Read the latest issues of Solidarity here online or by downloading the PDF below. Browse back isssues or support Solidarity by subscribing to our newspaper.
On Monday 5 January Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab (Pakistan's largest province) and a former Pakistani People's Party MP was shot 27 times by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri in Islamabad. Taseer was killed by Qadri because of his support for the reform of the long established blasphemy law which has led to people being incarcerated for insulting the prophet Muhammed.
The shooting is the latest symptom of the rise of religious conservatism and right-wing radicalism in Pakistan, and Islamist attempts to rid the country of what they call 'Western extremism'. In fact Pakistan already has some of the world's most draconian laws regarding religious freedom and the right of expression.
Last November a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, was sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws (the sentence has not yet been carried out). At the time Taseer went to visit her to express solidarity; on his return home he was met by an Islamist mob, burning an effigy and calling for his death.
In the immediate aftermath of the murder, Qadri was hailed as a martyr and people gathered to shower him with rose petals as he was led to court. Facebook groups and blogs praised him for his act and Pakistani news featured vox pops of young Pakistani's supporting him, some going as far as to say that they wished they had done it themselves.
Many right-wing religious leaders either failed to comment or, in some cases, claimed that he got what he deserved. Many of his colleagues refused to support him when he was alive, with Pakistan’s legal minister refusing to even contemplate reforming the blasphemy laws and President Zadari backing down on an earlier suggestion he might pardon Aasia Bibi under
pressure from the conservative dominated Lahore high-court and the mullahs.
Farooq Tariq of the socialist Labour Party Pakistan said: “The blood of Salman Taseer should not go in vain. Pakistan People’s Party should abandon all policies to please the religious fanatics. There should be a resolute fight back against the Mullahs who want Pakistan to become another Taliban control country.”
Pakistani workers cannot rely on their own government to defend and increase democratic rights - they are far too willing to acquiesce to the demands of the mullahs and the continuing 'talibanisation' of the country in order to preserve their rule. But nor should they put their faith in those politicians like Taseer who do the decent thing and stand up for secularism – the man was a wealthy businessman who made a lot of money out of the exploitation of Pakistani workers.
The growing support for Islamism within Pakistan can and will only be curbed by a working-class alternative. But in order for this to be realised foundations of secularism and democratic rights must be maintained and extended. This means defending secularist politicians like Taseer while simultaneously fighting for socialist solutions to the chronic poverty and exploitation so ably exploited by Islamism. Our first priority must be solidarity with socialists, secularists, women's rights activists and the labour movement in Pakistan.
Perhaps this piece was written in a hurry, but a couple of small words seem a little odd.
'The growing support for Islamism within Pakistan can and will only be curbed by a working-class alternative. But in order for this to be realised foundations of secularism and democratic rights must be maintained and extended. This means defending secularist politicians like Taseer while simultaneously fighting for socialist solutions to the chronic poverty and exploitation so ably exploited by Islamism.'
It is true that the Islamicist extremism that underlies the assassination of Tazeer and the use of blasphemy acts can only be undercut by the development of socialist politics. However, the word 'but' implies that the fight for secularism and democratic rights is not part of those politics, but something separate. Similarly, the word 'while' can mean 'at the same time as', or suggesting a contrast between one half of a sentence and the other, the latter of which implies the same separation.
This is not an argument over grammatical precision. One of the main problems with politics in such countries as Pakistan is that things that are part of a programme of liberal reforms, such as freedom of speech, religious freedom, and so on, are often see by many poor people as part of a middle-class or upper-class racket, because those promoting them are also often proponents of neo-liberal economic policies that hit hard upon workers and poor farmers.
I am not familiar with Tazeer's politics (these, strangely, have not been discussed in the press reports I have read), but he was associated with a party that is infamous for its close relations with large-scale landowners and widespread corruption, and for promoting big-business policies. Mainstream politics in Pakistan are synonymous with corruption and big-business interests. Even if Tazeer was clean, his party colleagues often are not. It is easy, therefore, for religious obscurantists and their right-wing political allies to promote an identification between calls for secular reforms and corrupt political practices and neo-liberal economic policies, in order to discredit secular reforms and to popularise the ideas that they are part of an attack upon poorer people in Pakistan.
Surely it is essential to point out that unless the call for secular reforms are part of a programme that attacks corruption, defends workers and poor farmers, defends and extends civil rights, proposes not only religious and national but social equality -- in short, is an integral part of a socialist programme, and not some sort of bolt-on extra -- right-wing and religious demagogues will be able to write off secular reforms as an alien implantation. Socialists should not only reject neo-liberal policies as an attack upon the poorer parts of society, but also explain that they actually undermine the quest for secular reforms.
Religious obscurantism cannot be fought by any sort of alliance with politicians who are corrupt or who favour policies that operate only in the interests of big business and large landowners, any more than the latter can be defeated by an alliance with the former. Working-class independence is essential here; and the call for secular reforms are part of that independence.
"Pakistani workers cannot rely on their own government to defend and increase democratic rights - they are far too willing to acquiesce to the demands of the mullahs and the continuing 'talibanisation' of the country in order to preserve their rule. But nor should they put their faith in those politicians like Taseer who do the decent thing and stand up for secularism – the man was a wealthy businessman who made a lot of money out of the exploitation of Pakistani workers. "
I think it's clear that the author of the article is not in favour of a popular front.