Dec 3, 2001
Pakistan is one of keys to the future of the Middle East not only because of the size of its population (140 million people) but because of the ethnic ties that exist with the people of Afghanistan. And yet the U.S. media gives few details about the ongoing demonstrations in Pakistan against the war in Afghanistan. We have to get news indirectly be reading the less-censored press from other countries.
A significant demonstration took place on November 9. This was the date chosen two weeks earlier by the Council for the Defense of Pakistan and Afghanistan, an organization which groups together 35 different Islamic and fundamentalist organizations, for a general strike and blockade of all traffic. At first the government responded to this call by arresting a number of fundamentalist leaders. But this was to no avail. Finding himself probably unable, and certainly not ready to engage in an outright confrontation with the fundamentalists, the dictator of Pakistan, General Musharaf instead used some obscure legal reference to declare this very same day a national holiday ... in honor of a Pakistani poet, Igbal.
This did not stop the strike from becoming a new demonstration of strength by the fundamentalist parties. Small shop keepers, business owners and artisans who dominate commerce and transportation followed the call for the strike in a number of cities, including most importantly Karachi, as well as throughout the Baluchistan region, which borders Afghanistan on the south. Even if a number of these “strikers” participated out of fear of reprisals by the fundamentalists if they didn’t do so, the fact that so many cities were paralyzed was a new success for the fundamentalist parties. This was despite the fact that the police were mobilized in mass to “encourage” the shopkeepers, transporters and businessmen not to shut down. Obviously, the result shows that these people found the fundamentalists more convincing than the police!
Three days earlier, the first national demonstration against the war called by anti-clerical groups took place in Rawalpindi (the twin city to the capital of Islamabad, and itself the fourth largest city in the country). This demonstration was called by the Alliance for Peace and for Justice, a legal coalition of hundreds of local unions, of left and extreme left-wing organizations whose militants function under the name of other “civic” associations which provide a legal cover for their activity. Eight thousand demonstrators took to the streets of the city to denounce both the dictatorship of Musharaf and the fundamentalists and to call for an end to the bombing in Afghanistan.
Without doubt, this demonstration was small in comparison to those called by the fundamentalists in the last weeks. Without doubt, the tone of the demonstration was set by organizations, including the three different communist parties in Pakistan, that prefer to speak in the name of pacifism rather than clearly to fight in the name of the mass of the poor people, Pakistani and Afghan.
But at least the participants in this demonstration made the choice not to let the fundamentalists be the only voice of opposition to the war. One can only hope that in the future many more voices will make themselves heard, going beyond the framework of pacifism to propose a revolutionary and class-based radicalism to the pseudo-radicalism of the fundamentalists.