Is Pakistan's Civil War a Class War?

The wily and persuasive Pepe Escobar had a column today over at the Asia Times suggesting that Pakistan is now openly being run from Washington. Mr. Escobar is, I think, half-right or perhaps more succinctly put is not too far off in his location. By Washington, Pepe Escobar clearly means the White House and the Defense Department. He's got the city right but the institutions wrong. Pakistan's fate may have been sealed back in November when the country agreed to a $7.6 billion USD bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Pepe Escobar, who is one of a last a dying breed the hard-nosed international correspondent, writes on the elements of class struggle in the current troubles in Swat Valley.

In this complex neo-colonial scenario Pakistan's "Talibanization" - the current craze in Washington - looks and feels more like a diversionary scare tactic. (Please see The Myth of Talibanistan, Asia Times Online, May 1, 2009. ) On the same topic, a report on the Pakistani daily Dawn about the specter of Talibanization of Karachi shows it has more to do with ethnic turbulence between Pashtuns and the Urdu-speaking, Indian-origin majority than about Karachi Pashtuns embracing the Taliban way.

The original Obama administration AfPak strategy, as everyone remembers, was essentially a drone war in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) coupled with a surge in Afghanistan. But the best and the brightest in Washington did not factor in an opportunist Taliban counter-surge.

The wily Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM - Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law), led by Sufi Muhammad, managed to regiment Swat valley landless peasants to fight for their rights and "economic redistribution" against the usual wealthy, greedy, feudal landlords who happened to double as local politicians and government officials.

It's as if the very parochial Taliban had been paying attention to what goes on across South America ... Essentially, it was the appropriation of good old class struggle that led to the Taliban getting the upper hand. Islamabad was finally forced to agree on establishing Nizam-e-Adl (Islamic jurisprudence) in the Swat valley.

Mr. Escobar's article is not the first to report some element of economic strife or class struggle in Pakistan's descent into civil war. While much of the world's attention when it comes to Pakistan has been on the situation in the FATA and the Malakand which includes Swat, Karachi has been enduring rolling riots that over the past six months have left hundreds dead. While the media often plays up an ethnic component to these riots, the rioters generally have a few things in common, they are poor and they are quite angry.

The collapse of the Pakistani economy has been a long time coming but 2008 was an especially tough moment for the country. Pakistan was roiled by rising oil and food prices, a sharp decline in the value of the rupee, a chronic shortage of electricity and recurring brownouts and blackouts, a slowdown in Pakistan's real-estate and services-led economic expansion, a collapse of the Karachi stock market and by capital flight.

The financial crisis and continuing political instability further hampered the economy and dampen economic confidence. Not only foreign investors, but also large swathes of the Pakistani elite, pulled their money, or at least much of it, out of the country. By November of 2008 the country's foreign reserves had fallen by 75 percent to just $3.45 billion. This precipitous collapse forced the government's hand. In early November, Pakistan acceded to the tough conditions demanded by the IMF for the emergency 23 month loan.

As always with the IMF bailouts, it hit the poor hardest. The conditions the IMF attached include: eliminating all subsidies on energy, petroleum products, and fertilizer; slashing government spending, including "non-priority" development spending; and raising taxes. Indeed over the course of 2008, the price of diesel was raised by 55-58 per cent while kerosene was raised by 75-80 per cent hitting the poor especially hard in transport and cooking costs. Just in case you were wondering the military budget was left untouched by the IMF. Just those 'nasty' subsidies were eliminated.

Back in December as the first tranche of the loan was being released, Sakeeb Sherani of the Royal Bank of Scotland, told a meeting organized by Pakistan's Centre for Research and Security Studies that the IMF package is likely "cause up to three million job cuts in deferment sectors and push another 5.6 million to 7.5 million Pakistanis into poverty over the next two years."

Another critic was Shahid Javed Burki, a former World Bank vice-president and ex-Pakistani finance minister who held that the IMF/PPP-led government's "stabilization" program will deflate the economy at a time when world demand already threatens to fall dramatically due to the global recession. "While other Asian countries," said Burki, have introduced stimulation packages to generate growth, Pakistan has done no such thing. Pakistan is being advised, in fact, to cut expenditure when it needs to invest in employment generating projects. ... At the present rate, only high growth in poverty can be expected."

As Vilani Peiris wrote in the WSWS, the reality is that Pakistan's IMF-approved stabilization program is aimed at making the country a better source of profit for international and domestic capital without any concern for the 40 million Pakistanis who live in endemic poverty. Indeed as the IMF's own statement bluntly reads, "The programme aims to restore the confidence of domestic and foreign investors with a tightening of fiscal and monetary policies."

Two questions merit exploring but was the IMF's austerity programme the final push that sent Pakistan over the brink? And is Pakistan's civil war a revolt of the poor?

Tags: class war, IMF, Neo-liberalism, pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari, Taliban, US Foreign Policy (all tags)

Comments

9 Comments

Re: Is Pakistan's Civil War a Class War?

I knew the economy was bad but it looks like it is worse than what anyone thought:

Petrol reserves only for four days

Thursday, May 07, 2009
By Khalid Mustafa

ISLAMABAD: The country's oil refineries, which are running at 60 per cent of their production capacity, have been left with a meagre stock of petrol enough for four days, a senior official told The News.

"The refineries are not running at maximum capacity because of the fiscal constraints despite the fact that the government earlier arranged a sum of Rs 92 billion to minimise the adverse impact of circular debt in the energy sector. But still the remaining part of the debt has triggered fiscal constraints due to which it is unable to clear the dues of refineries."

In the face of the much lower production of petrol by Pakistaní refineries, the government is now compelled to import petrol.When contacted, Irfan Qureshi, Managing Director of Pakistan State Oil, refused to divulge any information. However, he acknowledged the fact that refineries were in lower production mode and the PSO will (today) Thursday open a tender for import of petrol.

However, the PSO is comfortable with stock of other main oil products, as the country has enough furnace oil stock, which is available for 17 days consumption and High Speed Diesel for nine days.  more

by Tina 2009-05-08 12:53AM | 0 recs
No public education - only religious schools for

the poor.

That could happen to us.

by architek 2009-05-08 04:51AM | 0 recs
Re: only religious schools for

Given the steep rise in wealth inequality in the US over the past thirty years, rivaling the 1920s, is it possible that it has already happened to us?

by MainStreet 2009-05-08 10:16AM | 0 recs
Re: only religious schools for

I have no idea what to what you are guys are referring here.  Is not the public school system -by and large tuition free last time I checked - still in operation or did I miss another staff meeting?

by Old Right 2009-05-08 10:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Is Pakistan's Civil War a Class War?

Missing from this commentary is the fact that, yes, in fact, Pakistan and Afghanistan, like Iraq, have become US client states (that is, part of the American empire).

President Obama lectured Karzai and Zadari this week regarding HIS goals for THEIR countries.  Hey, Mr. President, here's a secret: part of the reason that the US isn't well liked in the Middle East is becaue it is blatantly obvious that the so-called democratically elected leaders of Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan are, in fact, US puppets.  And, of course, there is that whole thing with the merciless bombing of women and children in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc., but hey, we've only killed a few hundred thousand of them, what do a few more matter?

Escobar appears entirely on target in his analysis; Pakistan is run by Washington.  The IMF is a front organization for the banking cartels and, thanks to the past bailouts, current bailouts, and future bailouts, we certainly know the White House's view on bankers.  So whether we say the IMF is running Pakistan or the US government is running Pakistan, clearly we are speaking of the same thing.  

What needs to be said, and I sure don't hear it coming from major figures on the left or the right is that the US needs to GET OUT OF AFGHANISTAN, and Pakistan, and Iraq, and everywhere else that we are meddling.

by Old Right 2009-05-08 10:01AM | 0 recs
Re: Is Pakistan's Civil War a Class War?

They can clean the Taliban out but if they don't come in with schools, and jobs and some development what good does it do?   Some new extremist faction will simply rise up in the Taliban's place.

by RichardFlatts 2009-05-08 10:16AM | 0 recs
Must read: NYT

Taliban Exploit Class Rifts in Pakistan

Our policy should have to do more with land reform pressure than surge.

by tdub 2009-05-08 05:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Must read: NYT

How I missed that story I do not know. Thank you very much. I greatly appreciate any documentary evidence in support or against any of my theses.

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by Robert CJ 2009-05-22 12:58AM | 0 recs

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