Vijay Prashad’s Uncle Swami, a review

Vijay Prashad, Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today

New Press, 2012

That south Asians in the US face Islamophobia and racism was made clear on August 5th of this year when Wade Michael Page, a white supremacist who was being tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center, entered a Gurudwara in Oak Creek, WI and killed 7 people, most of them Sikhs.  While the media went into overdrive trying to convince everyone that this was a “mistake,” that the real targets were Muslims and not Sikhs, as if this was supposed to be some consolation to anyone, it was quite clear that the problem was in fact the long and persistent demonization of Islam and the omnipresent xenophobia to which all immigrants are subject.

Sikhs were attacked not because Page mistook them for Muslims, but because Muslims, in general, are seen as a fifth column in the US.  As a result, anyone who happens to look like them becomes necessarily a casualty of the racism that has been mobilized against Muslims in general.  Even though the media attempted to portray this as the consequence of individual ignorance or misrecognition, the events of Oak Creek are better understood as the result of widespread propaganda which cautions fear by arguing that all Muslims are possible terrorists.

But Sikhs in the US are victims of Islamophobia in different ways than are Muslims, and that was at least part of the reason that the massacre at Oak Creek happened.  So desperate are non-Muslim immigrants to prove their American loyalty that they repeat the humiliating refrain over and over again—“But we are not Muslims!”—in the hopes that this will relieve some of the pressures that they face.  South Asians become mascots of Team Docile Immigrant and then are pitted against Arabs and Muslims (even though many South Asians are Muslims) in the never-ending process of racializing “terrorism.”

The production of “good” or “model” minorities in the United States has always been connected to a process of isolating the “bad” or “criminal” races.  If from the 1970s to the 1990s South Asians were seen as the ideal immigrant population (hardworking, law-abiding, upwardly mobile), it was because that depiction of them was convenient as a stick with which to beat African Americans and Latinos in the US.  Today, it is convenient for the Global War on Terror.

One more thing went unnoticed, though.  Unlike Muslims and Arabs who are subject to intense scrutiny by law enforcement and are asked to make themselves available to intelligence agencies all the time, Sikhs have not been subject to state surveillance.  Law enforcement agencies have undergone countless hours of training in learning how to deal with Muslims and the issues that surround Muslim communities (not all of this learning has been salutary, one has to add), but this has not extended to learning about or reaching out to the myriad other communities that are affected by the twin problems of Islamophobia and anti-terrorism.

One of the strange consequences of this is that while most mosques have video and security equipment installed outside and have direct lines to law enforcement agencies, most Gurudwaras do not.  In some ways, then, the attacks on Gurudwaras and Sikhs are not mistakes: they happen because Sikhs are vulnerable and visible in ways that most Muslims have learned not to be.  One needs to add, though, that countless mosques are routinely attacked and vandalized with almost no media attention; the singular and exceptional focus on Oak Creek is one more indication of how much Islamophobia is tolerated in the US.

But understanding the complex and contradictory ways that many south Asians have both suffered from and been cheerleaders for Islamophobia requires having a historical understanding of the divide-and-rule racial politics of American society.  This is the task that Vijay Prashad sets out in his new book, Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today, a survey of many of the important trends and issues facing South Asians in the US since 9/11.  In it, Prashad elegantly captures the contradictory pressures on South Asian Americans as they navigate the crucible of domestic racial politics, India-US political and economic relations, and internal divisions with the South Asian American communities in the US.

This book picks up where Prashad’s previous book, The Karma of Brown Folks, left off.  In that book, Prashad demonstrated, in part, how many South Asians were recruited in the United States to participate in the discourses of anti-black racism in exchange for ethnic inclusion into larger public spaces.  At the same time, Prashad showed, smaller groups of South Asians became involved in important community organizing campaigns in the US and developed as important leaders in anti-racist and international solidarity work.  A deep sensitivity to the push-pull forces that affect South Asian immigrants as well as an understanding of transnational movements of peoples into and out of the Indian subcontinent marked some of the best features of the earlier book.

But the new project is best understood as one of comparative racial formations in the US.  He argues, “In my own earlier work I argued that the fear factor of ‘blacks’ created the conditions for the construction of the Indian American as the model minority, whereas I will now argue that this is insufficient.  It is the terror factor of the ‘Muslim’ alongside antiblack racism that provides the political space for Jewish Americans and Hindu Americans to mitigate their cultural differences from the mainstream, but crucially to put themselves forwards as those who, because of their experience with terrorism, become the vanguard of the new, antiterrorist Battleship America.”

That integration of Indian (Hindu) American identity with antiterrorist politics has taken a number of different but parallel tracks in the US.  The first is the creation of the “India Lobby,” which explicitly argues for the interests of Indian capitalism within the halls of American power.  Two simultaneous processes helped to grow the India lobby and the India caucus within the American Congress.  The new opportunities opened by India’s economic liberalization beginning in 1991 meant that India was seeking new partnerships with the US and American capitalists were looking for ways to penetrate Indian markets.  The resulting convergence of interests paved the way for the lifting of sanctions on India and for closer military collaboration.

The second is the construction of a South Asian (more precisely, Hindu and Indian) identity as victims of terrorism, and so like the Israelis and the Sri Lankans, natural allies in the Global War on Terror.  Military connections and arms trades between India and Israel were already extensive when Indian Americans also launched the US-India Political Action Committee (explicitly modeled on AIPAC).  But the myth of “American-Israeli-Indian” victimhood was predicated on another myth of a singular “Islamic” enemy launching terrorist attacks on all three nations.  Despite the fact that the groups and organizations that each nation is organizing against are all different, this mythology has been convenient at creating the impression of a global jihad launched by a monolithic Islam.  It has also meant that India has not had to answer in the US for its ongoing occupation and brutalization of the people of Kashmir.

The third has been the transformation into celebrities of certain right-wing Indians who have risen to important political posts.  The likes of Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley, Sonal Shah, and Dinesh D’Souza have all been lionized in the Indian American press as signs of Indian American accomplishment without ever interrogating the political content of their vision.  At the same time, the fact that the majority of South Asian Americans are a part of the Democratic Party and usually left-of-center gets overlooked in the ways that certain Indians have been used to advance a neoliberal agenda in the US.

The most nefarious aspect of all of these processes has been the mainstreaming of a right-wing Hindu chauvinist ideology (called Hindutva), which has both been used against Muslims in the subcontinent as well as against linguistic, ethnic, and caste-based minorities.  In the US, the Sangh Parivar, the coalition of the Hindu right in India, uses American multiculturalism to its advantage to advance a particularly narrow understanding of Hinduism, one which whitewashes its long legacy of sexism and caste chauvinism, in particular.  This process, what Prashad calls “Yankee Hindutva,” has allowed for the growth of right-wing organizations in the US in exchange for Indian cover for American aggression abroad.

Prashad’s book is an important contribution to the understanding of how race and ethnicity are always tied up in a larger understanding of the historical flows of capital across national boundaries and the devastating effects of imperialism on people all over the world.  If there is one place that the book falls a little short it is in its call for an ethics of compassion, modeled around Gandhi in the concluding chapter, rather than fleshing out a politics of solidarity modeled around internationalism in the working class.  Indians have, as Prashad shows, participated in spectacular movements of international solidarity, and the growth of these tendencies inside the working class in the subcontinent and in the US will play no small part in challenging the American imperium.  By drawing our attention to the politics of race and ethnicity in the US, though, Prashad’s book serves an important function by highlighting just how deeply connected the fights against racism and imperialism are.

New Red Indian in Deutsche Welle on Zardari’s speech to the UN

Asif Ali Zardari has denounced an anti-Islam film in his address to the UN General Assembly and called for an international ban on it. Analysts say that the Pakistani president’s demand is hypocritical.

On Tuesday, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari began his General Assembly speech by denouncing the US-made anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” and asked world leaders to ban the controversial movie and other “hate material” against the Prophet of Islam.

The low-budget movie sparked violent protests in many Muslim countries. Apart from protests in the Middle East, Islamic parties in many South Asian countries held rallies to speak out against the video and the US government.

In Pakistan, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party’s government – led by President Zardari – announced an official holiday on Friday, September 21, to show solidarity with the Prophet of Islam and to protest against the film. At least 19 people were killed during these protests as violent mobs set public property on fire, also torching a church in the northern city of Mardan, and various US establishments.

Read more here

New Red Indian interviewed by Deutsche Welle on the prime ministerial crisis in Pakistan

Pakistan’s lower house of parliament has elected Raja Pervez Ashraf as the country’s new prime minister, after the Supreme Court disqualified former Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani over contempt charges earlier this week.

Pakistan has a new prime minister. Raja Pervez Ashraf, who served as information technology minister until the Supreme Court dismissed former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday, got the majority of votes in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly.

Ashraf’s appointment comes at a time of intense political crisis in Pakistan.

In a controversial verdict on Tuesday, the Pakistani Supreme Court disqualified Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from holding office, following a contempt conviction two months ago.

In April, the court found Gilani guilty in a contempt case after he refused to write a letter to the Swiss government to re-open graft cases against Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, which the Swiss authorities had shelved in 2008. The incumbent PPP government says the cases are ”politically motivated” and cannot be re-opened while Zardari remains head of state and enjoys presidential immunity.

The PPP disputed Tuesday’s decision, saying that the prime minister could only be dismissed by parliament. Despite its reservations against the verdict, the PPP decided to accept the court’s ruling in country’s “best interest.”

Challenges for the new premier

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani (R) waves to his supporters upon arrival at the Supreme CourtGilani lost his seat in parliament after being disqualified by the court

Snehal Shingavi, a Pakistan expert at the University of Texas, Austin, told DW that Ashraf’s appointment as Pakistan’s new prime minister would not resolve the protracted political and institutional crisis in Pakistan and Prime Minister Ashraf would probably meet the same fate as his predecessor.

“The PPP’s strategy is to keep putting up candidates that will get shot down by the judiciary so that it can blame the courts for the political impasse,” Shingavi said.

Shingavi believed that Ashraf had a very tough job ahead. “There are at least three problems he faces: First, the judiciary will demand that he bring charges against Zardari, and the PPP cannot afford to allow that to happen; Second, the opposition parties, Tehreek-e-Insaaf and the Pakistan Muslim League (of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif) are clamoring for new elections; And third, the population is becoming increasingly agitated over the economic crisis the country is still facing.”

He said the bitter feud between judiciary and executive was likely to continue despite the election of new prime minister.

The clash of institutions

Pakistan's Supreme Court's Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed ChaudhryChaudhry enjoys popular support, experts say

Many people in Pakistan view the current predicament as a clash of institutions. Supporters of the PPP are of the view that the judiciary, backed by Pakistan’s ubiquitous army and the ISI, are trying to undermine the supremacy of parliament and civilian democracy.

On Thursday, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, who had been the PPP’s first choice for prime minister, received a big setback when a military-backed anti-narcotics court issued his arrest warrant over a drugs scam.

Some observers say that the warrant against Shahabuddin is politically motivated, and is part of the ongoing tug of war between judiciary and parliament.

“I am certain that the warrant has political motives, otherwise it would have been brought against him sooner. But it is also the case that the PPP is full of political figures that have done illegal things and used their political power to cover those practices. Both the PPP and its enemies use their political resources in very opportunistic ways,” said Shingavi.

US President Barack Obama (R) with former Pakistani PM Yusuf Raza Gilani in SeoulThe US is worried about the deepening political crisis in Pakistan

Experts have also criticized the Supreme Court for dislodging an elected prime minister and said that Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry was trying to undermine the nascent democratic setup in Pakistan.

Emrys Schoemaker, a communication analyst and researcher at the London School of Economics, told DW that the consequences of Gilani’s removal by the court were “political.”

“The main question is whether the timing of Gilani’s removal was right? Should the courts act in the country’s best interests and get involved in politics, or should they be neutral? It appears that the court is merely dealing with cases in its docket, yet clearly the consequences of its actions are highly political,” Schoemaker said.

Regional implications

Experts say the US is closely observing nuclear-armed Pakistan’s deepening political crisis.

“Pakistan’s history is marred with these kinds of political crises. The international community does not trust us. The regional situation is very complex. The recent political developments in Pakistan cannot be looked at in isolation,” Zaman Khan, a Lahore-based activist, told DW.

Observers are of the view that the current turmoil in Pakistan’s domestic politics is likely to affect Pakistan’s relations with its neighbors and the West, in particular the United States. US-Pakistani ties have been at their nadir since a US air attack on a border post killed 24 Pakistani soldiers late last year; there have been no signs that relations will improve soon.

Author: Shamil Shams Editor: Sarah Berning

Review: Kashmir: The Case for Freedom (Tariq Ali, et al)

In the summer of 2010, protests erupted throughout Kashmir, the predominantly Muslim part of what India claims to be its northernmost state, Jammu and Kashmir (Kashmiris have always asserted their independence from India).  Throngs of young men and women defiantly hurled rocks at Indian security forces and set tires on fire to prevent armored vehicles from entering into neighborhoods.  Their chants were bold—“Go, India, Go!” and “Azadi (Independence) for Kashmir” and “Quit Kashmir” (the last being a reference to the slogan of the Indian movement against British colonialism: Quit India).  The rare media outfits that did cover the protests began calling the movement, the Kashmiri Intifada, drawing explicit comparison to the other longstanding occupation in Palestine.  For fear of having international opinion turned against it, the Indian government quickly clamped down on all media coverage of the resistance in Kashmir and opened its playbook to its favorite page: the rock-throwers in Kashmir were quickly dubbed Islamic terrorists.

At the same time, the repression in Kashmir against the population was brutal.  Protests were met with shootings, lathi (baton) charges, the firing of tear gas, curfews, mass arrests, shootings, disappearances, and torture.  The viciousness of the crackdown has its basis in the suspension of any legal oversight or consequence for the Indian security apparatus; since 1990, Kashmir has come under the purview of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which allows, among other things, any soldier or officer to fire upon any group of five or more people or anyone suspected of having a weapon, arrest anyone without a warrant and conduct home invasions. It also gives military personnel full immunity from prosecution for their actions.  Additionally, Kashmir is also one of the most heavily policed and militarized places in the world, with estimates of Indian security forces in the region at well over 700,000 (the Government of India refuses to release official numbers).  It bears underlining that the population of Kashmir is approximately 5.5 million, which means that there is one security personnel for every eight Kashmiris, a ratio which beggars Mubarak’s Egypt.  The carte blanche given to the police and military and the constant rhetoric of Islamic insurgency have proven to be a deadly and humiliating mix for ordinary Kashmiri civilians.  In one shocking video that was uploaded to youtube, Indian soldiers were seen parading young Kashmiri men naked through their village en route to a military camp.

Kashmir: The Case for Freedom, with contributions by Tariq Ali, Hilal Bhatt, Angana Chatterji, Pankaj Mishra and Arundhati Roy and selections of poems by the 16th-century Kashmiri poet, Habbah Khatun, comes at an important time, as new political and economic realities put the resistance of the Kashmiri people back on the map of global protest.  The book is essentially a handbook for human rights activists across the world, who have seen the protest movement in Kashmir grow but who have been left confused by the obfuscations which pass for journalism and the lies which are official politics in India, Pakistan, and the United States.  The overwhelming conclusion that any reader can come to after reading the book is the simple and straightforward one that Arundhati Roy arrives at: “Does any government have the right to take away people’s liberty with military force?  India needs azadi from Kashmir just as much—if not more—than Kashmir needs azadi from India.”

Kashmir has long tradition of religious syncretism, cultural innovation, and political resistance, but an equally long legacy of feudal, colonial, and now sub-imperial conquest.  The crux of the contemporary problem stems from the opportunistic way that the independence and partition of the Indian subcontinent was carried out and the vicious way that those terms are enforced on the population.  When British rule was established in Kashmir in 1846, Kashmir (recently conquered by the Sikh invader Ranjit Singh in 1819) was sold off to Dogra royalty (the Hindu rulers of neighboring Jammu) for 7.5 million rupees, 6 pairs of shawl goats, and 3 shawls (under the absurd Treaty of Amritsar).  Dogra rule was economically ruinous for the population who were reduced to a condition of absurd poverty; the few young people who could, escaped to other places in India, where they were radicalized and returned to raise slogans of freedom, justice, and land reform.  Before the partition of India, the dominant politics of the movement for Kashmiri independence, led by Sheikh Abdullah, were a heady mix of socialism and nationalism, not political Islam as is often claimed by more contemporary analysts.

When the British left India, the 565 prince states which had maintained a degree of political autonomy through treaties with the British were given the choice of acceding either to India or Pakistan or remaining independent.  Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, still hadn’t decided; leaders of the Muslim League were attempting to woo him to Pakistan, while his Hindu sympathies seemed to incline him in favor of India.  Leaders in Pakistan decided not to wait and planned an invasion.  Hari Singh, worried about being deposed militarily, quickly negotiated an accession to India in exchange for military support.  But under the terms of the agreement, Kashmir was to be allowed a referendum to determine the will of the people on the question of accession.  Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, despite publicly proclaiming his support for the plebiscite (as Arundhati Roy’s excellent collection of excerpts of his speeches shows), ultimately reneged on his promise.  The Indian army was able to repel the Pakistani invaders only up to a point; the current Line of Control which divides Kashmir more or less marks the results of that confrontation.  Since then, Kashmir has become a pawn in the cynical and deadly game between India and Pakistan.  India uses Kashmir to claim that it is a democratic society (but does so by rigging elections, importing pliable Hindu rulers, imprisoning elected leaders, brutally oppressing the population), while Pakistan claims that it is interested in Kashmiri independence (despite having flooded the Valley with guns and an intolerant variant of Islam and denying independence to its other occupied territory, Balochistan).

The book makes two important contributions to our understanding of what has happened in Kashmir since that point.  The first has to do with the form of the resistance, which has shifted over the years from secular nationalism to Islamist politics and back again.  The period between the 1940s and the early 1980s was dominated by the secular, nationalist forces in Kashmir organized under Sheikh Abdullah who initially sought some kind of compromise with the Indian state for greater autonomy within a larger federation.  When even democratic dialogue broke down and India reneged on promises, a few groups (like the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front) broke away from the dominant nationalist coalition and began waging a guerrilla struggle.  At the same time, Pakistan flush with arms and militants it was recruiting and training for the American-sponsored resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, began both recruiting Kashmir youth to jihadi outfits and began to send Islamist groups into Kashmir as well as providing weapons and training to secular groups as well (though they eventually stopped backing these groups all together).  The devastating effects of that policy on ordinary Kashmiris are documented in Hilal Bhatt’s personal essay in the collection.  But by the late 1990s, Islamist organizations had exhausted whatever appeal they may have had as their social policies came into conflict with Kashmiri ideologies and their inability to produce a military solution meant that ordinary Kashmiris were the ones suffering for the barbaric Indian crackdown that followed those terrorist activities.  The last decade of resistance has been characterized by secular, democratic opposition to the policies of the Indian state, a reality which goes against all of the mainstream propaganda that Kashmir is another front in the war on terror.

The second has to do with the staggering scale of violence that the Indian state perpetrates against the Kashmiri population (the condition of the Pakistani administered section while poor, is not nearly as bloody).  As Angana Chatterji puts it, “Kashmir is a landscape of internment, where resistance is deemed ‘insurgent’ by state institutions.”  [Chatterji and her husband, Richard Shapiro, have been targeted by the Indian government for their views on Kashmir and were both recently fired from their jobs at the California Institute of Integral Studies, in part, for their outspoken political advocacy.]  Part of the reason that Kashmir is so brutally repressed is because the Indian state is now governed by an ideology which requires the fiction of a massive security threat in order to justify exorbitant expenditures on its military and police forces.  This fiction is propped up, as Chatterji argues, by an ideology which amalgamates Hindu chauvinism, neoliberalism, and authoritarian statecraft.  The result has been the wholesale criminalization of even the mildest form of public protest.  Most recently, the police filed sedition charges against Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education for showing a man in blue carrying a stick under the Urdu letter “zoi” for “zaalim” (oppressor).  The police have charged everyone affiliated with the book with criminal conspiracy, defamation, and provocation with the intent to breach peace, since the innocuous depiction was assumed to be a police officer.  In another instance, an English professor, Noor Mohammad Bhat, was thrown in jail for administering a “provocative” examination assignment.

Despite making the case for an independent Kashmir and offering a brilliant indictment of the Indian government’s claim to being the largest democracy on the planet, the book falls short on one important point, namely in pointing out a strategy by which that independence can come about if armed struggle, mass protest, and even political compromise have all failed in turn.  The unfortunate reality in Kashmir is that it is extremely similar to Palestine, where the indigenous populations lack the necessary social force to repel the violence of occupation forces and then are forced into taking part in the opportunistic diplomacy of larger states around them.  But like Palestine, the Kashmiris have allies in both Pakistan and India who have no interest in the occupation of Kashmir, in fact whose lives would immediately be improved if both Pakistan and India were to stop spending Himalayan sums on security personnel and instead spend money on eradicating poverty.  The Indian and Pakistani working classes have common enemies—their own states—and the end to the occupation in Kashmir will only be the result of their unified struggle.  This though is only the slightest of criticisms; the spirit if not the explicit argument of the Arab Spring runs throughout this entire book.

[Special thanks to Huma Dar for suggestions and edits.]

Self-determination for Balochistan

Last week, three Republicans (Dana Rohrabacher, Louie Gohmert, and Steve King) sponsored a bill “recognizing Baluchistan’s right to self-determination.” This sparked widespread condemnation by the Pakistani ruling and military class (who saw the maneuver as meddling in internal politics) and enthusiastic support from several voices in Balochistan (who saw the resolution and the hearings that preceded it as evidence that their case was finally getting a hearing in the west). The problem is that the Balochi right to self-determination is being caught in the same ambush which trapped the Kurds in Iraq: the weakness of their position vis-à-vis Pakistan is forcing them into a compromise with American imperialism, which has already shown itself no great ally of national liberation struggles.

The Obama administration and leading Republicans were quick to distance themselves from the resolution; the establishment line continues to be that Pakistan is more important as an ally than as an enemy. David Dreier (R-CA) spoke to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to assure him that the US is fully behind the national integrity of Pakistan. All mention of the Pakistani government’s role in the horrors in Balochistan was quickly swept under the rug. At the same time, the bill is the latest salvo in the Pakistan-bashing which has been commonplace in the US as an explanation for the Afghan quagmire, the seemingly endless sources of Islamists, and the like; Rohrabacher’s bill is part of a small but vocal line of thought which sees the break-up of Pakistan as important to the “war on terror” and the coming conflict with Iran.

The fight between Christine Fair and Rohrabacher reveals some of the thinking that is behind this resolution. The real injustices done to the Baloch people are being used as sticks with which the Pakistani establishment will be humbled. In fact, offhand comments by members of Rohrabacher’s staff were picked up by the Pakistani press; one of them was overheard saying that the resolution was an opportunity to “stick it to the Pakistanis.” One suspects, too, that the decision to support the Baloch cause was opportunistic; there has been so little debate and discussion about the longstanding grievances of the Balochis in the US.

As Praveen Swami recently reported, the Pakistani military has long conducted a dirty war in Balochistan: assassinations, rape, collective punishment, disappearances. Since the establishment of Pakistan, there has been a dominant strain of Baloch politics which sought independence from Pakistan; there is also a strain which has been coopted into the establishment of Pakistan which prefers unity over independence. The Baloch Liberation Army is only the most recent formation under which the Baloch organized themselves to fight the Pakistani military.

Almost immediately, the Pakistani government cut a deal with Baloch leaders who were living in exile, presumably so that they could both pacify restive Balochis and re-establish connections to erstwhile allies. A package of economic reforms was also announced for Balochistan:

INCENTIVES: The meeting decided that the federal government will release Rs4 billion to the Water and Power Development Authority on account of its share of subsidy for farmers of Balochistan.

A total of 15,000 graduates and post-graduates from the province will be given jobs under the prime minister’s Internship Programme.

They will work as schoolteachers and get a stipend of Rs15,000 per month.

About 2,400 federal government jobs will be filled on merit with the assistance of members of the National Assembly and Senate from Balochistan.

The meeting decided to award one-step promotion to any officer coming to Islamabad from the province on deputation.

It also decided to double the number of beneficiaries of the Benazir Income Support Programme to 750,000.

The strength of Federal Levies Force will be raised from 3,500 to 6,500 through fresh recruitment.

The meeting decided to increase the number of brilliant students from Balochistan to 500 from 150 for providing free education to them with effect from the next academic year and to create an endowment fund of Rs5 billion to sustain the programme.

The Capital Development Authority will allot plots to the Balochistan government for construction of two hostels for students and officers in Islamabad.

The Frontier Corps will not be move in any district without the permission of the deputy commissioner and will not set up any check-post without the approval of the chief minister.

Confident that it has the ear of the west, the Baloch Republican Party rejected the package and praised the Republican congressmen for their support. While American imperialist interest and Balochi national interest may move in similar directions for a while, they will necessarily diverge as Balochistan is asked to be the military-base-of-the-month (which is the only way, it seems, that independence happens with American backing) against Iran and Pakistan. This is not the preferred option for the American ruling class, but it’s hard to imagine that either Santorum or Romney doesn’t start picking up this line in the debates very soon.

The Committee of Progressive Pakistani-Canadians gets the analysis right, I think:

While any publicity about the discrimination and violence faced by Sindhis and the Baloch is to be welcomed long experience, more recently confirmed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now in Syria shows that US and western concerns about human rights violations are merely a fig leaf to provide a cover for the naked pursuit of their own selfish imperial interests.

The Pakistani state’s unjust and ruthless treatment of the Baloch, even when their elected leadership accepted the constitutional framework adopted during Z.A. Bhutto’s government in 1973 in good faith as a step toward equitable relations, is the direct cause of the desire among many Baloch to seek independence; as are repeated ‘actions’ by the military in the rise of the Baloch armed resistance movement – reminiscent of the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army) in East Pakistan’s war of independence.

Friend and comrade in Pakistan released!

I received the following from Farooq Tariq of the Labor Party of Pakistan:
Thank you for your immediate response on the arrest of Ammar Ali Jan, general secretary Labour Party Pakistan Lahore. He was taken to a court by Kot Lakhpat police this morning. On hearing the arguments, the judge ordered to release him on bail bond of Rupees 30,000. Rabia Shahzadi advocate and member of Lahore LPP committee represented Ammar Ali jan in the court.

Ammar was picked up by CIA police yesterday afternoon. they dodged him to come along to Liberty police station where he was handed over to Kot lakhpat police.

Today, we had tremendous response to our message on SPN and facebook. We also sent an sms to all our contacts.

Asma Jehanghir former president Supreme Court Bar Association called me to offer her help in the court. She also advised how to go further on this issue.

Thank you Asma for this timely advice and offer of legal help.

Scores of Ammar friends and party activists were at the police station along with leaders of Progressive Youth Front. It was here when Ammar along with local youth led a demonstration in 2010 against continues power cuts. He was arrested at the time along with five others. This successful blokade of the main road led to a complete victory at the time and WAPDA has to buy a new transformer from private company on urgent basis to provide the electricity for the whole area.

On our demand, Saad Rafique member national parliament intervened in support of the youth and forced police to release all of arrested one. However, police arrested Ammar on the charges that were dropped at the time.

Labour Party Pakistan Lahore will organise a protest demonstration against this arrest and has called an emergency meeting to discuss the issue.

Friend and Comrade arrested in Pakistan

If solidarity actions are possible from abroad, I will post details here.
Ammar Labour Party

LAHORE - Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) Lahore general secretary, Progressive Youth Front (PYF) organiser and Beaconhouse National University (BNU) teacher Ammar Ali Jaan was arrested by CIA personnel from Ghora Chowk around noon and placed in the Kot Lakhpat police lockup for being an absconder in a road blocking case registered in 2010.
According to sources, Ammar left home around 12pm and stopped at the Ghora Chowk petrol pump where four-five police officers asked him for ID, and began to check his vehicle. The police officers reportedly claimed that his chasis number was incorrect and he would have to come to the police station. Once taken to the CIA office Liberty Police Station, he was told that he had been arrested for an outstanding FIR against him at the Kot Lakhpat police station. He was later taken to the Kot Lakhpat police station where he was put in lockup.
Speaking to Pakistan Today, Kot Lakhpat police Naib Muharar Abid said Ammar Ali was an absconder in FIR 555/10 registered on August 10 2010 under sections 147, 149, 353, 186, 290, 291 of the Pakistan Penal Code, for blocking a road. He said that Ammar was arrested by the investigations wing. However, asked to clarify why CIA police were involved, Abid said, “Anyone can arrest an absconder.”
Investigating Officer Zulfiqar Ahmed could not be reached.
LPP has called for protest outside the police station in the morning.

Constitutional Crisis and Power Struggle in Pakistan

English: Asif Ali Zardari.

Image via Wikipedia

On February 13, the Supreme Court of Pakistan charged Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani with contempt for his failure to ask the Swiss government to reopen the money-laundering case against President Asif Ali Zardari. The move has sparked a wide-spread debate about the legal crisis that this creates inside of Pakistan and whether the legal proceedings are being backed or influenced by the Pakistani military, which stands to gain massively if the current government is derailed.

The legal issues are fairly straightforward: back in the 1990s, when the late Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister, Asif Ali Zardari received kickbacks from two Swiss-based companies in exchange for exclusive government contracts. Zardari was jailed for eight years in Pakistan on corruption charges, though he was never found guilty. In Pakistan, Zardari is commonly still referred to as “Mr. Ten Percent” (though sometimes the figure is substantially larger) in reference to his well-known corrupt dealings.

In 2003, Swiss courts found Zardari and Bhutto guilty of criminal money laundering, though both denied it. They left for voluntary exile in Dubai in order to avoid further prosecution in Pakistan. Bhutto and Zardari were only allowed to re-enter Pakistan after then President (and General) Pervez Musharraf signed under American pressure the National Reconciliation Ordinance which granted the pair amnesty for all charges of corruption. The NRO was part of the deal that was cut between Benazir Bhutto and the US to allow her to return to Pakistan and replace the widely unpopular Musharraf. When Zardari became President after his wife’s assassination, he asked the Swiss government to set aside the case against him, which it did.

In 2009, the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared the National Reconciliation Ordinance violated the constitution and struck it down. (This happened only months after the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and others were reluctantly reinstated by Zardari after being sacked by Musharraf). This re-opened the corruption issue and brought the Pakistani judiciary into open conflict with the Prime Minister. When Gilani closed ranks behind Zardari (both are members of the Pakistan People’s Party – PPP), the Supreme Court charged him with contempt. If convicted, Gilani would face jail time, be dismissed from his post, and be ineligible to run for Pakistani office again. If criminal charges are opened up against Zardari, too, the entire government will fall. Elections are not scheduled to take place until early next year.

The PPP has been attempting to claim that this move by the Supreme Court is actually a military coup in slow motion. They are not entirely wrong, since high ranking officials inside of the Army have been quite pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision. The Army has, of course, been gunning for the PPP and the civilian bureaucracy after the twin embarrassments of the Osama bin Laden debacle (it is now also coming to light that Musharraf may have known where bin Laden was all along) and the scandal surrounding “memogate.” At the behest of Zardari, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US dictated a memo to Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani American businessman, that sought American military assistance against the Pakistani military and the ISI, both of which it claimed was plotting a coup against the civilian government. When the memo was revealed, the military was adamant in calling for Haqqani’s resignation (which it got) and even for his head. Gilani has also embarrassingly had to repeat for the news media that he does not believe that there is any risk of a coup, after taking a harder line against military meddling in civilian affairs earlier in January.

Supporters of the judiciary, on the other hand, have been touting the Supreme Court’s independence as proof that this has nothing to do with bringing the military back into power. The Supreme Court, in their opinion, is the one institution that still has some legitimacy in Pakistan and its pursuance of the corruption charges against the President is an important part of the move towards cleaning up government. At the same time, the Supreme Court has also gone after the military in recent months. It recently ordered the ISI to produce seven men who had been disappeared illegally, bringing the spy agency under judicial review for the first time. It has been his aggressive push around these two issues – corruption and disappearances – that has earned Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary his populist reputation. The recent hearings about the human rights violations committed by the Pakistani military in Balochistan on the floor of the US Congress are also a product of the campaigns of this new, activist judiciary.

But should the Supreme Court succeed in convicting Gilani, the PPP would merely replace him with another party loyalist, forcing the Supreme Court to repeat its actions and deadlock the government. There is rampant speculation that this political game of chicken would provide the appropriate cover for the Pakistani military to retake control of the government, something that it has had no hesitation in doing in the past. While the judiciary has wide backing, it is certainly not in a position to offer an alternative government to the current one.

The entirety of this legal debate though rests on three intractable problems for which the Pakistani ruling class has never been able to provide a durable solution in the country’s history. First and most importantly is the nation’s dependence on foreign support, especially American, for its military and economic stability which is at direct odds with Pakistan’s own foreign policy objectives. This is part of the reason why the war in Afghanistan has gone on as long as it has; the Pakistani military benefits from drawing the war out, both in terms of monetary aid and in terms of its importance in Pakistani life.

This problem has been coming to a head in recent months, especially after the NATO airstrike which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers back in November and the massively unpopular drone strikes which continue to pound the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Washington has been looking for alternatives to the Pakistani military, but it has spent so long propping up the armed forces in Pakistan that it has few good options available in the region. The Pakistani military, too, relies on its ties with militant groups in the border areas. The new plan in Afghanistan announced by former ambassador Zalmay Khalilzadeh, which rewards Pakistan for its help in getting the Taliban to the negotiating table may also be a non-starter, since the Taliban have repeatedly said they will not negotiate with Karzai. The collapse of the NATO-Pakistan partnership and the potential destabilization of the Pakistani government will produce explosive results.

Secondly, the ruling class has never been able to achieve anything like hegemony for the civilian government. Both main parties, the PPP and Pakistan Muslim League, are widely discredited and are only voted in as ways of keeping the flow of graft moving in desirable directions. The newly minted Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (Justice Party) led by cricketing star Imran Khan has had massive rallies, but is hamstrung by the rival factions within it. The inability of the civilian government to rule effectively has meant that the only option for a long time was to replace corrupt, ineffective civilian government with ruthless, draconian military government.

Finally, the economy in Pakistan has always been extraordinarily lop-sided, with a staggering gap between the rich and poor in the country. Even though the Pakistani economy was able to grow in the last half 2011, much of that growth was simply trying to recover from the devastating hit the country took from flooding over the two previous years and the earthquake in 2005. Much of the country’s spending on social programs and infrastructure is financed by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, and the country is massively in debt. Unemployment is higher than the laughable official figure of 6.6% and the economy’s growth rate, somewhere between 3 and 4%, cannot accommodate the people who will enter the labor force. The current solution, external aid and printing currency through the Central Bank, are both ratcheting up inflation in the country, too. Both Moody’s and the IMF were trying to sound some alarms earlier this year that the Pakistani economy may be in for a bumpy ride this year.

But the population of Pakistan has also been restive. In December, there were sizeable rallies against the US drone strikes. Through January, thousands of people came out repeatedly against gas shortages and high inflation. In February, patients and activists went out to protest the issuance of contaminated cardiac drugs that killed over 100 people in the state of Punjab. There has also been an uptick in industrial actions in Pakistan. Added to this is fresh resistance by the Balochistan Liberation Front against the ongoing military occupation of Balochistan. While the left is still quite small, there are enormous opportunities for it to grow in this period.

All of this points to one unmistakable reality: as long as the elite in Pakistan control the economy and government in Pakistan, there will be nothing but ruin for the hundreds of millions who live there. The current legal fight is only the most recent expression of the problems that the ruling class faces in Pakistan. It neither has an agenda for ruling nor a party capable of implementing its agenda. Having eked by on corruption and repression for so long, the Pakistani establishment seems incapable of changing its tune. It will need ultimately, as in Tunisia and Egypt, to forced out by the heroic resistance of the masses.

Afghan/Pakistani left coming together

From DAWN Newspaper

AfPak left-wing parties to work together for peace

LAHORE, Dec 21: Left-wing parties of Pakistan and Afghanistan have got together for the first time and agreed on working jointly for regional peace and progress. They have rejected any military solution to the problems of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The consensus was developed at a two-day consultation of Leftists from both countries on `Regional Political Context and its Impact on Pakistan and Afghanistan` here on Wednesday.They pledged to devote all their energies to building concrete alternatives to the false choice between Nato and the Taliban. They sought the right to self-determination for Afghanistan as well as adequate and relevant mechanisms to support and sustain it.

The participants belonged to the Awami Party, Pakistan Workers Party, Labour Party Pakistan, Solidarity Party Afghanistan, Afghanistan Revolutionary Organization, Afghanistan Labour Revolutionary Organization and the event was sponsored by the Swedish Left Party.

Alleging that in both neighbouring states the progressive forces had been pushed to the wall through controlled democracies, they set their aim at working together to resist Nato strikes and standing up as a “third option” to bring peace and make progress on both sides of the Durand Line.

Swedish Left Party representative Ann Carin Landstorm said they supported the dialogue to strengthen left-wing progressive movements and parties. She called for a joint and meaningful peace revolution in the region with the moral support of her party.

She welcomed the gathering after devastating periods of history in the region that led to anarchy, chaos and terrorism instrumented by international imperialistic powers.

Afghanistan Revolutionary Organization`s Faridoun Aryan, Afghanistan Labour Revolutionary Organisation president Arif Afghani and Abdul Qadir Ranto and Nasir Shah of Solidarity Party Afghanistan called for peace in their country and condemned the US-led Nato invasion. They urged the Left to get united on a single platform and resist this regime with sincere efforts.

They called for better relations with Pakistani left-wing parties and expediting the efforts to resist the “war on terror”.

Dr Lal Khan, Jamil Umar, Abdul Qadir Ranto and Farooq Tariq of the Labour Party Pakistan also spoke. — Staff Reporter