Is Pakistan's Civil War a Class War?
by Charles Lemos, Thu May 07, 2009 at 10:19:53 PM EDT
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?