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The influences of socialism and socialist movements in Pakistan have taken many different forms as a counterpart to political conservatism, from the hard-liners of the Communist Party through to the reformist electoral project enshrined in the birth of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
While capitalism has always held its sway, the prevalence of the socialist ideology has nevertheless continued to be found in a number of instances in Pakistan's political past and prominent personalities. Much of the remaining socialism in Pakistan today accedes to the idea of Islamic left (socialism and communism), where the state would be run in a socialist set-up consistent with Islamic political principles, while other proponents demand pure socialism.
The socialist movements in British Indian Empire began with the Russian Revolution, and the subsequent Soviet people's immigration to North-Western areas into territory (now Pakistan) hold by British Empire, in 1922-27. The British authorities were terrified after revealing the attempted series of revolts against the British Empire, known as Peshawar Conspiracy Cases.
Immediately after the establishment of Pakistan on 14 August 1947 which was achieved by a political party, Muslim League led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the struggle for left-wing orientation began as a failure of the military campaign with India. After Jinnah's death in 1948, the clash ideologies and political disagreements began when Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan consolidated his position more densely. The Pakistan Socialist Party (PSP) was the only socialist party of her time, active in both East Pakistan and West Pakistan. The Socialist Party was generally a secular party which had first opposed the idea of Pakistan. The Socialist Party founded very difficult to compete with leniently conservative and right-wing, the PML led by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, who professed the Islamic socialism; the Socialist Party was politically isolated with little mass to appeal despite its strong base in rural areas in 1949. It had around 1200 members and was a member of the Asian Socialist Conference. The Socialist Party's liberal programs were met with harsh opposition which the conservatives labeled as Kafirs. Dismayed with the results of the war, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan survived a coup conspiracy hatched by the left-wing personalities and including the armed forces personnel. In response to activist left-wing sphere, Prime Minister Ali Khan succeeded in authoring and drafting the Objectives Resolution, in 1950. The house passed it on 12 March 1949, but met with harsh critic even from his Law Minister Jogendra Nath Mandal who argued against it.
In contrast, the Communist Party was more active, populist, and had support from the rural class due to its tough position taken on economic and social issues. The Communist Party quickly grasped its popularity as it espoused the causes of Pakistan's farmers and labourers against the nexus of zamindars, princely class, and landed gentry. During the 1954 general elections, the Communist Party swiftly gained the exclusive mandate in East-Pakistan and representation in West-Pakistan; earlier in 1950, the Communist Party played a major role in labour strikes for the support of language movement. The Communist Party, with the support from Awami League, formed a democratic government in East-Pakistan. The class struggle reached to its limit when members of PML and Communist Party culminated in a violent scuffle with East-Pakistani police in 1958. The government responded with the dismissing the government of Communist Party in East and then arresting ~1,000 members of Communist Party in West, eventually banning the Communist Party in West as well.
Uncomfortable with the workings of democratic system, unruliness in the East Pakistan parliamentary elections and the threat of Baloch separatism in West-Pakistan, Bengali President Iskandar Ali Mirza issued a proclamation that abolished all political parties in both West and East Pakistan, abrogated the two-year old constitution, and imposed the first martial law in the country on 7 October 1958. The Communist leader, Hassan Nasir, was repeatedly arrested by the police and died in prison in November 1960.
After the martial law in 1958, President Ayub Khan abandoned the parliamentary form in favour of presidential system– a system called "Basic Democracy." The presidential regime of Ayub Khan is regarded as "Great Decade", in which, his presidential programs moved the country from agrarian into the roads of rapid industrialization in 1960s. The left in Pakistan further faced complications after the Sino-Soviet split in 1960s, and the Communist Party had its own factions; one being the Pro-Beijing and other being Pro-Moscow.
Despite the positive impact of rapid industrialization, the labour trade unions, labour-working class, peasants, and farmers were socially and economically subdued by the powerful industrial oligarch society who had strong ties with President Ayub Khan. In fact, the industrial groups completely neglected the work conditions and failed to provide healthy environment to the workers class in the industries. Situation became economically tense in 1965 when chief economist, dr. Mahbub-ul-Haq, published a statistics and tax report that pointed out that the "22 industrial family groups had come to dominate the economic and financial life-cycle of Pakistan and that they controlled about two-thirds of industrial assets, 80% of banking and 79% of insurance assets in the industrial domain." The same year, President Ayub Khan's peaceful compromise with India to end the hostilities ended up with a large scale disapproval from the civil society. The demonstration sparked all over the country against President Ayub Khan after dismissing his Foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1966.
After a successful socialist conference in Lahore, Punjab, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was founded by the attended socialists, communists, and left-wing philosophers of the country. The PPP's manifesto called, titled "Islam is our Religion; Democracy is our Politics; Socialism is our Economy; Power Lies with the People", was written by Bengali communist J. A. Rahim, and first issued on 9 December 1967. The manifesto identified the party's ultimate goal, main objective and raison d'etre as being the achievement of an egalitarian and "classless society", which was believed to be attainable only through socialism. It called for "true equality of citizen's fraternity under the rule of democracy", within "an order of social and economic justice. Unlike the Socialist Party, the Peoples Party quickly gained the popularity all over the country with its electrified left-wing oriented slogan, "Land to the Landless", proved irresistible to the peasants and labour-force, as the party promised not only to abolish the fundamental feudalism that had plagued the country, but also to redistribute lands amongst the landless and the peasants. The working class and labour movement quickly flocked to the party, believing it to be a party dedicated to the destruction of capitalism in the country.
Eventually, the socialist-oriented catchphrase Roti, Kapra aur Makan (lit. "bread, clothes, and housing"), became a nation-wide rallying-call for the party. By the 1970s, the Pakistan Peoples Party had become the largest and most influential leading socialist and democratic entity in the country. The party published its ideas in its newspapers, such as "Nusrat", "Fatah", and "Mussawat".
The PPP was in a direct competition with Awami League and Pakistan Muslim League (PML) during the 1970 general elections. A power struggle between two parties and subsequent military action in East-Pakistan led to a bitter war with India which led the separation of East Pakistan in 1971.
After the war, the PPP espouses a great appeal for left-wing nationalism, called for national unity and economic prosperity was promised by the Peoples Party. Immediately, a nationalization process was initiated by the Peoples Party following a 1972 labour unrest. The PPP'e left-wing policies eradicated the feudal system to a great extent; massive land reforms took place in limiting the amount of land that could be owned, with remaining land divisions being allotted to a large number of poor peasants, farmers, landless tenants who also find increased support in the new programme. Labour rights were upgraded more than ever before; poverty experienced a sharp reduction.
Fundamental rights of the citizen, such as access to adequate health and free education, were brought under a renewed focus. Schools, colleges and universities were immediately nationalized. A large segment of the banking sector, industrial sector (including iron and steel mills), engineering firms, vehicle, food and chemical production industries were also nationalized. The number and strength of trade unions experienced a rise. Rural residents, urban wage earners and landless peasants were to be given ‘material support’ as people of the state. In responding to strong defence program, the PPP launched the clandestine atomic bomb project, promoting literary activism, industrial developments and scientific awareness in all over the country.
Despite PPP's populism and support, the internal strife would cause a schism and split the left-wing sphere. Though, the PPP had won the support from people on the issues of social justice, but its economic policies stagflated the country's economy. A number of critics, notably the conservatives and hard-line religious leaders, have however blamed Bhutto's socialist policies for slowing down Pakistan's economic progress, owing to poor productivity and high costs.
The left-wing party, ANP, was in a direct competition with the PPP despite similar ideologies. The debate over the align with Afghanistan's communist party caused a major rift and problems with Afghanistan escalated over the Durand line. The Communist Party was also opposing the PPP over its economic programs and its influence limited to Karachi. Events led to left-wing parties joining the PNA alliance led by country's right-wing conservative parties and compete against PPP in general elections in 1977.
The 1977 general elections resulted in first parliamentary victory of Peoples Party. Opposition parties claimed that the election was heavily rigged by the PPP. Tensions mounted and despite an agreement reached between the opposition and PPP, martial law was imposed in the country by Chief of Army Staff General Zia-ul-Haq in 1977. In April 1979, Bhutto was hanged in 1977 after a controversial trial, in which he was found guilty of murdering a political opponent. In 1982, his daughter Benazir Bhutto was elected as Peoples Party's chairwomanship. The Peoples Party struggled hard against the ruthless dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq, which was sponsored by the United States.
The left-wing parties and socialism in the country met with harsh political opposition from the conservative Pakistan Muslim League and the hard-line religious bloc Clergy Coalition. The Soviet Union's intervention in Afghanistan further declined the popular support of socialism in the country. The ultra-conservative President Zia-ul-Haq dealt with socialists, communists and the Marxist mass with harsh political oppression.
A huge number of left-wing politicians and intellectuals were thrown in jail to face a trial, Jam Saqi Trial, in 1980s. Under Zia regime, the socialism itself began to struggle to survive in the country in an intense anti-Soviet atmosphere. In responding the Zia's oppression, the left-wing parties united in a massive platform known as, Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) which was led by the PPP. The ANP had found support from the Soviet Union as early as in 1983. During the period of 1977-91, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) started its covert political activities through the Awami National Party, many of its senior leadership served Soviets intermediary and advisers. President Zia's interior secretary, Roedad Khan, later wrote that the MRD regime was able to manipulate this perception to their advantage and prevent the MRD from gaining greater appeal on a nationwide level.
The events that led the collapse of the Soviet Union shattered Pakistan's left. It almost disappeared, until Benazir Bhutto succeeded to unite the scattered leftists mass, which integrated into the PPP, and turned the radical and pro-Soviet leftists into more Social democracy with the principles of democratic socialism.
The MRD alliance could not sustained itself in late 1988 and quickly collapse after the death of President Zia-ul-Haq in 1988 which marked its way for peaceful general elections, outlined the return of Pakistan Peoples Party in national power.
Furthermore, the events led to a dissolution of USSR in 1991 also shattered the left in Pakistan. The break-up of the USSR in 1991 also generated hopelessness and desperation in among the communist parties. The left-wing parties almost disappeared until, when Benazir Bhutto came to its protection. In opposition against the conservatives, Benazir Bhutto succeeded to unite the scattered leftists mass, which integrated into the PPP, and turned the radical and pro-Soviet leftists into more Social democracy with the principles of democratic socialism.
In 1990s, the left-wing groups, now united under PPP, found their self in a fierce competition with Pakistan Muslim League (PML(N)), a centre-right conservative party led by Nawaz Sharif. The PPP and left was in period of counter-revolutionary consciousness in Pakistan, giving birth to the rise of fundamentalism. The political competition with the conservatives, aligning with the PML(N), gave a new life to the left-wing parties to gather around their movement in support for the PPP in 1992. The controversial privatization of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) government in 1992 had collapsed the support for the conservatives.
As a result of general elections held in 1993, the PPP and the Left came in power again, but only to re-engage in competition with the like-minds and the Pakistan Muslim League (N). The power struggle between left and right wing parties damages the economy but, on the other hand, consolidated its position in the country. The left-wing sphere almost split in 1990s after a paramilitary military took place in Karachi to remove another leftist party, MQM; the operation was halt in 1995. The PPP and the leftists put forwarded a program of vintage industrial nationalization, computer literacy, strong emphasis on the scientific education, awareness women suffrage and rights, and promotion of the principles of social democracy and left-wing nationalism. In response, the Pakistan Muslim League and conservatives introduced the privatization, with liberalization, right-wing nationalism, and a strong emphasis on religion and scientific education. By the end of 1996, the he controversial death of populist left-wing leader, Murtaza Bhutto, turned out to be a final event that led the dismissal of the left-oriented government of PPP by its own leftist president Farooq Leghari (he was soon ousted from the presidency by the conservatives of PML(N) in 1997).
In 1997, the Left, sitting in parliamentary opposition, further gained power in effectively paralysed the right-wing parties attempts to pass the more conservative bills to be part of the Constitution. The left successfully pressured the PML(N) to move with a proposal of conducting the country's first nuclear tests in response to India's nuclear tests in 1998. Disturbance in civil-military relations in 1999 led to the dismissal of centre-right conservative, PML government. Interestingly, the popular support for the PML(N) and PPP declined, with the fall of socialism and conservatism at once in 2000. President Pervez Musharraf called for a Third Way which led to an establishment of centrist PML(Q) in 2002 but it was also the first time that an anti-fedaul centre-left emerged in the shape of PTI and its very charismatic leader Imran Khan.
As an aftermath of 9/11 attacks in the United States and the followup of US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the roots of conservatism and socialism began to takes its place in the country. The general elections in 2002 saw the liberals coming in national power for the first time in the history of the country. Despite Musharraf's attempts to provide the better civil administration, the support for President Musharraf lessened and the idea of Third Way, with the Enlightened Moderation, began to see resistance from the conservative and leftist parties.
In 2002, the Pakistan Social Democratic Party was found but it was short lived. After few months, the party was disbanded in favour of PPP. In 2003, the PPP staged a large opposition rally against the Iraq war and the United States. In 2004, the Left projected its power in Peshawar after a communist party staged a massive demonstration against Pervez Musharraf and the United States. The PPP effectively paralysed Pervez Musharraf over the issue of LFO and the Left subsequently maligned Musharraf's image over the nuclear proliferation issue in the country. Historians of leftist activism noted the fact that the atomic proliferation debriefings had enraged and outraged the leftists and conservatives alike of their "national hero", dr. Qadeer Khan. After this scandal in 2005–07, the U.S. opposition from the leftist-liberal parties was extremely fierce much more than the conservative parties, effectively sabotaging any U.S. efforts for their economic involvement and maligning the image in the country which contributed in the sharp and recorded rise of the anti-American emotions in the hearts of the Pakistanis.
The Left in Pakistan lost its steer after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007, and the armed right-wing insurgency in the country further limited the Left. The populist, Lawyer's movement, was also influenced by the leftist ideas and prominent leftist leaders, such as Aitzaz Ahsan, Ali Ahmad Kurd, and Raza Rabbani, were the front personalities to lead the movement to restore the Judiciary and to ouster Pervez Musharraf from the government. In spite of right-wing pressure and accusations of corruption, the Left demonstrated its united stand during the general elections held in 2013 under new left-wing leaders Raza Rabbani and Aitzaz Ahsan
The left orientation has greatly influence the literature, scientific activities, arts, and popular culture. The literary work of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Anwar Maqsood, Habib Jalib, Aitzaz Ahsan, and Tina Sani, has been instrumental in projecting the left-wing ideas in the country. The Laal (lit. Red) gained much appraisal and popularity for singing socialist political song, which played a crucial role in mobilizing the people in support to the reinstatement of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in 2007.
In 2012, the scientific work of theorist, Munir Ahmad Khan, was publicly recognized by the Government after posthumously awarding Munir Khan the Nishan-e-Imtiaz for his contribution to science as a gesture of political rehabilitation. The literary work of Tariq Ali has been adopted in playwrights and theatre and films. His playwright, The Leopard and The Fox, was premiered in New York in October 2007 and later on Karachi Arts Council in 2010.