Taimur Rahman of the Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party talks about the challenges and opportunities before the people of the country ahead of elections in July
by V. Arun Kumar / The Dawn News / June 23, 2018
On July 25, over 100 million Pakistanis will cast their votes to elect a new government. The polls are happening at a time when the south Asian country is witnessing a rise in far-right Islamic violence. At the same time, the formation of a Left United Front and the recent mobilizations by the Pashtun movement are some of the examples of the progressive and working class forces refusing to retreat before the wave of assaults by the right-wing elements and the state. The Dawn News spoke to Taimur Rahman, Secretary General of the Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party and an Assistant Professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), on the upcoming elections.
- What are the major challenges faced by the people of Pakistan in the context of the elections that are scheduled for next month?
The people of Pakistan face three major challenges at this juncture. The first is [lack of] economic opportunity and inequality. Neoliberal economic policies over the last 30 years have all but eroded the gains made by the working class movement in the 1970s. While the rich get richer, the poor remain poor and find it more and more difficult to make ends meet.
The second major challenge is the struggle against religious extremism. Although extremism has dramatically declined since the launch of military operations, its ideology remains pervasive in our society. This is one of the most serious obstacles to the democratic development of Pakistan.
The third major challenge is the struggle against state authoritarianism. The Pakistani people have demonstrated an incredible resilience in their struggle for democratic rights. However, in the last few years, one has seen the erosion of press freedom, the increasing incidence of political activists going missing, and the growing influence of the military establishment in civilian political affairs. State authoritarianism has never resulted in a positive outcome for the people of Pakistan.
- The left and progressive parties in Pakistan recently formed a United Front. What will be the role of this Front in the upcoming elections?
The political parties of the left have not only combined to form the Left United Front but are fielding over 50 candidates in this election all over Pakistan. While it is not expected that these candidates will be able to win, mainly due to meagre campaign finances, it can definitely be seen as an advance for progressive forces. Each successive election has seen the left field more and more candidates all over the country. It is only by fielding these candidates that the left can continue to widen and broaden its appeal to the public.
- What will be the strategies adopted by the Left United Front to push forward the cause of working class struggles and people’s democracy?
One of the new tools that has become available to left and progressive forces in Pakistan is social media. It has connected progressive forces all over Pakistan in a way that we were never connected before. We are thus able to stay in touch with the activities of other left parties, read their analysis, and discuss and debate strategy and tactics with the left as a whole. I think this is causing a generational shift in the progressive politics of Pakistan. A whole group of new activists is coming forward in all the left political parties and they are increasingly reaching out to social movements and the working class with a socialist message. As I have written many times before, social media is the Gutenberg press [the printing press that revolutionized the world of publishing and printing] of our times.
- As seen in recent months, including during the 2017 Faizabad sit-in by the far-right Islamic party Tehreek-e-Labaik, the Pakistani military establishment is again attempting to exert its influence over the civilian governance structure. Historically also, the military has directly or covertly influenced the country’s elections and governments. Do you think the present election will be free from the influence of the military establishment?
One doesn’t have to speculate about the coming elections. There is already ample evidence that the establishment is not impartial in the political process. The confrontation between the military and judiciary on the one hand and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) on the other has already undermined the role of the state as a supposed ‘impartial arbiter’ in the political order. The manner in which this intervention is manifested in the political life of the country is mainly through the control of the media and the narrative that people get to hear. A recent speech by Hameed Haroon [President of All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS)] has very clearly exposed the way in which the state is able to micromanage the press today. The full speech of Hameed Haroon can be found here.
- Also, do you think right-wing Islamic parties will be able to create a stronghold in the country with the elections?
I don’t think Islamic parties will be able to create a stronghold in the country. Although some of the Islamic voter base will shift from the Jamaat- e-Islami to the Labaik, the overall Islamic vote remains largely the same in my opinion. In fact, the last 10 years of religious extremism have turned a significant section of the youth away from the politics of Islamic political parties.
- In recents months, Pakistan has witnessed the rise of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) from a small protest group to a movement representing hundreds of thousands of people, calling for an end to human rights violations and enforced disappearances by state authorities. What will be the role and impact of the Pashtun movement in the 2018 general elections?
PTM is not a political party but a social movement. Hence, it is not participating in the election as an organization. However, Ali Wazir (one of the major leaders of the PTM) is contesting. This has already caused quite a stir in his hometown. Reports have been filtering in of clashes between his supporters and the Aman Committee [a pro-government militant faction]. Had the PTM developed an overall strategy that was made public and shared with its supporters, it could have caused a swing in the elections in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa (KP). But it seems they want the organization to be mainly tied to the issue of human rights abuses against the Pashtuns. Hence, it seems that for the moment, PTM will not have any major impact on the elections in KP.