Pakistan is a country of over 200m people, but at least 40 percent live in poverty. Life expectancy is low, at an average of 66 years and infant mortality is high, with about about 64.2 deaths per 1,000 live births. For a large part of the population life is a living hell. But on top of this there is also the impact of imperialist intervention in Afghanistan, the effects of which have spilled across the border, and the repressive operations of the state security forces.
The Pashtuns, an ethnic group of 30m people, living mainly in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan, have suffered the brunt of state oppression. In recent years around 30,000 Pashtuns have disappeared in the hands of the state security forces. Families do not know where their relatives have been taken, whether they are being kept in secret prisons or whether they have been killed. This has been going on for some years now, but this year the people reached the limit of what they could take and a mass movement erupted.
The spark that set off this prairie fire was the killing in Karachi on 13 January of a 28-year-old shopkeeper Naqeeb ullah Mehsud by Rao Anwar, the infamous police officer known for many extra-judicial killings. Naqeeb was a member of a Pashtun tribe, the Mehsud. Such killings are common in Pakistan, but this time the ruling class of Pakistan got a shock they were not expecting. Hundreds of thousands of Pashtuns across the country began to mobilise, with tens of thousands turning up at public rallies to protest against the killing and demanding to know what has happened to the other disappeared people.
Initially the state thought it could crack down on the movement, but when it saw how widespread the movement had become it had to change its approach. For instance, some officials started saying that they were open to “dialogue”, with the clear intention of slowly wearing down the movement and bringing the situation back under control. At the same time, they sought the most radical and advanced layers and targeted them for individual harassment as a warning that they should moderate their positions or face serious consequences.
What is significant about this movement is that it has erupted in one of the least-developed parts of Pakistan. The general mood among the wider left was that the situation in Pakistan is ‘reactionary’: that no big movements can be expected in today’s conditions. This, however, is a superficial approach that ignores the real underlying processes taking place within society.
It is true that if one looks at the parties represented in the Pakistani parliament, at the nature of the mainstream political leaders, and at the quality of the trade union leaders, one would draw a very pessimistic perspective indeed. But as Marx explained, the mole of revolution was burrowing away beneath the surface. The point is that the moment comes when that mole comes to the surface, and in Pakistan that has happened in a huge way, and it has come from a section of society considered to be one of the most ‘backward’ and conservative.
To Marxists, this does not come as a surprise. We understand that the objective situation everywhere is pregnant with revolutionary potential. In ‘normal’ times, people generally accept the status quo, they accept the role of the state, they tolerate corruption and so on, but the molecular process of revolution sooner or later turns everything into its opposite. Here we have the most ‘backward’ becoming the most advanced. Here we have ordinary, working people who no longer respect the state institutions, nor any of the established parties, and have begun to take their destinies into their own hands. That is what we see today among the Pashtun people of Pakistan.
This also explains why the slogans of the Pakistan Marxists have connected with the mood of the Pashtun mass movement taking place. The Marxists put forward the most advanced slogans in relation to the state and what needs to be done. They explain that the Pashtuns need to link up with the other oppressed peoples of Pakistan, and in particular with the working class. The Pashtun movement in fact has been attempting to spread to other parts of the country and on 22 April held a rally in Lahore of many thousands. On the same day, there were protests in other cities, such as Karachi in the south.
Because of their role in raising solidarity with the Pashtun movement, the Marxists of the Lal Salaam group, and the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) and the Red Workers’ Front (RWF) have been singled out for particular attention from the state forces. That explains the abduction on Sunday of seven comrades: Karim Parhar, leader of PTM and RWF Quetta; Attaullah Afridi, Organizer of PYA Karachi; Aftab Ashraf, central organizer of RWF; Umer Riaz, Organizer of PYA Islamabad; Zain ul Abideen, Central Organizer of PYA; Muhammad Gulbaz, Organizer of RWF Kashmir; and Bilawal Baloch, Deputy General Secretary of PYA.
These comrades have not been arrested, nor charged with anything; they have been abducted by the Rangers, a state paramilitary force known for its violence against protesters. They are also known for making activists “disappear” and are used to intimidate trade unionists and youth who refuse to buckle under and abide by what the authorities demand of them. The abduction of the seven comrades is part of this process of intimidation.
Intervention of comrades in Pakistan
We explained what happened here, where you will also find all the information you need on the abductions, where to send messages of protest (along with a model letter) and a model motion. Below, we list the activities of the Marxists in Pakistan in solidarity with the Pashtun movement and all the solidarity activities that have been going on around the world since the abductions took place.
Here, we have a copy of the leaflet produced by the comrades for the 22 April meeting of the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement (PTM). It raises the slogans “For Revolution”, “Against State Oppression”, “Against National Oppression”, “Against Forced Disappearances”, “Combat Illiteracy and unemployment” and “Against Capitalism”. It also says that the students and workers of Lahore extend solidarity to the PTM:
The comrades also produced stickers for the day. Here we have an example of one against the privatisation of education:
Below are pictures of the comrades intervening in the Lahore rally:
Here we have videos of the intervention of the Marxists in the PTM public meeting and protest in Lahore on April 22:
Many youth went to Lahore from Multan on buses, a journey time of six hours. The police tried to stop the buses but the students beat back the police to continue their journey.
Meanwhile, on the same day in Karachi, there was a solidarity protest of the PTM outside the Karachi Press Club. The comrades of Lal Salaam joined the protest and many of their leading members were there, who gave some very radical speeches.
In the video below we can see comrade Zain raising slogans:
Immediately after this there was a crackdown on the comrades, some of whom were on a train back to Lahore. The Rangers stopped the train and abducted four comrades, while another three were abducted elsewhere.
Here we have a protest against the abductions in Rawalkot, Kashmir:
There was also a major solidarity protest in Islamabad:
PTM leader comes out in defence of abducted comrades
An important development in the campaign was when the leadership of the PTM came out in support of the seven abducted comrades, issuing a bold statement that if the comrades were not released they would call on the masses to take strike action. Here we have the statement from Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen:
Coverage in the bourgeois media:
What had happened to the comrades started appearing in the bourgeois media, which was useful to spread the news of what was happening and helping to shine a light on the operations of the Rangers, who prefer to operate in the shadows rather than be put in the public view. Here are reports in Dawn and Reuters.
Solidarity activities around the world
While everything is being done to get the comrades released in Pakistan, around the world our campaign for protest letters and emails got under way. Today, on 25 April, Pakistani embassies and consulates in different countries were picketed, with supporters handing in signed petitions and demanding that action be taken to free the abducted comrades.
We share reports of these activities below.
We received an important letter, addressed to the Prime Minister of Pakistan from Mike Palacek, the National President of the Canadian postal workers’ union, CUPW, representing 50,000 workers in Canada.
The comrades of Fightback picketed the embassy in Toronto, demanding our comrades’ release:
We received an official letter from the National Executive of the PSOL in Brazil addressed to the Pakistan Ambassador in Brasilia, condemning the abductions.
We received another from Geny Beckert of the Célula SINTE, and a further one from the Núcleo Sindical Curitiba Norte, who also sent a letter of protest to the Ambassador of Pakistan in Brazil. Additionally, Johannes Halter, a Brazilian journalist in São Paulo, sent a letter of protest. Finally, Adilson Mariano, a History Teacher and President of the Partido Socialismo e Liberdade in Joinville, Santa Catarina, Brazil wrote to the Pakistan Ambassador demanding freedom for the abducted seven.
The following key figures also added their names to the petition:
- Tiago de Carvalho, OAB/Santa Caterina, 37.119
- Professor Leandro Siqueira (PhD in Human Development and Technologies - UNESP/Rio Claro
- Postgraduate in Political Science at the Universidade Cândido Mendes - MG
- Teacher of Physical Education - UNIFAFIBE/Bebedouro-SP
- Mauro Nunes, General Coordinator of the Association of Parents of State School Students of Rido de Janeiro
- Fábio Bruno Ramirez, General Coordinator of the Union of Technical/Admin staff at the Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso, Cuiabá/MT - Brazil
- Rafael Prata, delegado sindical da PSO BB Campinas/SP, militante da Esquerda Marxista
- Alexandre Mandl, advogado dos trabalhadores da Fábrica Ocupada Flaskô e da Ocupação Vila Soma em Sumaré/SP
- José Cícero de Oliveira, trabalhador dos Correios, militante da Esquerda MarxistaGilvan de Souza Barbosa, trabalhador dos Correios, militante da Esquerda Marxista
- Thiago Oliveira, professor de filosofia da PUC-Campinas, militante da Esquerda Marxista
- Domingos Sávio, trabalhador químico aposentado, militante da Esquerda Marxista
- João Evangelista Dias, trabalhador químico da Fábrica Ocupada Flaskô, militante da Esquerda Marxista
- Daniel Carvalho, trabalhador de TI, militante da Esquerda Marxista
- Clarice Erhardt, Coordenadora do Sindicato dos Trabalhadores em Educação de Santa Catarina - Regional Joinville
- SINDICATO DOS TRABALHADORES EM EDUCAÇÃO NA REDE PÚBLICA DE ENSINO DE SANTA CATARINA - SINTE/SC - Regional Joinville
- PRISMA - Coletivo classista LGBT+ da UNESP - Bauru
- Diretório Acadêmico da FAAC - UNESP Bauru
- Cursinho Popular Acesso Hip Hop
- Ulrich Beathalter - presidente do Sinsej, Sindicato dos Servidores Públicos Municipais de Joinville e Região - Sinsej
A leader of the 2016 Junior Doctors' strike in Britain and member of the Momentum National Coordinating Group, Yannis Gourtsoyannis, issued a public statement on Facebook:
We also had the following important trade union and Labour party figures signing the petition of protest: Jane Loftus, President of the Communication Workers Union, Steve Hedley, Senior Assistant General Secretary of the Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, Apsana Begum, Momentum National Coordinating Group and Secretary Tower Hamlets Labour Party, and also the Queen Margaret University UCU branch:
The UCU Queen Margaret University Branch in Edinburgh also sent the following message of solidarity to the PTM activists in Pakistan:
“UCUQMU branch send our solidarity to the 7 Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement (PTM) activists abducted by the Pakistani state. As trade unionists we view the right to protest and the protection of oppressed minorities as vital principles that we defend the world over. We condemn this action and call for democratic processes and freedom of political expression for the PTM activists to be recognised and for them to be released immediately.”
Furthermore, the King’s College London branch of the UCU unanimously passed a motion of solidarity with the abducted seven. The same motion will be sent to the UCU’s annual congress in May. If passed, it will throw the weight of the entire union behind the fight against state abductions:
The official petition (set up in Britain) has also received 1,865 signatures at the time of writing, and is available to view and sign here.
There was also a picket outside the Pakistan Embassy in London this morning:
Two Argentinian MPs, Nicolás del Caño and Nathalia Gonzalez Seligra, both of the PTS - FIT, sent protest letters to the Pakistani Embassy condemning the abductions.
Dr. Fernando Buen Abad Domínguez, Universidad de la Filosofía, Rector Fundador, wrote to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the Interior Minister and the Pakistan Embassy in Argentina. As did Carlos Ghioldi: CTA Trade Union Secretary of the WORKERS (Rosario Regional) and President Workers’ Cooperative Solidarios en Lucha - Centro Cultural de la Toma (Rosario).
The Círculos Marxistas Universitarios of Spain added their names to the petition, along with the following:
- Alberto Arregui, member of the Federal Coordination of Izquierda Unida (national leadership of United Left)
- Lluís Perarnau . Local councillor Sabadell - Crida per Sabadell
- Concha Palencia, Senator in Spanish Parlament, member of PODEMOS
- Óscar Reina, national spokesman of the Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores (Workers’ Andalousian Union)
- Patricio Cabrerizo, Works council’s chairman in Aratubo (Vitoria-Gasteiz)
- Nadia García, shop-steward in Procavi (Marchena-Sevilla)
- Susana López, spokeswoman of the PODEMOS branch in Morón (Sevilla)
- (Fdo) Jesús Martínez de Carlos, Concejal de I.U- Orain del Ayuntamiento de Estella. Navarra
- (Fdo) Jesús María Martínez Berrueta. Miembro de I.U y de CCOO Correos. Estella Navarra
- José Antonio Cabrera Rodriguez, Diputado de la Diputación Provincial de Sevilla
- Patricio Cabrerizo, secretario del comité de empresa en Aratubo
Martin Gutlederer, a leading member of Socialist Youth, sent this on our behalf statement:
“This is an unacceptable attack on the democratic right of free speech and the freedom to assemble. It is not known where these comrades are now, which must be made public. I demand the immediate release of the mentioned persons!
Martin Gutlederer BSc.,
Member of the Local Council of the market town of Krummnussbaum, Austria,
Member of the Vienna Committee of the Socialist Youth Austria,
Member of the District Committee of Alsergrund (Vienna) of the Social Democratic Party of Austria.”
The Austrian comrades also picketed the Pakistani embassy.
The Swiss Marxists held two solidarity pickets in Berne and Geneva:
They also received coverage in a local newspaper and are expecting a bigger article in a French-language newspaper from Geneva tomorrow. Two national leaders of the Young Socialists were present at Berne, and comrades aim to move a solidarity resolution at the YS delegation meeting next Saturday.
A letter of protest was sent from the Levica party in the Republic of Macedonia.
The Steering Committee of the Boston DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) issued a solidarity statement with the comrades in Pakistan.
We also received the following, notable signatories from the States:
- Thomas Trottier, Member of the Organization of Staff Analysts (OSA) A NYC Public Employees union, Bronx, NY, USA
- Sam Swartz, Member of SEIU Local 1199, Queens, NY, USA
Comrades sent in solidarity images from the Minneapolis DSA and from the IMT branch in Pittsburgh:
Akram Nadir, Union Organizer in Iraq and Kurdistan and International Representative of Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) sent the Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Minister of Interior the following letter:
“We are deeply concerned about the disappearance of seven youth and labour activists, in Karachi on Saturday, after the seven attended a peaceful protest in support of the Pashtun movement.
“They are presumed to have been arrested by the Army and Sindh Rangers, a paramilitary state department notorious for extra-judicial killings and we fear for their safety.
“Furthermore, we view the disappearances as a very serious attack on the labor and democratic rights of Pakistani working people.
“We ask you to investigate this incident and assure us that these activists are safe and well. We also ask you to inform us as to where they are being held and ensure their immediate release, as they have not participated in any form of illegal actions."
Eduardo Samán, former minister and prominent leader of the Bolivarian left expressed his support:
The listed political and trade union figures and organisations in Venezuela also signed a protest letter:
- Sindicato de Artes Gráficas (SUTAG)
- Lucha de Clases - CMI Venezuela
- Supermercados Central Madeirense
- Sindicato y Delegados de Ovejita
- Juventud Obrera Católica
- Juventud Comunista de Venezuela
- Movimiento Social Nora Castañeda
- Zona Libertad
- Liga de Trabajadores por el Socialismo
- Delegados de Prevención AIREYVENCA
- Alcaldía de Libertador
- Alcaldía de Caracas
- Vanguardia Obrera Aragua
- Marea Socialista
- Smurfit Kappa - Cartonera de Venezuela
- Tipografía Lago
- SIPTRAIVSS (Sindicato de los Seguros Sociales)
- Radio Comunitaria Voz Popular
- Movimiento Estudiantil Revolucionario de la USB
- Célula San Martín - CMI
- Frente Nacional de Lucha de la Clase Trabajadora (FNLCT)
The comrades of Der Funke picketed the consulate in Frankfurt:
Furthermore, Hans Neumann, spokesman of the Anti-capitalist Left Lower Saxony, Germany, sent a letter of protest. As did Andrea Hügelschäfer, chairman of Die Linke in Odenwaldkreis.
The Swedish comrades held a protest at the embassy in Stockholm:
From Sweden the following key individuals have signed up to the petition:
- Enzo Costa, chair Unga Byggare (young builders)
- Kajsa Ekis Ekman, journalist and author
- Claudia Venasquez, chair of the Left Party, Helsingborg and Parliamentary Candidate,
- Robert Lindelöf, shop steward Hamnarbetarförbundet (port workers union) section 4 in Gothenburg.
There was a protest this morning at the Pakistan Embassy in Brussels to demand the release of the [then] 9 abducted left wing activists from the Progressive Youth Alliance and the Red Workers Front. After a short moment of panic, members of the embassy staff let the comrades into the back garden to discuss with us. An official talked to with the comrades but refused to give his name or position. He also refused to be photographed...quite undiplomatic for a member of the diplomatic mission!
The comrades told him we wanted to know of the whereabouts of the missing activists. The only answer they got is that there must be a good reason for the arrests, but he did not know what they were, and that he would transmit our letter “to whom it concerns” in Pakistan. To conclude this unpleasant encounter, the comrades announced they would be back soon if the activists were still being held, and that they would get an intervention from MEPs in the European Parliament.
“We demand the release of those people mentioned above; it is unworthy of a democratic country to arrest people for political and trade union related activities.”
Nick Deschacht wrote another protest letter, as did Pablo Sanchez Centellas, Communications and Campaigns Officer and Liaison with the EP.
Comrades in Greece picketed the embassy in Athens today:
Back in Pakistan
While the international campaign was building up, we got news of more repressive measures by the Rangers. Yesterday, Tuesday, 24 April, another protest was organised in Karachi. There was another crackdown and four comrades were taken away by the Rangers: Jalal Jan, Shay Razai, Faras Raj and Yasir Irshad. Two of these were released very soon afterwards. Shay Raza and Yasir Irshad were held overnight for a longer period, but today were also released. Here we have a picture of the agent who ordered the abductions:
And here we have a post from a left-wing group reporting what happened.
At the same time, an official petition was filed with the High Court requesting the whereabouts of the abducted comrades, and solidarity started coming in from other left groups.
This is far from a complete report on all the solidarity and protest messages and activities conducted by our comrades and supporters all over the world. We will publish an update in due course. Lal Salaam!