In recent days, the already tenuous political situation in Pakistan has made a turn toward the worse. Musharraf’s government clamped down first on the judiciary and other opponents in the government in the first days after his declaration of martial law. More recently, those same forces have prevented even the liberal bourgeois opposition represented by Benazir Bhutto from gathering and arrested several thousand members of the opposition. In addition, Musharraf has gone on record as stating that many of those arrested face capitol charges. One element of the secular opposition to Musharraf is the Labour Party of Pakistan, a democratic socialist organization launched in 1997 from various elements of the Pakistani Left. What follows is an exchange conducted over the past couple of days (November 9-10, 2007) between myself and Farooq Tariq, secretary general of the Party. (Thanks to Tariq Ali for putting me in contact with Mr. Tariq.-Ron)
Ron: Hello. To begin, can you please identify yourself and generally describe your politics and the politics of the Pakistan Labour Party? Also, how many members and supporters do you estimate the Labour Party has?
Farooq: I am Farooq Tariq, secretary general, Labour Party Pakistan (LPP). I am an activist since my student days at
We have a membership of over 3,000. One of the eight big trade union federations (NTUF) in
Ron: What city are you writing from? Have there been protesters in the streets in that city?
Farooq: I am underground since the imposition of Emergency. Mostly, I have been in
Ron: What is the make up of the protesters in
Farooq: Initially, it was advocates (lawyers), left and human rights activists. But the situation has changed in last three days as Benazir Bhutto has declared her opposition. Yesterday, PPP workers fought pitched battles with police in
Ron: Do you foresee the protests continuing and perhaps growing in size?
Farooq: There is the potential. Big possibility. This past summer, it took sometime before masses took to roads. Masses hesitate at first but when they see a leadership fighting, they most likely join it. One reason is also media black out. TV channels are off air while print media is censored. Many don’t know whats happening. Often, expat Pakistanis are more informed than us here.
Ron: What security forces are arresting the opposition? Is it the Army, the ISI, or other police?
Farooq: It is police. But there have been reports where known arrested activists have been handed over to ISI.
Ron: What role does Benazir Bhutto play in Pakistani politics? Does the Labour Party consider her role a positive one? Do they support her at all? What do you make of her arrest?
Farooq: The good news in last three days was the changing attitude of Benazir Bhutto towards present military regime. While in exile, she made a deal to share power with military regime. This deal was brokered by
Her changing attitude was welcomed by LPP in press. I, on LPP’s behalf, announced in the media that LPP would join the Long March planned for 13th November by PPP from
Her recent dealings have also given currency to conspiracy theories. Many say that her opposition is just fake and all is done in collaboration with the regime in order to restore Benazir’’ image as militant leader. LPP don’t agree with such so-called conspiracies theories about Benazir and Musharraf being friends. Benazir’s opposition of the regime has meant arrests of thousands of PPP activists and their houses raided all across
Ron: I understand the situation constantly changes, but do you believe the elections will be held in February 2008? If they are, do you think they will be free and fair? Why or why not?
Farooq: In view of the unfolding movement, and international pressure, yes we can hope for that. But fair and free elections are out of question. (Any) Democracy movement will have to fight a long war before we are able to have a democracy strong enough that ensures a free election.
Ron: What, in your opinion, is the cause of the unrest in
Farooq: In the first place, it is the mass impoverishment of masses under Musharraf regime. Struggle for bread and butter has become even hard. Utility bills, price hike and jobless are biggest issues. This is the root cause of unrest. Also, (the) military has become a military-industrial complex that is acting like a mafia. There is resentment against that. Then you have
Musharraf’s military rule is unlike Zia dictatorship in its mask. Musharraf claims enlightenment and moderation. Zia Islamised
On (the) internal front, all have been repressive when faced with opposition. Every time military takes over, the military increases its industrial base, thus leading to more corruption.
Ron: What do you think will be the result of the Emergency rule? How long do you think it will be in place?
Farooq: General Musharaff would not have thought of the political scenario that has emerged the imposition of Emergency on 3rd November. His hopes for normalcy have been dashed despite a vicious repression against the advocates and political activists. More unpleasant surprises will come in future for the military regime that was used to a rather stable political control until now.
After advocates, now students are emerging on the political opposition to the military regime. Demonstrations took place on 7th November 2007 in certain public and private universities in the main cities of
The media organization of the bosses and employees are also joining the mass movement after unprecedented repression against the electronic and print media by the regime.
It was a black Monday on 5th November for the stock exchanges in
His imperialist backers like US,
Ron: Is there any other information or thoughts you wish to provide the readers?
Farooq: The opposition to military regime will be strengthened by the active solidarity of our friends and comrades outside
Ron: Thanks you for your time.