(Rasool Bux Paleejo’s Interview)
— The Dawn Dialogue panel included Sabihuddin Ghausi, Lateef Baloch, Bahzad Alam Khan and Shamim-ur-Rahman.
Awami Tehrik leader Rasool Bakhsh Palijo believes that the biggest problem facing Pakistan is “structural”, since the country does not have even the “pretence of a federation” any longer.
In a Dawn Dialogue interview in Karachi, Mr Palijo blamed the ruling class of Punjab for trying to dominate the smaller provinces, but at the same time he said his party’s first struggle was against the feudal lords of Sindh.
If “Sindhu Desh is created, the feudal lords will kill us. Our first struggle is against autocracy,” he said.
Asked to specify steps that he would like to be taken for the country’s progress, he said talk about the Thal Canal project and the Kalabagh Dam should stop, and added: “Stop devaluing politics. Stop being cynical about the judiciary.” Mr Palijo also warned against involving criminals in politics, and involving the army in corruption.
He said the liberal and progressive path of genuine national independence and civilian democratic rule charted out by the Quaid-i- Azam was “the only path of salvation for this country”. Mr Palijo said the issues currently being negotiated between the opposition and the government were important ones, but stressed that the “petty compromises” sought would not change the basic autocratic and antipeople structure of the “neo-colonial, virtually non-federal, unitary, oppressive and military state that Jinnah’s Pakistan now stands tragically transformed into”.
The following is the edited text of the Dawn Dialogue interview with Awami Tehrik chief Rasool Bakhsh Palijo:
QUESTION: To begin with, perhaps you could identify what you consider to be the biggest problem facing Pakistan today.
ANSWER: The biggest problem is structural. This is a neo-colonial country in which its rulers have been nominated by outsiders. This is the case with every Third World country, though their rulers claim to be representatives of their people. But that is not true. In 1971, the federation envisioned in the 1940 Resolution ended. That resolution seeking independent states was adopted because the supremacy of one province was not considered acceptable. Domination of Sindh by Punjab since Ranjit Singhs time was a known fact, but no one was prepared to be part of greater Punjab. That is why the phrase ‘independent states was used in the 1940 Resolution at the insistence of Bengal and Sindh. We got rid of Bengal in 1971 by blaming them for all sorts of things. Now this is a one unit, a foreign-inspired one unit. In fact, it is a foreign colony, not just in name. Now we don’t even have the pretence of a federation.
Q: What exactly do you mean when you blame Punjab because most of the people of Punjab have nothing to do with this problem of domination?
A: I am glad you raised the point, and you are right that the people have nothing to do with this. I am not a traditional nationalist. I am a proletarian internationalist. I now support the cause of the people of Sindh. Earlier, I had supported the people of Bengal. And when during the days of the great Sindhi leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, military action was taken in Balochistan, I was an advocate of the rebels for which I was sent to jail. By Punjab, I mean its ruling class. Punjabi people,
American people and European people are also our brothers. The way Europe is fighting for the Muslim cause, none of us is doing so. In the same way, we have differences with the Indian rulers, but we have nothing against the people of India.
Q: How do you look at the Jeay Sindh Movement?
A: First of all, this country has to be sovereign. There should be a federation of equals. There should be a proper constitution. The Senate should be the dominant house. There should be democracy. There should be no extremism. Pakistan should be sovereign, independent and progressive. Pakistan has never been independent for a day. We want an independent Pakistan.
Q: These problems have been repeatedly identified. One factor may be the domination of Punjab because of its size. But what do you propose to do to solve these problems?
A: The modus operandi of imperialistic forces has been this for the past many years have democracy and fairplay in your own country on the condition that the rest of the world is your playground. There should be light in your country provided that there is darkness in the rest of the world. They want undemocratic regimes all over the world so that they can be manipulated. This is criminalized state politics. They will keep people in power in Third World countries as long as they continue to commit the crimes they want them to commit.
It is not that Punjab’s size is the problem. Their ruling classes have been given the license on behalf of imperial powers. They have committed crimes with the aid of the military. I know that the international climate is such that they have to allow freedom to the press. There must be amendments to the Constitution. There should be a real federation. The criminalization of (politics and government) has to be understood and resisted by all the people.
When Mr Bhutto was in power, we did our duty to stand up and be counted and be hunted. People used to say that they did not regard me as a Sindhi. I used to say that I was thankful to them. They used to say that I was working as a lawyer to traitors.
Many crimes have been committed over the issue of water. I also want to write the criminal history of the political processes of Pakistan. I have always said that Mohammad Ali Jinnah was killed. They left Mr Jinnah unattended on the road. He was very fragile. I had seen him. I am a criminal lawyer. You do not need great methodology to kill a man. If you leave a child in the cold, he will die. Now it is being said that Fatima Jinnah was also murdered.
This administration is committing more injustices than its predecessors; especially its focus is on Sindh. When growers in Sindh grow sugarcane, they import sugar to keep prices down. The systematic manner in which this administration is seeking to destroy Sindh as an entity, the way it is pauperizing the population (is regrettable). Servicemen are posted everywhere in Sindh. The way these people are using the army the army decides who would be a union council nazim. They are running the whole administration.
Even the British officers would not speak with the arrogance with which the army generals speak. They do so because they have the backing of the US. They urge the people of Punjab to use the kind of language against Sindh they have not used in the past 50 years. Nobody talked like that.
Q: How do you look at nationalist politics when you say that you are not a nationalist but a proletarian internationalist?
A: I am not a nationalist in the strict sense of the word. I am not like that. I do not accept that nationalism. If the definition of nationalism is my-nation-right-or-wrong, I do not believe in that. I do not say that the Sindhis are better than any other nation. I do not want to conquer other areas.
Actually, I would not like to use the word nationalist at all. We support Namibia. We supported Vietnam. We support the Palestinians.
Q: When voices were raised for the Vietnamese people, we saw more crowds and more rage large crowds talking about the rights of the Vietnamese people. Why is the proletarian movement in Pakistan no longer so potent?
A: There are so many Muslim countries, yet the Muslims are being destroyed. The imperial forces have set up a bogus democratic movement. People have been compartmentalized. Democrats. Nationalists. Islamists. They are all bogus. They are appointed by them. It is important to see whether the so-called Islamists are really Islamists or not. Similarly, whether the so- called democrats are really democrats or not. Are we real nationalists?
Q: What is your stand on the Legal Framework Order and the controversy on the uniform of the president?
A: The LFO is against the letter and spirit of the 1973 Constitution. With the utmost respect, I do not consider the decision of the worthy Supreme Court of Pakistan giving General Musharraf the power to amend the Constitution as laying down the correct law. What the Muslims of the subcontinent struggled for was not a state ruled by generals through mafia-like agencies and their machine-made and mass-produced, power-hungry, corrupt to the core and petty-minded puppet politicians. The Quaid-i-Azam did not want the military to have anything to do with the governance of Pakistan. Unfortunately, he was gravely ill at the time of partition and was surrounded by the civil and military bureaucracy and their puppet politicians, dancing to foreign tunes, who took over the country lock,stock and barrel even during the life of the Quaid. Successive coteries of foreign oriented generals have been riding roughshod, directly or indirectly, over this unfortunate land for decades. They drove out East Bengal, thus dealing the death blow to the federal foundation of Jinnah’s Pakistan, making it virtually a one-unit, dominated by one province and the generals. So we find Punjab’s military general acting as a governor-general over Sindh and giving orders to the nominal provincial authorities. Pakistan has been transformed into a Prussian type military state in all but name. In fact, as I tried to point out earlier, the majority of Third World countries like Pakistan, which were the directly ruled colonies of the western powers, became upon getting independence, indirectly ruled neo-colonies of these powers. Whereas previously western parliaments appointed the rulers of colonies and accepted responsibility for their good and bad deeds, the new colonial masters who rule by remotecontrol now do not accept any such responsibility. So the hand-picked rulers foisted upon such countries-who are shown to have come to the top through bogus electoral processes, coups or other intrigues, rendered reckless by the knowledge that so long as they keep dancing to the tunes of the masters, they need fear nobody else- feel themselves absolutely free to play havoc with the lives, the rights, resources, liberties and destinies of their semi-enslaved, illiterate and impoverished populations. Many of the politicians we find around ourselves are commonly believed to be the creatures of the generals and their agencies. And as long as the worthy generals and their political creatures are riding on the backs of the oppressed people of Pakistan, with the blessing and backing of foreign powers, Pakistan’s status as a semi-slave military state, its backwardness, abysmal poverty and helplessness cannot be changed. The liberal and progressive path of genuine national independence and civilian democratic rule charted out for this country by Mohammad Ali Jinnah is the only path of salvation for this country.
The petty compromises sought in the current negotiations cannot change the basic autocratic and anti-people structure of the neocolonial, virtually non-federal, unitary military state that Jinnah’s Pakistan now stands tragically transformed into.
As for the controversy about the uniform, that is a superficial matter and avoids the fundamental question about the future of the people and the state of Pakistan.
That question is this. Have the crores of the people of Pakistan been given birth to by their mothers to pass their whole lives under the sword of Damocles of a now familiar phenomenon?
A general suddenly stages a coup, grabs power, invokes the historic justification of all usurpers, viz, the law of necessity, gets his usurpation condoned by the judiciary, throws away the Constitution of the country, imposes his own self- serving interim constitution, stages the now familiar drama of a totally bogus referendum and thus makes himself an elected president followed by elections tailored to his needs, gets desired results and then begins the haggling about petty concessions.
How long is this vicious circle going to continue? Will it ever end?
Q: Do you think, then, that the issues over which the government, the ARD and the MMA have been fighting are non-issues?
A: No, they are very important issues. But our problem is that we are a colony and the colony is being ruled through the army. And the army is creating the politics (we see).
Q: How do you build up public pressure for your position when the political parties remain so disorganized? Even your political party is not organized. Political parties have no roots among the masses.
A: There must be and there are a number of individuals and groups who do not like to keep trudging along the beaten path of traditional petty power politics. If they think over the matter properly they will come to the conclusion that sham democracy and pro-status-quo politics can never improve the situation fundamentally. Only a persistent, courageous, peaceful democratic struggle will create the conditions for basic and lasting changes. The Awami Tehrik has been working in this direction for the last three decades. It has been in the forefront of every pro- people democratic struggle in this country in general and the province of Sindh in particular.
At present we are waging a struggle along with seven other parties against the Greater Thal Canal Project. We invited all political parties including those in the government, the Muslim League-Q and the MQM, to join the struggle. Some friends including Aftab Shaikh of the MQM appeared to be surprised at my invitation.
We are in contact with a number of friends throughout the country. I had recently had discussions with Mr Abid Hasan Minto and several other friends. We hope that the common struggle for real democratic change will win many new adherents in the coming months and years.
A great and mighty global wave of mass movements for peoples’ rights, liberties and rule is on the order of the day. The conscious and justice loving, democratic-minded people of Pakistan cannot afford to lag far behind the rest of the re-awakening and rising world.
Q: Do you think the 1973 Constitution is still relevant and valid?
A: After 1971 Pakistan has actually lost its federal character as a single province now dominates the parliament and the senate has no real power. In practice, the so- called federal government of Pakistan is but another name of the establishment of the biggest province. The three small provinces are virtually being treated as the undeclared divisions of the dominating province and their resources are being mercilessly plundered. Section 6 of the Constitution which punishes those who overthrow the Constitution has become a dead letter. The Constitution therefore needs to be appropriately amended.
Q: Politicians do not talk about ending Karo-kari, marriage with the Quran, etc. They do not talk about spreading education. All they want to do is grab power.
A: I agree with you. The Awami Tehrik and the Sindhiani Tehrik are waging a struggle against this licensed brutal slaughter of helpless women. But we lack resources. If some NGOs who are sincerely interested in this cause come forward to work with us, I think we will get better results.
Q: Now you are mobilizing people on the water issue. Will you be talking to Punjab?
A: Absolutely. We will talk to them very soon. We will even go to the Frontier and Balochistan. I prefer to go to the villages. In the villages of Punjab, more people recognize us.
Q: In order to mobilize the people, we need a party and a leadership. Will you ally yourself with the existing parties or will you form a new party?
A: When we invited the MQM to cooperate with us, they were surprised. But there is no permanent hostility in politics. Do you know that I have been in touch with Gen Musharraf? I like the man because at least he is a polite man. He talks to people and listens to them. The things that I have said here, I told him the same things. Can you believe it?
We will take this struggle forward. You will soon find a new awakening in Pakistan. Our first struggle is basically against the feudal lords of Sindh. Why am I against ‘Sindhu Desh’? Because I fear that if Sindhu Desh is created, these feudal lords will kill us. Our first struggle is against autocracy.
Q: What three or four steps do you specifically want the people of Pakistan to take to tide over the present problems?
A: Stop the Thal canal. Stop talking about the Kalabagh Dam. Stop squeezing Sindhis and stop obliterating them from the face of the earth. Stop devaluing politics. Stop being cynical. Stop being cynical with regard to the judiciary. Do not over-use the military. Stop the militarization of Pakistan. Stop plundering the economic resources of the people. Do not involve the army in corruption. Do not involve criminals in politics.
Q: How do you see the normalization process between Pakistan and India? Will it lead to any fundamental changes in domestic politics?
A: I should hope so. But all things do not happen the way we want them to. Most things depend upon factors which are not completely under your control. I do not agree with the traditional interpretation of Indian history. There was only one Indian nationalist, and that was Mohammad Ali Jinnah. They had him killed. India has never played the role of an elder brother. They have always acted like a ‘baniya’. Their hatred against the Muslims has not disappeared. Having said that, I agree with you that normalization of relations between India and Pakistan would have a great impact.
Q: How will it have an impact on domestic politics?
A: They will not be able to incite people when they have talks with Indian politicians in Delhi and Lucknow. We have the same language and culture. How can you hate them in a mad and brutal manner? This will bring about tolerance in politics.
— The Dawn Dialogue panel included Sabihuddin Ghausi, Lateef Baloch, Bahzad Alam Khan and Shamim-ur-Rahman.
18th August 2003
18th August 2003