Why socialists do not brace the Azadi and Inqilab marches

Published: September 14, 2014
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Although, PTI and PAT claim to be the harbingers of democracy and freedom, their actions contradict their claims. PHOTO: FILE

Enough has been said and written about Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri in the recent days, and for obvious reasons. These contentious, yet, influential leaders have occupied the living room space of every Pakistani household via television. Therefore, one is forced to discuss them, whether they like it or not.

Surprisingly, out of all the folks of the body politic; socialists or progressives are caught in this discussion. Unlike supporters of the mainstream political parties, socialists operate and deliberate in a sophisticated and academic manner; that is they analyse a movement through their ideological lens and then frame it within the larger scheme of things. During that process, a socialist has to ask the following questions:

How can this movement benefit the working people?  How consistent and logical are the slogans of this movement?  How will the civil-military relationship be affected? Will this movement broaden the scope of democracy and freedom of expression in the country? Should they join or support the anti-government movement, such as the ones by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT)?

Although, systemic analysis is not favoured by the mainstream political and media discourses in Pakistan, it can be very efficacious for those who are interested in having a deeper and holistic understanding of the current state of affairs. Moreover, the superiority of systemic analysis over un-systemic thinking is due to the fact that the former instinctively sets aside some of the personal biases of individuals, while making political decisions.

For example, some folks may not support Imran Khan simply because he was once married to a non-Muslim woman. Similarly, others may not brace Nawaz Sharif because he once had a hair transplant. Though it is obvious that these two characteristics of Khan and Sharif are irrelevant to their politics, due to lack of systemic thinking, these kinds of petty things may influence our political decisions. Therefore, it is indispensable that we as a society start thinking in systemic categories so that we can make educated political decisions, as a collective body.

Generally, both Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri claim to protract the agenda of the poor. Qadri, however, goes one step ahead; he claims to be the voice of the voiceless and some of his economic proposals seem very progressive on paper. For example, a home for every homeless, employment allowances and subsidies on utility bills for low income households. Socialists would support these demands, but the climacteric point is that these demands must accompany the agenda of annihilating the base of the prevailing political economy, that is an end to the feudal and capitalist relations of production. Otherwise, these slogans will simply remain an agenda on paper, as we saw in the case of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s.

Moreover, the landlords and industrialists of Punjab are a part and parcel of the PTI and PAT movement. Therefore, hoping for a radical change from them is tantamount to expecting Nawaz Sharif to nationalise his own factories. On this ground, socialists believe that both PTI and PAT are only using the working class to prolong their own political interests and they have nothing substantial in return for them.

Another major inconsistency in the rhetoric of PTI and PAT is their idée fixe and liaison with the military establishment of the country. There is a unanimous agreement among the right, centre and left forces of the country that the military has the highest stakes in the political economy of the country which makes the military establishment a constitutive part of the status-quo. Thus, any social movement which claims to be revolutionary or radical cannot expect any sympathies from the military establishment of the country. On the contrary, in the case of PTI and PAT, reliance on the military establishment seems to be their ultimate tool against the Sharif government.

One cannot ignore the importance of the civil-military balance in Pakistan, considering the long hard history of martial laws in Pakistan. Irrespective of the speculations surrounding the patronage of PTI and PAT by the military establishment, it is very pronounced that the military would prefer a weak Sharif government vis-à-vis an arrogant and uncompressing one. Although, one can disagree and criticise the foreign and internal policies of the Sharif government, one has to acknowledge the constitutional and democratic right of a civilian elected government to devise its own policy independently, as the military has no constitutional right to interfere or dictate an elected government.

Moreover, PTI and PAT criticise Sharif government’s foreign and internal policies; but they never bother to criticise the military-engineered policy of ‘strategic-depth’ which has been a massive failure. Consequently, biases in favour of military establishment can clearly be observed in this movement; consciously or unconsciously this movement has strengthened the bargaining power of the military establishment vis-à-vis civilian government in political affairs. On the contrary, socialists believe in complete civilian supremacy and the continuation and strengthening of democracy, while being aware of its bourgeois limitations. Socialists would always prefer bourgeois democracy over military-dictatorship.

While I will be hesitant to frame the movements of PTI and PAT as fascist, there are no two opinions on the fact that it certainly lacks democratic tolerance. Although, PTI and PAT claim to be the harbingers of democracy and freedom, their actions contradict their claims. For example, Imran Khan talks of ‘family-dictatorship’ in Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), but doesn’t realise that he also acts as a dictator in its own party. Similarly, Tahirul Qadri openly claims to be a spiritual leader of thousands of his political followers; but one can expect anything but democracy within PAT due to the given sub-ordinance of his followers.

Furthermore, the right to freedom of expression is quintessential for a democratic society. But the manner in which PTI and PAT workers respond to their critics reflects the mind-sets of their leadership towards all critical voices. Publically ridiculing and defaming critics, without any substantial evidence, is a norm among PTI and PAT. But it is certainly not a democratic norm anywhere else in the world. PTI and PAT do not acknowledge the legitimacy of those who express their disagreement with them; they accuse their critics of being ‘sell-outs’. It is quite palpable that this movement is consciously narrowing the scope of freedom of expression and academic debate in the country. For socialists, difference of opinion is a touchstone of advancement and refinement of ideas in a society.

This was an attempt to articulate the reasons as to why socialists are not supporting the current movements of PTI and PAT, while being disapproving of the policies of the Sharif government. Moreover, it is also a testimony to the fact that even in Pakistan there are political actors (though few in number) who deliberate on political issues in the light of their ideologies and principles, rather than political opportunism and emotions.

Danish Khan

Danish Khan

A doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, his research interests include political economy of Kashmir, development economics, growth and income distribution and he tweets as @Daanishkhaan (twitter.com/Daanishkhaan)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.