THE budget will be presented in the National Assembly today, much ado about nothing. On the surface of it, the main opposition parties will refrain from debate because of the pandemic, no more than 86 MNAs attending the budget session due to social distancing protocols. In truth, decisions about Pakistan’s economy have been made by foreign patrons and the domestic establishment for decades.
Between ‘national security’ and rentier logics, the permanent state apparatus and the nexus of local/global capitalists that dominate Pakistan are untouchable, inquiry commissions and democracy be damned. Indeed, public-sector spending that would at least in principle serve the cause of the working masses is being slashed further, forget that the global pandemic has shone a blinding light on hopelessly insufficient public health infrastructures and social safety nets.
The malaise that afflicts Pakistan goes beyond Imran Khan and his sycophants, no matter how dismal their performance. Simply sloganeering against them is in fact likely to further bolster our establishment-centric system.
So what is to be done?
What of those heading a non-violent movement in Balochistan?
First, cast the analytical net out beyond Pakistan; with a handful of exceptions, the pandemic has exposed a global crisis of both the militarised global capitalist system and the current wave of populist politics that dominates the mainstream. Second, hone in on actually existing mobilisations which embody both the courage to name the system in its multiple manifestations as well as the principles that can inform an anti-systemic politics for our time.
One of these mobilisations is unfolding in the Western world before a worldwide audience. Writing on these pages, Zahid Hussain called it a global movement for racial justice. To expound on its connotations for the post-colonial world, we need only look to a burgeoning struggle for justice that has been largely invisibilised in the Pakistani mainstream, namely the spontaneous uprisings in Balochistan around four-year-old Bramsh Baloch, survivor of a death squad which took her mother’s life.
The global uprising triggered by George Floyd’s murder has in recent days taken on an explicitly anti-imperialist character, with statues of slave traders and historical figures like Winston Churchill and Christopher Columbus being vandalised, torn down, and, in one iconic moment in the English port town of Bristol, thrown into the river.
From Native Americans demanding truth about the genocide that befell their foremothers/fathers under the guise of Columbus’ ‘discovery of America’, to black populations across the Western hemisphere who are descendants of African slaves, the global movement sheds light on the indelible imprint of capitalist imperialism on our world. In this sense alone, the uprisings harken to the heyday of anti-colonialism between the 1950s and 1970s.
As the world’s biggest European colony, British India occupied a hallowed place in the pantheon of anti-imperialism, its ‘freedom’ in 1947 triggering the wave of freedom struggles that ended formal colonial rule across the rest of Asia and Africa. But as the first leader of a post-colonial African nation, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, put it, we were immediately saddled with neo-colonialism.
Nkrumah was calling attention to the debt, capital and labour flows that kept the ex-colonies trapped in a web of dependency to the Western imperialist powers (which is still the case), but he could have just as well been talking about the continuing enslavement of peripheral regions and people within majoritarian post-colonial states.
Yes, a global decolonisation movement is destroying the idols who tower over us even from their graves, but what of the young women and men who lead an entirely non-violent movement in Pakistan’s most brutalised, peripheral region of Balochistan? Medical students and unemployed youth alike, pushed to the wall time and again by the establishment, are breaking the cycle of fear and coming out onto the streets to demand a disbanding of deaths squads allegedly backed by some state elements. Is this not our counterpart to the anti-imperialist upsurge in the West?
Some weeks ago, a stalwart of Pakistan’s anti-imperialist left of the 1960s and 1970s, Chaudhry Fateh Muhammad, passed. He was one of the leaders of the famous Toba Tek Singh Kissan Conference of 1970 presided over by Maulana Bhashani. Then too young people believed they could change the world. Ever since that wave of global uprisings gave way to neo-liberalism and militarism in the 1980s, we have lurched from crisis to crisis. Calling only for current populists to go will push us into yet another phase of crisis-ridden outrage. We ought instead to join hands with those demanding justice for Bramsh, like those who called for justice for Naqeebullah and many more, so as to remake our pandemic-stricken world, freed from the shadow of capitalist imperialism.
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2020