How the Left sees the Taliban

Several self-proclaimed Marxists consider these fascists as some sort of nationalist progressive force.

Ammar Aziz August 16, 2013
The writer is a documentary filmmaker and executive director of SAMAAJ, a non-profit media organisation. He tweets @ammar_aziz

From the era when the world beheld the quixotic assertion of ‘communism in 20 years’, to this day, when we see the implementation of an incongruous rhetoric of ‘social-capitalism’, the left-wing has generally been disappointing. In our region too, we have seen the leftists taking various obscure positions, quite contradictory to their perceived narrative. Take the issue of Partition, for instance. The Communist Party of India (CPI) had supported the demand for a separate religious state just because of Stalin’s ambiguous definition of a ‘nation’. In the growth of the Muslim League, the CPI did not see the growth of religious-communalism but the rise of an ‘anti-imperialist consciousness’ in Muslim masses. Consequently, many Muslim cadres of the CPI had joined the Muslim League and diverted their revolutionary energies in propagating the idea of Pakistan, a land they anticipated to be free from the exploitation of ‘Hindu moneylenders and landlords’. It wasn’t too long before their futuristic illusions shattered.

In the 1960s, when the communists in Pakistan were divided into pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese factions, they took strange sides. That was the time when Pakistan, under Ayub Khan’s dictatorship, had started flirting with China because of their common enmity with India. Ironically, the Maoist faction in Pakistan typically saw India as a formidable foe just because of the Sino-Indian conflict and the Pakistani establishment’s allegiance to China. The establishment’s adherence for China, despite being notoriously anti-communist, emerged from the Sino-Indian conflict itself. While being pro-Moscow was considered unpatriotic in Pakistan, being pro-Beijing wasn’t. Both factions decided their moves according to the global political scenario, most notably the Cold War, rather than the local situation.

Later, during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, the leftists — outside the radical horizon of the National Awami Party and the pro-Soviet faction — started siding with the populist Peoples Party; hence, they couldn’t objectively analyse the oppression of the Bengali masses. Bhutto’s blend of radical rhetoric borrowed from the leftist jargon and the hollow slogans of ‘Islamic socialism’ attracted several trade unionists, intellectuals and youth to his party. Thus, a significant fragment of the Pakistani left completely failed to recognise the democratic victory of the Awami League in the 1970 elections and the right of self-determination of the Bengali masses.

This ideology-driven analytical approach, resulting in false foreshadows, hasn’t even changed today, since a particular brand of Pakistani leftists — albeit not all of them — is indulged in idealistic analyses, or rather, inane ramblings, about critical issues such as Islamic radicalisation. Divided over the issues of religious fundamentalism and the war on terror, our trivial left continues to be deluded. While a majority of leftists agree with the fact that terrorist forces were originated by the US as a Cold War tactic, there are still others who have a soft corner for the former in the ongoing battle against the latter. Their notion that the Taliban are some sort of ‘rural, poor, Pashtun workers, struggling for the betterment of their material conditions, while battling US imperialism’ is no less than some bizarre political joke from the Cold War era, which glorified the mujahideen just because they were resisting the Red Army.

Not only is it surprising, but also saddening to see several self-proclaimed Marxists considering these fascists as some sort of nationalist progressive force. They fail to recognise the difference between Islamists’ anti-Americanism, prejudice against a country and its people — in isolation of its economy — and the leftist theory of anti-imperialism, an intellectual resistance against the global hegemony of capitalism.

Most of these ‘anti-West’ left intellectuals, referring to themselves as ‘internationalists’, are ironically based in Western countries. Some veterans, who left the country decades ago and hardly visit home, are seen as experts on Pakistan. Furthermore, several small leftist parties in Pakistan outrageously declare the religious militants as self-styled revolutionaries. For instance, an international Trotskyist tendency in Pakistan has similar views about the Taliban whose opposition of the US gives them a ‘revolutionary hope’. One of its activists shared his opinion on this: “Our educated middle class did not fight the ruling class’s oppression and did not champion the cause of the rural and urban poor. In such a vacuum, another segment of society mustered the courage to fight back the ruling class and took up the cause of the Pashtun rural poor, under religious symbols and language, but actually for its material interests and championing due share in economic and political power for the under-privileged and excluded Pashtun lower classes.”

Some ‘neo-leftists’ even have misconceived notions about the ‘justice system of the Taliban’. A Pakistani Marxist — a doctoral candidate in Canada — said, “The Taliban have often fought against Khans (feudal lords) and have established quick justice systems. Are those objectively in the interests of subordinated classes? Of course they are.”

If one starts seeing through their red and red prism, the situation in Pakistan would seem quite revolutionary: ‘The poor, downtrodden, proletarians and rural peasants of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, long suffering under neo-colonial and neo-liberal oppression, have united against US imperialism. Our armed comrades in the tribal areas are aware that the West lives on the sweat and blood of the East. So what if their language and symbolism is religious, their objectives are material and they’re fighting for social equity.”

This mindset is not very different from the ludicrous one of the Indian Maoists, who used to refer to Ayub Khan as ‘comrade’ just because of his ‘comradeship’ with Chairman Mao! Indeed, this reductionist approach of the left wing is nothing but political idiocy. Both prevailing narratives — that if you oppose either the US or the Taliban, it necessarily means that you support the other — are nothing but logical fallacies. The left needs to oppose both if it wants to change anything. Otherwise, we’d be compelled to say that only the leftists have ever understood society fully. And they got it wrong.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2013.

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Anticorruption | 7 years ago | Reply

Our left completely lacks ideological coherence and lives in a fantasy world. This includes some of the stances criticised by the writer as well as some of his own assertions. The left could have been a positive force had it been focusing on class struggles, but instead, it is pre-occupied with pointless ideological mumbo-jumbo no reasonable person cares about. Fortunately, the left is now only a marginal force. Unfortunately, it still has a disproportionate influence in our English language media and does continue to perpetuate confusion on many issues.

Malik | 7 years ago | Reply

In 1979 the Communists and Socialists supported the Islamist's in Iran, After the revolution they got massacred or sent to prison. The left needs to wake up.

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