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Pakistan's poor caught in the middle

The political and moral crisis wracking Pakistan in the wake of the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer concentrates all the ills of our 21st century world – but also demonstrates the need for a revolutionary alternative.

Divisions have reached civil war proportions over Taseer’s violent death in Islamabad’s fashionable Kohsar Market. Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) activists and opponents of religious fanaticism plus campaigners for democratic and economic rights are mourning Taseer as a courageous and cultured hero. He was close to the persecuted Bhutto family and suffered imprisonment when Pakistan was under martial law.

On the other side, Mumtaz Qadri, Taseer’s assassin, has a Facebook page dedicated to him and supporters are rallying for his release, showering him with rose petals as he gets taken to and from court. Qadri shot the man he was supposed to protect over 27 times because Taseer wanted to amend Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws.

But the religious powder keg could blind us to the deeper contradictions that are dividing the country. Nuclear-armed Pakistan is considered a frontline ally of America, sharing as it does, a long border with eastern Afghanistan, the stronghold of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.

But the billions in military and civilian aid poured in by the Obama administration have failed to achieve either economic improvement or military success. The frustrations of millions of poverty-stricken people in the country are summed up by comments given to a reporter by Arif Fasiullah, 35, from the central city of Multan: "There is no electricity, no gas, no jobs, and they are fighting one another. They do not pass any legislation. They just do dirty politics."

Pakistan, with a population of more than 180 million, faces chronic power failures that can last up to 16 hours per day in some areas during the scorching summer, and up to a third of its people lack access to clean drinking water. Average income per capita is less than $3,000 a year, and most adults have less than five years of schooling.

The International Monetary Fund, which has provided Pakistan with billions of dollars in loans to keep its economy afloat, has demanded the country implement significant changes, including deep cuts to its deficit and a revised general sales tax. These have proved highly unpopular.

Even as you read this, US war planes are continuing drone attacks on north-west Pakistan, which have killed four people in the last 24 hours, with a hundred raids carried out in 2010. Despite all the dollars and US efforts to keep Pakistan onside in the so-called war against terror, the relationship between the US spy agency, the CIA and Pakistan’s equally sinister Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) has reached an all-time low.

It is the economic crisis of global capital which sparked the IMF’s demand that the government raise taxes. That led to an increase in petrol prices (since withdrawn) plus the sacking of a minister that caused the collapse of the parliamentary coalition just before the crisis over Taseer’s murder.

No wonder that reactionary religious leaders seek to cash in on the cruel suffering of the majority. Those seen as favouring “western democracy” and supporting “the war against terror” can be rightly be denounced as maintaining the rule of a rich and corrupt elite while others suffer.

Neither the secular bourgeois “westernisers”, nor the military nor the Muslim establishment can take Pakistan an inch forward or resolve the extreme poverty that affects the majority. The development of a secular leadership campaigning for People’s Assemblies to challenge for political power is the issue of the day.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
7 January 2011

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