Monday, October 2, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Sept 30, 2017

Water scarcity India and Pakistan have held a second round of talks on September 14-15 under World Bank (WB) auspices in Washington on differences regarding two hydropower projects under construction by India on tributaries of the Jhelum and Chenab rivers in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). Like the first round on July 31-August 1, 2017 however, this time round too the two sides failed to agree. An earlier Indus Waters Commission meeting in Islamabad in March 2017 had produced a similar deadlock, after which Pakistan turned to the WB as the arbiter of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). While it soon became clear that the two sides were still poles apart, with Pakistan asking the WB to appoint a Court of Arbitration and India countering with a proposal for the WB to appoint a neutral expert, the WB’s statement after the latest round of talks appreciated the goodwill and cooperative atmosphere in which these talks were held. The dispute concerns two hydropower projects, the 330 MW Kishanganga and the 850 MW Ratle hydropower projects that Pakistan objects to on the grounds that their design violates the provisions of the IWT. These provisions include a clause dividing the Indus Basin waters between the two countries on the basis of one-fifth to India and four-fifths to Pakistan. Pakistan complains that India’s designs as the upper riparian will unfairly and against the spirit and letter of the IWT, deprive it if its rightful share of the rivers flowing through IHK. It may be relevant to mention here that the IWT is one of the most successful international treaties, having withstood the ups and downs in the relationship between Pakistan and India, and even the subsequent wars between them. However, contrary to the IWT, there is a lobby in India that objects per se to the arbitration role of the WB, wanting no third party involved and for Pakistan and India to settle these and all other matters bilaterally. This is a self-serving argument, since the track record of bilateral negotiations on this and other matters is nothing to write home about. One does not know at this point what the next step on the part of the WB, Pakistan and India will be, but perhaps the best that can be hoped for is a continuation of talks to try and find ways and means to resolve the dispute. The IWT was signed in 1960 after nine years of negotiations brokered by the WB, which is also a signatory and has a mediatory role in setting up dispute resolution mechanisms, but only with the consensus of both state parties. Despite its weathering the storms that have buffeted Pakistan-India relations since it was brought into existence, the IWT dispute resolution regime now seems stalled, perhaps partly because of the current tensions between the two countries. Unfortunately the track record of Pakistan’s engagement bilaterally with India and multilaterally under the auspices of the WB on issues afflicting the IWT does not inspire confidence. One cannot escape the conclusion that Pakistan has seldom prepared its case on disputes in a timely or well thought out fashion. Being the upper riparian, India can stall resolution of disputes almost indefinitely by hiding behind the technicalities of the IWT and its dispute resolution process, while continuing in certain instances to continue to create new facts on the ground. This may be informed by the wisdom that the WB or any other international arbitration forum is unlikely to ask a country to demolish a dam. While Pakistan and India will now continue internal discussions in their respective capitals after the talks remained deadlocked, Pakistan has been hit by the news that a 20 percent water shortage looms over the Rabi season. The Indus River System Authority (IRSA) has revealed this while asking for building more dams on a war footing. The reasons adduced for treating this development as an emergency can be listed as sparse rainfall in recent years, silting up of existing water reservoirs, providing Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with their full quotas under the Water Apportionment Accord of 1991 and the additional offtake by the recently inaugurated Kachhi Canal in Balochistan. Punjab and Sindh being the two affected provinces by the water shortage, food security now seems under strain if not threatened. Pakistan is considered to be a water-stressed country by now, and the portents, under the impact of climate change and potential and existing disputes between our internal upper and lower riparians, are increasingly grim.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Sept 27, 2017

Mainstreaming terrorist groups The Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs grilled the Election Commission of Pakistan officials on September 26, 2017 over allowing the newly formed Milli Muslim League, a party affiliated to the Jamaat ud Dawa, a.k.a. Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, to take part in the recent by-election in NA-120, Lahore, the seat vacated by disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Chairperson of the Committee Senator Sherry Rehman wondered how an election symbol was allotted to a party banned under the Fourth Schedule. Committee members pointed out that the so-called independent candidate Yaqoob Sheikh’s campaign posters and banners carried pictures of the leaders of the Jamaat ud Dawa. Senator Sherry Rehman said the Election Commission of Pakistan should have taken action against this blatant violation of the law. In a reply that was disingenuous, the Election Commission of Pakistan officials muttered that they had asked the Ministry of the Interior for an explanation as to the status of Yaqoob Sheikh but were still waiting for a reply. This answer failed to satisfy the members of the committee, and for good reason. Senator Sherry Rehman said the Election Commission of Pakistan was a constitutional body and needed to function independently, without the kind of dependent attitude on display. In any case, the Interior Ministry had already conveyed to the Election Commission of Pakistan even before the by-election that it should not register the Milli Muslim League. Juxtaposing this fact with the obvious affiliation of the pretend independent candidate with Hafiz Saeed and company, the Election Commission of Pakistan officials were left with egg on their face. What made the whole episode even worse, indeed alarming, was the fact that Yaqoob Sheikh got almost 6,000 votes. The Election Commission of Pakistan has already received a fair bit of stick, especially from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, for its conduct of the 2013 general elections, dubbed by critics as the ‘Returning Officers election’. Now to that inglorious epithet has been added the inexplicable decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan to turn a blind eye to the obvious front man role of Yaqoob Sheikh for Jamaat ud Dawa. With his leader Hafiz Saeed under house arrest and the party proscribed, it is beyond understanding how Yaqoob Sheikh was even allowed to strand, let alone display Hafiz Saeed and other Jamaat ud Dawa leaders’ pictures during the election campaign. Critics here are incensed at this breach of the law and opening the door to the terrorist organisations’ bid to join the political mainstream. Critics abroad will no doubt view this as a deliberate act of legitimising through the electoral process outfits wedded to terror. If this is Pakistan’s version of the rightward trend being witnessed all over the world, particularly the US and Europe, where far right forces are gathering electoral strength, it is an ill considered and damaging to Pakistan’s international reputation blunder. Of late there had been speculations that the real powers-that-be had chalked out a plan to mainstream some proscribed outfits to ease the international pressure on Pakistan at allowing banned organisations to reinvent themselves under different names and new banners. Now with the NA-120 debacle, the conspiracy theory mills will grind overtime. Even if it was not someone’s bright idea to insert the Jamaat ud Dawa into the electoral fray under the all too leaky camouflage of an independent candidate, his clear expression of affiliation with Jamaat ud Dawa could not possibly have escaped the Election Commission of Pakistan. Senator Sherry Rehman is right that the Election Commission of Pakistan had no need or obligation to ask the Interior Ministry for explanations or clarifications regarding Yaqoob Sheikh. They should have exercised their own minds independently. This fresh controversy will not only alarm those who see this 'legitimisation’ of terrorist outfits alarming, it will resurrect criticisms against and demands for the overhaul of the Election Commission of Pakistan if we are not to be embroiled once again in damaging controversies in the forthcoming elections, controversies that delegitimise the democratic electoral process and more often than not engender political crises.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Sept 26, 2017

The continuing agony of enforced disappearances The meeting on September 25, 2017 of the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights proved an occasion for the expression of exasperation and serious concerns about the continuing, and rising, incidence of enforced disappearances (EDs). First and foremost, the chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, ‘disappeared’ on the plea of a prior commitment and did not appear. This left the chairperson of the Functional Committee, MQM’s Senator Nasrin Jalil, less than amused. PPP’s Senator Karim Khawaja proffered some sound advice to the government to address the issue of EDs lest it become an embarrassment and the UN intervenes. He reminded the committee that the UN intervened in a similar issue in Chile in 1972 and thousands of ED victims were released. The same was the case in Bosnia, where the perpetrators were punished. National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) chairman Justice (retd) Ali Nawaz Chowhan lamented that inquiries about missing persons had to be directed to the security agencies without any result. It is undeniable that these agencies, wrapped in a cocoon of impunity, have consistently stonewalled any attempt to unravel cases of ED. Justice Chowhan argued for the UN convention on EDs to be ratified, and arrested persons produced in court. Senator Dr Jehanzeb Jamaldini wanted the relatives of missing persons to be called to committee meetings, instead of leaving them to rot in protest camps with their children in a futile search and unending wait for their loved ones. He reminded that the National Action Plan had laid down that arrested people should be produced in court within 10 days but this had not been implemented. Senator Farhatullah Babar stressed the need for further legislation, starting with the passage of the December 2016 draft law on EDs endorsed by 104 Senators. He argued for doing away with the impunity enjoyed by the security agencies, in the presence of which they could continue to cock a snook at any and all institutions inquiring into EDs. In a number of cases where missing persons were released after being declared innocent, the perpetrators were never punished despite evidence of their skullduggery. He wanted the 2012 inquiry report on EDs and the UN Working Group on EDs’ reports made public. It turned out during the discussion that the UN convention was objected to on account of its clause 26, which allowed citizens to approach the UN directly, which could then send a team to investigate. What logic! We want, according to a foreign office representative, to sign the UN convention, but on our own terms! The discussion of the issue of missing persons in the committee underlines the misery of thousands of families whose dear ones have been disappeared and they languish in the agony of not knowing their fate despite the passage of years together. One does not know if those who received the tortured dead bodies of their disappeared loved ones were better off or not, but the agony of those who still await news of the fate of their disappeared ones can only be guessed at. What first emerged as a phenomenon in the strife-torn province of Balochistan, later was found common in terrorist-infested areas such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and now the practice seems to have spread to Sindh. Needless to say this is directly attributable to the failure of institutions set up to address the issue such as Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal’s commission and the NCHR. Senator Babar spared no one, parliament, the Supreme Court of Pakistan or any other institution as being guilty of failure in addressing this tragic human rights issue. Whatever lacunae in the law, institutions and procedures have contributed to the ‘smirking’ sense of impunity in which the security agencies have wrapped themselves, the law and humanity demand this unforgivable tragedy must be brought to an end and those responsible punished.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Business Recorder Column Sept 25, 2017

The return of Nawaz Sharif Rashed Rahman Punditry and forecasting are both inexact ‘sciences’. Sometimes, the line between the two gets blurred. Something of this nature has overtaken the Pakistani commentariat regarding the plans of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif. By and large, our commentators and analysts got it wrong when they almost unanimously predicted that Nawaz Sharif would not return to the country and would rather stay put in London where his wife Kulsoom Nawaz, the successful candidate in Lahore’s NA-120 recent by-election, is undergoing treatment for cancer. But then perhaps one should not blame the commentariat too much, since they relied on whatever received wisdom was floating around. However, the outcome of their punditry should serve as an object lesson that received wisdom too needs to be digested critically, and judgement reserved until all the facts have been gathered. Nawaz Sharif has returned to Pakistan, reportedly against the advice of close members of his family and the ministers of the PML-N government. Their argument was that the outcome of the Panama case shows that the whole process has little to do with the charges of corruption and more to do with a political coup. Nawaz Sharif himself buys into this argument, pointing out that the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s (SCP’s) verdict of July 28, 2017 had nothing to do with the charges brought and that he was disqualified on the grounds of a relatively minor technicality. The fate of his and his family’s review petitions (dismissed) and the appointment of a SCP judge to supervise the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) proceedings in the four references filed against the Sharifs and Ishaq Dar has further convinced Nawaz Sharif that neither did he receive fair treatment nor justice, nor can he expect anything different in the NAB references. Why then, in the face of this opposing tide, has Nawaz Sharif decided to return to Pakistan and face the music? The crucial huddle in London between Nawaz Sharif and the leadership of the PML-N in London proved a deciding factor. Legal advice and reportedly Shahbaz Sharif’s take persuaded the former prime minister to gird up his loins and face the references on solid legal grounds. The advantage of such a course lies in the weak case likely to be made out in the NAB references. Since the SCP had ordered the filing of these references within six weeks, there was no time for NAB to reopen investigations into these cases. The NAB references therefore perforce rely on the SCP-appointed Joint Investigation Team’s (JIT’s) report. Irrespective of whether certain reports claiming that NAB investigators themselves are not convinced of the JIT’s findings providing a solid case are true or not, the fact remains that the JIT findings may turn out to be inadmissible as evidence. Many legal eagles have described the JIT’s findings as weak and faulty since they largely rely on media reports and documents obtained in an ‘informal’ fashion both inside Pakistan and abroad. Such ‘evidence’ does not fulfil the criteria for admissibility in a court of law. Be that as it may, and the days ahead will reveal more on this account, the disadvantages of staying away in self-imposed exile and avoiding appearance in the references were obvious. No doubt the experience of the exile suffered by the Sharifs after General Musharraf’s coup informed this view. Returning to face what may turn out to be weak and eventually inconclusive references would obviously rebound in Nawaz Sharif’s favour. Second, returning allows Nawaz Sharif to take charge of the party fully once again now that the Electoral Reforms Bill 2017 has cleared the way for disqualified Nawaz Sharif to once again don the mantle of the PML-N’s head. His presence inside the country could also help ward off challenges or differences within the ruling party, whether these are stoked by outside forces or the ambitions of some PML-N leaders within. The Muslim League as a party enjoys the dubious distinction of disintegrating or carrying out internal leadership ‘coups’ when the incumbent leader gets into trouble with the powers-that-be. Nawaz Sharif himself owes his rise to paramount position within the Muslim League to his accepting the patronage of dictator General Ziaul Haq when he removed his own handpicked prime minister Mohammad Khan Junejo in 1988. Nawaz was hoist by his own petard after Musharraf’s 1999 coup when the Chaudries abandoned him in his time of trouble and forged the King’s Party, the PML-Q. It is also salutary in passing to meditate on the fate of the PML-Q subsequently. With his hands on the reins of the party as its restored head, Nawaz Sharif is positioning himself to fight the good fight against the campaign launched against him for dubious purposes. The seemingly orchestrated from behind the scenes campaign is a familiar gambit when the establishment wants someone out of power. Now that the superior judiciary seems to be going along with the ‘get Nawaz’ effort, it would do well to remember that the track record of our judiciary in endorsing military coups in the past and cooperating with dictators against democracy leaves a great deal to be desired. Trust and confidence in a judiciary restored after it was decapitated by Musharraf in 2007 has been eroded, first by the controversial jurisprudence created by former Chief Justice Ifitkhar Chaudhry’s court, later by the proceedings in the Panama case. Denials notwithstanding, such political earthquakes tend to revive suspicions about the role of the establishment as the author of these anti-democratic manoeuvres. Pakistan is most unfortunate in being unable to shake off this legacy of establishment interventions to disrupt the political and democratic process. That is the main reason no democratic political system has been able to take root in this country. It is precisely such manoeuvring that lost us half the country in 1971, and threatens to destabilise the remainder now. The struggle for democracy has consumed almost all the political capital of Pakistan to date. Even progressive forces were subsumed within the folds of this struggle, especially during periods of military dictatorship, which have so far consumed half our life as an independent country. Such legerdemain has persisted for 70 years. It remains to be seen if it can persist for another 70 without serious disruption. If the people of Pakistan, the real sovereign in any political construct, one day come to the conclusion that enough is enough, dark portents threaten. rashed.rahman1@gmail.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Sept 24, 2017

Scaring foreign investors away The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the World Bank’s arm for this purpose, has ruled that Pakistan’s government had ‘expropriated’ the assets of foreign investor Karkey Karadeniz Electric Uretim A S, a Turkish firm, when the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) declared its contract to supply power from four ship-mounted generating plants on rental basis “non-transparent, illegal and void ab initio” in March 2011. The SCP held that an increase in the upfront payment from seven percent to 14 percent violated the transparency provisions of Articles 9 and 24 of the Constitution and Section 7 of The Regulation of Generation, Transmission and Distribution of Electric Power Act, 1997. It ordered Karkey to repay its advance of $ 180 million and the detention of its four vessels anchored in Karachi. Since the issue was taken up by the court of then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry through a suo moto notice under Article 184(3), no appeal was available. Karkey decided to take its case for breach of contract to the ICSID and has now reportedly won a $ 700 million damages claim. In a similar vein, the ICSID is seized of arbitration proceedings in the case of Reko Diq, a copper and gold mining project in Balochistan. That project too was cancelled by the SCP under Article 184(3). In this case, an even larger award is expected. While the government hopes Karkey will accept an out-court settlement, the Reko Diq case is likely to blow a big hole in our finances. The brief facts of these two cases are that Karkey was contracted under the Rental Power Producers policy by the then PPP government to supply 232 MW power for five years at a contract value of $ 560 million in 2008. After about a year, Karkey withdrew, accusing the government of failure to honour sovereign payment guarantees. Amidst allegations of corruption surrounding the contract, the SCP stepped in in 2009. In the Reko Diq case Tethyan Copper Company (TCC) went for international arbitration after the SCP concluded that the terms offered by TCC were disadvantageous to Pakistan. Since TCC had sunk considerable resources in geological surveys of the area and producing a feasibility report of the project, it has taken Pakistan to the ICSID to claim damages. For many years now, the global community has been expanding protections for foreign investors against arbitrary actions by host governments. Toying with foreign investors’ stakes therefore is now fraught with prohibitive penalties through international arbitration forums such as the ICSID. The Karkey contract fell prey to internal political rivalries when Faisal Saleh Hayat (of the PPP Patriots then, who is now back in the PPP) and Khawaja Asif, the current foreign minister, challenged the project on grounds of the standard procedures not being followed. Reko Diq faltered amidst complaints by Baloch political leaders that the province, and Pakistan, was being hard done by in the project. These two cases and the current controversy about LNG imports point to the need for domestic political rivalries to be kept out of foreign investment issues. They also point to the need for adherence to the law and rules when signing contracts with foreign investors and during implementation after. Last but not least, they illustrate the pitfalls of the superior judiciary’s activism in such cases under Article 184(3). The Karkey judgement, and the expected one on Reko Diq, indicate that the SCP failed to take account of the penalties threatened under international arbitration. As it is, Pakistan is hardly the preferred destination for foreign investment. To that if is added foreign investors’ concerns about incumbent governments and their successors sticking to the terms of binding international contracts, we already have a milieu that discourages foreign investors visiting our shores. Now these two international arbitration cases are bound to further erode Pakistan’s credibility and standing as a fit destination for foreign investment.

Paper for Tareekh Foundation Conference Sept 22, 2017

The contemporary (post-Soviet) struggle for revolutionary change Rashed Rahman This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the Russian communist revolution of October 1917. The hundred years in between have been the most violent in human history. The explanation for this phenomenon is incomplete without a recognition of the central role of revolution and counter-revolution during these 100 years. Mankind’s aspiration for a just and equitable society is almost as old as mankind itself, certainly as old as the emergence of private property, classes, and the state. All these were outgrowths of the ancient agricultural revolution, which freed large parts of humanity from the precarious existence of primitive hunter-gatherers and led to settled communities. The ancient civilisations that arose on this foundation were riverine, as this was the only reliable source of fresh water in sufficient quantity to sustain cities. The three great examples of such civilisations are our own Indus Valley, Mesopotamia and Egypt, all more or less contemporary and, as the archeological record shows, in contact and trading with each other. These ancient civilisations and those that followed were based on the subjugation of those who worked the land and provided the riches enjoyed by their ruling elites. This subjugation took the form of slavery and serfdom in the west, the Asiatic mode in the rest of the ancient world (this mode of production rests on the state controlling agricultural production through irrigation and public works and exacting tribute in cash or kind from the peasantry). Subjugation and the extraction of surplus required repressive force, hence the evolution of the state as an instrument of the class rule and domination of the ruling elite. Revolts and rebellions against this extremely repressive system were either crushed bloodily or at best led to a change of rulers without denting the system per se. It was not till the advent of full-blown capitalism, starting from the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century, that the glimmer of a systemic change that would abolish the ancien regime first presented itself as a distinct possibility. In its native home in the west, the capitalist mode of production concentrated a scattered peasantry in cities and towns, crowded them into factories for long hours of backbreaking work, and relegated them to slums to live in. It is these miserable conditions of life and work that spontaneously gave rise to working class solidarity through trade unions at work and poor people’s social clubs during whatever scarce leisure time was on offer. The new emerging working class thus now began to take on the hues of a class-in-itself, without yet having achieved the status of a (conscious) class-for-itself. Many utopian meanderings later, the general idea of a just and equitable society, now clearly expressed as socialism, was placed on firm scientific foundations. This scientific socialism, enunciated by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the 19th century, posited that capitalism, undoubtedly the most dynamic and innovative mode of production in mankind’s history, was also at the same time producing its own gravediggers: the working class, a section of society with no means of production to its name and only its labour power to sell in order to survive. Certainly in Europe of the 19th century, this appeared a real prospect. However, with the defeat of the 1848 revolutions in Europe and the crushing of the Paris Commune of 1870, counter-revolution and reaction seemed paramount. It was not till the early 20th century that revolutionary hopes were once more awakened. But they emerged in new form since the expected revolutions in the developed capitalist countries of Europe, such as Britain or Germany, had not materialised and ‘backward’ Russia was showing signs of revolutionary ferment. It is a testament to the wisdom and scientific approach of the founders of Marxism that far from being a dogma as uninformed or motivated critics have tried to paint the philosophy, they were open to a revisit of their earlier views if the circumstances changed. About Russia their initial scepticism, especially in the case of Marx, gave way to the acceptance of the possibility of a revolution in comparatively backward and undeveloped Russia. Czarist Russia was a bundle of contradictions, the main one being the conflict between an absolute monarchy and the economic, political and social changes being triggered because of developing capitalism. These contradictions came to a head in 1905 in the aftermath of Russia’s defeat in the Far East at the hands of a rapidly modernising and rising Japan. Revolution not only broke out in Russia, it threw up a new form of political power of the people: the soviets (councils) of workers, peasants and soldiers. Although the 1905 revolution was crushed, the memory of the soviets as a new form of people’s power re-emerged in 1917. The trigger for the 1917 revolutions in Russia proved to be the First World War (WWI). An absolutist monarchy out of touch with its people’s misery and demonstrating its incompetence on the battlefield fell prey to a general uprising of the people in February 1917. The revolution abolished the monarchy and declared a democratic republic. Most revolutionaries (including Lenin’s Bolsheviks), not to mention reformers, believed this democratic phase of the revolution would last for an extended period of time, such was the relief and euphoria at seeing the back of Czarism. However, the one man who thought differently changed the course of Russian and world history by arguing that Russia was ripe for a socialist revolution. That man was Lenin who, upon returning from exile, enunciated his April Theses to persuade his own Bolshevik Party that the revolutionary iron was hot, especially considering the reluctance of the interim government of the Cadets Party to negotiate a badly needed peace with Germany and its insistence on continuing a losing war. On the contrary, the Bolshevik slogan of ‘Land, bread, peace’ struck such a chord with the masses that the party soon gained a majority in the soviets. By July, the Bolsheviks were in a commanding position and began to prepare the insurrection that was launched and proved successful in October 1917. The declaration of a socialist state and society in hitherto backward Russia shocked the international bourgeoisie and persuaded 22 capitalist countries to support the monarchist White Guards against the revolution with money, weapons and even troops. However, a revolution that enjoys the unstinting support of the masses is difficult to defeat. The Bolsheviks not only defeated this panoply of local reactionary and foreign imperialist forces, their victory rang the bells for a new era in world history. The victory of the Russian revolution in the civil war and against imperialist intervention by 22 countries soon after the socialist takeover in October 1917 was achieved after four years (1918-22) of bloody conflict through the length and breadth of the country. It demonstrated the strength and resilience of a people mobilised by a revolution they owned and supported because it had declared itself for the people and against their erstwhile oppressors and exploiters. However, a country already reeling under the privations of WWI was further placed in enormous difficulties because of the ravages of the civil war/imperialist intervention. While the Russian revolution was marching to new victories and demonstrating that the capitalist front had been decisively breached in the largest (by area) country in the world, albeit with significant hangovers of serfdom (abolished in law in 1861) and underdevelopment, the revolution in the rest of Europe was defeated, bloodily in Germany in 1918 and Hungary in 1919. With the retreat of the revolutionary wave in the wake of WWI, the choices and chances of long-term survival of the Russian (by now the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR, encompassing the extent of the Czarist empire) revolution, appeared bleak. Until the October 1917 revolution, the article of faith amongst Marxist revolutionaries was that without a revolution in (by now defeated) Germany, any revolution in Europe, including the Russian, was doomed. Even Lenin subscribed to this received wisdom. However, history had now placed the Russian revolutionaries in the unenviable position (and, some argued, opportunity) of building socialism in the inhospitable terrain of an underdeveloped country with the barest rudiments of industrialisation and a vast reservoir of peasants relatively recently liberated from serfdom. The slogan of Socialism in One Country proclaimed by the Bolsheviks was as much a pragmatic recognition of the hand dealt them as an admission that backward Russia could not look for succour, support and sustainability from the revolutionary forces in the advanced countries of Europe. The task before the Bolsheviks was formidable. How to lift a huge country (albeit with enormous, untapped natural resources) from its virtually medieval darkness into the light of the modern day exercised the minds of the Bolsheviks. With his characteristic clarity, Lenin summed up the challenge by focusing his government’s economic efforts on electrification (a huge task) to provide the energy base for rapid industrialisation. Having nationalised the commanding heights of the economy, the revolutionary regime gave the working class unprecedented rights, the peasants land under a redistribution of the vast lands owned by the nobility and aristocracy, instituted universal education (including adult literacy), healthcare, skills training and universal employment. In addition, they transformed the ‘prison of nations’ as the Czarist Empire was known, into a country with equal rights for all the nations and nationalities in the USSR, including cultural and linguistic rights. Taken as a whole, these revolutionary policies brought enormous change in the lives of the overwhelming majority of the people and evoked in them the spirit of living and dying for the revolution. The example of the Russian revolution inspired generations of revolutionaries all over the world. If the problems inherited from WWI, the seizure of power and the civil war/imperialist intervention were not enough, soon after the death (premature due to sclerosis of the brain as a result of an assassination attempt on him in 1918) of Lenin in 1924, the spectre of fascism began to raise its ugly head in Europe. Italy succumbed to the scourge in 1922 (Mussolini), Germany in 1933 (Hitler). In the latter case in particular, the Nazi Party fed on resentment at the harsh terms imposed by the victorious allies on Germany at the end of WWI through the Treaty of Versailles and the misery of generalised unemployment, hunger and starvation for the working people during the Great Depression (1929-39). In echoes of the development of fascism in Europe, Japan in the east and Spain in the west also exhibited features of fascism. As the immediate threat from fascism grew from a rapidly rearming Germany under Hitler, while the continuing hostility of the other imperialist countries remained a fact of life, the Soviet government embarked on rapid industrialisation, even at the cost of agriculture and other needs of the people based on the argument that either the Soviet Union must catch up with the imperialist countries to be able to defend itself or it would be exterminated. To stave off an attack from Germany, the USSR made a non-aggression pact with Hitler, hoping that he would confine himself thereby to the conquest of the rest of Europe in what Moscow saw as another inter-imperialist war for a redivision of the world (WWI was the first such conflict, and in many ways fed into WWII). However, the USSR under Stalin, Lenin’s successor, gravely underestimated Hitler’s ambition of world conquest and hatred of communism. Having conquered the rest of Europe and driven the British off the continent, Hitler launched a surprise offensive against the Soviet Union in June 1941. The element of surprise, relative technical inferiority of the Soviet forces, and the blitzkrieg (total war) tactics of the Germans initially overwhelmed the Soviet defences and brought Hitler’s legions within striking distance of Moscow. Basing himself on the rapid conquest of the rest of Europe through this unprecedented total war strategy, Hitler thought the Soviet Union would succumb before the onset of the severe Russian winter. However, he had not factored into his calculations the resilience of the Soviet people and revolution. Hitler’s offensive bogged down after its initial rapid advance in the face of the determined resistance of the Soviet people against terrible odds and degenerated into a war of attrition, with the sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad reflecting the strategic stalemate. Meanwhile Japan had brought a reluctant US into the war through its sneak attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941. Now the fascist Axis powers, Germany, Italy and Japan, faced on paper a formidable alliance of the capitalist powers with the socialist USSR. However, the air war over Britain, the American war in the Pacific and the allied war in North Africa notwithstanding, the USSR bore the brunt of Hitler’s cruel hordes. Starting from the defeat of Hitler’s siege of Stalingrad in February 1943, the Soviet people turned the tide against Hitler, finally defeating him virtually alone (until 1944) on the eastern front at the cost of 26 million dead and many more millions wounded. Arguably, as honestly admitted by British military historian Basil Liddell-Hart, the Soviet Union virtually singlehandedly defeated Hitler while the allied effort came towards the fag end of the war. WWII shook the world order to its roots. Movements for independence and national liberation from colonial control broke out and accelerated in the wake of peace. ‘Peace’ does not fully fit the situation, since a divided Europe between the capitalist west and the socialist east entered the Cold War, punctuated by rebellions against the communist regimes of Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968), crushed by the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact forces’ interventions. On the other hand, the part liberation of Korea and Vietnam characterised the growing desire for independence of the colonies in what came to be called the Third World. The Chinese revolution’s triumph in 1949, the Cuban revolution in 1958 and the renewed anti-colonial, anti-imperialist liberation war in Vietnam (not to mention the indeterminate conflict in Korea 1950-53) inspired the outbreak of guerrilla wars throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America. It seemed at that historical juncture that the advance of socialism was looming on the horizon and the day of colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism was done and dusted, especially given the inspiring example of the Vietnamese people’s heroic resistance against superpower the US and their complete victory in 1975. The Vietnam War radicalised the whole 1960s generation and this phenomenon changed the social (if not political) world of their elders beyond recognition. However, the owl of Minerva had not yet spread its wings and the liberatory hopes of the Third World came to be dashed eventually at the end of the 1980s. Guerrilla movements were defeated in the Third World, and even where they succeeded in capturing power, soon discovered the process of capitalist domination of their economies by a world order still largely in the grip of capitalism, and in which the socialist camp’s best efforts to aid and help these newly liberated countries proved inadequate. Guerilla movements in the Third World virtually ceased to exist in the 1990s, notwithstanding some notable examples such as Colombia (that long running insurgency is currently in the process of a turn from civil war to a negotiated peace settlement). And in 1991, the Soviet Union imploded and re-emerged as the Commonwealth of (15) Independent States. That construct, aimed at keeping close ties between the newly independent countries that hitherto constituted the USSR, did not prove long lasting and withered on the vine. The process of the collapse of socialist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union that began with the 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall was now complete. The factors that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union are complex and multi-layered, but if one overriding one can be identified it is the inherent difficulties and problems of constructing socialism in a comparatively underdeveloped country, and that too in the face of unremitting hostility and sabotage by the imperialist powers. That inevitably leads the revolution and its leadership into a siege mentality, where survival against imperialist subversion and the ever-looming threat of attempts to restore the ancien regime dominate over all other considerations. The war communism imposed on the USSR during the life-and-death struggle against the monarchist White Guards and their imperialist supporters soon after the 1917 revolution inevitably produced great hardship for the Soviet people, including hunger and in some areas, starvation. The victory of the revolution in this conflict was therefore achieved at great human cost and suffering. Immediately after the end of the civil war, the Bolsheviks introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP) to stimulate a revival of the economy, offering concessions to the rich peasantry (kulaks). Lenin predicted that after its overthrow, the resistance of the expropriated capitalist and large landowning classes increases ten-fold. The class struggle, therefore, could only intensify, despite the revolution’s victory. This perceptive view re-emerged in Stalin’s work, Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, after the victory in WWII. His prediction about the need to intensify the struggle against the class enemies of the revolution reflected what hindsight reveals was the growth of capitalist restoration forces that had quietly gathered force as a result of the devastating losses, human and material, in WWII, which fed into a resurgence of silent resentment against the deprivations experienced since the revolution. Stalin’s repression of ‘counter-revolutionary’ dissent, both outside and inside the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), led to his denunciation by new leader Nikita Khrushchev in a secret speech to the CPSU Congress in 1956. The leak of the speech (allegedly by the US CIA) evoked unrest in Hungary that year, aimed at an overthrow of the communist regime that had emerged there and in many countries of Eastern Europe after the Soviet Red Army liberated them from the Nazi yoke on its way to the final defeat of Hitler in 1945. The Hungarian uprising was crushed, but the questions and issues it threw up were never satisfactorily resolved. These included the nature, not only of the eastern European communist regimes, but even the Soviet Union itself. The ravages of war, the needs of survival of the revolution in the face of awesome internal and external odds, the unwise and unfettered repression of any and all dissent within the CPSU, even if it was not necessarily counter-revolutionary, had alienated the party and government from the people. The 1968 crushing of the Czechoslovakian experiment at reform in the direction of ‘Socialism with a human face’ proved that the Hungarian example was not an isolated phenomenon. Both countries’ developments exposed serious contradictions within the communist system. If the crushing of movements that appeared to Moscow to reflect counter-revolutionary tendencies in Eastern Europe was problematic, the adventure in Afghanistan (1979-89) proved the last straw. This invasion and occupation ostensibly was mounted to save the Afghan revolution, being led astray, it was argued, by Hafizullah Amin, who had overthrown and killed Nur Mohammad Tarakai, the leader of the 1978 revolution in Afghanistan. In the process, time has revealed, it killed off the Afghan revolution and accelerated the process of collapse of the Soviet Union itself under the weight of its internal contradictions. The backdrop to the 1991 collapse was the attempt by Mikhail Gorbachev, elevated to leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, to reform the Soviet system under the rubric perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). What Gorbachev and the Soviet Union learnt to their cost is that an arguably stagnant, bureaucratised and alienated-from-the-people system is at greatest risk when it tries to reform. To add to the simmering cauldron of discontent, it became clear later that Gorbachev had embraced social democracy and abandoned Marxism despite having been elevated to the leadership of the Soviet Union. The rest, as they say, is history. The collapse of the Soviet Union provoked unabashed triumphalism in the capitalist west, with British Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously declaring: There is no alternative (to free market capitalism). In the wake of the capitalist west’s victory in the Cold War, unbridled capitalism expanded horizontally into the former communist countries as well as the rest of the world (globalisation). It appeared that the bourgeoisie’s victory was so complete that Marxism and socialism were declared passé or even dead. But the Red Mole (Revolution) has a peculiar tendency to prove the reports of its demise as premature again and again after every defeat and retreat. The 1999 Seattle protests against the world’s grouping of pre-eminent capitalist countries (G-7), the Occupy Wall Street movement, the focus on the one percent filthy rich of today’s world in sharp contrast with the inequality and immiseration inflicted on the rest of the 99 percent, the resurgence of the Left in Latin America and Europe, all indicate that capitalism’s claims of final victory (the ‘End of History’ thesis, amongst others) is once again flying in the face of history’s lessons. The human aspiration for a just and equitable society remains alive and kicking in the contemporary context. The struggles against capitalist-imperialist domination will no doubt adopt different forms and paths (as they are already embryonically indicating), not perhaps the classical forms of the revolutions of the 20th century. But for all its undoubted development of the modern world, capitalism in its moment of greatest triumph still faces the spectre of the peoples of the world challenging the system and, if history is any guide, overcoming or changing it in the direction of a just and equitable society. To understand the world today, including Pakistan, requires an understanding of how the modern world evolved out of the womb of pre-capitalist societies. In Europe, feudalism gradually was impregnated with new ways of producing things and new ways of understanding things, the latter in particular the result of technological and scientific advances that fed into the ideas associated with the Enlightenment. The old order incrementally gave way to and was overthrown/replaced by the new, not always peacefully, often accompanied by violence, including revolutionary violence. Even societies that managed the transition relatively peacefully, were impelled forward by the example of revolutions in their midst (the English, French and American revolutions standing out in this regard). In Asia, despite the argument that similar processes were at work, the encounter between Asian and western societies soon revealed the advantage the new form of production (capitalism) had over traditional societies. In the Americas and Africa too, the gap between indigenous societies and the colonisers was glaring. The conquest by colonialism of most of the known and ‘newly discovered’ world had a catastrophic impact on the latter while providing a fillip for the former. In the light of this movement of history and its laws of motion so brilliantly enunciated and analysed by the founders of Marxism, what is the way forward? The prospects of revolutionary struggles appear dim at present. What they need is a clearly articulated theoretical framework that lays bare the heart and workings of the globalised contemporary capitalist system and serves as a guide for practical struggles. Those struggles need first and foremost to rely on and develop the organisational weapon to serve as the motivating force for the mobilisation of the working masses to throw off their chains and march forward towards the realm of light and freedom. It is these tasks to which our people must now dedicate themselves.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Sept 21, 2017

Trump’s bluster In his first address to the UN General Assembly, US President Donald Trump resorted to threats and bluster at a forum dedicated to peace and reconciling conflicts. Striking a belligerent and jarring tone that upset the world’s UN delegations gathered there, Trump threatened to totally destroy the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and hinted at rescinding the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group that includes the US. It should be remembered that the Iran nuclear deal is a model of engagement in exchange for assurances of restraint to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation. International inspectors and the other P5+1 member states, the UN and the rest of the world are satisfied that Iran is keeping up its end of the bargain. But this does not seem to satisfy Mr Trump. Amongst criticisms that fly in the face of these facts, Trump adds on that the deal has failed to rein in Tehran’s ‘subversive’ role in the Middle East. In the first place, this was never part of the nuclear deal nor any other ‘deal’, so Trump’s expectation is totally misplaced. Secondly, what has Iran’s so-called subversive role been in the Middle East? It has been on the side of regimes in Iraq and Syria that are defending themselves against terrorist movements and their backers in the US and the west. If anyone has played a subversive role in the region, it is the US-led west and its regional satraps such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Iran therefore is on the right side of history and justice in these conflicts. As far as the DPRK is concerned, Trump’s extreme bluster is guaranteed to harden Pyongyang’s resolve to defend itself against the threat of annihilation of a country of 26 million souls or, at the very least, US-desired regime change, and will probably lead to greater acceleration of its nuclear weapons and delivery systems programme. It is the siege mentality engendered in the DPRK by the continuing presence of US troops in South Korea 64 years after the Korean war ended and the aggressive regional US-led coalition that includes Japan that has produced and continues to reproduce the DPRK’s reliance on nuclear and missile deterrence against these real and palpable threats. To those like Trump who assert that ‘Rocket man’ Kim Jong-un is on a suicide mission, it is enough to remind him that the US did engage with the DPRK under the Clinton administration in the mid-1990s, which produced a deal along similar lines as the one with Iran: nuclear restraint in exchange for easing sanctions and other concessions. Washington reneged on that agreement, solidifying suspicions in Pyongyang that the US wishes it no good. Calls for engagement with the DPRK as the only feasible solution to the ratcheting up of nuclear tensions in the Korean peninsula came in response to Trump’s aggressive speech from almost all the major powers and the UN. Similarly, the run of international opinion on the Iran deal is that it would be a blunder to rescind it. Trump in his hallucinatory vision wants to return the US to global pre-eminence in all respects through threats and bluster. This is of a piece with his misleading election campaign rhetoric that queered the pitch of the US presidential election and brought him an unlikely victory. But that was not to be the worst of it. The sanguine view, based on past experience, that presidential candidates soon after assuming office are compelled to tone down the angularities in their campaign rhetoric in the light of domestic and global realities, turned out to be wishing for the moon. This turn towards realism and maturity was not for the likes of our Don Quixote of the 21st century. He wants to wave his magic wand (more like wielding a big stick) to ‘fix’ everything in today’s world in Washington’s favour. A more simplistic, or more dangerous project in the hands of the most powerful man on Earth is hard to imagine.