“Taliban are looters and murderers,” cries Rajmeena, a mother who has been forced out of her home in Mingora, the largest city in north Pakistan’s Swat Valley. “They have killed many women who went out in the market without the company of a male relative. We want to go back to our homes; we want Taliban, Army and America out of our beautiful Swat!”
In just the few months since the U.S. intensified the conflict, bombs and missiles from all sides have made nearly three million human beings refugees. The three forces are destroying sections of Pakistan – and sparking resistance.
Under extremely difficult conditions, angry women, workers, peasants and farm workers are speaking out and organizing. Trotskyist groups are counteracting religious and state repression with education, militant activism and now, refugee aid. They are asking for solidarity and help.
U.S. imperialism’s tangled web.
The United States is intent on controlling South Asia because it is a pathway to the Far East for oil and other commodities. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly admits that the U.S. encouraged the Taliban brand of Islamic fundamentalism in the 1980s to provide proxy fighters against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
Pakistan was deeply immersed in the U.S.’s anti-Soviet offensive. The CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) worked hand in glove doing counter-insurgency dirty work, “in cahoots” with the Taliban and its friends who later became Al Qaeda.
Then came 9/11. The U.S. suddenly discovered that in fostering the rise of the Taliban, which had sheltered Al Qaeda, it had created a monster. The U.S. temporarily drove the Taliban out of most of Afghanistan and into hiding – in Pakistan. The result was to give the Taliban a foothold in northern Pakistan.
Now, a new White House is expanding the Afghan war and pressing the Pakistan government to clip the power of the Taliban. This is a tall order. On the one hand, the Pakistan government needs money and weapons from the U.S. On the other, powerful army officers are still in league with the Taliban, which controls much of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). And the government just reached an agreement to share power with the fundamentalists in the Swat Valley area of the NWFP!
Under cover of piety and anti-imperialist rhetoric, the Taliban has wreaked fear and death in the region. Women have been hit the most viciously, with the revival of honor killings, stoning deaths and beatings. And everyone dies from Taliban missiles and suicide bombs.
The United States shells from drone planes piloted by people at computers thousands of miles away. Such aircraft have been used since 2001, but they fly a hundred times more frequently now.
The Pakistani army also supposedly targets Taliban “insurgents.” Actually, residents of cities and villages bear the brunt of attacks. Taliban training camps, newspapers, and charities in other parts of the country remain entirely intact.
The fundamental causes of this human disaster are the underdevelopment and brutal poverty created by European colonialism, and now enforced by imperialism.
Sixty years of exploitation.
Pakistan was only created in 1947. When the British Empire crumbled during World War II, Britain partitioned Pakistan from India to create a Muslim state. This division caused the forced migration of 20 million people – Muslims to Pakistan, Hindus and Sikhs to India. It led to the massacre of up to 1.5 million people. Though largely Muslim, Pakistan is profoundly multi-ethnic, with 80 languages spoken.
Its economy is a mix of feudal and modern agriculture, manual and factory production. Ruling class corruption has flourished during Pakistan’s many military dictatorships and few “democratic” regimes. Foreign capitalists have helped themselves to the country’s resources, including abundant natural gas. Just two or three percent of the working class is unionized, and child labor and bond labor are widespread. Barely 50 percent of the population is literate, and only a third of women.
Pakistan has been on the brink of economic collapse for years and is now caught in the International Monetary Fund debt trap. Poverty has soared since the 1990s, especially in districts where the Taliban dominates. Rightwing Islam has failed dismally to improve conditions, yet is skilled at looting resources and profiting from Afghan drug trafficking. It terrorizes women and ethnic and religious minorities, destroys girls’ schools, and trains boys through brutal treatment to be thugs and suicide bombers. Under the Taliban, “No schools, no market, no out-of-door activity – that is the lives of women,” says Rehana of the Women Workers Help Line organization.
Political and social resistance.
Conditions were hard enough before the heavy bombing erupted. Now they are even more dangerous – and more urgent.
In April a cell phone video sped through the country showing two men in Swat Valley holding down a 17-year-old girl, while a third man flogged her with a cane. The entire nation was outraged – a turning point in popular perception of Taliban rule.
The Trotskyist Labor Party Pakistan (LPP) immediately called a demonstration in Karachi. Other protests burst out, demanding equal rights for women, and immediate repeal of all discriminatory laws.
Also in April, the peasant union, in collaboration with LPP, organized a 30,000-strong convention to demand land reform throughout the province of Punjab, which borders on the NWFP.
Thousands of women attended, wearing no veils and tolerating no religious restrictions. Muslim and Christian men and women organized and attended the event, and sat together. Newly formed village committees, led by women, have radicalized a peasants’ movement that includes tenant farmers and agricultural workers.
Eighty percent of Pakistan’s labor force is in the informal sector, which works at home. Women, segregated by law and tradition, predominate in this area. But with help and political education from the Women Workers Help Line, associated with the LPP, they have organized the first home workers union, improved working conditions, and mounted political protests.
LPP is also involved in factory labor struggles, as is another Trotskyist group, the Pakistan Trade Union Defense Campaign (PTUDC). Both have led significant labor offensives and run refugee camps in NWFP. Both promote open socialist, secular politics.
An appeal for help.
LPP’s Labor Relief Campaign has publicized an urgent request for donations to fund its aid efforts and to expand political education. Its newspaper, Mazdoor Jeddojuhd, the only leftwing weekly in Pakistan, currently publishes weekly in Urdu and monthly in Pushto, the language of NWFP. It now seeks to come out weekly in Pushto. For more information on how to help, contact www.lef.org.pk/LRC.htm.
U.S. out of South Asia! Down with Islamist fanaticism! For freedom and socialism in Pakistan!