, but that does not alter the character of the movement. In Kashmir the Islamic fundamentalists are actually sabotaging the movement. The people of Kashmir detest the fundamentalists specially the Afghan-Arabs, as much as they hate the Indian army. The only way forward for the victory of the movement in Kashmir is to link the national liberation struggle to the class struggle, especially to the movements of the workers in India and Pakistan.
To build this relationship it is necessary for the workers and the revolutionary leadership to support the people of Kashmir against the national oppression both of the Indian and the Pakistani ruling classes. The radicalization of the Kashmiri youth was shown when Marxists won key positions in the internal elections of the JKNSF (Jammu & Kashmir National Students Federation) in September, in Pakistani-held Kashmir. In reality the Indian state uses fundamentalist terror for the perpetuation of its own despotic rule in Kashmir.
With the aggravation of the war, in the beginning reaction will dominate. The Indian ruling class is using this situation to prop up chauvinistic jingoism to further attack the Indian working class. The arms build-up on the borders with Pakistan, the increasing use of rhetorical language such as the 'fight against terrorism' and the threats of attack on Pakistan are all manoeuvres of the same game plan. The Pakistani regime answers this rhetoric in the same tone for similar purposes. But with the hype of reaction, the economic, political and diplomatic crisis will worsen.
The Indian economy is already slowing down. In spite of Advani's anti-American outburst (which was quickly disguised by Jaswant Singh and the cunning fox of Indian politics, Vajpayee) the BJP regime is carrying through a vicious IMF programme of redundancies, privatizations, and 'restructuring', liberalization, deregulation and cuts. This is playing havoc with the lives of a billion souls who are already doomed to destitution by this rotting capitalist system.
There have already been massive demonstrations in almost all the cities of India. These protests have been led mainly by the Communist Parties (CPs) and other left parties. Congress, not surprisingly, has opted to support the imperialist aggression, along with the BJP and its NDA allies. This is an important opportunity for the CPs to stage a comeback. This can only happen if the protest against US aggression is linked with the demands to end the economic aggression which has been unleashed upon the working classes of India and elsewhere, to meet the needs of a crisis ridden world capitalism.
This means that to fulfill those demands and end the exploitation the overthrow of capitalism is necessary. This is only possible through a socialist revolution in our times. Hence it is necessary that the leadership of the Communist Parties should at least stop shying away from the words Revolution and Socialism. It should rather act upon them if they have anything to do with communism. If they are still reluctant to take a revolutionary path, then, because the crisis is so intense and the perspectives are so turbulent, the stormy events will inevitable give rise to new mass upheavals which will wash away the conservative leaders and the movement will carve out a fresh revolutionary leadership from its ranks.
The present crisis has exposed the fissures in the Pakistani state. The fundamentalist elements in the military top brass were removed on the eve of October 7th, the day the US bombing started in Afghanistan. But that doesn't solve the problem. The institutions like the ISI can't be cleansed of Islamic fundamentalism with a single order. The Taliban and several other fundamentalist organizations have named Musharraf as a target. His security has been tightened and the pressure on him is visibly taking its toll. His drawn face and timid expressions don't show the picture of the general of an elite commando force, the SSG.
His quest for a quick end to this conflict will not be fulfilled. In spite of repeated sermons of unity of the army, dissent is very much there. It can explode at any moment. There is still a large section of fundamentalist officers in the army and an action against Musharraf cannot be ruled out.
There is also a feeling of indignation amongst certain sections of the army officers at the slavish submission of the dictatorship to the Americans. But for the time being the fundamentalist elements within the state have received a certain bashing. This could change with the prolongation of the war and the rising tumult on the streets.
The possibility of a military coup cannot be ruled out, but it is not the most likely perspective. If it comes, it will be quite a bloody affair. At the moment the main hindrance is that a clash within the army can trigger a civil war in which the privileges and material interests will be devastated. Still there are enough lunatics who could go for such an act.
The propaganda about massive economic aid from the US is more of a farce than anything substantial that could get Pakistan out of the economic mess it is already in. The number of people living in absolute poverty in Pakistan has doubled in the last 10 years. So much for the decade of the NGO's. Per capita GDP fell from just over $500 per year in the 90's to an estimated $375 this year. In terms of purchasing power Pakistan is on a par with Laos and Equatorial Guinea. Meanwhile, foreign investment has plummeted, partly because of US economic sanctions imposed in 1997-98 (in answer to the nuclear tests) and partly due to the general perception of instability.
Fiscal deterioration has accompanied economic decline. Debt service obligations on Pakistan's $38.2 billion foreign debt consume 65% of the total state earnings. These are expected to cost $3 billion per year through to 2004. Washington and Tokyo have agreed to reschedule only one billion dollars of debt it owed to the Paris club. The United States also agreed to independently reschedule $379million of the $3.6 billion in bilateral debt due from Pakistan. Certain other minor reschedulings have taken place. But Pakistan with its $2 billion in foreign exchange reserves and $2 billion fiscal deficit in the year ending June 2002, together with a massive decline in exports which have led to a bulging trade deficit, does not have very rosy prospects. The growth rate has fallen to less than 2.5%.
Hence, the last resort of the Pakistani rulers is to totally submit to imperialism for salvation from the economic catastrophe that looms large. It is very doubtful that the imperialist aid will be able to revive the Pakistan economy as it did to some extent in the 1980's.
Even the bourgeois pundits are not very optimistic about this. But this is the main factor which has convinced the traditional political parties and the PPP to overtly and covertly support Musharraf's capitulation before imperialist arrogance. But as the war drags on, this already crisis-ridden society is becoming more and more turbulent and the confidence of the rulers is taking a nosedive. The very existence of Pakistan itself is at stake.
The masses are against the war. According to one poll, less than 3% endorse the American action. According to Musharraf the fundamentalists polled less than 3% in the recent local elections. This means that the vast majority of the population does not support any side in this conflict. In the beginning the demonstrations by the fundamentalists had some backing from the state, as they wanted to use fundamentalism as a pawn to extract more economic aid from the west. And yet, even now, in the third week of the war, the fundamentalist demonstrations have not reached beyond a restricted layer. This can change however.
However, the wider the anti-war protests get the weaker will become the hold of the fundamentalists on the movement. This would mean that the masses would try to link this movement to their own woes. The Musharraf regime has carried out the most vicious attacks on the masses through the dictates of the IMF, World Bank and other imperialist institutions.
When the war started the so-called wisdom of the bourgeois leaders has put them in league with the executioners of the immense brutality and genocide in Afghanistan. This means that the traditional leadership has blocked all choices for the masses. This is a very dangerous situation for the ruling classes itself. The US aggression is adding insult upon injury for the teeming millions who are already drenched in poverty, misery and disease. Sooner rather than later they are bound to break the shackles and rebel.
The myth of economic revival through American aid and the policy of imperialist appeasement will explode with the aggravation of poverty and distress. If there is a fundamentalist backlash that would also further perpetuate the misery and devastation and deprivation. Even the fundamentalists are reluctant to cite the example of Afghanistan to the people of Pakistan. In reality the imposition of fundamentalism could end up by provoking a massive upheaval of the masses.
In any case, under capitalism all roads lead to disaster. The working people of Pakistan want to avert this. Through experience they will learn that the only alternative is a socialist revolution. Wars and revolutions are historically exceptional periods.
Events are developing at a rapid pace. These events are having an impact on the consciousness of the masses. The role of the state, the character of the political leaders, the real nature of the NGOs and the real strength of the Islamic fundamentalists is being rapidly exposed.
Wars mostly end up in revolutions. It happened here in Pakistan when the end of the 1965 war culminated in the revolution of 1968-9. The present war is doomed to defeat. The imperialist aggression will bring the opposite results to those expected.
The fate of Afghanistan is now inextricably linked with that of Pakistan. There can be no peace and stability, not to say prosperity, in Afghanistan without the overthrow of the system which breeds crime, violence, betrayal, ignorance, starvation, disease and misery. The possibility of another post-war mass upsurge in Pakistan is very much there.
A Marxist revolutionary leadership is required now, more than ever before. The fundamentalist terror and the imperialist brutality have brought the prospect of plunging this region into barbarism as a stark painful reality. This can now be averted only through a socialist revolution. The forces of revolutionary Marxism to carry out this historic task and lead the working people of the region to victory, are becoming evident, perhaps for the first time, in the present anti-war campaign, from the steppes of the Himalayas in Kashmir to the warm waters of the Arabian sea in the bastion of the Pakistani proletariat, Karachi.
Editor Asian Marxist Review,
October 25, 2001.