Writing and rewriting Pakistan

Fatima BhuttoSongs of Blood and Sword (Nation Books, New York, 2010; 496 pages; $26.95)

Imtiaz Gul, The Most Dangerous Place (Viking, New York, 2010; 320 pages; $26.95)

Ed. John Freeman, Granta 112: Pakistan (Grove/Atlantic, New York, 2010; 256 pages; $16.99)

Iftikhar Malik, Pakistan: democracy, terrorism, and the building of a nation (Olive Branch, New York, 2010, 216 pages; $18.00)

One is constantly caught in a double-bind when one tries to write about Pakistan.  On the one hand, the most important problem confronting Pakistan today is easily American empire.  All of the attendant crises that have befallen Pakistan since its creation have been the result of it being a frontline state in the ever-protracted Great Game (militant Islam, a lop-sided economy with a parasitical defense budget, dysfunctional democracies, etc.) in both its Cold War and Global War on Terror phases.  But centering your critique on this problem ends up sounding like an apology for the social and political rot that is taking place in Pakistan.

On the other hand, critiquing the Pakistani establishment has become something of an easy hobby in the west and in Pakistan.  The media, always under attack during military rule, has never been an ally of the establishment, and 63 years of corrupt “democrats” and even more corrupt dictators have meant that it has trained everyone in Pakistan how to be simultaneously disenchanted with the powerful and frustrated with their own ability to produce change inside of Pakistan.  In the west, this takes the form of the most cynical critique of the putatively failed Pakistani state (with mullahs always on the verge of going nuclear), while in Pakistan, civil society vacillates between a defense of the ballot and the barracks (sometimes as a defense against the failing economy and sometimes as a defense against militant forms of Islam).  In any case, there is no way of expressing Pakistani frustrations without it seeming like understatement.

This double-bind is not merely one of calibrating a precise analysis of the Pakistani and American ruling classes simultaneously, but also of falling into cliché, or more precisely, of being unable to distinguish the incisive, the critical and the meaningful from the tired phraseology of middle-class dissatisfactions.  Every member of Pakistan’s middle class can at one point or another be unhappy about the situation in Pakistan – with the Americans, with Islamists, with Zardari, with the military, with the rich – but this never seems to transform itself into anything other than an already felt and generalized malaise, especially when it comes in English, especially when it comes from the intelligentsia in Pakistan.  The most decisive moment of this class was the defense of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry in the heroic Lawyer’s Movement in 2009; this class’s inability to parlay that fight into a longer, more protracted confrontation (settling instead for a still deferred reorganization of the state) has also been decisive.

As a result, Pakistan is now synonymous with militant Islam, corruption, and violence.  Consider the following, probably penned by Daniyal Mueenuddin (but unattributed on the website hosted by Granta and elegantly titled “How to write about Pakistan”), about the perverse ways that Pakistan is rendered in the West:  “Anyway, the point is that people from all over the world have come to know and love brand Pakistan for its ability to scare the shit out of them. Whatever you write, please respect this legacy. We’re providing a service here. We’re a twenty-storey straight-down vertical-dropping roller coaster for the mind. Yes, love etcetera is permissible. But bear in mind that Pakistan is a market-leader. The Most Dangerous Place in the World™.”

This is all the more interesting and believable, perhaps even sympathetic, as an explanation for the problem of the Pakistani writer considering that it also happens to be the title of Imtiaz Gul’s handwringingly obtuse book on Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.  (One of the main features of most policy writing on Pakistan is how much of it is absolutely redundant, recycling as it does the most rudimentary facts and events of Pakistani history).  But consider what Mueenuddin (perhaps) is actually saying: that stereotype dwarfs any real understanding of the human (“love etcetera”) and by doing so fuels itself as marketable commodity (already two ideological hallmarks – aversion to stereotype and a distaste for while pleasurably consuming commodities – that define the mental landscape of every petit bourgeois irrespective of national origin).  This is the banal masquerading as the radical.  Incidentally, Mueenuddin’s own book, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, has no problem mobilizing the same brand (even as its depictions of Pakistan are hauntingly beautiful).

The point, here, is not to critique the Pakistani writer for failing to topple the Twin Towers of American imperium and the Pakistani state but rather to show how part of the persistent malaise of the Pakistani petit bourgeoisie stems from its consistent inability to see the failures of its own putative radicalism; in another context, we might consider the Pakistani penchant for the conspiracy theory as part of this problem.  The features of this cliché: a deeply felt anxiety about the long shadow of Zia (military-led political Islam) and Zulfikar (Pakistani populism) which is mapped on top of the national nostalgia for Jinnah and Iqbal; a critique of American meddling in Pakistani politics and economics alongside a deep desire for western patterns of governance in opposition to the naked graft and ethnic chauvinism of Pakistani politics; a hatred for the rich coupled with a deep immersion in conspicuous consumption; a view of the military as simultaneously predatory and salutary (against corruption and Islam); a critique of Islam; a baseline feminist politics that also masquerades as sexploitation; a perpetual chafing at every instance of Indian arrogance.  The best summary of these views and the Pakistani petit bourgeoisie is Iftikhar Malik’s Pakistan: Democracy, Terrorism and the Building of a Nation, an incredibly useful survey of the most important social and political moments in Pakistan’s modern history.

But there is a sleight of hand at work in the writing about Pakistan which has all the trappings of radicalism (a critique of the state, the rhetoric of anti-imperialism, a sense of the brutality of the rich and the powerful) but none of the content of it.  It is a vein that runs throughout much of the prose about Pakistan: literary, journalistic, policy.  And it has the distorting effect of leaving one with the impression that Pakistan is not on the verge of a Muslim takeover (thankfully) but of a socialist one (fancifully).

The clearest example of this is in Fatima Bhutto’s reminiscences of her father, the late Murtaza Ali Bhutto (the son of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the apparent heir to the leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party), in Songs of Blood and Sword.  Penned as a daughter’s attempt to understand the life of her father who was taken from her too soon, the book also doubles as a damning indictment of the legacy of Benazir Bhutto, the recently murdered former Prime Minister.  In it, Fatima Bhutto both lovingly recreates the radical history of her family while exposing the internecine family warfare that led to Benazir’s (and then later Asif Ali Zardari’s) position at the head of the PPP.  The consequences of her critique of the venality (she calls it a “saprophytic culture”) of the current leadership of Pakistan is an overwrought nostalgia for the days of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, himself no friend to national minorities and no consistent opponent of landed and moneyed interests in Pakistan.

The debate over Granta 112, the anthology of new Pakistani writing, is also in many ways colored by the varieties of clichés-as-critique mobilized by the west and by Pakistanis: is the “discovery” of Pakistani writing, necessarily in English, proof of the arrival of Pakistan?  Does Pakistani writing in English always displace and erase its own “vernacular” origins in order to become an arriviste literature?  When one encounters “At night my lost memory of you returned” in a novella by Nadeem Aslam does (or even can) one immediately recall Faiz’s famous line —

رات یوں دل میں تیری کھوئی ہوئی یاد آئی

—or is one seduced into believing that the project for the revolutionary overthrow of the Pakistani state never had a lyric voice?  Is writing about violence pandering to Orientalist markets or delving into the soul of Pakistan?

None of this is meant to argue that the writing is not breathtakingly lovely, even at some points seductive or that one does not learn something of the circular logic of the Pakistani middle-class, frustrated, impotent, and angry.  Unlike a previous generation of writers who more deeply connected to and dependent on the kinds of mass agitations that forced Pakistan’s rulers to deploy the military in the first place, this generation of writing lives in the wake of those heroes, anxiously preserving their legacies.  And for this, at least, this body of writing is tremendously important as a reminder of the fate of a Pakistan caught in the crosshairs and bled dry by its own representatives.  But the radical nature of the critique has been evacuated (even as it can be discovered in the unreported fight of Telecommunications workers against privatization, of secularists organizing flood relief, of women combating the Hudood Ordinance) and one gets the impression that one is not really discovering Pakistan as hoping alongside its beleaguered ambassadors for something different.

There are radical movements underway inside of Pakistan but they have not yet found expression in the voices of the writers who have found audiences in the west; instead one is left with the odd feeling that everything must change and that one has heard it all before.  As Sarfraz Mansoor says about the cautionary narratives told to young Pakistani men about dating white women: “The location of the stories could vary but the narrative was suspiciously similar in every tale.”

The spirit of resistance spreads to Pakistan!

Labour Party Pakistan demonstrations rallies, Dharnas and strikes on 1st March 2011

Labour Party Pakistan announces the following actions for Tuesday 1st March across Pakistan.

There are three main demands that LPP is putting forward for the day.


Release the four arrested labour leaders of power looms Labour Qaumi Movement arrested on 21st July during a workers strike for wage increase. They are Rana Mohammed Riaz, Fazal Ilahi, Akbar Kamboh and Babar Randhawa.


Reinstate the suspended and terminated workers leaders of Pakistan Telecommunication (PTCL) immediately. There is a reign of terror for the workers in PTCL after it is been privatized in 2005. When, last year workers protested for wage increase, 600 were suspended from jobs and there are still 100 workers leaders who are not back to their job. This is unacceptable.


Increase the minimum wages to Rupees 15000 from the present 7000 a month. This is because of the unprecedented price hike during the last three years by PPP and its alliance government. All the main parties including PMLN are united in implementing the neo liberal agenda and all the anti workers conditionality’s of the IMF and World Bank.


Tuesday 1st March 2011

Complete strike by power looms and textile workers in Faisalabad, Jhang, Gojra and Toba Tek Singh. Workers rallies from different parts of Faisalabad will gather at district council Chouck for a Dharana on the day starting 11am, there will gatherings in front opf press clubs in Gojra, Toba Tek Singh and Jhang.

Please Contact for more information and participation:

1.       Faisalabad:                         Rana Mohammed Tahir 03007252295

2.       Toba Tek Singh:                2.30pm in front of Press Club Tariq Mehmood 03449557182

3.       Gojra: 11am in front of Press Club ( Shabir Ahmad

4.       Jhang: 12pm in front of Press Club (Shafiq Rehman  03038025515)

5.       Lahore: Protest Dharana at GPO Chouck Mall Road Lahore at 4pm  contact  Rana Mohammed Aslam  03004210024

6.       Karachi: in front of Karachi Press Club at 2pm (Nasir Mansoor 03003587211)

7.       Qasur: in front of Railway Station Qasur 4pm      (Choudry Imtiaz Ahmad advocate 03006594622)

8.       Gojranwala: 3pm Sheranawala Gate (Haroon Ahmad 03216423608)

9.       Kot Radha Krishan: Malik Abdul Rashid 03454623473

10.   Ali Pur Chatha: 2pm in front of Press Club (A R Adil 03007431150)

11.   Okara: 11 am in front press club  (Mehr Abdul Sattar 03006961545)

12.   Chishtian: 2pm Yadgar Chouck (Rana Mohammed Tahir 03027546426)

13.   Hafiz Abad: 2pm in front of Press Club (Ghulam Abbas 03456960672)

14.   Depal Pur: 2pm in front of Press Club (Shabir Ahmad Sajid 03216979341)

15.   Peshawar: 2pm Peshawar Press Club (Farooq Ahmad 03469329518)

16.   Matta , Swat: 11 am Main Bazar (Jalal Ahmad 03078535198)

17.   Islamabad : 2pm in front of National Press Club (Talat Rubab 03219402319)

18.   Multan: 12pm in front Multan Press Club (Suhail Javed 03336101885)

19.   Hyderabad: 2pm in front of Hyderabad Press Club  (Nisar Lighari 03342618651)

20.   Mandi Bahuldin: 4pm in front of Press Club (Sher Mohammed Gondal advocate 03328005237)

21.   Layya: 12pm in front of Layya Press Club (Anayt Kashif advocate 03017848013)

22.   Nankana Sahib: 11 am in front of Press Club Maqsood Bhatti 0300 4620250

23.   Moro: 2pm in front of Moro Press Club (Younas Rahu 03003073179)

24.   Dera Ghazi Khan: 3pm in front of Press Club (Faiz Rasul advocate 03326788715)

25.   Tando Adam: 2pm in front of Press Club (Anwar Chakrani 03068299959)

26.   Mir Pur Khas: 2pm in front of Press Club (Ghulam Qadir Mirani advocate 03322807141)

27.   Sanghar: 2 pm in front of Press Club (Behram Shah 03332911530)

28.   Muzafar Ghar: 3pm In front Press Club (Kamran Bhatti 03037234663)

29.   Lodharan: 3pm in front of Press Club (Rao Rafiq

30.   Narowal: 11am Kethechery Chouck ( Asif Bhatti 03007150303)

31.   Pindi Bhattian:                  2pm Press Club (Ghulam Abbas 03456960672)

32.   Gujrat: 2pm Gujrat Press Club (Haroon Ahmad 03008725963)

33.   Sheikhupura: 2pm in front of Press Club

34.   Jatoi: 12 pm in front of Press Club (Baba Latif 03236606306)


If you want to organize a rally on the day or want to help in this process, please call Maqsood Mujahid (03214298094)

Here is what we sent earlier to you in more details of the day,


Top judges anti workers attitude:  Now face the music of workers anger on 1st March

Labour Party Pakistan to organize a day of protest

By: Farooq Tariq

There are growing trends among the higher courts of Pakistan to show their anti workers anger whenever there is a case being heard on the issue of strikes, demonstrations, rallies and other means of peaceful protests. There is a different attitude of the higher courts about the protests of lawyers and other sections of the middle classes. There is a very clear discriminatory attitude towards working class struggle in Pakistan by the top judges.

Top judges are happy to take individual cases of violation of human rights and we are happy with that, however, whenever there is a collective action by a section for the working class in Pakistan, the attitude seems always to favour of the bosses. It has been shown in declaring the workers strikes as illegal, rejecting the bail application of the arrested workers during strikes, not taking notices of gross violations of labour laws, no implementation of minimum wages, no remedies for those workers losing jobs in violation of labour laws and so on.

Labour Party Pakistan has decided to organize a day of action for workers right to protest and against the top judges’ discriminatory attitude towards the struggle of the working class. On Tuesday 1st March, thousands of workers across Pakistan will organize rallies, demonstrations and strikes to assert their rights of organizing peaceful means of struggle.

There will be complete strike of power looms and textile workers in Faisalabad, Jhang, Gojra, Toba Tek Singh and Kamalia. Hundreds of textile factories and power looms factories will be shut down during this strike. In Faisalabad, thousands of workers will come to Ghanta Ghar, the center of Faisalabad and will organize a sit in. Over 250,000 workers will take part in strikes and rallies on the day in Fiaslabad division.

Four workers leaders of Faisalabad power looms,  Fazal Ilahi, Akbar Kamboh, Rana Riaz and Babar Randhawa are behind bar since 21st July 2010. They were arrested during a power looms workers strike for wage increase and were framed under anti terrorist laws. Despite all the assurances by the police and local administrations during several protest rallies to remove the anti terrorist charges against them, they are still facing the terrorist charges and are behind bar. Their bail application was rejected last week by the reactionary chief justice of Lahore High Court without looking at the file of the case.

We have decided enough is enough; now face the music of Pakistani working class on 1st March across Pakistan.

Over 600 Pakistan Telecommunication (PTCL) workers have been suspended or removed from their jobs by the administration of the privatized PTCL. Their crime: to organize protest for wage increase. Most of the 600 workers of PTCL are the leaders of different unions of PTCL and there is a whole sale attack on the unions in PTCL. The top judges are quite on the issue and no action taken by the courts or even by the PPP government about the fate of these very senior leaders of the trade union movement.

They are now organized in a united front of all the PTCL unions and will start their mass campaign for the reinstatement from 23th February by erecting a protest camp in Islamabad and then from 1st of March will join the national campaign for workers rights.

Despite the stay order of the National Industrial Relation Commission (NIRC), 17 union leaders have been kicked out of their jobs when they formed a union.  Nishat textile Mills is owned by the richest man of Pakistan Mian Mansha, thanks to the privatization of MCB Bank under Nawaz government that Mian Mansha has become the richest man and has become a very anti worker boss. The union in MCB was thrown out and now all the textile factories of Mian Mansha are without any union.

Most of the union members of The Inter Wood furniture factory lost their job after they formed the first ever union in Lahore factory of Inter Wood. It is known to labour deprtment of Punjab that Mian Nawaz Sharif family took special interest in this case to favor the boss who is a close friend of the family. No action was taken by any court of Pakistan for this gross violation of human rights of the labour for their constitutional right of forming associations.

New Khan Metro Bus Service is owned by A leader of Muslim League ( the boss changes the Muslim League frequently, now a leader of PMLN and earlier was in PMLQ). The first ever union in the company was suppressed by the boss by terminating the jobs of the union leaders. The case in in labour courts for over two years and no grievances of the union is been addressed by the courts.

No labour department officer can enter any industrial units in Punjab. This was the order of Pervaiz Ilahi in 2003 (the Punjab chief minister under Musharaf), a complete unity is shown by Mian Shahbaz Sharif on this issue with him, this ban is still intact despite a very clear order of Lahore High Court and courts seems impotents after they have decided in  favour of workers to implement their order.

There are at least 14 other cases of top judges discriminatory attitude towards the workers effort to form new trade unions.

There will be demonstration in at least 50 cities of Pakistan on 1st March 2011, we will issue the list of the cities and place and timing of these demonstrations and rallies.


Our demands,

  • Release the four textile workers facing terrorist charges immediately
  • Reinstate all PTCL suspended workers with immediate effect
  • The courts must take action against those bosses violating labour laws
  • Lift labour inspection from the factories
  • A guarantee of implementation of Rupees 7000 wages for all unskilled workers according to the notification of the government all over Pakistan and just in Islamabad , (Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudry issued an order of implementing this in Islamabad while taking a sue moto notice of a security guard)
  • Respect workers right to strike, organize unions and demand a respectable working condition, environment and wages for all workers
  • Increase the minimum wages to Rupees 15000 monthly for all workers

We expect all friends and supporters of workers to participate in these rallies. We also call on other political parties and trade unions to endorse this call of action.

We need your support, moral, financial and physical

1.       Please participate in the rallies

2.       Please endorse the call of the action day, (Individual and organizational, both welcome)

3.       Please send a donation for this day of action

4.       Please send a message of solidarity to be printed and read at the rallies in major cities of Pakistan


Please send your donation to

Account holder: Labour Party Pakistan

Account number:  0949-01010026793

Swift code:  MUCBPKKAA

MCB Bank, Beadon Road Lahore, Pakistan


Pakistan now at the mercy of the IMF/WB

The loans that are being offered to Pakistan by the IMF and World Bank (as well as those on offer from individual nations) are going to compound the problems for the country.

First of all, the country is already massively in debt, some 40 to 45 billion dollars by most estimates, with 12 billion of that coming in just the last two years.  Now with the flooding and the enormous costs that the nation’s reconstruction will requires, the prospects for getting out from under that debt seem remote.

Second, the IMF and World Bank have gotten pretty ruthless (even if they are right) in critiquing the Pakistani establishment’s overreliance on foreign loans to keep the country afloat.  The problem is that the solutions that the IMF and World Bank want to impose (the VAT for instance) would target poorer Pakistanis over the elite and let the crooks in Pakistan off the hook.  Already the poor in the country have been hit pretty hard by the flooding; this will only make things worse.  (Incidentally, the rulers of Pakistan have more or less been hand picked by the global elite — so their complaints now ring more than a little hollow).  Tariq Ali gave a good account of the problems with the arguments that the IMF and World Bank are putting forward on Democracy Now.

Add to that, the problems with the flooding are getting worse, not better.  100,000 more people were displaced when Manchur lake in Sindh overflowed.  In some places, the water still hasn’t receded — this is, in part, because the floodwaters are now in the flat, agricultural parts of the country and they have no natural way of moving out.

Luckily, the Pakistani left is organizing and fighting back.  This video is from a rally that happened a few days ago — explicitly connecting the problems of the country with capitalism and international finance institutions.

Workers in Pakistan combative despite flooding

More than 25,000 telecommunications workers have been out on strike in Pakistan since the middle of August. They are striking because they were promised 50% wage increases by the government, but the semi-privatized Pakistan Telecommunications Company Limited (PTCL) has refused to abide by the government’s promise. The management of PTCL has argued that since they are semi-private they are not bound by the promises that the government makes. The company initially announced that it would raise wages, hoping to head off protests, but the wage increases were lower than what was promised (20% as opposed to 50%).

At the same time, management at PTCL is accusing workers of sabotaging its efforts at helping out the country in a time of need (and simultaneously saying that it has also taken a hit because of the flooding). This appears to also be having an impact on the UAE-Pakistan relationship as well, though reports are vague on what this will mean.

On Thursday, striking workers stormed the PTCL headquarters and faced off with police who charged them with batons. A few workers were injured, but the workers were able to get past the cops and storm the building. On Friday, PTCL workers blockaded three of the main roads in Islamabad. They held the road for 6 hours and shut down traffic. The police faced off with them on the main Kashmir avenue but they didn’t make a move against the workers for the duration of the protest. As the rally broke up, the police charged (apparently at the request of management) and arrested 40 and injured several more. It’s a sign of the determination and combativity of the workers that they are able to stand up to the ideological and physical onslaught that they are up against (many of them are also Muslim and fasting during Ramadan!).

PTCL is run by Etisalat, a UAE-based telecommunications firm. They tried, from the outset, to have the strike declared illegal and to get the police to intervene decisively against the union. Management even went to the Lahore High Court to try and have the strike action declared violent, but the High Court refused and ordered PTCL back to the bargaining table. In response, PTCL is withholding wages. Meanwhile, PTCL announced higher profits for FY2010 than they originally anticipated.

But the strike action is having a very serious effect as phone service has been affected throughout the country, and it’s also beginning to have an impact on other industries in Pakistan, too. PTCL is losing clients as capitalists are switching to other communications providers. There seems to be an overall loss of confidence in PTCL’s ability to get its service running (the biggest complaint is that service requests are going unanswered) and effectively handle the labor unrest (other industrialists are accusing PTCL of using the strike as an excuse not to make repairs).

The first month of Labour Relief Campaign Pakistan

I’ve been advocating that people contribute to the efforts of the Labor Party of Pakistan when they are donating to give aid to Pakistan in response to devastating effects of the flood. I’m reposting in full a report from the LPP on their efforts, which have been fantastic.  You should be able to click on the link below to donate.

The first month of Labour Relief Campaign Pakistan

The Labour Relief Camp first camp was organized in Lahore on 1st August 2010 at Regal Chouck Lahore. Earlier on 25th July 2010, we decided to launch a Baluchistan appeal.

It stated,

“Torrential rains have unleashed flash floods in different parts of Baluchistan over the few days.  Water levies broke leaving the people exposed to flood water. At least three villages in district Sibi have been destroyed. Houses, live-stock such as cattle’s and goats, household goods, clothes, shoes and other items have been destroyed. Residents of villages are currently without drinkable water, food, shelter and in need of clothes.  In particular, the situation is dire for children and women and they are in desperate need of food and clothing. Disease is spreading fast in the areas affected due to lack of drinkable water. In particular, flu, fever, diarrhea, cholera have been noted and are spreading.  The government’s response has made matters worse. They failed to act immediately, leaving tens of thousands of people unaided.  They came after twenty four hours to the make-shift camps with paltry amount of food bags to distribute. The gap between the food being distributed and the large number of people desperate to eat led to fighting breaking out making matters even worse for these desperate people. Rubina Baluch, Women Secretary LPP Baluchistan, who is a resident of one of the affected villages said, ‘there is absolutely nothing left here – food, water, and clothing – and we are in desperate need of these’.  At least, 10, 000 people are said to be in suffering in these grave conditions”.

Perhaps this was the first appeal by any political group in Pakistan to ask people to help the victims of torrential rains in Baluchistan.

After an informal consultation with several social and political groups in Lahore, we decided to set up the first camp. Already a group of 42 activists including 35 women belonging to Labour Education Foundation were trapped in Kalam, Swat valley. The flood in river Swat had flooded away all the bridges and the road links were delinked from the rest of the country. They were eventually evacuated by a military helicopter after 8 days of ordeal.

The camp in Lahore was supported by many activists and on the first day, we collected nearly 18,000 Rupees within two hours. Next day, it went up to nearly 50,000.

A LRC committee was reestablished with 8 members from eight different organizations. They included, Cindy Kariaper, Pakistan for Palestine, Farooq Tariq Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee, Qalandar Memon Labour Party Pakistan, Bushra Khaliq Women Workers Help Line, Khalid Malik Labour Education Foundation, Ammar Jan Progressive Youth Front, Khaliq Shah CADTM Pakistan and Niaz Khan National Trade Union Federation. The committee decided to meet at least twice in a week to discuss all aspect of the campaign.

The LRC committee agreed to campaign on two fronts, collecting funds for the immediate relief and to change the priorities of the national budget demanding a total no to repayment of foreign debts and reduce the military budget, no cuts in development budget and no new taxes, no new loan, but grants and aid.

On 7th August, we issued a new appeal and here is a part that we wrote,

“Please donate to Labour Relief Campaign to help people of Pakistan is facing worst ever floods of its history. Torrential rains have unleashed flash floods in different parts of the country since last three weeks. Water levies broke leaving the people exposed to flood water. More than 12 million people have suffered due to these floods. More than 650,000 houses have collapsed, mainly in villages. Thousands of acres of crops have been destroyed due to flood water. Houses, live-stock such as cattle’s and goats, household goods, clothes, shoes and other items have been destroyed.  Residents of villages are currently without drinkable water, food, shelter and in need of clothes”.

Five days later, the situation has even more worsened and it was estimated that over 20 million people are affected by the flood by then,

We wrote on 12 August,

“The flood is still on dangerous levels in several parts of Pakistan. The numbers of people affected by the flood have crossed 20 million. More torrential rains are forecast by the weather department. This is been considered one of the most devastating flood in world history. The UN has once again appealed for donations for Pakistan. But there has been a very slow response internationally to help Pakistan in this period of great devastation. After destroying most of Khaiber Pukhtoonkhawa and Southern Punjab, the water has now washed down the Indus River Valley, causing a deluge in Sindh. The water has been powered by unusually fierce monsoon rains that began in country’s northern areas some three weeks ago. Roads, bridges and other infrastructure have given way, overwhelming the government’s ability to cope. At this point an estimated 1,600 have been killed with another 5 million left homeless”.

Camps were set up in different parts of Pakistan including Rawalpindi, Mardan, Hyderabad, Moro, Karachi, Sanghar, Layya and Sibbi.

We send the appeal to all our international friends and by then, the world was awakening to the most catastrophic incident of Pakistan history.

In one month, we have raised the following

Lahore Rs. 654587 (cash)

Lahore Rs. 45000 (goods)

Rawalpindi Rs. 5000 (cash)

Hyderabad Rs. 184100 (cash)

Hyderabad Rs. 299550 Goods and medicine

Moro Rs. 766,190 (cash)

Karachi Rs. 450,000 (cash)

Karachi Rs. 250,000 (goods)

Mardan Rs. 70,000 (cash)

Sibbi did not have information

Sanghar no information yet

Layya no information yet

International appeal Rs. 371784

Confirmed commitments and information received

SAP Netherlands Euro 5000 (Rs. 550,000)

Olof Palme International Center Sweden SEK 50,000 (Rs. 589,500)

Cultural Life Buoy campaign NOK 10,000 (Rs. 138,000)

Yasmeen USA US$ 2000 (Rs.172,000)

Pakistanis in Denmark US $ 1000 (Rs. 85000)

A total in cash raised from Pakistan: Rs. 2,129,877

International Rs. 371,784

Commitments Rs. 1,534,500

Goods: Rs. 594550

Total cash, goods and commitments on 3 September 2010, 4,630,711 (US$ 54478)

Apart from the relief campaign, we have also launched a political campaign for non-payment of foreign debts of Pakistan. We held our first press conference in first week of August in Lahore and we said, “Pakistan must refuse to pay the foreign debts and divert the amount into the relief and rehabilitation of the flood affectees. It is high time to change the priorities of the national budget and all those suggestions to cut the development budget and spend on flood affectees be stopped. There is an easy way out. Stop paying the debts owed to International Finance Institutions, donor countries and clubs.

The press conference was the first voice in Pakistan on the issue. We contacted like-minded groups and parties to raise the issue and the idea was well received. Social and political groups in Islamabad met and decided to take on the issue. In Lahore, on 29th August, LRC organized a multi-party conference to oppose the debt retirement and 28 political parties, trade unions and social movements agreed to participate in this campaign. On second September several hundreds marched to Islamabad to demand non payment of foreign debts. One of the largest private television channel Dunia took up the issue on a prime time talk show, “Dunia Mery Aaghey” and invited one of the organizer of the demonstration to put up the case. There is now a beginning of the awakening of some main stream political parties to take up the issue.

Three more rallies will be organized to press for this demand. One such rally will be held in Lahore on 19th September from GPO Chouck to Punjab Assembly demanding an end of payments of debts while people are in danger of dying in the aftermath of the flood. In this campaign, we have got the material support of OXFAM.

Where the money spent?

We had decided to spend the amount on flood victims on selected areas where we have local teams to deal the question of distribution in more organized manner and also to the most needy ones. The initial three areas selected were Union Council Tully in Sibbi district of Baluchistan, Pir Sabaq union council of district Noshehra of Khaber Pukhtoonkhawa and Southern part of Punjab. We held in food items, kitchen items and construction material in two areas, while we were unable to do anything in Saraiki area. Lately, LRC has send amount to Hyderabad jamshoro, Moro and Thatha area of Sindh through Sindh Labour Relief Committee. The local teams in Baluchistan reported wide spread disruption in food item distribution and they had to take special measures to avoid that. they issue tokens of particular food basket after conducting surveys of three villages and then asked them to collect food from a special place designated for collection the food items. Same process was carried out in Pir Sabaq area where distribution of food items and construction material was done with a very disciplined manner. The main reason of smooth distribution was our local committees which included political and trade unions activists.

In Hyderabad jamshoro, we set up medical camps and distributed medicines through our doctors association. Here in Hyderabad, we were jointly working with Communist Party Pakistan, Aadersh, A Sindhi literary magazine. In Moro, our local relief committee was formed in association with local traders and trade unions. There were the most successful in collecting amount and good from an area which was itself affected. Through joint effort, they have won the sympathies of many in the city and are the main distribution group of the area. Several other organizations have contacted and asked help in distribution to the flood affectees of Moro and Dadu district. In Karachi, SRLC set up four camps and sent four trucks of good to Moro and at present busy in Thatha district to help the flood victims who are sleeping on roads and schools.

The International Response to LRC appeal

This was to give you some idea of our activity during the first month of our relief work. Most of the amount collected in Pakistan are from ordinary people. They have donated us generously. BY setting up camps and distributing aid to flood victims in some selected areas, we have tried to counter the influence of the right wing forces particularly the religious fundamentalists groups. Several hundreds activists of LRC are busy in collecting funds locally and we are also encouraged by different responses from abroad. Political groups associated with Fourth International in several countries particularly in Netherlands and England have send us amount already, while several individual and Left groups efforts in US have brought some cash to the relief. From Sweden, we have already received information of 50,000 Swedish SKR and in Norway, an initiative by actor Toni Usman for a theater show on 19 September has already won support of Norway artist association with leading actors of Norway taking part voluntarily to help the campaign. In Australia, Socialist Alliance is helping to collect funds and APHEDA, the official Australian trade unions international assistance is collecting funds for LRC.

We had the great arrival of South Asians at Lahore relief camp to collect funds from Pakistanis. Social and peace activists from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka came to Lahore and brought some amount from their own countries and contributed to LRC funds. They have brought with this a consciousness of South Asian solidarity in real terms.

We appeal to all our international friends to continue collecting funds for our future planned aid and political activities. Apart from the campaign on debts, we have decided to organize peasant rallies in Sindh and Punjab to demand land rights and end of feudalism.

Social crisis stalks Pakistan

My piece in Socialist Worker on the flooding in Pakistan:


The catastrophe is being shaped by powerful political and economic forces–and the most vulnerable have been left to fend for themselves, reports Snehal Shingavi.

September 3, 2010

People fleeing rising floodwaters with what possessions they can carry

People fleeing rising floodwaters with what possessions they can carry

IT HAS been nearly a month since the floods tore through the Swat valley in the northern part of Pakistan. The water has begun flowing into the ocean, and water levels have begun to fall in most places, but the sheer magnitude of the devastation left in its wake is overwhelming.

Even as the water recedes, new towns in the southern part of Pakistan are at risk of being submerged. Already, the floods are recognized by UN officials as worse–in terms of the number of people suffering–than the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami that hit India and the earthquake that hit Pakistan in 2005 combined.

The Pakistani state’s reports about the extent of the damage barely do justice to the human toll. Some 1,650 people are dead, and another 2,450 are injured. Upwards of 20 million people are homeless and have been forced to flee to relief camps, where shortages in food, medicine and clean drinking water have produced new problems.

Children especially are at risk since the cramped quarters in the relief camps mean that communicable diseases like chicken pox and the measles are spreading rapidly, while the lank of sanitation and nutrition mean that dysentery, diarrhea and skin lesions are very common.

The World Food Program is warning that Pakistan now suffers from the triple threat of “hunger, homelessness and desperation” as a consequence of the flooding and the impact it has had on the Pakistani economy.

The loss of farmland, livestock (the primary savings of most families), seeds and the entirety of the winter crop will not only mean that thousands will go hungry for the next several months, but also that it will be a very long time before they will be able to return to meaningful lives. Already, there are estimates that it may take six months until farmland is suitable for planting crops, putting next year’s crop in jeopardy as well.

The damage to the infrastructure has been crippling. Roads, bridges, canals and power stations have all been affected by the flooding. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, for instance, chronic illegal deforestation–caused by timber producers hiding logs in ravines in the mountainous areas–meant that when the rains hit, the water not only ran down the mountains much faster, but it also carried logs into the river, where they collided with bridges and destroyed them.

While much of the media has pointed out the connection between the Pakistani Taliban and the so-called “timber mafia” in the region as a way to blame Islamic militancy for the flooding, they have been reluctant to point out the connections between the “timber mafia” and the civilian bureaucracy, which has been largely bribed into turning a blind eye to the problem. Deforestation is not news in Pakistan.

What is striking, though, is the way that this natural disaster has been made worse by the social arrangement in Pakistan. First of all, land is unevenly owned in Pakistan–64 percent of the farmland is owned by 5 percent of the population. As a result, poorer farmers and peasants ordinarily own or work on land in areas that are ordinarily prone to flooding.

In the cities, poorer people crowded in slums found that their homes were sacrificed in order to save the homes of wealthier residents. At least one newspaper has called this perverse social organization that threatens the lives of the most vulnerable people in Pakistan a kind of “economic apartheid.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE REASONS that the floods were as bad as they were in Pakistan have to do with the social interests that are connected to the irrigation network in Pakistan. The Punjab and Sindh were not always agriculturally productive regions, since many parts of those provinces didn’t have regular access to water.

When the British colonized South Asia, they set out to build a large irrigation network along the Indus basin in order to be able to create a class of agriculturists who would be dependent on the colonial government and therefore loyal to their interests. Many of the people who settled here were also soldiers in the British colonial army.

After independence, those same agriculturalists became important players in the Pakistani state and used their influence to make sure that the irrigation networks fed their lands. Even when the capacity existed, for instance, for an overhaul of the canals and dams and a rerouting of the Indus in certain places that were prone to flooding, it was deeply resisted by these same agricultural interests, which would lose out should their lands no longer be next to the canals or should the canals displace their farms.

As a result, holistic ecological planning in Pakistan has been frustrated by the very social class that relies on regular water flows through the Indus. And in the worst irony, the very system that was designed to boost the agricultural output of Pakistan has destroyed the winter crop entirely.

The irrigation network itself is unsustainable. The canals require embankments, cement and concrete walls that are dug into the land to carry water. Because of the amount of silt that the Indus carries down from the Himalayas, the embankments actually contribute to the raising of the riverbed, which then means that the embankments have to be raised even higher.

In some places, this has meant that the embankments are actually higher than the floodplain, making it impossible for the canals and rivers to drain water to the ocean, pushing water out into the lowlands along the river and making the flooding worse.

The problem is compounded in Pakistan because local lobbies try to protect their immediate interests over the interests of the ecosystem or the economy as a whole, thus preventing any real flood control mechanism from ever being built. For the last several years, for instance, there has been an intense debate inside of Pakistan about the proposed construction of the Kalabagh dam, a hydroelectric dam that would sit near the border of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Because there are chronic water shortages throughout Pakistan, the agricultural lobbies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh (the two neighboring provinces) charge that the dam would give Punjab the ability to steal water for itself and deprive the other provinces of irrigation.

There are other ecological considerations at work here, too. Agricultural interests in Sindh, for instance, require that there be a certain regular amount of water flowing through the Indus throughout the year to prevent seawater from entering into the river stream and making arable land unusable because of high rates of salinity. Dams in the Punjab, then, would mean that Sindh would have no ability to ensure the necessary flow of water in the lower riparian areas of the Indus.

Meanwhile, agriculturalists in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa charge that the construction of flood control mechanisms along the Indus will flood and submerge land upriver. Neither of these groups is wrong, since Punjabi dominance in Pakistani politics would mean that development or compensation to offset the costs to losing interest groups will not be forthcoming.

Added to this is the strange manner in which geopolitical conflicts have affected the region’s rivers. After the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, the Indus basin was literally divided, with certain rivers originating in India and others in Pakistan. That meant that India could (and did) use control over river flows as a weapon in its rivalry with Pakistan, regulating the flow of the rivers by constructing dams on its side of the border.

This has not only meant intense bickering at any number of peace talks between the two nations, but also produces the absurd problem of trying to manage the ecology of the river basin without any real control over the infrastructure. Rumors were flying, for instance, that the flooding this year was in part due to India opening the dams on its side.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

AFTER THE UN made its appeal to the international community for $459 million in disaster aid, some 70 percent of that figure was pledged. It bears underlining, though, that this amount is only a drop in the bucket compared to what Pakistan will need to rebuild–official estimates are more than $40 billion–or what it will need to rehabilitate all those people who have been displaced.

And because aid has been trickling in slowly, people have become increasingly desperate. Riots have broken out in relief camps, and people have stormed aid vehicles in the hopes of getting what little relief they can. The problem is made worse because there are reports everywhere that entrenched political interests have secured the delivery of aid to certain regions ahead of others. The fact that much needed aid and relief has yet to arrive has compounded the corrupt practices of the Pakistani state.

There are a few reasons why aid has been so slow in coming to Pakistan. While most of the media has manufactured a new psychological ailment called “donor fatigue” (which is contradicted by the remarkable generosity shown by ordinary people across the world), the more likely reason has to do with American military and political objectives in the region.

As a result of the war in Afghanistan, all discussions about aid to Pakistan are thoroughly politicized, as most U.S. establishment figures hold the country responsible for the continued success of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Added to this is a growing climate of Islamophobia in the U.S. and Europe, which has contributed to the notion that Pakistan is merely a hotbed for terrorist activity.

Both of these ideas in concert have contributed to the paranoia that Islam is on the rise in Pakistan and that providing aid to the country will simply mean that money gets channeled into the hands of unsavory people and organizations. The hypocrisy of the matter couldn’t be clearer when one remembers that the United States happily funded military dictators in Pakistan and cherry-picked the current civilian leadership in the country.

The Americans haven’t even stopped the drone attacks that have pounded the border region with Afghanistan almost every day since the flooding began. Now ordinary Pakistanis are caught between a corrupt civilian government and the American “war on terror.”

The other major problem is that much of the aid that will come into Pakistan will be in the form of loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, both of which have offered multibillion-dollar emergency loan packages. While the immediate injection of cash may help, in the long term, it has the effect of enriching the elite in Pakistan (who ensure that the aid goes into their pockets) while saddling ordinary Pakistanis with a huge debt burden that is paid either in the form of higher taxes or cuts to services.

Already, Pakistan owes some $50-55 billion to international lending institutions and pays $3 billion annually to service its debt obligation (three times more than it spends on health care, for instance).

The delayed, lackluster and sometimes even criminal response of the Pakistani civilian government in reacting to the flooding has meant that the largest beneficiary of the crisis in Pakistan has been the military. Because Pakistan has spent the last 60 years building up its armed forces and their resources at the expense of social services and infrastructure, the military is one of the few institutions capable of dealing with the scope and scale of the problem produced by the flooding.

So instead of having the capacity to manage the relief efforts effectively, the civilian bureaucracy is more or less ceding control and authority to the military forces in Pakistan, which were not only able to arrive quickly on the scene, but have also helped airlift villagers out of flood-ravaged areas.

In fact, the flooding may have entirely rehabilitated the military’s image, which had been less than positive after the reign of former President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. As Newsweek reports:

Three years ago, when Kayani took over the armed forces, the institution was widely discredited and even reviled after Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s long and controversial rule. Now, says Ayaz Amir, an opposition member of parliament, Kayani’s leadership has already improved the military’s popularity substantially, and the general could soon “look so tall that a military takeover will remain just a formality.”

It doesn’t hurt that the major television channels are running a constant loop of footage, set to the national anthem, showing army personnel rescuing women and children, delivering medicine and guarding weakened dams and bridges. Some are already calling for a return to military rule.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IT’S UNCLEAR still how this will play out in Pakistani society. A few things are likely, though.

First, anger at the current government is already apparent as flood victims have been staging protests at relief camps and in front of aid convoys demanding help immediately. Anger will only increase as the relief effort taxes the ability of the state to deliver on what is necessary. President Asif Ali Zardari’s popularity is well below 20 percent; he’s also been the victim of a rather public shoe-throwing incident.

Second, the Islamists could very well be the beneficiaries of the anger that is rising against the Americans and the civilian government. It’s unclear just how extensive their reach in the relief efforts is, but it is entirely possible that they will have an explanation for the current crisis which will speak to ordinary Pakistanis, especially since the left in Pakistan is still relatively small.

Still, there are important organizing efforts being undertaken by the Pakistani left, including an attempt to demand that the government stop paying back its international debt. Several leftist parties and NGOs held a joint press conference in Islamabad to announce an initiative against debt repayments and an end to aid in the form of loans.

Political initiatives like this will hopefully give the left in Pakistan an audience and a platform to organize the anger that exists among those most affected by the flooding.

But what the flooding reveals more than anything else is that nothing short of a total social reorganization of the region will prevent this tragedy from being repeated. It is only when all of South Asia is organized to meet the needs of the people who live there rather than the short-term interests of the rulers that cataclysmic events like the floods can be avoided.

Pakistani rock about the floods

This song has been making the rounds in Pakistan.  It’s by a rock band called LAAL, and the song is called “Doob Gaya Hain” (it/we have been drowned).  Incidentally, Laal has an explicitly political history that you can and should read about, singing songs by some of my favorite poets, like Faiz and Habib Jalib.  Spread the word if you like the song — definitely donate to one of the many organizations doing relief work.  I recommend the Labor Party of Pakistan’s efforts.

New Red Indian in French

Thanks to friends in the New Anticapitalist Party in France for this:
samedi 28 août 2010

Les inondations qui ont dévasté d’immenses régions du Pakistan sont peut-être un phénomène dû à la nature, mais l’aggravation de la crise humanitaire qui a suivi est le résultat direct des manquements des dirigeants pakistanais vénaux et de l’impact de la «guerre contre la terreur» menée par les Etats-Unis.

Selon les estimations officielles, plus de 22 millions de personnes ont été déplacées et plus 1600 personnes [15 août, actuellement] sont mortes en conséquence de l’une des pires inondations de l’histoire du Pakistan. Dans certaines régions, les pluies ont donné à l’Indus une largeur de 15 miles, ce qui représente environ 25 fois sa largeur normale. [Selon l’ONU, le 25 août, plus de 7 millions de personnes sont dans une situation de danger extrême du point de vue de leur alimentation (eau-nourriture), de leur santé et de leur manque de tout habitat.]

Read the rest of the article here.

Pakistani writers weigh in on the flooding

I’ve been surprised at the number of important Pakistani writers who have lent their voices to try to get aid delivered to Pakistan.  In some instances, the analysis that they offer has been both helpful and insightful; in others, downright disappointing.  Still, I think it’s important that the role of the public intellectual and author-critic is still alive in Pakistan.

Kamila Shamsie had a piece about the “timber mafia” in the UK Guardian:

It is possible to regard the floods as separate from the first two horsemen of the Apocalypse – the Taliban and the army. Floods are, after all, “natural disasters” or “acts of God” (take your pick – in Pakistan, most people will choose the latter). No one is culpable, no one could have prevented it. The truth is, the death toll could have been much lower, assistance much more quickly and efficiently at hand. Instead, report after report talks of the inadequacy of the state’s response to the crisis. This is made more maddening by the fact that much of the flooding took place in parts of the country that were already a humanitarian disaster zone.

Mohammad Hanif (author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes) had a poignant piece in the BBC:

These areas are of no strategic interest to anyone because they have neither exported terrorism nor do they have the ambition to join a fight against it. Their only export to the world outside is onions, tomatoes, sugar cane, wheat and mangoes. The word terrorism does not even exist in Seraiki and Sindhi, the languages of the majority of the people who have been rendered homeless. They belong to that forgotten part of humanity that has quietly tilled the land for centuries, the small farmers, the peasants, the farmhands, generations of people who are born and work and die on the same small piece of land.And this time there are 20 million of them.

Daniyal Mueenuddin’s piece in the New York Times captured the plight of the farmer extremely well:

I found most pitiful a family gathered around a prostrate brown-and-white brindled cow. The father told me that the cow had been lost in the water for four days, and the previous night it had clambered up on another section of the levee, a mile away. The people of this area recognize their cattle as easily as you or I recognize a cousin or neighbor — they sleep with their animals around them at night, and graze them all day; their animals are born and die near them. Someone passing by told the family that their cow had been found, and the father went and got it and led it to their little encampment.

His other piece in the NY Times, which called for the US to use this opportunity to win over the Pakistanis to fighting against extremists, was less compelling.

The best of the pieces was definitely Ali Sethi’s in the New York Times with its damning expose of the collusion between the Americans and the Pakistani elite:

The answer came in evasive, fragmented sentences: there was an airbase on the Sindhi side of the highway. This was where the military’s newest F-16 fighter jets were parked. But local residents believed that the base also housed the notorious American drones used to kill Islamist militants in the mountains. If true, this meant that the military was getting tens of millions of dollars a year in exchange, none of which trickled down to the local population.

Mohsin Hamid was disappointing in his calls to shore up the Pakistani state in this piece in Dawn.  And HM Naqvi’s piece on Global Post was forgettable.