Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the Labour Party of Pakistan, visited London on 25 January and spoke to Faz Velmi from Action for Solidarity about the political situation in Pakistan after the Afghanistan war and the activity and views of the LPP.
Most of the fundamentalists in Pakistan are quite frustrated and bitter by the Taliban's defeat. They saw the Taliban leaders run away from Kabul and Kandahar, and leave the Pakistani and Libyan Taliban to be butchered.
Some administrative measures against the fundamentalists have been taken by the Musharraf regime, but as long as the economic agenda of the IMF and the World Bank is going on, creating a lot of unemployment, more fundamentalism will be promoted. The root cause of fundamentalism is the social conditions in Pakistan. So the depressed feeling among the fundamentalists in Pakistan may be momentary.
Musharraf has banned two fundamentalist groups, and the LPP has supported banning. In Britain - I know the conditions are different, but the basic arguments seem similar - we have opposed calls for the government to ban fascist groups, because we don't want to strengthen the state.
It had been our demand in the past, to ban the terrorist groups promoting fundamentalism. At first Musharraf's measures gave us a relieved feeling, it was the first time in 25 years there had been some measures by the state against fundamentalism. Later we analysed the situation and came to the conclusion that administrative suppression was insufficient to end fundamentalism. We could not be in favour of Musharraf's measures.
We demand the repeal of the blasphemy laws, that make women half of men; the Islamic Ideological Council; and the parallel system of law, sharia, should be removed. The measures Musharraf has adopted, of suppression and banning , deal with only one little aspect of the whole problem.
Musharraf also praised the madrassas, the religious schools. There are 35,000 madrassas in Pakistan, with over a million students. They are a breeding ground for fundamentalism. There is less than 10% literacy in Pakistan. These madrassas are not making people literate. Religious education is not helping society to flourish economically, socially and politically. We demand all the madrassas should be taken over by the state and nationalised. The teachers should be given government jobs, a normal curriculum should be established.
What about the planned elections in October?
Around 400 seats have been declared, with more seats for women and more seats for national minorities. There is a joint electorate - which was our demand - rather than a separate electorate for non-Muslims. But we think the army intend to install a puppet civil government to work under Musharraf. They have created a new party, the National Democratic Party; are promoting one wing of the Muslim League which has broken from Nawaz Sharif, the Awami National Party from the Frontier Province, and one section of the MQM. They plan to bring in their own people through this alliance. Last year they reformed the local government elections - making 33% of the seats for women, and so on. But we don't think these measures make Musharraf a progressive dictator. He is doing them to please the Western media.
Under the cover of the political reforms, Musharraf is pushing his anti-worker economic agenda - the agenda of the IMF and the World Bank. He is promoting privatisation and downsizing; General Sales Tax has been imposed; the trade borders of Pakistan have been lowered, and the market opened to be looted by the international monopolies.
What does the LPP say about Kashmir and the threat of war between India and Pakistan?
A real danger of war is still there. By attacking Afghanistan, American imperialism has created a new argument - that whenever there is conflict it should be solved by military means. Vajpayee, the prime minister of India, uses the same language as Bush. Vajpayee party, the BJP, is Hindu chauvinist. The war has been a very good opportunity for him to use anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan demagogy.
Twice recently we have made fact-finding missions, along with journalists, to the Pakistan-India border, to areas around Lahore. We found most of the villagers and peasants there, contrary to the government account, do not want any war. In the cities, too, there is an overwhelming wish for peace. It is the first time that there has been an overwhelming majority in Pakistan against war. It was not the same in 1965 and 1971.
Some credit must go to the LPP policy of initiating a peace movement in Pakistan. We had a big demonstration on 31 December. We took 2,000 people to the border area. We were beaten up by police, but that demonstration had a massive effect in the 75 villages around the border.
The LPP is for an independent Kashmir - the right of self-determination for the Kashmiri masses, independent of Pakistan and India. We demand an immediate end to state brutality on both sides, and the withdrawal of both the Pakistani and the Indian armies. The Pakistani state has been using the fundamentalist jihad in Kashmir to make the Kashmiri national struggle a religious struggle. But it is not a religious struggle. Unfortunately the Indian left have not come out very clearly for an independent Kashmir. They want more autonomy for Kashmir within the limits of the Indian state. The Kashmiri masses have rejected this again and again, by not participating in elections and so on. We want a plebiscite, to be held under committees of the Kashmiri masses, not the UN.
We have not been able to have face to face meetings with the Indian left. We have contact - by email - with the Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist, who support autonomy and oppose Indian state terrorism and war between India and Pakistan. We invited the CPI ML leaders to our congress last year but they couldn't come. It is harder to go from Lahore to Delhi than to London. We are in contact with an Indian Trotskyist group associated with the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, but they are far from the border areas and are not very big or influential. They are for an independent Kashmir.
Some people have criticised the LPP for being too tied up with NGOs.
We take part in a Joint Action Committee for People's Rights, which includes 28 large NGOs in Lahore and three political parties, the LPP, the National Workers' Party, and the Christian National Party. There has been a division in the social movement in Pakistan on how much we should oppose fundamentalism and how much we should oppose American imperialism. In their hatred against fundamentalism - most of these NGOs have been attacked by fundamentalists, who have burned down their offices - some NGOs favoured a measured attack on Afghanistan by American imperialism. We totally opposed that and were able to create some sort of balance in the movement.
We attack fundamentalism, but we also oppose American aggression in Afghanistan. The USA is not the force that will stop fundamentalism. It has promoted it in the past, and is opposing it now only for the sake of revenge and its prestige.
Our aim is to intervene in the social movement and polarise it on class lines. We are a small party. If we had a mass party in Pakistan, then most of these NGOs would have joined the Labour Party and campaigned through it. Because of the lack of an alternative mass left force, the NGOs have played a part. At least people in their outreach are not fanatics. They promote liberalism, that is basic democratic, human values.
Now the LPP can go much further. We have 70 elected councillors, and 2,600 members with maybe 500 activists. All around the country we have people coming into our offices daily to sign forms and join the LPP.
We want to form an electoral left alliance. We are talking to the National Workers' Party. We quit the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy. We demand: no privatisation; nationalise all the privatised industries and the large monopolies; no downsizing in the public sector - over 100,000 public employees' jobs have been lost in the last two years; a minimum wage of 7,000 rupees; a drastic cut in the defence budget; don't pay the foreign debt.
There have been important peasant struggles recently. We are supporting peasants in a struggle over land with the army for 68,000 families 10,000 peasants. After the big rally, the army went on the offensive, killed people, burned down houses, and used axes to cut the legs of cows and buffaloes so as to drive the peasants off the land.