Clinton's Asian visit: A new twist in US power politics

The arrogance of US imperialism is shown by its desire to dominate every area of the globe. Asia is of special importance to Washington's long-term economic and strategic interests. Alan Woods reviews the aims and results of Clinton's recent visit to Asia and its impact on India, Pakistan, Kashmir and Afghanistan.

"The host is the prisoner of his guest". (Old Arab proverb)

The arrogance of US imperialism is shown by its desire to dominate every area of the globe. Asia is of special importance to Washington's long-term economic and strategic interests.

At the heart of the tensions between India and Pakistan is the question of Kashmir. Half a century after independence, this remains a bone of contention, which has already caused several wars and now threatens to provoke yet another one, with far-reaching consequences. At the time of partition, the overwhelming majority of Kashmiris were Moslems, yet India manoeuvred to hold onto the province and has done so by force ever since, ignoring repeated UN resolutions calling for a referendum. At present Kashmir is occupied by 700,000 Indian troops. It is the most militarised place on earth, and probably the most dangerous one.

Last year, the so-called Mujahideen guerrillas launched an offensive in the mountainous Kargill region of Kashmir. There is little doubt that the government of Islamabad was behind this raid. Probably the Pakistanis wanted to take advantage of the crisis in the Indian government in order to seize an advantage. The Muslim League government of Nawaz Sharif was in an increasingly shaky condition, and probably hoped to win a propaganda victory. But the whole episode backfired badly for Pakistan. The Indian army fought back but, because the guerrillas had possession of the heights, were taking heavy losses. Under such conditions, the obvious answer would have been to launch a large-scale flanking operation, but this would have entailed violating Pakistan's territory. The danger of an all-out war loomed large.

Only the pressure of US imperialism averted the risk of war between these two powers--both of which now possess nuclear weapons. Anxious to save his own skin and distance himself from the military debacle, Nawaz Sharif committed the unpardonable offence of blaming the army. The resulting conflict led directly to the military coup of last October and Sharif being put on trial for his life. The issue of Kashmir remains unresolved and as explosive as ever.

It is clearly not in the interests of US imperialism that there should be a new war between India and Pakistan. Washington stands for Peace! That is to say, Washington stands for Peace, on condition that the whole world accepts its unrestricted domination. Thus, it advocates disarmament and invites everyone to sign a nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It is scarcely worth adding that, in the meantime, the USA jealously guards its immense stockpiles of nuclear weapons, which make the arsenals of India and Pakistan look like a child's pop-gun. In other words, Washington demands that the whole world should disarm--except the USA.

In reality, Clinton's Asian excursion revealed not only the power of US imperialism, but also its limits. To begin with, Washington did not succeed in getting either India or Pakistan to sign up for nuclear disarmament. And as for Kashmir, Clinton made it quite clear that he did not intend to get his fingers burnt.

The Kashmir question

The Kashmir question is like a terrible ulcer which has poisoned the political life of both India and Pakistan for half a century. At stake is much more than the destiny of 12 million human beings who have been waiting 50 years for the right to self-determination. At stake here is the future of the entire Indian sub-continent.

For 50 years the Indian and Pakistani bourgeois have had their chance to solve the problems facing the sub-continent, and they have failed miserably. The unresolved question of Kashmir is merely the most blatant example of the complete failure of capitalism to deal with the most pressing needs of the people. In the hands of the bourgeois politicians in New Delhi and Islamabad, the fate of the Kashmiri people is just another pawn in the game of jostling for power and influence in the region. They offer just one "solution"--that of war. But successive wars have failed to solve the problem, and have only served to impoverish and oppress the masses of both India and Pakistan, who are crushed by the heavy burden of militarism, in addition to all their other problems.

The ruling cliques of India and Pakistan both use the Kashmir question as a convenient excuse and a diversion for the masses. Instead of fighting against the real enemy--the privileged and parasitic landlords and capitalists--the workers and peasants are invited to direct their anger and hatred against "the enemy without". Thus, the perpetuation of conflict in Kashmir is a useful--one might say indispensable--means of staving off revolution in both India and Pakistan. Whenever the ruling clique of either country finds itself in difficulties, they immediately begin rattling the sabre and braying about Indian or Pakistani "aggression". The addition of nuclear weapons has added a new and deadly element to the equation. Not that either side would seriously contemplate the use of such weapons in the short run. The consequences of a nuclear exchange in the teeming cities of the sub-continent is too horrible to contemplate. Even the most unbalanced chauvinist would have to think carefully about resorting to this. But, in the long run, the threat of nuclear annihilation remains as a terrible sword of Damocles suspended over the heads of millions of people.

Although anxious to prevent war between India and Pakistan, Clinton is no more in a position to solve the problem of Kashmir than his Indian or Pakistani counterparts. That is why he expressly ruled out the role of arbiter. The Pakistani side insistently raised the demand that Washington should intervene, use its "good offices" with India, and so on and so forth. Naturally! Pakistan would have nothing to lose and everything to gain from such a move. But the main aim of Clinton on this trip was not to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for Pakistan--much less to uphold the right of self-determination for the Kashmiris--but precisely to cement relations with India as the most important regional super-power (and the biggest market) in South Asia. And India would not take kindly to US meddling in Kashmir, where its firm guiding principle may be summed up by the old proverb "Possession is nine-tenths of the Law".

Anxious not to upset his Indian hosts, Clinton leaned over backwards to explain that he would not intervene over Kashmir, unless asked to do so by both sides (presumably the opinions of the Kashmiris themselves are a third side which does not warrant serious consideration!). Here are his exact words:

"I am not going to mediate the dispute between India and Pakistan. America cannot play that role unless both sides want it. But I will urge respect for the Line of Control (LoC) and renewed lines of communication."

These weasel words are interesting as an example of the mixture of hypocrisy and cynicism that characterises US diplomacy at the beginning of the 21st century. That same America which did not hesitate to "arbitrate" between Yugoslavia and Kosovo with the aid of B-52 bombers now modestly declines to mediate over Kashmir. Why? Only because it suits America's interests at this moment to get good relations with India. And this statement overtly supports the Indian occupation of Kashmir. Clinton urges (and when the US urges, it is tantamount to a demand) "respect for the Line of Control", that is to say, he demands acceptance of the artificial frontier established by force by the Indian occupying forces in Kashmir. Everything else is subordinate to this. And who must respect the LoC? Pakistan, of course! No wonder Prime Minister Vajpayee was all smiles.

A bloody provocation

However, the niceties of diplomacy in New Delhi did not prevent the continuation of the blood-letting that has long been the daily bread of the people of Kashmir. The first day of Clinton's visit to India was marred by the brutal murder of 37 Sikh villagers in Kashmir. The provocative nature of the incident was clear from both the timing and the choice of targets: the Sikhs are a small minority in Kashmir who have largely managed to stay out of the Moslem-Hindu conflict, attempting to maintain good relations with both sides. This was clearly an attempt to destabilise the situation. After the killings, scores of angry Sikhs poured into Chadisinghpoora, shouting slogans such as "we will spill blood for blood".

Who was behind the outrage? The Pakistanis immediately pointed the finger at Indian forces. Azad Kashmir Prime Minister, Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry, said Indian intelligence was responsible. "India is using all ways and means to suppress the political opinion in Kashmir, and its forces have killed more than 70,000 people over the last decade," he said. The head of the military group fighting in Kashmir (Hizbul Mujahideen), Syed Salahuddin Ahmed, claimed Indian intelligence agents were behind the attack: "The brutal mass murder on the eve of US President Bill Clinton's visit is a pre-planned act of Indian intelligence to defame the Kashmiri freedom struggle".

It is impossible to know for certain who was behind this atrocity. It is not inconceivable that the incident may have been an act of Indian intelligence agency--the quaintly named RAW (Research and Analysis Wing). In the tangled world of intrigue, provocation and counter-provocation that exists in this part of the world, almost anything is possible. Even if governments and general staffs are not directly involved, there are a dozen different intelligence services and competing guerrilla organisations, all pursuing their own agendas which are not always immediately obvious to the untrained observer.

However, it is not at all clear that the Indians were behind the attack. India was not interested in provoking disturbances in Kashmir during Clinton's visit. In an attempt to avoid trouble, political leaders had been arrested during the visit of the US president. It seems far more likely that it was the work of the secret services of Pakistan, directly or indirectly, trying to embarrass the government of New Delhi during Clinton's visit. If so, they did not succeed in their objective. The great power politics of Washington are dictated by its fundamental interests, and are not likely to be deflected by "trivial" matters such as the killing of a few dozen innocent civilians, of whatever race or nationality. Far from embarrassing the Indian government, this latest atrocity merely added weight to its demand that an end be put to "terrorism" and "foreign interference" (read Pakistani interference) in Kashmir. This blithely overlooks the little detail that predominantly Moslem Kashmir has been forcibly occupied by a foreign power--namely India--for the past 50 years, and that the said foreign power has consistently utilised the most violent terrorism against the population there.

Naturally, such details are of no concern to the Christian emissary from Washington, whose humanitarian credentials are well known from the wholesale bombing of Iraqi and Yugoslav civilians and the murder of half a million Iraqi children through sanctions. When confronted with humanitarianism on such a vast scale, the atrocities perpetrated by India in Kashmir appear as a children's game. Therefore, far better to concentrate on "our common interests" and the more serious matter of trade and money-making.

What India gained

From the Indian point of view, the Clinton visit was a spectacular success. In effect, Washington has changed horses in South Asia. From the standpoint of Realpolitik, if it comes to a choice between India and Pakistan, it is an open and shut case. Pakistan is much smaller than India, and also poorer. Thus, Clinton spent five days in India and only as many hours in Pakistan. This represents a significant shift in the USA's policy in South Asia.

In 1956 the US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, called India's position on non-alignment "immoral". As a matter of fact, India's "non-alignment" was merely a cover for a de facto alliance with Moscow. Now all that is past history. Since the fall of the USSR, India has moved to increased dependence on the USA and the world market. Under pressure from the IMF it has gradually opened its markets to foreign penetration. Parts of the economy have been privatised. Subsidies have been slashed. This process has been continued and deepened by the present coalition government led by the Hindu chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Despite all its nationalist and populist demagogy, the BJP government of Atal Behari Vajpayee has pursued a pro-capitalist policy which has led to a growing American penetration of the Indian economy.

India is a huge country, but most of the population live in conditions of poverty. Although it is the world's fifth largest economy in terms of purchasing power, it accounts for less than one per cent of world trade. However, despite the crushing backwardness in which the great majority of Indians live, there are pockets of development, such as the computer software industry. This is a classic example of what Marxists call the law of combined and uneven development. Thus, India's software exports are currently growing at a rate of 50 per cent a year, and about two-thirds of them go to the USA. There is a noticeable Indian presence in Silicon Valley. This has aroused the interest (read, greed) of the big US multinationals, always on the prowl for new markets and sources of surplus value (unpaid labour).

In an attempt to persuade India to reduce its tariffs still further and bind it firmly to the capitalist world market (and therefore to US imperialism), President Clinton has waived sanctions against India in the field of regional initiatives, on presidential initiative on the use of internet for economic development, the financial institution reform and expansion programme, and the United States Educational foundation in India. The White House said the two countries had also agreed to expand market access for more than 40 million dollars of key US agricultural exports to India.

Under the agreement--negotiated with the help of the World Trade Organization (WTO)--US exports will now face lower tariffs of up to 50 per cent on items such as almonds, orange juice, citrus and other fresh fruits. This is serious stuff! After all, India represents a big potential market for US goods. In the past, high tariffs were a serious barrier to trade. The Indians, for some strange reason, insisted on protecting their weak national industries against the overwhelming pressure of competition from American, Japanese and European producers. Now, with a little friendly prodding from Washington, they have agreed at least to begin opening up.

Such a miracle puts in the shade all the wonders of the Hindu pantheon. The biggest joke of all is that this miracle has been achieved under a government that prides itself on being ultra-nationalist. The Hindu chauvinists of the BJP have revealed themselves as the pathetic lackeys of US imperialism. But they will pay a price for their collaborationism. Once the reality dawns on the people of India in the form of massive factory closures, unemployment and cuts in subsidies, the mass base of the BJP will quickly deteriorate. In fact, this process has already begun.

The crisis of Indian capitalism means ever-increasing pressure on the masses, with new cuts and impositions. The BJP ruling coalition, forgetting all its earlier demagogy, has enthusiastically embraced the market. It has promised to open its markets and "roll back the state". But there is one part of the state which will not be rolled back, and will continue to receive lavish subsidies, while the subsidies on food, electricity and other basic necessities are cut to the bone. In both India and Pakistan, the military consumes a huge amount of the wealth of society. Playing on the antagonism that bedevils relationships between the two states, the army generals demand, and are given, billions of rupees that ought to be spent on health, food and education.

In reality, for all its posing as a neutral and peace-loving Third World country, India is really a weak imperialist power in South Asia, as is Turkey in Central Asia. India behaves in an imperialist manner, not only in Kashmir but in Nepal, Assam, Nagaland and other areas. It also has big ambitions in the whole area. It has been fighting a low-level proxy war with Pakistan for years, which has occasionally flared up into an all-out war. It is possible that this may now be repeated. Not for nothing did Clinton remark that South Asia is "the most dangerous place in the world right now".

Almost 30 per cent of India's national research and development funding goes to military projects and this is without the nuclear programme, which sucks up undeclared billions, DRDO has 52 laboratories draining away seemingly endless funds with hardly any workable major equipment to show for the money, and much of the extra $3 billion will go to these establishments. Enormous sums will continue to go down very deep drains, which is why nobody should worry about an extra $3 billion a year in India's defence budget. As one commentator put it: "It will buy hardly anything; not even pride." Nevertheless, while India is not in the same league as the USA, Russia or China in military might, it still remains a regional superpower which behaves in an imperialist fashion towards neighbouring states and peoples and is a constant threat to peace, in particular in its relation to Pakistan.

And what Pakistan lost

While striving to establish friendly relations with the ruling gang in New Delhi, the US President appeared before the Pakistani President in another role altogether: that of the stern headmaster, lecturing a badly-behaved schoolboy. Moreover, this severe lecture was directed above the head of President Musharaff to the entire Muslim world. In their infinite wisdom, the masters of US foreign policy chose Pakistan as a suitable location for this lecture. "It has symbolic value. Pakistan's neighbour, Afghanistan, is known to the west as a fundamentalist, anti-west country engaged in drug trafficking. It is a proper location and opportunity to send a message to Muslim nations," Washington based sources earnestly explained.

The Pakistan daily The Dawn commented acidly: "The Caliphate disappeared long ago, but the caliph's role is now played by Washington. No Muslim ruler, barring some exceptions, considers himself firmly in the saddle without recognition by the United States. More or less the same respect is shown by Muslim rulers, specially the corrupt ones, to emissaries of the president of the USA."

However, sometimes such visits produce unintended results and expedite the ruler's fall as happened in the case of Reza Shah Pehlavi, the king of kings, after Carter's visit to Tehran and his fulsome praise of the Shah. Ultimately, Clinton's visit will not achieve stability but, on the contrary, will enormously exacerbate the tensions and antagonisms that wrack the region.

Unfortunately, this kind of imperialist lecturing does not go down terribly well with public opinion in Moslem countries, who are uncomfortably reminded of their humiliating dependence upon imperialism. They are, after all, supposed to be sovereign states, and while, in reality, their dependence upon world imperialism is greater than at any time in history, it is not good politics to remind them of this in public. But then, American diplomats, like American generals, are famous for being unable to march and chew gum at the same time.

The signing of the "Vision Document" between Washington and New Delhi was interpreted in Islamabad as a dangerous move through which Pakistan will not only be economically but also politically marginalised. The document which seeks permanent links between the "two largest democracies" hopes to institutionalise the relations between the two countries. The "Vision" also envisages the creation of an India-US science and technology forum to promote joint research and development and technology transfers.

"As we have said, this represents a major shift in American policy in this part of Asia. Indeed, some foreign policy experts remarked that they could not recall the US ever entering into a similar treaty. However this is not a sudden development but the culmination of a process nurtured for over a decade which began with the demise of the Soviet Union and the reconstruction of the Indian economy", Dr. Tanvir Ahmed Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Institute of Strategic Studies told The News. "It is also a very important development for Asia and a very significant move to create a new balance of power in which India has been cast in a role to balance China. Also this union sees a great deal of co-operation on technology which is really the cutting edge of the document," Khan added.

These remarks go to the heart of the matter. Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, US imperialism has been reassessing its role on a world scale. During the period of the Cold War, Washington was compelled to build a series of alliances in order to contain the main enemy, the USSR. Under the rule of Congress, India attempted to balance between Russia and America, but in practice, tilted towards Russia--a fact that did not go down well in Washington. Having looked around for an alternative ally, the Americans soon found one ready and waiting in Pakistan. Following the time-honoured principle "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", Washington hastened to provide lavish amounts of arms and money for Islamabad. True, the Pakistanis had a habit of overthrowing democratically elected governments and setting up military dictatorships every so often. But this was an irrelevant consideration when compared to the main issue--the world-wide struggle against "Communism".

However, now all that has changed. The USSR no longer exists. As a result, India is no longer a client state of Moscow, although some links still exist. The antagonisms between Russia and America have re-emerged and are growing. (See The New World Disorder). Even the most myopic at the US Department of State can see the danger of a strategic rapprochement between Russia and China as an attempt to counter the power of US imperialism in the next period. It is equally clear that the next phase of this world-wide struggle of the Titans will be fought out in Asia--that most decisive area of the earth's surface.

The role of India in all this will be a factor of the first degree of importance. When, as seems inevitable, Russia moves closer to China, the resulting bloc will exercise a powerful pull on India, to the degree that its interests begin to clash with those of America over trade and other questions related to India's ambitions as a regional super-power in South Asia. It is therefore a matter of supreme importance to Washington to try to ensure that such a dangerous new realignment does not take place. This was undoubtedly the most important long-term element in Clinton's visit to New Delhi and the extraordinary lengths to which the Americans are going to appease the Indians.


The value of Pakistan to US imperialism in the past was graphically revealed by what happened in Afghanistan after 1979. The overthrow of the Doud regime and the coming to power of the Stalinists in Afghanistan completely transformed the situation in this sensitive area. It posed a direct threat to landlordism and capitalism in the neighbouring states, including Pakistan. The Americans reacted immediately, arming and financing the counter-revolution in Afghanistan. The so-called Mujahideen ("freedom fighters") were in reality a rag-bag of counter-revolutionary cut-throats and bandits, egged on by the mullahs, landlords and money-lenders. Without support, arms and money from the CIA and the Pakistan secret services, these gangsters could have never have succeeded in taking Kabul. The services of Pakistan in this murky affair were of inestimable value to the CIA. But with the elimination of the Stalinist regime in Kabul and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rules of engagement were fundamentally altered. The Taliban, with its repulsive mixture of reactionary politics and religious fanaticism, seized power in Kabul. But, like the sorcerer's apprentice in the old legend, the Taliban was pursuing its own agenda and was not prepared merely to dance to America's tune. Similarly, Pakistan had its own ideas about the future of the region. Islamabad is one of the very few regimes that recognise the Taliban (America does not). This is hardly surprising, since the origins of the Taliban are to be found in religious schools in Pakistan, which provided it with its main base of operations, guns, finance and military training. Officers of the Pakistan secret services were heavily involved in all this, even escaping from the control of the Pakistani authorities in the pursuit of all kinds of shady deals. The Taliban has always financed itself through drugs and arms smuggling, and many prominent Pakistanis have enriched themselves through this lucrative trade. To an ever increasing extent, Pakistan is dependent on the black economy that depends, above all, on drugs. Without this, its economy would simply collapse.

With the demise of the Soviet Union the Americans have been increasingly alarmed by the activities of the Taliban, which does not hesitate to promote Islamic fanatics like Osama Bin Ladin, the former Saudi millionaire who was active with the counter-revolutionary forces in Afghanistan, but has since launched on a new career against the infidels--this time the USA. Among other charming hobbies, he has developed a nice little sideline blowing up American embassies. Now, blowing up Russians in Kabul is one thing, but blowing up US citizens in Africa is another thing altogether! So while the CIA was quite happy to arm and finance Bin Ladin in Afghanistan, it has now put a price on his head. But, annoyingly, the Taliban have refused--at least to date--to hand him over.

One of Clinton's declared objectives on this trip was to secure support for "the fight against terrorism" (that is, the fight against those terrorists whose actions are inconvenient for the USA). In the words of one US security spokesperson, CIA chief George Tenet:

"The fact that we are arguably the world's most powerful nation does not bestow invulnerability; in fact, it may make us a larger target for those who don't share our interests, values or beliefs," Tenet stated in a prepared statement. "We must take care to be on guard, watching our every step and looking far ahead." (The News, 23/3/2000.)

Tenet gave voice to American concerns about instability in Asia: "He also warned that North Korea's sales of its military products over the years had dramatically 'heightened the missile capacity of countries such as India and Pakistan'.

"Not surprisingly, Tenet focused on Osama Bin Ladin as leading one of those groups seeking to develop or acquire biological and chemical weapons capabilities. He believed Osama had international networks, adding to uncertainty and the danger of a surprise attack." (Ibid.)

Finally, Tenet expressed his persisting concerns that antagonisms in South Asia can still produce "a more dangerous conflict between India and Pakistan", predicting "more intense engagements later this year". (Ibid.)

Thus, the perspective of the CIA for South Asia is increasing instability, conflict and wars. This is graphically shown by the situation in Afghanistan. Over two decades since the CIA plunged the country into a nightmare of war, the conflict still drags on. Afghanistan has been reduced to barbarism in the most literal sense of the word. The Taliban monsters rule in Kabul, and yet there is no end to the war. Even as Clinton was delivering his message of Peace in New Delhi, the rival factions were again building up for a new bout of hostilities in the North, where the main opposition to the Taliban is based. According to a UN official, Francese Vendrelli, the Taliban sees the chance of "a final military victory". But such confident predictions in the past have always led to nothing. Powerful external interests are at work to ensure that the government in Kabul does not succeed in consolidating its control.

Behind the scenes, Pakistan and India, America and Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia, are all involved to one degree or another. After all, Afghanistan remains a strategically important country, the destiny of which will affect the neighbouring countries, especially Pakistan and the even more unstable states of Central Asia, a region where the rivalry between Russia and America is acquiring an ever sharper and more explicit form. For the Russians, Indians and Iranians it is important that the opponents to the Taliban, organised in the Northern League, are not defeated. Indeed, Vendrelli believes that the Northern League "might wish to improve its military position and strengthen its negotiating position later on". (The News, 23/3/2000.)

The Americans must keep one eye on Afghanistan both because of its strategic importance and the fact that huge quantities of drugs are produced there and channelled to the West via Pakistan. This year there has been a bumper poppy harvest in Afghanistan, which means that huge quantities of heroin will pour onto the world market, making a mockery of the US's so-called anti-drug programme. The bulk of this filthy trade in human misery will flow through Pakistan, where it will further enrich the members of the ruling elite.

The Americans moan about the flood of drugs and the antics of Bin Ladin. But they conveniently forget that they themselves were responsible for these barbarities. Both the drug trade and Bin Ladin's terrorism were spawned and encouraged by the CIA. Now drugs, gun-running and Islamic fundamentalism threaten to destroy Pakistan. And all Clinton can think of is to curse the rulers of Pakistan and deliver them lectures on the need to make a stand against "terrorism". Since Pakistan is hovering on the brink of an economic, social and political abyss, from a capitalist point of view, this is irresponsibility verging on the frivolous.

The light-mindedness of the US foreign policy Establishment was again shown by Madelaine Albright, who would have been better given the name Madelaine Not-Too-Bright to judge from her performance on the stage of international diplomacy. One of the objectives of Washington in Pakistan is to secure an early return to civilian government and "democracy". Needless to say, this policy is not dictated by any tender concern towards the people of Pakistan. It is merely a reflection of the latest policy twist of US imperialism which, after its unfortunate experiences with General Noriega in Panama and Sadam Hussein in Iraq, has concluded that weak democratic governments are better instruments for its purpose than potentially awkward military dictatorships. But the blatant way in which America tried to put pressure on Pakistan to change its government is quite staggering. When Ms. Albright was asked by a Pakistani journalist what she thought General Musharaff could do if he stood down, she answered: "Well, he could always stand for election!" This is a really priceless gem! It has evidently escaped the attention of Ms. Albright and her advisers that General Musharaff, having violated the constitution by seizing power, would not be standing for election if he gave up power, but standing before a hangman's noose. This is a powerful argument against giving up power for the foreseeable future. It is also a good example of the extreme stupidity of the woman who stands at the head of the diplomacy of the world's most mighty nation.

Conditions of the masses

The hostile attitude of US imperialism towards the military regime in Islamabad also reflects a growing fear that it can provoke an explosion on the part of the masses. Since coming to power, the military have continued to carry out faithfully the dictates of the IMF: more pressure on the workers, more cuts, privatisation and downsizing. In December-February, the military reacted to a strike on the railways by arresting the strike leaders and closing the union's office. The army has placed its representatives alongside every civil servant to ensure higher productivity. During Clinton's visit, all street demonstrations were banned.

However, the limits of the army's power were shown by an incident that occurred shortly after the Clinton visit. An army officer beat up a worker in the railway workshop in Karachi. The railway workers reacted angrily with a lightning strike, whereupon the authorities backed down. The workers were demanding that the officer apologise and the army withdraw from railway premises. The officer offered to give an apology in private but the workers demanded--and finally got--a public apology. The army has now been withdrawn (at least for the time being) from the Karachi railway workshops. This little incident shows the explosive mood that exists just below the surface in Pakistan. The dictatorship--which has so far proceeded very cautiously in relation to the workers' movement--is like a pressure cooker with the safety valve clamped shut. They may temporarily avoid an explosion, but only by creating unbearable pressure that can explode in a violent and uncontrolled way later on. Hence the insistence of Clinton on the need for a speedy return to "democracy".

The economic situation and the position of the masses is deteriorating by the day. The government's decision to increase the prices of petroleum and its products by one to eleven per cent comes at a time when efforts are being made to revive the stagnant economic activity. In this latest hike the price of diesel has gone up from Rs.11.50 to Rs.12.80 per litre. The price of both regular and super petrol has gone up by 50 paisas, while light diesel oil will now cost Rs.10.45 per litre. Furnace oil is up by 5.04 per cent and will now be available at Rs.8,800 per ton. The furnace oil price, subject to revision every month, was also increased by 15 per cent last month, raising the cost of power generation accordingly. This brutal increase in the cost of oil will hit the poorest sections hardest.

The conditions of the masses of poor in Pakistan was graphically described in the following letter published in The Dawn, one of Pakistan's main English language dailies:

"I run a charity school in Dhoke Chaudarian in Rawalpindi, attended by children from the working class. I do not think any World Bank report with its statistics can provide even a glimpse of what poverty in Pakistan is like. I would like to share a few of my experiences from the last five years. The father of a child in the school sold his kidney to buy a plot (four marlas) of land. Another did the same to buy a TV and VCR. Stomach aches, when checked by the doctor, turned out to be hunger pangs. Most children in the school are underweight and undersized for their age.

"A few days ago a child, who had stolen money from the school, confessed his misdeed. Angry as I was, I told the parents that the monthly food ration to the family would be discontinued. The food ration meant a lot to the family of twelve that could not feed itself. The next day the mother brought the child to my house. He had been brutally beaten. The upper lip was slashed and swollen. There was so much blood on his face that I could not recognise him. He had been given electric shocks, a dip in hot water and from the wounds on his body and face, I could not tell if it had been a sharp stick or blade. The child said that he had lost the money on his way home. This is how compelling and heartrending poverty can be.

"The school provides free shoes, clothing and books which are invariably "lost". Only recently, the teachers found out through inquiries that these are sold for money, knowing that the school will replace the missing items. Because of drinking water shortages in summers, there are long queues for water in the school. A canister of water is bought in this area for five rupees and does not suffice for large families.

"My advice to donors would be to visit the homes of such people to see what real poverty is. How many people are helped by the seminars they organise on poverty alleviation in big hotels or the reports they write in air-conditioned offices?"

The chronic poverty of the masses, and the government's policy (dictated by the merciless pressure of the IMF) is stoking the fires of popular discontent that must sooner or later reach boiling point.

Chronic instability

Wherever one looks in Pakistan one sees growing social unrest and instability. Recently the American magazine Newsweek commented on the effects of the arms ban introduced by the military regime:

"Karachi is eerily quiet. The Pakistani military seems to have performed a minor miracle: cleaning up the violence that once ripped through this teeming port city. There have been no daylight gun battles between brazen sectarian armies recently. Even the warring factions of Karachi's Urdu speaking migrants from India, locked in vicious street rivalries, seem to be sure the lull will last," the magazine said. However, the report went on to say "That's because below the surface, Pakistan's largest city still simmers". The spectre of religious and communal violence still hangs over Pakistan. "Thousands of people have died violently in Karachi alone since the mid-1980s--and Pakistan's overall crime rate continues to rise. The country's Human Rights Commission says crime increased in 1999 in many categories--murder, kidnapping, robberies, sniper victims, bomb blasts. No one is safe".

To such a pass has the rule of the bourgeoisie reduced this potentially prosperous nation. The anarchy on the streets of Karachi is only the outward expression of the impasse of capitalism in Pakistan. Where large numbers of youths are condemned to unemployment, and where society offers no future to millions of poor people, the threat of communalism and ethnic and religious conflict threatens a descent into barbarism at every step. Nor is this phenomenon exclusive to Islam--as Western bigots like to maintain. We see the mirror image of this destructive fanaticism in India with the rise of Hindu fundamentalism, reflected in the BJP and even more sinister movements like the Shiv Sena and the RSS.

If the working class does not put itself at the head of the nation and begin the transformation of society on socialist lines, the forces of communal and religious fanaticism can drag both India and Pakistan down the infernal path of mutual slaughter and barbarism, with the most horrific consequences for both peoples.


It is ironic that the military in Pakistan claims to stand for a clean regime with no corruption. In fact, the state itself is one of the main sources of corruption, backed up by violence and coercion. It is equally ironic that Western leaders like Tony Blair should point an accusing finger at the military dictatorship in Pakistan, when it was precisely the British who introduced the coercive laws which are still used as the basis for oppressive rule today.

The British colonial regime introduced the Police Act in India, modelled on the Irish Constabulary, where the primary task of the police was to crush a public uprising against British rule. The police act in Pakistan is also an unchanged replica of the Irish Constabulary model, left virtually untouched despite the changes brought about by the passage of time. As a result, Pakistan has been saddled for 50 years with a police system which is not designed to protect the citizen against crime, but to keep down the masses. In 1902 the Fraser Commission report into the state of the police described the colonial police regime as "abominably coercive and repressive". And that very system remains in place in Pakistan today.

The bourgeois state in Pakistan--and India--is a monstrous dead-weight on the shoulders of the masses. It is a source of corruption and waste that sucks the blood of the poor and squanders billions on military expenditure and the privileges of the army elite. The inability of the bourgeoisie to solve the most pressing problems of society has created an extremely dangerous and unstable situation. On both sides of the artificial frontiers established by British imperialism at the time of Independence, two unstable regimes are facing each other. In Pakistan the weak and corrupt "democracy" of Nawaz Sharif has been replaced by the weak and corrupt military regime of Purvez Musharaff, while in India, the shaky coalition of right wing forces led by the BJP is being undermined by a series of devastating electoral defeats and internal conflicts.

Given this concatenation of circumstances, the Clinton trip notwithstanding, it is not at all ruled out that India and Pakistan may yet come to blows, possibly before the end of this year. Despite all the pressure from Washington, the temptation to drum up once again the spectre of the "enemy without" may prove irresistible. The excuses--as ever--will be the long-suffering people of Kashmir. But that is merely a fig-leaf. The interests of the people of Kashmir are just so much small change in the cynical power politics of Islamabad and New Delhi.

It is, however, not likely that matters will be allowed to go so far as an exchange of nuclear weapons. The consequences would be too catastrophic for both sides. History has shown that it is quite possible for India and Pakistan to stage a limited war, which, while solving nothing, can serve the ruling cliques as a useful safety valve to distract the attention of the masses.

But no matter how they twist and turn, the bankrupt ruling classes of India and Pakistan cannot put off the reckoning with the masses forever. Once the poisonous fumes of chauvinism begin to clear, the workers and peasants will come face to face with the central problems of their lives: not where an imaginary line is drawn on a map, not how to conquer the Moslems or the Hindus, but how to conquer bread, clothing and shelter. The present crisis between India and Pakistan is merely the distorted image of the crisis of capitalism which has led both countries into a terrible blind alley. Only the proletariat can show the way out of this blind alley, through the revolutionary transformation of society, which in turn must sweep away that shameful dividing line that separates brother from brother and sister from sister. The capitalists have failed and betrayed India and Pakistan for 50 years and now threaten to drag both countries into war. The masses will come to understand that the false flag of chauvinism is only a convenient disguise for the capitalist robbers and exploiters. It is necessary to tear aside the disguise, defeat the robbers and raise the only banner that can unite the peoples and lead them to victory: that of the proletarian revolution and socialist internationalism.