April 2008

Vol 7 - No. 10
























SOUTH ASIA : Pakistan | April 2008



Applying Marx to Pakistan


In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, published in 1852, Karl Marx made a most incisive observation: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by them, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”

Following the election of Feb 18, a situation exists in Pakistan where we can make history of a different sort, notwithstanding the fact that the “tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” The reason is that for the first time in Pakistani history, circumstances are somewhat different and a break with the past is possible.


The different circumstances are the following: the military has for the first time been reported to have identified the jihadis as threat number one to Pakistan’s security while India has been relegated to the second position. In the past, a symbiosis between the military and the jihadis had resulted in Pakistan becoming the frontline state in a holy war sponsored by the United States and Saudi Arabia.


We need not go over all the harm it has done to Pakistan, but now the jihadis are launching recurrently suicide bombings on the military; the most recent being an attack on the Naval Academy Building on The Mall in Lahore. It is good that instead of the Pakistani military and the jihadis acting as one body they are now two antagonistic forces poised to clash with each other.


It is also heartening that the new chief of the army staff, Gen Kiyani, has issued orders to his men not to hobnob with the politicians. I know this would be the most difficult thing to learn and internalise, because bad habits are awfully more difficult to abandon than acquiring good ones.


The third reason for optimism that a fresh start can be made is that the two major parties in the parliament, the PPP and the PML-N, have been victims of repression by Gen Musharraf, and logically that should help them work together rather than against each other. A national government committed to a transition to democracy is a possibility—once again, only logically speaking.


Fourthly, the Islamists have been roundly defeated—as always happened in the three free and fair elections in Pakistan in 1970, 1988 and now in 2008. The Jamaat-e-Islami boycotted the elections this time but its participation would hardly have worked a miracle in favour of the mullahs. It is now quite clear that the 2002 election result which catapulted the MMA to a leading rightwing bloc in Pakistani politics was an aberration.


Hopefully, Sharif’s long stay in Saudi Arabia would have made him realise that Pakistan is a haven of freedom when compared to Saudi Arabia. This should make him value personal liberty and human rights, and indeed democracy, instead of imposing the dogmatic Sharia through some new version of the 15th Amendment that never became law because he was thrown out of power.


How much the PPP values the fact that the people of Pakistan—mostly poor and deprived—voted it as the party with the largest number of seats in parliament remains to be seen. It should hopefully encourage Mr Zardari to have some qualms of conscience and not to start devouring afresh the national exchequer .


Speaking more realistically and dialectically, as Marx would caution us to do, the fact remains that the deadweight of the past is likely to weigh quite heavy even now. Despite all indications that the people of Pakistan don’t want President Musharraf to remain in power, it seems that he wants to, and so do the Americans.


Additionally, with all the corruption cases against Asif Ali Zardari thrown out by the courts, is it any wonder that the PPP is neither keen to challenge the presidency of Musharraf nor to go along with the demand of the PML-N that the deposed chief justice and other judges be re-instated?


So, what one can assert at the moment is that a chance or a possibility to break with the past history of massive corruption, military interventions, sectarian killings and terrorism in and around Pakistan does exist, but one should be very hesitant to claim that we are on the threshold of a social or political revolution.


But suppose such a revolution does take place despite American interference and Zardari’s compromised situation. We get a new national government, the judiciary is restored to its rightful position and the government machinery starts functioning according to rules and regulations. In that case it would be important that the transition to democracy include genuine autonomy with substantive economic and financial powers being granted to our provinces.


Speaking realistically once again, chances of establishing a genuine secular democracy in Pakistan are remote, but that should not mean that in the name of Islamic identity, and so on, we give free reign to draconian laws and ordinances that serve no purpose except to prove that we cannot treat our minorities and women as equals.


We will indeed have to make our history under the circumstances that exist, and not those that we may want to exist, but at all moments in time nations and people have a number of choices at hand and not just one. Therefore, it is possible to choose another future for ourselves, rather than produce one that only mirrors our past. Even a small change to a government based on transparency and that upholds the rule of law in principle from our past record of arbitrary rule, intrigues and corruption will be a major step forward.


This article was first published in the News International . The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), National University of Singapore on leave from the University of Stockholm. Email: isasia@nus.edu.sg.



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