Fundamentalists and imperialism

Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan, describes the anti-American mood amongst ordinary Pakistanis

Iam writing this from Toba Tek Singh, my home town - which is 300 kilometres away from Lahore and is in the central Punjab. This area is peasant-dominated. There are no large feudal interests and the main income comes from the crops like cotton, wheat, sugarcane and maize, etc. In the 1970s, it was once a hub of the peasant movement led by the Stalinist left. On March 23 1970, over 500,000 attended a peasant conference in the town.

Now the religious fundamentalists are in the ascendant. In the main centre we see paintings of the martyrs - that is, those youths who have been killed recently in the ?holy war? against India in Kashmir. Religious madrasas (schools) can be found on almost every street corner.

Electorally speaking, the religious fundamentalists have not yet taken over the town - the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Muslim League, the two main bourgeois parties, still have a majority. But street power is in the hands of the religious fundamentalists. Many working class youths have been recruited by the Jihadi (holy war) organisation to fight in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

The youth have virtually no possibility of finding a job. Hence the attraction of the Jihadi and other religious organisations - one can at least find the basic necessities of life in the religious schools and in the training camps.

In an informal chat during the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy meeting on September 15, I was told by Javaid Hashmi, the president of the Muslim League, that he has been invited many times this month to visit the families of those whose sons have become martyrs in Kashmir. Hashmi told me that when he arrives at these houses, he is asked not to offer condolences but instead to congratulate the family for such a great achievement. Then sweets are handed around in order to bring happiness to the family. Hashmi himself comes from Multan, a city nearly 100 kilometre from my own home town.

It is the same sad story in most of the central and Southern Punjab areas from where the bulk of the recruits for these religious organisations come.

I was in Lahore four days after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The mood among many workers and ordinary citizens was of joy that the Americans had at last been taught a lesson.

But there was also sympathy for those killed in the terrorist attacks. It was not a mood of fanaticism - or all-out support for the religious fundamentalists. The ARD meeting on September 14-15 condemned the attacks, but also issued a warning to the United States that it should not attack the innocent citizens of Afghanistan. The All-Parties Conference organised by the Jamaat-i-Islami on September 16 - which both the Labour Party Pakistan and the Peoples Party boycotted - had a far more threatening attitude towards the US.

At Toba Tek Singh too the mood is one of fanaticism. When I arrived here after a six-hour drive from Lahore to see my ageing father, he bombarded me with questions. He has been a trader for all his hard life - most of it spent in hock to the banks and permanently disappointed by his lot. Every initiative he took to improve his life came to nothing. He has remained loyal to the conservative bourgeois Muslim League.

When I condemned the attacks and pointed out that the terrorist acts have endangered the lives of muslims across the world, he was untouched. He told me that no one in the town shared my views  - nobody would support me. My father believes that the Taliban will teach an historic lesson to the Americans, and that the days of the military regime in Pakistan are numbered. Serves them right for dancing to the American tune. He thought I was not bothered by the fact the United States, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank has his life - he told me his agricultural business has been destroyed by these institutions. My father cannot afford to pay the price for pesticides now state subsidies have gone. His orange orchard, so he said, has been ruined by the forces of international capital.

Therefore, concluded my father, it is quite natural that he - and the whole town - took heart from the events of September 11.

I spoke to Mumma (real name Mohammed Sadiq). He is a peasant working on the land for a monthly wage. Mumma told me that - at long last - someone has humbled the most powerful nation on  earth. He told me that it was the work of god - no human being can alter the course of events.

Today, September 17, I went to my village - Chack Number 291, Lahorianwala - where I was born. I spoke to my cousin, Afzal. He has a small shop on the main road selling small grocery items. Afzal told me that there is no way the Taliban can be defeated by the Americans. How can they defeat the Taliban when they cannot defend their own cities? It is great what has happened. He also told me that there would be huge demonstrations if the US attacks either Pakistan or Afghanistan. He told us, ?There is a great hatred towards the military regime for its capitulation to the Americans.?

The sentiments expressed by Afzal are common. Six days after these attacks on American cities, it seems that many - if not most - are happy and proud that someone has done the job they all should have done. It illustrates a fanatical hatred of American imperialism amongst the masses.

The mood is turning in favour of the fundamentalists. Once the US attack starts, the Pakistani regime will face an extraordinarily dangerous situation of mass demonstrations and rallies in support of the Taliban and bin Laden. One villager told me that what happened in America is akin to that of a peasant who fights against the feudal lords with no weapons.

No one in the village ever thought of fighting against the feudal order before - now it is different. In the minds of the villagers, America is a big feudal lord who has been dealt a blow by one of the dispossessed. We must celebrate. Whenever I raised the issue of the innocent American victims of the terrorist outrage, the normal reaction was - yes, of course we sympathise - but what about those millions of Palestinians, Sudanese, Vietnamese and others who have lost their lives at the hand of US aggression? After all, who supports Israel? This was a fact permanently raised by the villagers.

It is very clear that the progressive forces who condemn all forms of terrorism - whether at an individual or state level - are in a small minority.