Sunday, September 23, 2012

Another Pakistan, that we should hear more from

AFTER affair of "charred Koran", less media attention, or concern,  for 300 burned people? (Photo Fareed Khan, Associated Press)  Trade unionists protest demanding adequate safety laws and protection.

IT is not often that we see good news from Pakistan, but that might have something to do with our corporate news media as much as with the politics of that unhappy country. We got the predictable and well-choreographed angry response to well-publicised anti-Muslim provocation across several countries this week, and though the Pakistan government declared Friday a day of "love for Mohammad", love was not the most obvious theme of several days of unrest in which 20 people died and at least 195 were injured.

It is reported that a Pakistani government minister offered $100,000 on Saturday to anyone who kills the maker of an online video which insults Islam. "I announce today that this blasphemer, this sinner who has spoken nonsense about the holy Prophet, anyone who murders him, I will reward him with $100,000," Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour told a news conference, to applause.
"I invite the Taliban brothers and the al Qaeda brothers to join me in this blessed mission."

A spokesman for Pakistan's prime minister said the government disassociated itself from the minister's statement. As always the regime treads a careful path between encouraging religious fanaticism and appeasing the US master.

"You can kill our people with Drones but don't you dare upset us with films", was how one might cynically have interpreted the minister's priorities and message  I was also incluned to wonder how the minister's zeal for punishment might deal with the cleric who charred a Koran to frame a Christian child with learning difficulty, or those brave warriors who recently dragged two dozen people off a 'bus and slaughtered them because they were Shi'ites.

To which a friend added: "Not to mention the factory owners who murdered hundreds of their own workers in fires. I think if Muhamed were alive today that might anger him a lot more than the film."

He was referring to the fire in a Karachi clothing factory earlier this month, in which 289 people were killed, and the one in a Lahore shoe factory which killed another 25.

Reports indicate that workers could not escape the fires because the factory buildings lacked basic fire safety standards and emergency exits. The fire at Ali Enterprises, the garment factory located in Hub river road, Sindh Industrial Trading Estate (SITE) in Karachi killed more than 289 workers. Many of them died of suffocation as they were trapped in the basement. A large number of workers suffered grievous injuries as they jumped from the building to safety.

It is reported that the factory was illegally established and identifying the dead is extremely difficult as the workers were not registered with government authorities nor received written contracts.

To be fair, the Pakistani authorities have charged a factory owner with murder. This followed  demonstrations by Pakistani workers expressing their sorrow and anger, and demanding more adequate safety laws and protection. The unions also demanded proper compensation for the families of the victims as well as that the owners be charged with murder.

According to central bank data, the textiles industry contributed 7.4 percent to Pakistan's GDP in 2011 and employed 38 percent of the manufacturing sector workforce. It accounted for 55.6 percent of total exports.
Noman Ahmed, from the NED University of Engineering and Technology in Karachi, said few industries and businesses implement the law on safety and fire exits, finding it easy to avoid because of lack of effective monitoring.

The clothing factory fire has echoes of the notorious Triamgle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York in 1911 in which workers were trapped, or died leaping from upper windows too escape the blaze. While unions and reformers campaigned for improvements in safety, many of the garments on sale nowadays in the United States, Britain and other rich countries are produced in poor countries like Pakistan, Cambodia and Bangladesh. Pakistani factory owners say they are under pressure to keep down costs to compete for export orders.

It has come out that the Ali Enterprise factory produced clothing for the KiK store chain in Germany. It has also been revealed that only last moth the Karachi factory was given a clean bill for safety by inspectors working on behalf of Social Accountability International, a New York-based monitoring group largely financed by big companies so they can say their contractors meet approved standards.

We may well ask whether it is accidental that reactionary groups and governments welcome any religious pretext or provocation they can use to whip up a diversion from more material issues. We might also ask whether it is a surprise that our TV news and papers focus on such rows, even when there are much bigger strikes and movements over social issues, as happened recently in Egypt, which might remind us how much we have in common rather than what is supposed to set us apart.

Even the terrible news from Pakistan, particularly about that factory inspection, might have got people thinking about where our clothes come from, and about where our protection is going, when David Cameron talks of "killing the health and safety culture" and companies are trusted with "self regulation".

On the other hand, seeing trade unionists in Pakistan marching for their rights and safety reminds us we are all in one fight.

And here is some more good news from Pakistan
Dear Friends and Comrades,

Over the past few months, three Left political parties have been holding meetings to discuss the possibility of a merger and creation of a new progressive force in Pakistani politics. Many of us have been striving for left unity for years, even decades.

The challenges that working people an
d progressive political forces face both within this country and in the form of imperialist intrigue cannot be meaningfully confronted without such unity. In the past, efforts to bring the left together have both succeeded and failed, and it is in the spirit of learning from such experiences that this present attempt is being made.

We do not expect to suddenly emerge as a ‘third’ force in Pakistani politics, because we do not enjoy the kind of patronage of state and non-state powers that right-wing parties. Yet we do believe that the people of Pakistan want to see new alternatives emerging and we expect that a merger of existing left groups will be a giant step forward in building such an alternative.

It is true that a majority of the Pakistani population is young, and many of these youth are fed up with the existing political options at their disposal. We believe that a left political party can be the face of this young and struggling population, not on the basis of hollow slogans, but in the form of a workable anti-imperialist, secular, anti-feudal and democratic Socialist programme.

We want to harness the countervailing power of the people of Pakistan to take on and displace all status quo forces.

Baluchistan is burning, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa continues to be caught in the throes of a war between two fundamentalisms (imperialist and religious), and our biggest city Karachi is engulfed in a mini-civil war….the list could go on.

None of our existing political parties acknowledges or tries to address these divisions. We believe that only a mass left party can bring Pakistan’s divided nations together by bringing to the fore the shared interests of working people of all of these nations, and by accepting the rights of nations of self determination including the right of cession. We will struggle to affirm Pakistan’s multinational character, and will try and revive the historic alliances of the left and progressive ethno-nationalists. This is the most urgent task facing all progressives and we believe our new party will be at the forefront of this struggle.

While the merger process to date has included only our three parties, we are circulating this message to clarify that we want all those who share our goals to join us. We believe that the building of a democratic socialist Pakistan is possible only if the means we employ are inclusive from the outset. We invite you all to be part of his historic effort.

It is been agreed that a federal conference consisting of delegates from all three parties will take place on 4th November 2012 in Lahore. An interim body will be elected for the next six months. A congress of the new party will take place in the middle of next year to elect all the bodies and to set the political and organizational priorities.

We would also be happy to invite those who are not part of the party to take part in the first federal conference as observer and decide for themselves, if they want to be part of the new party.

In solidarity,
1- Awami Party Pakistan
2- Labour Party Pakistan
3- Workers Party Pakistan

Please contact for more information and solidarity
Awami Party: (Jamil Umer)
Labour Party: ( Farooq Tariq)
Workers Party: (Assim Sajad Akhtar)

The Labour Party of Pakistan is not like the British Labour Party, but originates in the tradition of Labour's Militant Tendency, now represented by the Socialist Party and the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI).  We might nite though that when Farooq Tariq was in Britain a couple of years ago he spoke with the Scottish Socialist Party, with which the SP has burnt is bridges, and referred to the Scots as a sister party. At any rate the Pakistani Labour Party is clearly more successful than the Socialist Party has been so far in building a broad alliance. 

The Workers Party has a background in Pakistan's version of a Communist Party, having emerged through past splits over whether to look to Moscow or Beijing for guidance, the shock of the Soviet Union's collapse, and the realisation they must find their own way to socialism.

The Awami Party has a history that goes back to the struggle against the British Raj, when the founders of its tradition,in contrast to Jinnah's Muslim League, were prepared to ally with the Congress Party for the freedom of all India. Strongest in the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan, it at times experienced provincial government and state repression, under both the military and Bhutto. A former secretary was tortured to death as a "Communist".

The Awami Party holds that Pakistan has four nationalities - Pakhtun, Baluchi, Sindhi and Punjabi. This approach to national equality, and secular rather than religious identity, could be a factor in he new party becoming a force for workers unity and genuine democracy.       

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home