The state of Pakistan is the creation of the reactionary forces that moulded the Indian sub-continent: British imperialism and Gandhian nationalism. Through colonial exploitation the one exacerbated the internal pre-capitalist religious differences of the sub-continent. The other, articulating the interests of the Hindu bourgeoisie under the guise of regenerating the Indian nation, provoked the Muslim people as a whole into a defensive separatism. The ideology that preached nonviolence was responsible for the deaths of several millions of people; by its gross and mendacious irrelevance to the problems of the Indian people it is continuing to kill many more. In this situation, the Muslims were led by their own bourgeoisie and landowners into a separatist state, Pakistan. Since then it has been ruled by a coalition of landowners, businessmen, officers and civil servants, and they have been able to hold the predominantly peasant population in subjection, using both armed repression and the manipulation of Islamic and anti-Indian ideology.

As in many other colonial states, the ruling class lacked the political maturity to adopt the classical institutions of political rule as developed in the industrial capitalist world; after 10 years of pseudo-parliamentary rule the army took power in 1958. Since then Pakistan has been ruled by the Ayub Khan clique (1958–69) and the present clique around Yahya Khan. This evolution has posed a definite political choice, clearly brought out by Tariq Ali in the title of his book ‘Pakistan: Military Rule or People’s Power’.footnote1 There have been many cases in the third world of military régimes deceiving the masses through demagogy at home and a token anti-imperialism abroad; in some cases these have carried through national-democratic reforms. But they have always installed new forms of exploitation over the masses. The examples of Nasser and Kassem in the Arab world and of a succession of nationalist military régimes in Latin America bear this out. Without organizing and relying on the masses such régimes are precarious and create their own internal relations of exploitation.

Pakistan is a specific, somewhat atypical, instance of this type of régime. Internally the Pakistani state represented the interests of the feudalists and national bourgeoisie, predominantly Punjabis from the West, while the state was administered by the colonial cadres left behind by the British–the civil servants and officers. Internationally it was, from 1954, in direct alliance with us imperialism through the Baghdad Pact (later cento) and seato. With Iran and Turkey it formed the anti-Soviet ‘northern tier’ of Asian states drummed into an alliance by Dulles. In the Arab world Pakistan played an unequivocally reactionary role–providing officers and men for the Sultan of Muscat’s army, helping the British in South Arabia and sending arms and men into royalist Yemen. At the same time it symbolized the aspirations of the most reactionary Arab leaders for a Muslim state, in which class conflicts would be chloroformed by religion. However, in the 1960’s Pakistan came to have a close alliance with People’s China. On the Chinese side, there were a number of straightforward reasons for this. After the Indian attack on China in September 1962 the Chinese and Pakistanis had a common interest in opposing the common enemy; moreover, as the Soviet-American attempt to isolate the Chinese developed, Pakistan–like Hong Kong–served as a link with the rest of the world.

But this alliance with China was a hindrance to the class struggle of the Pakistani people, and the left National Awami Party muted its hostility to the régime because of the diplomatic alliance with People’s China. This contradiction reached its culmination in the period of the overthrow of the Ayub clique, in late 1968. When the Pakistani workers, students and peasants were assailing the forces of the Pakistani state, its representative and future chief, Yahya Khan, was being cordially received in Peking. However, the nap’s major weaknesses are not to be ascribed to the diplomatic positions of People’s China. They derive from the ambiguous character of the party itself and of its octogenarian leader, Maulana Bhashani. The party expresses the spontaneous radicalism of the Bengali peasantry, without a scientific conception of organization or re-education, and its relation to Islam is unclarified. It is these factors, internal to the Left, that characterize its situation, and a revolutionary party grounded on Marxism would not be politically hamstrung by the diplomatic positions of People’s China. Tariq Ali poses the central political problem, that of constituting a revolutionary organization clearly aware of the need to smash the state, and not to rely on infiltrating or influencing a military régime.

This perspective was concretely opened up by the November 1968 upsurge, which mobilized proletarians and intellectuals in both wings of Pakistan. The state was threatened by a prolonged, yet spontaneous, outburst of revolutionary class forces; these were unable to prevail, lacking as they did an organized expression. The figurehead was changed but the rulers and their agents remained in power. It is within this context that Ali’s Pakistan has been written: it aims to analyse the first 22 years of Pakistan’s independence and to draw conclusions from a critical survey of the Left. He provides an excellent account of the Ayub régime and of the 1968–69 rising and concludes with a chapter on the political lessons and a transitional programme.

A revolutionary strategy in Pakistan faces certain specific problems. The most obvious one derives from the fact that the country is split into two wings, East and West, with different social, ethnic and linguistic systems. The only unity is religious and administrative. The very problem of communication is a major one: 1 per cent of the gnp is spent just on air travel between East and West. The West has exploited the East and has exacerbated already existing differences. This means that while a Pakistani state exists, there is not yet clearly a Pakistani nation. Ali’s transitional programme accords the Bengali East the right to self-determination and an independent state, and this clearly allows for quite different strategies and revolutionary developments in the two sectors. On the other hand the degree of close interaction of the two struggles in the 1968–69 period was a surprise both to Left and Right, and allows for the possibility of a revolutionary alliance of forces in both halves.

While the Pakistani revolution faces this specific problem of its internal articulation it is externally inserted within the Indian sub-continent and the Asian continent as a whole. The conflict over Kashmir and over religion has been used by the Pakistani rulers to mute class differences, as the Arab states use Palestine and the Dublin government uses Northern Ireland. In all three cases too a verbally militant stance has gone together with the betrayal of the people whom these governments claim to be supporting. The solution to the Kashmiri problem is clearly stated by Tariq Ali: self-determination. If these blocks are removed the way is open for a revolutionary solidarity between Indian and Pakistani forces, not only abstractly but in concrete geographic instances like Bengal. The interaction of the two states can therefore be used for and against the revolution. At the same time the sub-continent is situated between an increasingly uncontrollable and anti-imperialist Middle East (Palestine, Dhofar) and an embattled South-East Asia. To the north and east of all of these is People’s China. Within this four-cornered Asian situation, Pakistan was nurtured by imperialism because of its strategic position and the possibility of using its religious origins to cement national units. Pakistan is still playing such a role, but the 1968–69 events show the possibility of an alternative future. Tariq Ali’s book points the way to a red Pakistan and a red Asia.