Workers Vanguard No. 1058
12 December 2014
Pakistan: Bloody Origins of the Z.A. Bhutto Regime
Part Two: The Bangladesh War
We reprint below the second part of an article based on a presentation by Workers Vanguard Editorial Board member Bruce André to a July 2013 meeting in London held by the Spartacist League/Britain, which published the article in Workers Hammer Nos. 227 and 228 (Summer and Autumn 2014). A minor correction has been incorporated accounting for the fact that Arbab Sikander Khan Khalil held the office of governor of North-West Frontier Province. Part One appeared in WV No. 1057 (28 November).
The working-class upsurge of 1968-69 in Pakistan was derailed due to the absence of a leadership of the working class that was independent of the capitalist ruling class. An important political influence in the working class at that time was Stalinism, which is based on the programme of two-stage revolution and “peaceful co-existence” with imperialism. In defence of imperialist “democracy,” the Communist Party of India (CPI) supported British imperialism from 1941 onwards in World War II. During this time the CPI also made overtures to the reactionary, British-backed Muslim League. When the CPI subsequently decided to support the national independence struggle, it did so by subordinating the interests of the proletariat to the bourgeois-nationalist, Hindu-chauvinist Congress party.
The 1947 Partition of the subcontinent and the explosion of communal violence that accompanied it had a devastating effect on the Communist movement in what became Pakistan. In the Punjab, what weak base the CPI had was overwhelmingly among Sikh small landowners in the East, which became part of India. In Bengal, the CPI had one of its stronger bases, but it was mainly Hindu and less than 5 per cent Muslim. With the population transfers caused by the communal massacres of 1947 (and others in 1951 in East and West Bengal) as many as 90 per cent of the Communists left for India. Those who remained in Pakistan formed the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP), which was largely driven underground by state repression.
In East Pakistan, where the CPP was strongest, the party adopted a policy of working through the nationalist Awami League. In the 1954 provincial elections in East Pakistan, CPP members won 22 seats in the assembly, all but four of them as Awami League members. When Bengali peasant leader Maulana Bhashani split from the Awami League to form the National Awami Party (NAP), most of the CPP members went with him.
The Pakistani left in the 1960s was profoundly shaped by the split between the Stalinist bureaucracies ruling the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Pursuing the Stalinist dogma of “socialism in one country”—a rejection of proletarian internationalism—the ruling castes of both workers states sought détente with U.S. imperialism, even if that accord came at the expense of the other. Betraying the internationalist interests of both the Soviet and the Chinese workers states as well as the interests of the working masses of South Asia, the Soviet bureaucracy backed Indira Gandhi’s brutally repressive capitalist regime in India, while the Beijing regime under Mao Zedong backed Pakistan. Moscow refused to support China in its 1962 border conflict with India, and in fact helped arm India.
In Pakistan, the Sino-Soviet dispute caused a split not only among the Stalinists but within the NAP as well. During the 1965 war with India, both Bhashani’s NAP and the Pakistani Maoists sided with Pakistan. For Pakistani youth radicalised in the 1960s, the Maoists’ “anti-imperialism” translated into support to the chauvinist hysteria directed by the ruling class against India. Such vile Pakistani nationalism would represent a common bond between leftists and the ultra-chauvinist Z.A. Bhutto. Thus, the pro-Beijing Stalinists in Pakistan achieved a degree of influence that belied their limited numbers. In East Pakistan, they did so by hitching their wagon to the petty-bourgeois nationalist Bhashani; in the West, they rallied around the bourgeois politician Bhutto, providing the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) with much of its initial base of support.
The support for Bhutto by a number of trade-union leaders was a key means by which the combative Pakistani proletariat was chained politically to its capitalist class enemy. As a result, the mass upsurge was diverted onto the parliamentary plane, sidetracked by the promise of elections to a constituent assembly that would draw up a new constitution.
That promise was made by army commander-in-chief General Agha Mohammed Yahya Khan, who took power in a military coup in March 1969 when the ruling strongman Ayub Khan proved unable to crush the popular upsurge. Bhutto supported General Yahya Khan’s imposition of martial law, calling it a step towards elections to a constituent assembly.
As we’ll see, the promise of a bourgeois parliament successfully derailed the workers upsurge, with devastating consequences for the proletariat and for all the oppressed. In the years following the class struggles of 1969, the Pakistani ruling class broke the back of the workers revolt. It was also during this period that the broad contours of the modern Pakistani police state were established: a fragile veneer of parliamentary democracy, mass-based electoral parties closely linked to the security services and a legal framework heavily integrating the trade unions into the state.
Constituent Assembly Elections
The first priority of Yahya Khan’s martial law regime was to ensure that the proletarian-centred upsurge of the preceding months was not rekindled. The bosses started large-scale firings, including of many factory-floor leaders. In Karachi alone, 45,000 workers lost their jobs between 1969 and 1971. The military regime decreed an Industrial Relations Ordinance (IRO), aimed at integrating the unions into the capitalist state, setting up a system of government arbitrators and labour courts. It also granted collective bargaining authority solely to local unions as a way of discouraging industry-wide or nationwide unions and strikes. To this day, the IRO is key to defining the structure of the Pakistani trade-union movement.
Bhutto continued his demagogic posturing as a friend of the working man. On May Day 1969, he led workers in Lahore on the largest demonstration that the city had ever seen. When union activists at Packages Industries in Lahore were arrested and one was sentenced by a military court to be lashed, Bhutto promised the workers that when the PPP came to power it would have the bosses of Packages Industries whipped. However, in late 1969, when a strike by 65,000 cotton textile workers in East Pakistan spread to industrial areas of West Pakistan, Bhutto denounced the occupation of a textile factory in Multan as “left-adventurism.”
The events leading to the secession of East Pakistan are dealt with in Tariq Ali’s book, Can Pakistan Survive? The Death of a State. This book was published in 1983 after Bhutto had come to power, ruled the country for almost six years and been overthrown in 1977 by General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq. Gone were the pro-Bhutto declamations in his previous book, Pakistan: Military Rule or People’s Power? Tariq Ali now informed his readers that the PPP in 1970 had “enormous possibilities, which were squandered” but adds that if anyone is to blame, “it is the historical process.” This absolves the Pakistani leftists, including himself, who had helped put Bhutto in office. Nevertheless Tariq Ali highlighted Bhutto’s close ties to the military. This is in contrast to Lal Khan, leader of the Struggle group in Pakistan, who in his 2008 book, Pakistan’s Other Story: The Revolution of 1968-69, systematically masks Bhutto’s alliance with hardline generals.
In 1970, General Yahya Khan announced that Pakistan’s first countrywide election would be held. In a gesture to appease the East Bengalis, he declared that East Pakistan would be represented in the constituent assembly proportionate to its population (which, according to the 1961 census, meant 54 per cent). Starting in January, when the Yahya Khan regime eased restrictions on political activity, left-wing labour leaders threw themselves into rounding up votes for the PPP. Meanwhile, in rural Sindh and adjoining parts of the Punjab, Bhutto drew in some of the most reactionary forces in the country: landed aristocrats, clan and religious leaders with a following among the peasants. Bhutto hit the campaign trail wearing a green jacket and a Mao cap and calling for “Islamic socialism.” In raising that slogan, Bhutto reassured his audiences, he was “merely following the doctrines of the Quaid-e-Azam” [the “Great Leader,” Mohammad Ali Jinnah] (quoted in Lawrence Ziring et al., Pakistan: The Long View ).
In East Pakistan, the December 1970 elections basically became a referendum on autonomy for East Bengal. Given his history of vicious opposition to the Awami League’s Six Point programme, Bhutto couldn’t have been elected dogcatcher there. So the PPP didn’t even bother to field candidates in East Pakistan. The PPP’s electoral platform promised extensive nationalisations and an “independent” foreign policy, and the PPP also began calling for land reform. As always, the PPP was distinguished by virulent anti-India chauvinism. Its electoral platform promised “a policy of confrontation” towards India. Bhutto proudly admitted to the accusation that he had “engineered” the 1965 war with India.
The generals expected the Awami League to win a bare majority in East Pakistan, at best. But the Bengali nationalists won a landslide victory, taking 160 of 162 constituent assembly seats in the East, securing an absolute majority of the 300 total seats nationally. The PPP became the second largest party, with 81 seats. The Awami League was now in a position to write the country’s constitution, and to include in it autonomy for East Bengal—if the constituent assembly were allowed to meet. The stage was set for the brutal war that was launched by the Pakistani military against the Bengalis.
Bhutto promptly declared that “majority alone does not count in national politics” because the Punjab and Sindh, where the PPP had its main support, were “the bastions of power in Pakistan.” As Tariq Ali recounted:
“Bhutto soon emerged as the most vociferous defender of the traditional hegemony of West Pakistan, and embarked on a hysterical campaign of denouncing the Six Points. After consulting senior military officers, he whipped up an atmosphere of frenzied chauvinism in the Punjab.... The fact that Bhutto was colluding with the generals was clear to everyone.”
But not to Lal Khan, who wrote out of history Bhutto’s key role in the steps leading to war with East Bengal.
Since Yahya Khan’s seizure of power, Bhutto had maintained close relations with the new strongman and cultivated links with General Pirzada, Yahya Khan’s military secretary. In mid-January 1971, according to former Air Marshal Asghar Khan, in discussions between Bhutto, Yahya Khan and Pirzada, “it was agreed in principle that force would be used in East Pakistan, if Mujib-ur-Rehman did not change his attitude. These decisions were ratified in a more representative meeting of the Junta in Rawalpindi in mid February” (Mohammed Asghar Khan, Generals in Politics: Pakistan 1958-1982 ).
Yahya Khan initially promised that the constituent assembly would be convened on 3 March. But Bhutto refused to attend unless Awami League leader Mujibur Rahman agreed to compromise on the Six Points. Bhutto famously threatened to “break the legs” of any PPP member who attended the session. When Yahya Khan announced that, because of Bhutto’s boycott threat, he was postponing the opening of the constituent assembly, Mujibur Rahman launched a “non-violent non-cooperation movement” which shut down East Pakistan—even the judges of the High Court stopped work. Committees organised by the Awami League took over the administration of key areas in the cities and the countryside.
Yahya Khan flew to Dhaka on 15 March to negotiate with Mujibur Rahman. Yahya Khan, who was later joined by Bhutto, was buying time as the military built up its elite forces in East Pakistan. When six shiploads of troops arrived on 25 March, thousands of people rushed to prevent the landings; 20 of them were shot and killed. Tariq Ali wrote:
“The Awami League leaders were lulled into believing that a deal was now certain. Yahya dragged out the negotiations for ten whole days, until the requisite number of troops had arrived in the Bengali capital. On 25 March, the Awami League leaders were awaiting the announcement of a settlement. Yahya and other West Pakistani leaders left in the morning. That night the army struck.”
The 1971 War of Bangladesh Independence
The Pakistani military expected to put a quick end to the nationalist aspirations of the Bengalis. Just before midnight on 25 March 1971, Pakistani troops led by General Tikka Khan launched “Operation Searchlight,” an orgy of killing directed against the civilian population of Dhaka and other cities and towns. Working-class and Hindu neighbourhoods in Dhaka were attacked with tanks, mortars and machine guns. Using prepared lists, soldiers went door-to-door gunning down Awami League activists. U.S.-supplied tanks led a military assault on student residences at the University of Dhaka. The students and teachers who were killed were dumped into a mass grave in the football ground. When informed of the butchery that had been unleashed in East Bengal, Bhutto exclaimed: “By the Grace of God Pakistan has at last been saved” (Z.A. Bhutto, The Great Tragedy ).
Contrary to the generals’ expectations, “Operation Searchlight” triggered a split in the security forces along national lines. Attempts to disarm Bengali police officers, soldiers of the Bengal Regiment and members of the paramilitary East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) sparked fierce resistance in a number of cantonments. Most Bengali cops and soldiers who survived those initial clashes went into armed opposition.
Two years earlier, the police and EPR forces had gunned down untold numbers of striking workers and student protesters during the upsurge of January-March 1969. The Bengali component of those security forces, under the leadership of the Awami League, became the core of the Mukti Bahini, the Bangladesh liberation army. Profiting from support by India in the form of arms, military training, funding and border sanctuaries, the Mukti Bahini was able to mount an effective guerrilla war in East Bengal.
According to estimates by the Bangladeshi nationalists, Pakistani forces slaughtered some three million Bengali civilians, drove about 10 million refugees into India and raped approximately 200,000 women. West Pakistani troops were incited to view those they were butchering as subhuman; the Bengalis were commonly compared to monkeys and chickens. Hindus in East Bengal were viewed as vermin to be exterminated. The Yahya Khan regime augmented the barbarity of its military forces by arming death squads organised by Jamaat-e-Islami.
In a stark refutation of the myth that the nationalism of the oppressed is inherently progressive, thousands of Urdu-speaking Pakistanis originating from Bihar were brutally slaughtered by Bengalis, often led by the Awami League forces. They cited as a pretext the fact that a number of Biharis fought on the side of government forces. By the end of the independence war, almost all of the Bihari population that had not fled had been coerced into refugee camps. Despite the pledge by Awami League leader Mujibur Rahman to guarantee their security, their property was seized. Today, the Biharis in Bangladesh—many of them stateless—continue to suffer severe discrimination in employment and access to education.
Throughout the savagery in East Bengal, U.S. imperialism and China continued to provide military aid to Pakistan. Bhutto declared that Yahya Khan’s actions “were in the best interests of the country” (quoted in Dilip Mukerjee, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto: Quest for Power ). In late 1971, Bhutto headed a delegation to Beijing as Yahya Khan’s special envoy to request Chinese military support if India invaded the East.
The Pakistani regime hammered on the notion that this prison house of peoples embodied “unity” based on Islam and that secession of East Bengal would lead to West Pakistan breaking up and being swallowed by Hindu India. However, after months of state repression against strikes and mass protests, the military was in no position to whip up the kind of national unity in West Pakistan that the ruling class had achieved during the 1965 war with India. As the military launched its bloodbath in the East, workers clashed with the military in the West, including in Karachi, Lahore and Lyallpur (Faisalabad). In the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP, today Khyber Pakthunkwa) tenant farmers clashed with landlords and police.
On 3 December 1971, India intervened and its army drove towards Dhaka. The Indian armed forces bore the brunt of the fighting while the Mukti Bahini played a support role. The just struggle of the Bengalis for national independence had now been subordinated to the class interests of the Indian bourgeoisie. In such a situation, Leninists call for revolutionary defeatism on both sides, that is, for the toiling masses in India and Pakistan to turn their guns against their own rulers. We wrote at the time:
“The Awami League, however, crossed over the line when it handed full military control over to the Indians and became a mere pawn in the chauvinist appetites of the Indian bourgeoisie.”
—“Turn the Guns the Other Way! New Masters for Bangla Desh,” WV No. 4, January 1972
At the same time, we pointed out that the real centre of Bengali class struggle was not Dhaka but Calcutta (Kolkata), where the workers movement was larger and more class-conscious. As we wrote in the above article: “The Indian central government oppresses the West Bengalis as thoroughly as Pakistan oppressed the East Bengalis. Serious support for self-determination in Bengal includes the right of reunification of all Bengal.”
As defeat loomed in East Pakistan, Bhutto joined the military government. He then led a Pakistani delegation to the United Nations to plead for a ceasefire. After the Soviet Union vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire and for troop withdrawals from East Bengal, Bhutto walked out of the UN session, his face streaked with tears, challenging the UN delegates: “Legalize aggression…legalize occupation—I will not be a party to it. We will fight” (New York Times, 16 December 1971).
After a two-week war, Pakistan’s Eastern Command surrendered on 16 December 1971. India had affirmed its dominance on the subcontinent. Riding the crest of its victory over Pakistan, the Congress party under Indira Gandhi moved to smash all left-wing opposition to its hegemony in India. For its part, Pakistan had retained its western territory. Thus it would continue to provide a strategic base for U.S. imperialism’s military operations directed against the Soviet Union, a role that Pakistan played from shortly after Partition until the end of the USSR in 1991-92.
Following the Indian army’s victory over Pakistan, the Awami League’s provisional government returned to Bangladesh from Calcutta. Mujibur Rahman established the first of a succession of corrupt and repressive regimes that to this day enforce the grinding exploitation of the Bengali working class. The real losers were the proletariat and impoverished peasants of the entire subcontinent, condemned to continued slavery in the interests of the venal capitalists who oppress and divide them.
Following the defeat in Bangladesh, General Yahya Khan could no longer rule Pakistan with any hope of a stable regime. Some 90,000 troops and collaborators were in Indian POW camps and the Indian army remained entrenched in Kashmir. Universally condemned for its butchery in East Bengal, the Pakistani army needed a more popular instrument. Bhutto’s moment had arrived. As Tariq Ali described the events:
“Within the army itself, there was a strong mood of revolt against the high command. A crack armoured division was on the verge of open mutiny after the war.... At a stormy meeting of senior officers, General Hamid was abused and almost physically assaulted. A new military leader was considered inappropriate. The dissident officers decided to send for Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto....
“Bhutto’s take-over was thus arranged by the Army.”
The night of his return to Pakistan on 20 December 1971, Bhutto delivered a speech that was broadcast to the country. He promised the soldiers that “we will take revenge” and “we shall wipe out the stigma even if it has to be done by our grandchildren.” The London Financial Times (21 December 1971) observed that Bhutto “had the most consistent and emphatic record of hostility towards India of any leader who has achieved prominence in Pakistan.”
Bhutto in Power
Bhutto came to power as the country’s economy was reeling from the effects of the war. With the secession of Bangladesh, Pakistan lost its main source of foreign exchange, exports of jute and tea, as well as a captive market for its manufactured goods. In a further blow, independent Bangladesh wasted no time nationalising the considerable assets held in the country by Pakistani conglomerates such as Dawood and Adamjee. With Pakistan already crushed under a burden of debt, the Bhutto regime desperately needed further loans from international financiers.
In the first two years of Bhutto’s reign, the amount by which Pakistan’s imports exceeded its exports increased almost tenfold. Bhutto doubled the country’s astronomical military budget in order to reconstitute the shattered armed forces. To make up for the loss of export earnings, Bhutto signed agreements with Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Gulf states to allow large-scale migration to those countries by Pakistani workers and peasants. The labour power of Pakistani workers quickly became Pakistan’s main export. That continues to be the case today, as remittances by workers abroad dwarf the earnings from the country’s other main export items, cotton goods and knitwear.
Bhutto railed against blood-sucking bosses and paraded some capitalists in handcuffs before the TV cameras, while behind the scenes he negotiated an IMF loan package, pledging to impose draconian austerity measures. The IMF imposed a currency devaluation that triggered rampant inflation. By the mid 1970s, annual inflation reached a staggering 46 per cent, wiping away most wage gains. For the vast majority of the toiling population, the Bhutto years were a period of declining living standards and heightened insecurity.
The Bhutto government launched a number of social programmes, notably in education and health care, but the World Bank categorically refused to fund programmes that focused on benefiting the common people. Bhutto’s promised land reform was so shot through with loopholes that it had essentially no practical effect. His “new” labour policy consisted of some modifications to General Yahya Khan’s IRO which, as historian Zafar Shaheed explained, “further tightened government controls over industrial relations.”
The workers and peasants who had been taken in by the PPP’s cynical promises believed that they now had an ally in the Presidential Palace and they launched a new round of class struggle. Tenant farmers carried out land occupations and fought pitched battles with the landlords’ goons in many parts of Sindh, the Punjab and NWFP. In Karachi on 28 March 1972, 200,000 workers walked off the job, bringing the entire Sindh Industrial Trading Estate to a standstill. Bhutto warned the workers that, if they continued their struggles, “the strength of the street will be met by the strength of the state.” Soon he was using the police and army to break strikes. Bhutto’s ministers asked factory owners to provide lists of “undesirable” workers, who could then be dealt with by state authorities.
The workers’ leaders who had joined the PPP now began to feel the force of state repression brought down upon them by the party that they had helped bring to power. Mukhtar Rana, a trade union leader whose group led a number of unions in Lyallpur had been an early PPP supporter. Now Rana called for a “people’s court” to pass judgment on Bhutto. Rana was arrested in March 1972 under Martial Law regulations and was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for inciting violence; after his release, he was forced into exile. Rana was among the first of a large number of worker militants who would be imprisoned, brutalised or killed by the Bhutto regime.
A confrontation between the Bhutto regime and the workers ensued when the World Bank decreed that financial aid would depend on the government’s ability to control labour unrest. On 7 June, at the Sindh industrial estate in Karachi, workers at the Feroz Sultan textile mill gheraoed (locked up) the management. Police fired on workers, who responded by shutting down both the Sindh and Landhi industrial areas of Karachi for 12 days.
The Bhutto regime’s decisive battle against the militant workers movement came in October 1972 at Karachi’s Landhi industrial area, when workers occupied two mills, Gul Ahmed Textiles and Dawood Cotton. The plant occupations were led by Bhutto’s Maoist supporters. Tufail Abbas’ organisation was in the leadership of the Labour Organising Committee (LOC). One member of the LOC was Rashid Hasan Khan. He had been one of the Maoist student leaders who accompanied Bhutto on his early speaking tours. Meanwhile, Mairaj Mohammad Khan, the other former National Student Federation leader who had joined Bhutto on those early platforms, was now Bhutto’s minister of state for public affairs.
This was the kind of situation that Bhutto’s leftist supporters had been preparing for: they were in the leadership of a nationally important strike, and they were well represented in the PPP government. They were now perfectly positioned, so they thought, to pressure the government into defending the workers’ interests. Needless to say, it didn’t work out that way. In fact Minister Mairaj Mohammad Khan was an executive officer of the capitalist state. And as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels taught, the capitalist government is the executive committee that manages the affairs of the capitalist class. The role expected by the bourgeoisie of these labour fakers was to cajole the workers into submission. Mairaj Mohammad Khan argued with the strikers that their action was weakening the government. When they refused to return to work, on 18 October the police and the military attacked the occupied mills, using bulldozers to break down the factory walls and opening fire on workers. After holding out for about a month, the workers were forced back to work under army supervision. According to trade-union leaders more than 100 workers had lost their lives.
With the massacre of the Landhi strikers, the treachery of the reformists in leading the workers into support for Bhutto’s PPP in 1968-69 was apparent. The pseudo-left betrayers had politically disarmed the workers and helped set them up for bloody defeat by counselling them to view the PPP regime as a vehicle for furthering their interests.
The Bhutto regime came down hard on the leaders of the strikes. Shortly after the strike at the Sindh industrial estate ended, shopfloor leader Bawar Khan was arrested and tortured. Tufail Abbas was imprisoned by the Bhutto regime. Mairaj Mohammad Khan, who resigned from the government following the massacre of workers at Landhi, spent nearly four years in Bhutto’s dungeons, where he was tortured and lost much of his eyesight.
Citing the need for a “people’s army,” Bhutto set up a 15,000-man paramilitary Federal Security Force, which sowed terror among leftists and other opposition forces. As Tariq Ali noted, this force “was headed by veteran policemen notorious for their corruption and sadism; the foot-soldiers were recruited from lumpen layers in the cities, armed with repressive powers and weapons” (Can Pakistan Survive?). The Federal Security Force was trained in counterinsurgency techniques by the Savak, the Shah of Iran’s dreaded secret police. Trade unionists, peasant organisers and opposition politicians were abducted, imprisoned and often simply disappeared.
Soon Bhutto’s jails were filled with political prisoners. According to a “White Paper” prepared by the Pakistani authorities after Bhutto was ejected from office by the military, Bhutto set up a secret prison in the portion of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan, outside the purview of the courts, where political opponents were detained indefinitely. Bhutto refused to let more than one in three Biharis who requested “repatriation” set foot in Pakistan, supposedly their homeland. More than two decades later, there were still a quarter of a million stateless Biharis surviving in miserable conditions in Bangladeshi refugee camps.
Bhutto’s Brutal Repression
The PPP government in Sindh declared Sindhi the sole official language for provincial affairs, in a blatant attack on the industrial working class, which was at that time mainly Urdu-speaking. When the mohajirs (migrants from India at the time of Partition, who spoke Urdu) launched a protest movement in July 1972, police shot and killed almost two dozen protesters.
Bhutto also moved to smash local nationalist forces in Balochistan and in the largely Pashtun NWFP, where the PPP had little support. In both of those provinces the pro-Moscow faction of the National Awami Party had formed coalition governments. Bhutto summarily dismissed governors Bizenjo of Balochistan and Arbab Sikander Khan Khalil of the NWFP, both of whom were popular NAP leaders. The NAP was banned and its leaders imprisoned. The Bhutto regime unleashed a more intense version of the scorched earth tactics that had been used against the Baloch people in the 1960s. Bhutto turned to General Tikka Khan, who had carried out that earlier slaughter of the Baloch people and who was known as the “butcher of Bangladesh.” Cobra helicopter gunships provided by the Shah of Iran and flown by Iranian pilots unleashed massive firepower on the defenceless population of Balochistan. Meanwhile, Mao’s China showered the Bhutto regime with modern tanks and MIG fighter jets, while Washington supplied “economic” aid, much of which was spent on military supplies. Masses of Baloch civilians were driven from their homes as warplanes indiscriminately bombed free-fire zones, strafed encampments of nomads and dropped napalm on rural villages.
Lal Khan whitewashes Bhutto’s role in launching the massacre in Balochistan, presenting him as powerless in the face of the generals:
“Bhutto began to feel that the establishment had its own agenda, compulsions and priorities. He could not do much about it. Now the army was going to reassert itself by military action.”
That’s certainly not how Bhutto himself saw it. As he prepared to send the army into Balochistan, Bhutto declared in a 22 February 1973 address to the National Assembly that “if you think that the story of East Pakistan will be allowed to be repeated here then you are sadly mistaken” (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto: Speeches and Statements ).
Bhutto’s 1973 Constitution, which (heavily amended) continues in force today, imposes Islam as the state religion and requires the head of state to be a Muslim. In 1974, ceding to the Islamic fundamentalists, the Bhutto regime declared the Ahmadiya branch of Islam to be non-Muslim. Such discrimination against the Ahmadiyas has steadily intensified over the years. Today, Ahmadiyas suffer discrimination in employment and education, are barred in practice from voting, and are permanently threatened with prosecution—and murderous mob violence—for infringing Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws. Bhutto founded a number of official organisations to propagate Islamic theology and introduced the study of the Koran into school curricula. In 1976, Bhutto appointed General Zia ul-Haq, who had links to Jamaat-e-Islami, as Army Chief of Staff.
The efforts by Bhutto to reinforce the Islamists set the stage for the intense campaign undertaken by General Zia, after he overthrew the Bhutto regime in a July 1977 coup, to further strengthen the Islamists. Pakistan became a bastion of Islamic fundamentalism starting in the 1970s as the CIA, working with the Pakistani, Saudi and other intelligence services, funnelled billions of dollars to train and arm a network of Islamist groups based in Peshawar, which became the spearhead in the reactionary jihad against the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan.
The bitter experience of the PPP in power demoralised the 1968-69 generation of militant workers. By the final year of PPP rule, after more than six years of brutal state repression, strike activity was one quarter of what it had been when Bhutto took office. Bhutto was thrown out of office by the military and accused of ordering the murder of a political opponent. The star witness at the murder trial was Masood Mahmood, who had been selected by Bhutto as head of the paramilitary Federal Security Force because of his proven depravity and unscrupulousness. Mahmood sent his former boss to the gallows.
A major portion of the responsibility for the failure of the proletarian upsurge of 1969 and the subsequent demise of the militant workers movement falls on the leftists at the time who lined up behind Bhutto’s power bid. By counselling support to the bourgeois PPP they, like Lal Khan’s Struggle group today, helped tie the workers politically to their capitalist class enemy and reinforced suicidal illusions in a supposedly “democratic” wing of the military. For his part, Lal Khan draws the following lesson from the experience of Bhutto in power: “It was the preservation of the structures of the bourgeois state that ultimately led to his own demise.” Lal Khan goes so far as to criticise Bhutto for not “dissolving the standing army and building a ‘people’s militia’.”
The idea that the working class can sweep away the bourgeois state through parliamentary means—by pressuring the bourgeois politician Z.A. Bhutto, no less—is reformist nonsense. A core understanding of Marxism since the experience of the 1871 Paris Commune is that the proletariat cannot simply lay hold of the existing bourgeois state apparatus. It must smash the capitalist state—which at its core consists of the army, the police and other forces of bourgeois repression—and replace it with the dictatorship of the proletariat. On an international scale, this would lay the basis for the withering away of the state and the creation of a classless communist society.
For a Socialist Federation
of South Asia
Our fundamental programmatic reference on the national question is Lenin’s Bolshevik Party, which was able to cut across national divisions by offering full democratic rights to all nationalities. The Leninist programme is trampled underfoot by Lal Khan. In his book, Kashmir’s Ordeal—A Revolutionary Way Out (2005), he does not raise the call for the withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The same grovelling before the Pakistani bourgeoisie is characteristic of the Socialist Movement Pakistan, section of the Committee for a Workers’ International. When the regime launched a military offensive in Balochistan in 2006, wiping out much of the leadership of the nationalist forces as well as many civilians, they headlined with studied neutrality: “Violence Erupts in Baluchistan Province After Killing of Nationalist Leader.” The article failed to take a side with the nationalist forces against the Pakistani army, and called the killing of nationalist leader Akbar Bugti “a political blunder” which “will give rise to the nationalism, not only in Baluchistan, but also in Sindh and NWFP provinces” (socialistworld.net, 4 September 2006).
Marxists understand that it is a reactionary utopia to imagine that even such basic bourgeois-democratic gains as stable parliamentary democracy, an end to national oppression and formal equality for all could be achieved while Pakistan remains crushed by imperialist exploitation and plagued by poverty, national antagonisms and medieval sexual oppression. The stance taken by reformists of neutrality in the face of depredations carried out by the Pakistani police state against oppressed nationalities is a craven capitulation before the capitalist ruling class.
As in all neocolonial countries, imperialism introduced into the Indian subcontinent a degree of modern capitalist technique while bolstering the most reactionary and repressive aspects of semi-feudal society. Child labour is common, often in dangerous agricultural or industrial environments. Though bonded labour is formally illegal, there are, according to a 2006 estimate by the International Labour Organization, 1.7 million bonded labourers in Pakistan, children and adults, working in brick kilns, the carpet industry and, especially, on the large agricultural estates in Sindh. Enslaved to pay off never-ending debt that often runs from one generation to the next, hunted down by the landlord’s goons if they try to escape their infernal condition, bonded labourers have virtually no recourse in a system dominated by the large landowners. These modern slaves are often lower caste Muslims or members of religious minorities—such as Hindus and Christians—or of indigenous and other minority ethnic groups.
Oppression is pervasive throughout all aspects of social life. Homosexuals in Pakistan are considered criminals under both sharia law and the penal code inherited from British colonialism. Homosexual oppression is linked to the special oppression of women in class society, in which the family, as well as organised religion, enforces the sexual division of labour based on child-rearing. It is in the oppression of women, the slaves of slaves, that all of the medieval backwardness, the class and caste divisions and the weight of religious reaction are concentrated. Pakistani women are subjected to purdah [seclusion] and jailed or stoned to death for adultery and similar “crimes” under Islamic law or murdered in “honour killings” by their own families. Rape is perpetrated on a massive scale. The fight for the most basic needs of women—for literacy, education, access to contraception and abortion, an end to forced marriage and a way out of grinding poverty and oppression—requires a struggle to root out the very foundations of capitalist society.
In the imperialist epoch, the semicolonial bourgeoisies, despite formal independence, remain dependent on the imperialists and fearful of any challenge to their class rule by the proletariat standing at the head of the poor peasantry and all the oppressed. The task of liberating all the exploited and oppressed of the Indian subcontinent, with its seemingly intractable national and communal conflicts, demands the forging of Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard parties dedicated to the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisies in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and the establishment of a Socialist Federation of South Asia. Only an internationalist perspective, uniting class and other social struggles on the subcontinent with the fight for workers revolution in the U.S., Britain and other advanced capitalist countries, can open the door to liberation for the impoverished masses worldwide, which will be achieved through the building of a socialist world order.