Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tackling Pakistan's Problems: Where to Start?

See related posts here and here.

Below see a thoughtful perspective on tackling Pakistan's fundamental problems. Here I only want to comment on one causal factor (without discounting other contributing factors). I disagree with the part about "culture" when the author defines "anti-Americanism". I have the materialistic aspects of the American mainstream culture in mind here. Effective at the roots of many environmental, social, and economic problems, this materialism is corroding the American society itself and is part and parcel of American hegemonic expansionism in the world. It especially targets the middle and elite classes, who (often) get in the way of a meaningful social transformation with their materialistic self-indulgence, apathy, and/or active opposition. Not saying that these classes were not apathetic or exploitative before (other causal factors were definitely effective), but the problem amplified with corporate globalization (among other things, with the neo-liberal market reforms and hyper consumerism that it promoted).

In order to truly resist the American imperialism, we also need to resist the cultural imperialism. Toward the end of her famous 2002 speech, Arundhati Roy said it well: "Meanwhile down at the mall there's a mid-season sale. Everything's discounted - oceans, rivers, oil, gene pools, fig wasps, flowers, childhoods, aluminum factories, phone companies, wisdom, wilderness, civil rights, eco-systems, air - all 4,600 million years of evolution. It's packed, sealed, tagged, valued and available off the rack. (No returns). ...The American way of life is simply not sustainable because it doesn't acknowledge that there is a world beyond America." (See part of that speech here).

I would frame the argument this way that the fight is not against American people or religions but against American imperialism - political, economic, cultural. Resisting this cultural imperialism is also about resisting Orientalism and the colonial ("brown sahib") mindset that develops at the receiving end.

I believe that any meaningful and sustainable change in Pakistan (and in the US and elsewhere) has to start with change of hearts, with a re-vision of individual and cultural values and priorities, and a re-definition of our interaction with fellow human beings and the environment. Of course, the challenge lies in defining the actual contours and details of this kind of vision.

The New Left revisited

By Asha Amirali, Dawn, Mar 09, 2010

The much-maligned and weakened Pakistani Left often comes in for more than its fair share of prescriptive remedies.

One such critical dose appeared on these pages on March 3 in which Mr Muhammad Ali Siddiqi expressed a cautious optimism about the recent merger of a handful of leftist groups, which has resulted in the formation of the Workers Party Pakistan (WPP).

He also, however, advised the ‘New Left’ to ‘not jump on the anti-American bandwagon’, recognise that the real enemy facing Pakistan today is religious militancy, welcome foreign investment, and follow the lead of New Labour in the UK and repackage itself given the realities of the post-Cold War world.

To start with the anti-Americanism aspect, I completely agree with Mr Siddiqi that a new leftist political formation in Pakistan must not limit itself to hollow slogans. There is an urgent need to objectively analyse the contradictions that exist within Pakistani society and put together a political programme that responds to them.

Not all of Pakistan’s problems can be blamed away, and Mr Siddiqi is right that there is an immediate need to debunk the anti-American hate-mongering of the right, with all its emphasis on waging war against kufr. But what most liberals and others who decry the Left’s anti-Americanism fail to see is that the Left is not anti-American, it is anti-imperialist. Those are two completely different political positions — the Left’s fight is not with a particular culture but with any state that seeks to destroy, coerce and manipulate others to its own advantage.

Most Pakistani people, and indeed people the world over, resent American interventionism in their affairs. The Left can only be a force for genuine emancipation if it heeds this sentiment and builds and articulates an alternative vision which privileges the democratisation of the global order. And while it is obvious, there is no harm in repeating a truth: without genuine democratisation of the global order, democratisation within national boundaries is impossible.

A second but related point is the policy regime that the international financial institutions have championed in Pakistan over the past three decades. The claim that the Pakistani people will benefit from uninhibited flows of foreign capital and technology has amassed little evidence in its favour.

Throughout the tenure of Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan experienced an extraordinary influx of capital and new information technologies. The result was a temporary bubble of growth which burst, leaving in its wake sharpened inequality and an economy teetering on termite-ridden stilts. The global financial crisis followed soon after and made clear just how viable and pro-people the radical free market capitalist model is.There is no doubt that Pakistan needs to employ its unemployed millions and increase productivity across all sectors, but the trickle-down effects from foreign capital have yet to show themselves in most of the Third World. So instead, why should the Left in Pakistan not look at the experiments being attempted in Latin America which reject the neo-liberal paradigm and emphasise growth and integration strategies that put people and the environment first? It seems the logical thing to do.

Finally, and very crucially, the greatest problem facing Pakistan at the present time is not religious militancy, but fragmentation along ethnic lines. Balochistan is (still) burning and a wide cross-section of the Baloch people are increasingly drawn towards separatism. Sindhi nationalist sentiment, while currently muted because the PPP is in office, is nevertheless simmering below the surface. A large number of Pakhtuns view the unfolding civil war-like situation in Pakhtunkhwa as a war in which a conspiring and duplicitous state treats Pakhtuns as nothing more than pawns on its chessboard.

Historically the Left and ethnic-nationalists struggled together against the unitary state. Today, the Left — particularly in Punjab — must make clear its commitment to a new social contract in which all nations within the state of Pakistan are considered equal and given rights and resources accordingly.

Religious militancy is growing, yes. It is instilling hatred and violence and negating all that progressive forces want to see realised in Pakistan. However, I believe it is essential for the Left to move beyond the liberal refrain about the Islamists constituting an existential threat to the Pakistani state. Islamism has established roots in parts of Pakistani society largely because of its historic patronage by the military establishment. Today it sustains these roots because of continued support by the state, the presence of western troops in the region, and the end of imagination that afflicts society.

Military operations against people who have been alienated from the social and political mainstream will not reduce the appeal of radical Islamist ideology. We must focus on causes rather than react to symptoms: the ‘real enemy’, as Mr Siddiqi put it, is not religious militancy, rather, it is the militaristic state and its Islam-centric ideology, the nastiest but perfectly logical manifestation of which is the Taliban. The ‘New Left’ in Pakistan will do well to create consensus amongst progressive forces on these most basic of issues. However, the clear differences between Mr Siddiqi’s point of view and the one propounded here indicate that such a consensus might be difficult.

Those who, in Mr Siddiqi’s words, are not sure how they “feel about the word ‘Left’”, are unlikely to support a strongly anti-imperialist, anti-neoliberal programme. Unfortunately though, meaningful change is only possible if we travel this difficult path. There are no shortcuts.

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