Special report from Pakistan: Working women spearhead resistance to U.S. war, religious fundamentalism and the Musharraf dictatorship

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The war is about control of resources. Photo by Ian Storey.

The Pentagon and its propaganda mouthpiece, CNN, would have us believe that the U.S.-led war against Afghanistan is between the “free world” and the Taliban. The U.S. government struts around as a liberator and brings out “First Lady” Laura Bush to justify the destruction of Afghanistan because of the Taliban’s horrific sexism. That the CIA spent $6 billion in the region throughout the 1980s to recruit, fund and train rightwing Islamic fundamentalists — including Osama bin Laden — to fight against the Soviet-backed People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan is erased from the news scripts. Washington showed no concern for Afghan women when its Cold War strategy paved the way for the repressive, misogynist Taliban rulers. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan warns that “The Northern Alliance will horribly intensify the ethnic and religious conflicts and will never refrain from fanning the fire of another brutal and endless civil war in order to retain its power.” Images from the war zone show opposition to the war coming only from Muslim fundamentalist men. But Left feminists from inside give a different picture. Because women shoulder the heaviest consequences of the war, they are its fiercest resisters. Simy Gulzar, General Secretary of the Working Women’s Organisation of Pakistan, reveals the war’s impact on the people of Pakistan and what is needed to stop it.

Uncle Sam: wanted for terrorism. The Working Women’s Organisation (WWO) condemns Bush’s so-called war against terrorism. Of course, no one can defend a terrorist act. But the question is: who decides what is “terrorism”? In Palestine, thousands of innocent people are being murdered by Israel, but imperialist powers do not call this terrorism because they are involved in the butchery. Why is the U.S.’s plundering of Iraq, Vietnam, North Korea, Somalia or Rwanda — where millions have been killed — not called terrorism? Or “free trade” and privatisation policies which deprive working people of the means to live and force children to work so their families can survive? Or explosions in unsafe factories that kill untold thousands of workers?

The war in Afghanistan is part of the “New World Order” imposed by George Bush Senior more than a decade ago. Capitalist globalisation through the free market economy and privatisation, rampant unemployment and the pending destruction of human civilisation are its “benefits.”

The U.S. government brought the Taliban and Osama bin Laden to power as a bulwark against the former Soviet Union. Bush Junior is now using the tragedy of September 11 as the reason to destroy them. There is ample evidence that Washington DC had been planning to get rid of the Afghan regime well before then.

What, then, is behind the “war against terrorism”? The main objective is to control the region’s natural resources and eliminate the progressive workers’ movement worldwide. Through this war, imperialist powers are trying to divert people’s attention away from the anti-worker policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB). Today’s legislation against terrorism will certainly be used against the movements of radical workers and people who are agitating against the IMF, WB and World Trade Organisation (WTO). This is a war by corporate capitalism to protect itself from the tremendous threat of workers’ massive demonstrations.

Women are the greatest casualties. The U.S.-led war coalition has promised Pakistan enormous aid for supporting the war drive, but this is only lip service. The war is badly affecting the working class all over the world. Since September 11 and the American attack on Afghanistan, the economic situation in Pakistan has become critical. Businesses have closed down, all airlines have stopped flying into Pakistan and export orders have been cancelled, especially in the garment, soccer ball and carpet industries. Almost 70,000 workers have lost their jobs.

For women, the situation is especially desperate. In the garment sector, for example, 30,000 are now unemployed — most are women. Rising inflation is pushing up the price of staple commodities and utilities. Before the Afghan war, we could buy one kilo of potatoes with 10 rupees; now we pay 30 rupees. High food prices, the running down of health facilities, shelter and education, and general insecurity are hitting women hard. Violence against women is on the increase.

Radical movement on the firing line. The war is damaging the left movement in Pakistan. Forty-five percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and people are fighting just to survive. Mass unemployment is weakening trade unions through the loss of membership.

The Afghan war has made it easy for the government to accuse trade unions as terrorists and ban them. It has already done this in the postal, banking and national airline sectors and is now trying to crush workers’ organising in the railways.

The Musharraf dictatorship is giving the United States a free hand over Pakistan’s economy and policies. American secret services control our airports and shipping yards. They are keeping an eye on people who raise their voices against the U.S. and its attack on Afghanistan.

The U.S. and Islamic right wing describe the war in Afghanistan as a religious war. In Pakistan, Islamic extremists are exploiting people’s justified anger against America. It is a very difficult time for the radical workers’ movement to cut through the mist of religion and educate how it is being used as cover for imperialism. We have a great task to convince working people that the war is really over control of the Middle East, and its aim is to break workers’ unity.

Resist! WWO condemns the exploitation of September 11 to promote war, racial hatred and attacks on civil liberties. The tragedy has been used by governments to destroy people’s democratic, trade union and economic rights and to push forward the privatisation and deregulation offensive of the multinational corporations.

In two rallies organised by the WWO against the U.S. war drive, workers voiced their solid opposition. We also held press conferences and forums to highlight the war’s impact on working people, especially women in Pakistan, Afghanistan and around the world.

WWO is involved in an anti-war coalition of women’s, workers’ and human rights organisations. Our analysis of U.S. warmongering has received very positive response. We’ve exposed Washington’s hypocrisy in using the Taliban’s U.S.-backed oppression of women as an excuse for moving against Afghanistan. Only the solidarity and struggle of a united, international workers’ movement will free our Afghan sisters — not U.S. bombings!

No capitalism, no war. This solidarity in action must be anti-capitalist. Bush’s war can only be stopped by the globalisation of workers’ struggle against corporate rule. Theory and planning on our part is crucial: we workers must know our enemy and its strategies of exploiting and dividing us. Capitalists are very clever; we must be cleverer.

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