How the Left sees the Taliban

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

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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Reader Comments (25)

  • Laal Salam
    Aug 16, 2013 - 11:09PM

    How left sees Taliban? ANP and JUI-F alliance tells us all :)


  • faraz
    Aug 16, 2013 - 11:55PM

    An underdeveloped tribal society of Afghanistan can not develop a proletariat majority in the next century; wonder what Soviets were smoking when they attacked in 1979. And I think there is no feudalism in Afghanistan; the land is divided within tribes on basis of tradition and possession. The real problem is failure of state and governance. Taliban filled a void created by decades of civil war. Its a question of state failure, not right or left


  • sid
    Aug 17, 2013 - 12:16AM

    What a crap…………


  • Asghar Ramzan
    Aug 17, 2013 - 12:25AM

    very informative and analytical article,although not agree with many of its content,especailly his reservation of some internationalist living in western country such as Tariq Ali is beying the purview of my understanding and the piont he wants to make is untenable at best in this context.


  • Salaar
    Aug 17, 2013 - 12:46AM

    Ammar sahib, you shouldnt shy away from naming the Leftists you have sourced in your piece. Are you referring to Tariq Ali. If so, his rhetoric is entirely different from what you quote. In his book The Clash of Fundamentalists, Ali vilifies the western imperialistic powers for aiding and propping Islamist groups against pro Soviet socialist regimes throughout the middle east and south asia , case in point being the support for Muslim Bortherhood in Egypt against the Sadat regime. Similar cases in Syria, Iraq and the Bhutto regime in Pakistan. How do you reckon the left would see the Islamist forces, certainly not very favourably as you try to prove in your piece.


  • Zubair Faisal Abbasi
    Aug 17, 2013 - 12:53AM

    A very interesting article and some of left actually pronounce ‘this is not our war’ in unison with the Taliban apologist.


  • Gracias
    Aug 17, 2013 - 1:06AM

    I haven’t heard/seen any comments from prominent “Leftists” that are in line with the authors observations. One “doctoral candidate” does not represent all of the Left son.


  • Mirza
    Aug 17, 2013 - 1:09AM

    This is one way for self-criticism and re-evaluation of the thinking of the left. I agree that the left has compromised at times but under a strong army and a religious state it would have been foolish to be recklessly brave. Even those who were using the left platform were killed and hanged by the army dictators let alone the ordinary leftist.
    There may be a slight justification for Afghans to fight for their freedom and against the occupation forces. However, there is no justification of not standing up to the likes of TTP, LeJ etc.


  • Faraz Kakar
    Aug 17, 2013 - 2:02AM

    The article is well written however the complexity of topic demands a more detailed research. The decade of 1970s holds crutial details about the fate of Lefist movements in Pakistan. After 1971, in west Pakistan, National Awami Party (NAP) represented the (pro-soviet) left-wing political forces. NAP was an alliance of leftist nationalists from NWFP and Balochistan. Punjab and Sindh being the stronghold of Bhutto’s ‘Islamic socialism’. Haunted by Bhutto’s regime for years, NAP eventually split along ethno-nationalist lines with Pashtun, Baloch and Sindhi nationalists taking their own ways.

    To me, in 2013, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy really is spokesperson of leftist ideology in Pakistan, the voice of resistance against this suffocating status quo. A person truely capable of uniting the crowd of confused and divided Leftists of Pakistan.


  • Naveen
    Aug 17, 2013 - 3:35AM

    Left has indeed relegated Grassroot Class struggle with a worldwide Anti-imperialist struggle which though important matters little to the daily lives of poor. Now in South Asia, this has led to the Left and Right finding a common ground in spreading hate bordering xenophobia for all things Western. And so in Pakistan, you have this left digging its own grave by siding with extreme right (Taliban and associates) just because Taliban chaps are right now attacking the big satan US and Pakistani bourgeoisie class. Apparently, They did the same thing at the time of Iranian revolution in 1970s only to be kicked in teeth by the Clergy that they helped ( hunted down and declared terrorists to be exact ). So, now in Iran, we have this never heard before phenomena of Capitalist hub of America funding Marxist militants in Iran to topple a regime. It is unlikely that Pakistani left will meet a different fate if they continued to go soft on Taliban.Recommend

  • khan ali
    Aug 17, 2013 - 3:58AM

    mr ammar i’m afraid you are way of the mark when say separate religious state, muslim league never demanded a separate religious state, i shall propound the intricacies of the two nation theory later.


  • angry bird
    Aug 17, 2013 - 4:33AM


    You need to see the positions of Tariq Ali, the International Socialist Tendency, the remaining Maoist groups in Pakistan and the position of the Indian Maoists who openly declare the taliban as a progressive anti-imperialist force. And it hasn’t been claimed in the piece that ALL of the Left thinks like that. He has written, “…since a particular brand of Pakistani leftists — albeit not all of them — is indulged in idealistic analyses…”.


  • Mohammad Ram Singh
    Aug 17, 2013 - 4:36AM


    Probably this was not meant for you. Please go and read the stuff like how to make money online or 9 ways of dating accurately.


  • Naya Pakistan
    Aug 17, 2013 - 5:52AM

    Verbal diarrhea, not with responding to. Just because one can string two sentences together in rather a verbose manner does not make it cogent, coherent or sensible.


  • RAW is WAR
    Aug 17, 2013 - 7:32AM

    surprising how China holds such great influence on Pakistan, even after it gives them no help.


  • Zeeshan
    Aug 17, 2013 - 9:07AM

    A leftist condemning other leftists for not parroting his thoughts. Just to remind leftists, nobody except your chattering class buy into your thinking.


  • Aug 17, 2013 - 12:02PM

    Good catch on how they hypocritically sit easily in the West. Pseudo-intellectuals, like Tariq Ali, have simply boxed themselves into a myopic anti-Western imperialism centric narrative and seemingly can’t accept the East’s own actions/inaction, which probably is some new form of counter-orientalism, in their attempt to reject the orientalist stereotypes, which only then makes us Easterners look apparently incapable of ever taking responsibility or being accountable for anything and thinking for ourselves.

    They come off as Taliban apologists, especially when they claim the TTP are Pashtun nationalists, knowing full well of their religious motivations, no matter how hypocritical, wanting to exert totalitarian control over other Pashtuns who reject them, killing them, rich or poor, based on their religio-political Wahhabi/Salafi/Deoband/Sunni extremist militant ideologies.

    Its as ridiculous as telling religious sectarian minorities, who have seen decades (even centuries) of violence even before the war on terror, that the rise in attacks against them is because of drones!


  • Karachiites
    Aug 17, 2013 - 12:32PM

    I have seen many leftist and some of them quite firmly believing in it…. but in my opinion I don’t think they are supporters of Taliban because of the fact that these were the people who defeated USSR and ultimately making the whole system a failure.


  • khan ali
    Aug 17, 2013 - 1:13PM

    mr ammar
    one can have a nation state based on any criteria as long as there is consensus amongst the people, territorial state, ethno-linguistic state, multinational state, civilisational state, any other combination as long as there is consensus amongst the people. i would say muslim league’s demand was for a territorial/civilisational state, not a religious state. the clue is in the name, muslim league not islamic league, a muslim can be practising, non practising, secular muslim etc.

    to give you an analogy of the zionist demand for a jewish state, the zionists were atheists jews, to this day some religious jews oppose israel.


  • jamil farooq
    Aug 17, 2013 - 2:26PM

    What left he is talking about? … in pakistan leftist prevalent idea of taliban is not what he is talking about … or even if this is true it sounds logical as enemy of enemy is a friend … this is how cold war was fought by US and USSR.


  • Hassam Kafeel
    Aug 17, 2013 - 3:54PM

    the most difficult article i have ever read on tribune….


  • arthurzobo
    Aug 17, 2013 - 4:24PM

    I am amazed at your analysis__we leftists have never been apologists of any extremist groups,not because they defeated the communists but because we do not believe in any religious bigotry.You certainly need to Re-read Tariq Ali to pass judgements.


  • I Hussain
    Aug 17, 2013 - 4:57PM

    Any attack on the state by anybody, by any mean,becomes a natural ally of Stalinists/Maoists brand.By supporting/sympathising a struggle led by religious gps., as if it is a hidden class struggle, is un-marxian.
    Religious fundamentalism Vs. anti imperialism are the two sides of the same coin and hence to be fought vigorously, as both are exploiatative.One should read and revisit the original texts of Marx-Engles to formulate ones political strategy, both nationally and internationally, instead being a camp followers of erstwhile Soviet Union or Maoist China.
    Many revolutioneries like, G.V. Plekhanov, Vladimir Lenin, Martov, Vera Zasulich, L.D. Trotsky and even Marx himself settled abroad and directed the revolution. Tariq Ali has prepared many generations in Marxism. His contributions are many. Of late he is more of a political commentator than being in the line of Che Guavara by whom he still severes.


  • Malik
    Aug 17, 2013 - 10:57PM

    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.


  • Anticorruption
    Aug 18, 2013 - 10:49PM

    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.


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