As the government tries to hold on to power, emerging movements and radical forces are trying to make space for themselves
While parties represented in the National Assembly have their hands full with the no-confidence motion against the prime minister, some new and emerging groups are also preparing to claim space for themselves in the political arena.
They are assuming that traditional parties like the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League will be unable to attract new supporters among the masses. They believe that a political vacuum exists and that they can help the masses identify and focus on issues important to them.
Political activity, both internal to these groups and in public domain, has picked up in recent times. Congresses, press conferences, training workshops, study circles, mass rallies and public meetings have been organised by several groups eager to reach out to mostly unrepresented voters. These groups are looking forward to becoming the new “mainstream.“
The objective conditions have made the incumbent government one of the most unpopular elected dispensations in the country’s history. The harsh conditionalities it has agreed to in dealing with the international financial institutions have pushed millions of people below the poverty line. All surveys indicate that poverty and inequality are on the rise.
These harsh realities are not good news for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). While Prime Minister Imran Khan is doing his best to present a brave, confident face while confronting the most serious challenge to his power, it is evident that his political power is weakening by the day. The opposition parties too are finding maintaining their support among the masses difficult. The fact is that they have been unable to launch a mass movement for the removal of the government and are left with none but the parliamentary option to oust the government.
This objective reality has provided some political space to the newcomers in the political arena. On the extreme right, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has made considerable gains during the last few years. However, there have been allegations that a section of the establishment has been supporting the TLP and that they retain powerful backers who matter in running state affairs. While events like the lynching of a Sri Lankan citizen at a Sialkot factory by the associates and supporters of the TLP are not helping keep the popularity momentum going, the consistent efforts of the present PTI regime to move further towards right-wing policies may help TLP regain some support. Imran Khan’s Amar Bil Maroof rally in Islamabad might end up helping the extreme right more than his own party.
On the left-side, a youth-led Haqooq-i-Khalq Movement is making some in-roads. The HKM has announced a public gathering at Nasser Bagh today to take up issues like education, unemployment, prices and climate crises.
When ZA Bhutto sought to appease the right wing with a ban on alcoholic drinks and made Friday the weekly holiday, rather than relying on his Roti, Kapra, Makaan rhetoric, he ended up ceding political space to the Nizam-i-Mustafa Tehreek of the PNA.
To the left of political spectrum, a youth-led Haqooq-i-Khalq Movement is making waves and attracting some of the radical youth. The HKM has announced a mass public gathering at Lahore’s Nasser Bagh today to take up issues like education, unemployment, prices and climate crises. The organisers are hoping that the jalsa will prove a breakthrough in the emergence of a new Left. The HKM was behind the Laal laal lehrai ga students march of 2019 in Lahore and 60 other cities. It has been preparing for mass contact by holding regular online weekly meetings and study circles.
The Awami Workers’ Party, established in 2012 following the merger of three left-wing political parties - the Workers’ Party, the Awami Party and the Labour Party - is also eager to expand its footprint. It is active mainly among the surviving Left activists of the 1970s and their followers. However, the momentum for Left unity visible only a few years ago is largely gone as several important activists have left the AWP. The AWP has led some successful public gatherings on the issues of missing persons and the fundamental rights for those living in the katchi abadis.
In the second week of March, two Left groups held their congresses on the same days. The Pakistan Trade Unions’ Defence Campaign of late Comrade Lal Khan was able to gather several hundred people at Aiwan-i-Iqbal and the AWP at a local hotel. Both took out rallies against price hike and demanded better wages and working conditions for the working class. MNA Ali Wazeer was elected a member of the central committee of this group.
The National Democratic Movement (NDM) of Mohsan Dawar is another left-of-centre initiative. It has gained the support of some in the Awami National Party old guard including Afrasayab Khatak. The NDM is a Pashtun nationalist social-democratic trend seeking to resist growing militarism in the society. Founded on September 1, 2021, the NDM caused a split in the PTM of which some leaders refused to join it. In the first phase of local government elections in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the NDM was unable to make significant gains. However, party workers hope to change that in the second phase of the election (to be held on March 31).
Only time will tell whether any of these groups can become a party of the masses.
The writer is a Left-wing activist, a Haqooq-i-Khalq Movement member and general secretary of the Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee. He can be reached at Farooqtariq@hotmail.com