Posts Tagged ‘Communism’

A History of the Left in Pakistan – 20

May 13, 2017

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Four: The Road to Pakistan – (Continued)

Balochistan – A Tribal Rebellion

Among Muslim majority areas of British India and the princely states inside Pakistani territory, Balochistan occupied a unique position. It was neither a wholly British Indian province nor a subordinate princely state like Kashmir, Bhawalpur, Junagadh, and Hyderabad. Its relationship with British India evolved differently and this factor has continued to mar its relationship with Pakistani state till today. As a separate political entity in history, Balochistan evolved as a Rind-Lashari tribal confederacy, first established by Mir Chakar Rind in late 1400s. It comprised of a large swathe of mostly barren land, stretching from Kirman in the west (in present day Iran) to Derajat on the right bank of Indus River in the east, including Kalat highlands and the fertile areas of Kacchi and Sibi. It had united all Baloch inhabited areas in a political entity for the first time. The confederacy was centered around two most powerful Baloch tribes of Rind and Lasharis, each in turn constituting loosely organized federations of several lesser tribes. During his peak, Mir Chakar also advanced into Punjab, taking over Multan and southern parts of Punjab in the early 1500s. The 16th century saw not only the rise of Safavid power in Iran, but also the Mughal power in India, and the arrival of European ships in the Sea of Oman and the Persian Gulf. Towards the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese found their way to the region and captured several places along the Makran coast. In 1510 AD, they occupied the small port of Gwatr (not Gwadar), east of Chahbahar in western Balochistan. Later, they also occupied two other larger coastal settlements of Gwadar and Pasni further east. Thus, the conflict of interest between these three external imperial powers (the Persians, the Mughals and the Europeans) continued to influence the internal politics of the Baloch. Portuguese were soon replaced by the British. The first Baloch confederacy did not survive long. Mir Chakar Rind died in 1550 and lies buried at Sahiwal in Punjab. After witnessing periodic border expansions and contractions by the time British arrived in the area, the nominal seat of Baloch tribal confederacy was based in Kalat. Mir Ahmed Khan I established the dynasty of the last Khannate of Kalat in 1666 and since then the ruling family has been known as Ahmedzais.

The Baloch Confederacy had treaty obligations with Afghanistan (1758) from the time of Mir Noori Nasir Khan. In its ‘Forward Policy’ for securing the western borders of India and for resisting the southward push of the Russian Empire in the Central Asia, British needed to keep Afghanistan and Iran under its influence, or, at least, ‘neutral’ to serve as buffers between the two expanding European empires. But the British supply routes to Afghanistan and Iran could not be safeguarded without securing Sindh and Balochistan. For this reason, the British advanced into Kalat as early as November 1839. The reigning Khan of Kalat, Mehrab Khan was killed in the battle. His minor son was installed in his seat and a regent was appointed to oversee the British interests. To serve their military strategic interests, the British parceled out the Baloch country. The Derajat, Khangarh (now Jacobabad) and Kacchi area were detached from Balochistan and annexed to British India. Quetta and Mastung were given to a pliant ruler of Afghanistan, Shah Shuja in a treaty with Afghanistan. The British signed their first formal treaty with Kalat in 1854. Recognizing Khan of Kalat’s nominal sovereignty over Baloch areas, an annual subsidy was agreed to be paid to him in exchange for his loyalty. British expansion towards Afghanistan continued and it annexed its Pishin, Zhob, and Loralai regions. Meanwhile, taking advantage of the situation now Qajar Shahs who had in the meantime replaced Safvi rulers of Iran also captured parts of western Balochistan and included them in their territory.

In 1876, Britain signed a new treaty with Kalat as an independent state but under protection from Britain and the British troops were stationed in Kalat. The establishment of the Balochistan Agency with its headquarter at Quetta followed in early 1877. In the same year, Scottish General Robert Sandeman was transferred from the post of Assistant Commissioner Punjab to Balochistan. Having experience of working as district officer of Dera Ghazi Khan, he was appointed Agent to the Governor General (A.G.G) and Chief Commissioner of the Agency for Balochistan. Under an agreement with the Khan of Kalat in 1883, the British obtained Quetta, Nushki, Bolan Pass, and Nasirabad areas on lease from Kalat and attached them with the British controlled Pashtun regions renaming the area as the ‘British Balochistan’. With a view to lure Afghanistan and Iran away from Czarist Russia, the Britain unilaterally ceded some parts of Baloch areas of Kalat State territory to Iran and Afghanistan. Thus, the Baloch country was arbitrarily divided into several parts. Initially, Khan of Kalat was included in the border negotiations but later he was excluded from the process and unilateral boundary decisions were taken by the British (44). Under a British-Iranian agreement the ‘Goldsmith Line’ drawn in 1871 as border between Iran and British interests, large parts of the western Balochistan were ceded to Iran. Similarly, a little later the ‘McMohan Line’ drawn in 1896 demarcating boundary between Afghanistan and the British Balochistan left a northern portion of Baloch area with Afghanistan. Large tracts of eastern Balochistan including Kacchi, Sibi, Jacobabad and adjoining areas together with Quetta and other Pukhtun areas remained with the British administration under long term lease contract. The rest of the Baloch territory was left in possession of the Kalat State. Thus, the Baloch territories were divided among three states – India, Afghanistan and Iran. In India, the Baloch areas were sub-divided between British Balochistan (areas under direct British rule) and the State of nominally independent Kalat. In theory, Kalat was a sovereign state, much like Nepal and Bhutan and was different from other Indian Princely States. The responsibility for its defence and foreign affairs were handed over to the British Crown based on mutually agreed friendly treaties promising British support to Kalat in case of need in the maintenance of a just authority and protection of territories from external attack. The Kalat state was further carved into the agencies’ territories of mainly Pukhtun belt and the federation of Baloch States (Kalat, Makran, Kharan and Lasbela) with the Khan of Kalat as the head of the federation. The Khan of Kalat was, however, traditionally bound to consult the Jirga (Council) of main tribal Sardars (chiefs) on all important social and political matters. During First World War, some tribes of Marri-Khetran and Mengals revolted against conscription and British interference in their areas but the revolt was crushed and some tribal leaders, including Misri Khan Baloch, fled to Afghanistan and to the newly established Soviet Union for assistance (45).

Over time, the Baloch tribal system, unlike the Pukhtun tribal system, had ossified into a highly oppressive feudalistic Sardari system, giving near absolute control to the Sardar (Chief of tribe) over life and death of its subjects, perpetuating their abject poverty and deprivation. The Kalat Confederacy was not exactly a princely kingdom in its strict sense either. It evolved differently. Nina Swidler of Fordham University, New York, a pioneering scholar on the subject completing her doctorate thesis on The Political Structure of a Tribal Federation in 1969, succinctly explains the characteristic of the Confederacy thus, “Even though the Ahmedzais consolidated a new order of structure, they did not integrate Kalat into one uniformly administered territory. Although a central bureaucracy developed, the khan never succeeded in incorporating the tribes economically. No revenues of any kind were exacted from them. Each tribal constituent of the Khannate was internally and territorially autonomous. The khan had no access to the tribes except through the chiefs…The autonomy of tribal constituencies in the Khannate is based on the authority of the sardar, which is largely a result of Brahui tribal structure” (46). The nature of a despotic Sardari system developed in Balochistan may be adequately depicted by an observation by Sylvia Matheson in her book The Tigers of Balochistan (1967) recording the remarks of a typical representative of Baloch Sardars, Tumandar Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti on a question to him during her interview sometime in 1948 about his plain admission that he had killed the first man when he was only 12, he said, as he sipped his tea, “Oh that! Well that man annoyed me. I’ve forgotten what it was about now, but I shot him dead. I’ve rather a hasty temper you know, but under tribal law of course it wasn’t a capital offence, and, in any case, as the eldest son of the Chieftain I was perfectly entitled to do as I pleased in our own territory. We enjoy absolute sovereignty over our people and they accept this as part of their tradition” (47).

Due to arid lands, stagnant repressive social conditions and little agricultural and commercial opportunities coupled with religious persecution (Shia rulers persecuting mostly Sunni Baloch) in Iranian parts of western Balochistan gradual migration of Baloch population from both eastern and western Balochistan into Sindh and Southern Punjab resulted in more Balochs living in Sindh and Punjab than in Kalat itself. Many of these migrating Baloch settled in Karachi making it the largest Baloch urban centre. Balochistan in general and Kalat confederacy remained one of the most under-developed and poor parts of India. There were almost no modern schools. In 1903, there were only 21 schools in Balochistan with 800 students, mostly children of non-Baloch servicemen of British Administration in Quetta. To move its part of Balochistan away from Persian influence, British made Urdu as its official language replacing Persian. The first newspaper ‘Balochistan’ was started in 1927 by Abdul Aziz Kurd and Master Pir Bukhsh. Inspired by the bold ‘modernist’ political developments taking place in Turkey (Mustafa Kamal) and Iran (Reza Shah) in 1920’s, the earliest Baloch political activists included Yousuf Ali Magsi and Abdul Aziz Kurd who established an underground organization ‘Young Baloch’, which was later converted into an open ‘Anjuman-e-Ittehad-e-Balochan’ (Baloch Unity Organization) in late 1920s. This Anjuman marked the beginning of modern Baloch middle class nationalist movement. Yousuf Magsi was the scion of Nawab Qaisar Khan, the Chief Sardar of Jhal-Magsi area in Balochistan, who was made to abdicate and exiled to Punjab by the British-appointed Chief Minister of Kalat. In his youth, Magsi lived in Multan and Lahore and was influenced by the then Indian independence movement. Aziz Kurd was the son of a middle class civil servant of the Khannate of Kalat. Karachi, having the largest Baloch urban population, also played an important role in the development of Baloch nationalist movement. A ‘Baloch League’ was founded in Karachi with Ghulam Nooruddin as president (48). The Baloch League held its conference in Karachi in 1930. After graduating from Aligarh College, noted Baloch nationalist leader Ghaus Bukhsh Bizenjo also first joined the Baloch League in Karachi. By early 1930s, Anjuman-e Balochan was demanding political reforms in the Khannate of Kalat, reunification of all Baloch territories in one political unit and the establishment of a united independent Balochistan. The demands of political reforms included establishment of an elected parliament and a cabinet under the Khan of Kalat. A Baloch Unity Conference was held in December 1932 at Jacobabad. The Anjuman’s weekly magazine ‘Al-Baloch’ from Karachi also published a map of ‘Greater Balochistan’ showing the State of Kalat together with British leased and Iranian occupied parts of Baloch territory, including large parts of Sindh and the state of Bhawalpur as a united Baloch political entity. The Khan of Kalat, Muhammad Azam Jan, died in 1933 and his young son, Ahmad Yar Khan, 31, ambitious for a Greater and United Balochistan took over the reins in his place. He sent Yousef Magsi of Anjuman Balochan to London in 1934 as his personal representative for pleading the case for Balochistan’s sovereignty but the mission failed as the British Government in London did not pay serious attention to the Baloch pleadings and refused to introduce reforms in Balochistan. At this stage, Magsi is also said to entertain the idea of seeking help from the Soviet Union and start an armed struggle but it seems no meaningful step was taken in this direction. Magsi was killed in the severe Quetta earthquake in 1935.

In 1937, the Anjuman was converted by its left-wing workers influenced by the socialist and communist ideas led by Mir Ghaus Bukhsh Bizenjo, Gul Khan Naseer, and Abdul Aziz Kurd into Kalat State National Party seeking constitutional rule in the Khanate and founding of an independent Balochistan after British leave from India. The principal objective of the nascent middle class and petty bourgeoisie of Balochistan was to get freedom from an overbearing traditional Sardari (tribal chief’s) system of oppression, which was supported and perpetuated by the British and the Khan of Kalat in their own interests. Unlike Muslims of other parts of India, the Baloch intelligentsia was not threatened by the Hindu domination and, therefore, did not find Muslim League’s struggle in British India for ‘protectionist’ rights of Indian Muslims attractive for itself. Herein lied its predicament; on the one hand, it was seeking more political and economic space for itself from the oppressive Sardari system with Khan of Kalat as the overlord of the whole system, and, on the other hand, it was rallying around the Khan in his ambitions for getting full independence from the British rule. The Khan of Kalat was not interested in relenting any democratic rights or equal economic opportunities to the Baloch people. He never allowed even those limited political and democratic rights that were granted in the British Balochistan and neither did he promoted any social or educational development of people in his Kalat state. But, he was keen to exploit the political activism and popular appeal of the middle class nationalist leaders in his grand monarchical designs. In return for some pep talk by the Khan and few symbolic gestures by him in theory (nothing changed in practice) like announcement of abolition of Bigar (free compulsive labour) and other illegal taxes, the National Party gladly conferred the title of ‘Khan-e-Muazzam’ (the Great Khan) on the Khan of Kalat in 1938 as a gesture of party’s full support and loyalty to the Khan. The British government through its political agents was adept at using the self-centered tyrant tribal Baloch Sardars and Pukhtun tribal leaders to put pressure on and keep the Khan of Kalat under check. The strong opposition of Kalat National Party frustrated British efforts at obtaining Jiwani port on lease from Kalat. Unhappy over the Kalat National Party’s increasing activities and Khan’s tacit support to it, the powerful Sardars with a wink from the British retaliated against the party. On 6 July, 1939, a tribal Lashkar (armed band) attacked the National Party convention at Mastung and dispersed the gathering. On the demand from Sardars, the National Party was banned by Khan of Kalat and its leaders were expelled from the state, and strict restriction was imposed on its newspapers and literature entering the state from British Balochistan. As a measure of delimiting Khan of Kalat’s influence and cut him to size, the British government had also ‘encouraged the vassals of the Khannate in Makran and Lasbela to emerge as separate protectorates and thus there was a practical administrative trifurcation of the Khannate even within British India, i.e. the British India, the Khannate and independent princely states of Makran, Kharan, and Lasbela, and [Pukhtun] tribal territories’ (49).

With the Pakistan movement gaining traction and the transfer of power from Britain to one or two independent governments in India becoming imminent, the Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan, made efforts to obtain full independence for Kalat state. His argument was based on the fact that unlike other 560-odd Princely States of India, the state of Kalat as a sovereign state had special treaty agreement (1876) directly with the British government in London as the paramount power, and not with British Indian government in Delhi. Therefore, with the withdrawal of Britain from India the state of Kalat together with its leased territories like Quetta will legally revert to its original position before 1876 and it will be released from all treaty obligations and lease contracts; that no government in India, as successor to the British Indian government, can inherit that role. Khan of Kalat also engaged M.A. Jinnah as his lawyer in this regard who apparently agreed with this legal position. Khan of Kalat also presented a Memorandum to the visiting Cabinet Mission of the British Government in March 1946 through M.A. Jinnah as his lawyer. The Kalat state’s case was prepared by I.I. Chundrigar, a noted lawyer from Bombay and a future Prime Minister of Pakistan, Sir Sultan Ahmed, a noted barrister-at-law of India, and Sir Walter Monkton, an influential British lawyer and the Solicitor General in Winston Churchill’s caretaker government of 1945. The Khan of Kalat also sent Abdul Samad Achakzai, a member of All India Congress Committee, to plead his case with Nehru, and Ghaus Bukhsh Bizenjo, the head of Kalat National Party, to meet with Indian Congress President Abul Kalam Azad. But Indian Congress was mute and avoided coming out in Kalat’s favour fearing creation of a bad precedent for similar counter moves by the Muslim League in the matter of the states of Junagadh and Hyderabad inside the territory of India. This way, Indian Congress implicitly conceded the right of contiguous successor state of British India over Princely States falling inside its territory. Similarly, on 27 March, 1947, V.P. Menon was reported in an All-India Radio broadcast that India has declined repeated requests of Khan of Kalat for accession of his state to India instead of Pakistan. Although, subsequently this report was denied by Nehru (50) but the message to Khan of Kalat was clear that India may not help him at that stage. The Marri-Bugti Baloch tribal chiefs, Sardar Doda Khan Marri and Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti are reported to have sent memorandum to the British government for joining with the state of Kalat. Similarly, Sardar Jamal Khan Leghari, the father of future President of Pakistan Farooq Leghari, together with few other tribal chiefs is also reported to have sent a memorandum demanding their separation from Punjab and joining with the Kalat state. But, the British government ignored these requests.

Meanwhile, as far as the British-controlled part of Balochistan was concerned, as per the local tradition, an assembly of Baloch & Pukhtun tribal leaders of the area (Shahi Jirga) was called on 29 June, 1947, which voted in favour of joining with Pakistan. The Municipal Council of Quetta also voted for Pakistan (51). However, in a round-table conference held in Delhi on 4 August, 1947 attended by the Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, Khan of Kalat, his Chief Minister, Liaqat Ali Khan, Sir Sultan Ahmed, as advisor to the Indian Chamber of Princes, and M.A. Jinnah as Khan of Kalat’s legal advisor, it was decided that the Kalat state would become independent on 5 August, 1947. Subsequently, the rulers of Kharan and Lasbela were informed by the British government that control of their regions together with the Marri and Bugti tribal regions under British control had been transferred to Kalat State. After a series of meetings held between the leadership of Muslim League, including M.A. Jinnah, and Khan of Kalat, the Muslim League signed a joint ‘Stand-Still’ statement with Khan of Kalat on 11 August, 1947 saying, “The Government of Pakistan recognizes Kalat as an independent sovereign state; in treaty relations with British government, with a status different from that of Indian states. Legal opinion will be sought as to whether or not agreements of leases made between the British government and Kalat will be inherited by the Pakistan government” (52).

On Friday, 15 August, 1947 Khan of Kalat declared full independence of the State of Kalat, which was immediately ratified by the Kalat State parliament that was hurriedly elected only a few weeks before. The traditional flag of the state in green over red colour and the crescent and star in the centre was hoisted and a traditional Khutba (religious address) was read on the day in Khan of Kalat’s name in Friday congregational prayers in the Jamia Masjid of Kalat. The Khan of Kalat offered to negotiate a special relationship with Pakistan in the spheres of Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Communications. But, the Pakistani leaders promptly rejected Kalat’s declaration of independence and its offer for negotiation on its relationship with Pakistan, triggering a 7-month row over Kalat’s accession to Pakistan. In the changed circumstances, Jinnah in his personal capacity also advised Khan of Kalat to join with Pakistan but the Khan evaded the issue. Feeling the increasing pressure from the government of Pakistan, he also sought help from outside. He instructed Kalat’s army commander-in-chief, Brigadier General Purves to prepare for armed resistance and arrange for weapons and ammunition. Brigadier Purves approached the British Commonwealth government in London in December 1947 for supply of arms to Kalat state but the British government refused the request without the Pakistan Government’s approval (53). There were also reports that Khan of Kalat was seeking support from the Indian government and the Afghan King but with no success. Nehru, however, denied these reports (54). The rulers of Kharan, Makran and Lasbela, being too timid to side with Khan, voted to join Pakistan on 18 March, 1948, immensely weakening the Khan of Kalat’s position. Finally, after a Pakistan military action in Kalat, Mir Ahmed Yar Khan also signed the instrument of accession to Pakistan on 27 March, 1948. The state of Kalat as legal entity was abolished and merged with Pakistan. Most of the members of a short-lived Balochistan cabinet were arrested or exiled from Balochistan (55).


44. Balochis of Pakistan: On the Margins of History, The Foreign Policy Centre, London, UK, 2006 [henceforth FPC UK Report], p. 14.
45. Taj Mohammad Berseeg, Baloch Nationalism-Its Origins & Development,, p. 211.
46. Nina Swidler, The Development of the Kalat Khannate, monograph in the Journal of Asian and African Studies, p. 118.
47. Quoted in The Tumandar of the Bugtis by Ardeshir Cowasjee, Daily Dawn, Karachi, 3 Sep, 2006.
48. Waja Omar Bukhsh, Maulvi Muhammad Usman, Mehrab Issa Khan, Allah Buksh Gabol, and Abdul Samad Sarbazi were among its other leaders.
49. Balochis of Pakistan: On the Margins of History, p. 15.
50. FPC UK Report, p. 24.
51. Ibid, p. 16.
52. Ibid, p. 21.
53. Taj Mohammad Berseeg, p. 250.
54. FPC UK Report, p. 18.
55. Taj Mohammad Berseeg, p. 253

Chapter 4… To be Continued

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 2

August 28, 2016

By Ahmed Kamran


The communist movement in Pakistan is all but dead. Today, there are few to mourn its death and its unceremonious exit from the national politics. It seems a forgotten chapter, completely erased from the collective memory of the youth. A handful of those who still cling to the ideal of a communists-led revolution to bring about a ‘proletarian dictatorship’ have absolutely no role in, and more sadly, no clue of, the dynamics of country’s politics.

And all this is after a long and checkered history of a fairly old and vibrant communist movement, firstly in undivided India and later in post-independence Pakistan. For roughly about sixty odd years, from 1920’s till the end of 1980’s, countless political activists, many remaining nameless, worked selflessly in their own ways for the ideal of building a society free from exploitation, misery and want. For a long time, the socialist and progressive oriented demands dominated the Indian and Pakistani politics and popular ‘socialistic’ slogans regularly resounded in the agitational politics and political rallies. In those days, a populist leader, of any shade or hue, could not escape from raising socialistic slogans and talking about the rights of ‘toiling masses’. Terms of Surkh Inqilab (red revolution) and Mazdoor Kisan Raj (workers’ and peasants’ rule) had become an integral part of political discourse. Many popular leaders from elitist interest groups also ‘adopted’ the socialist rhetoric and its slogans for building their people-friendly image in the public. In all, countless number of fine minds and bodies in this country have been consumed in the efforts for realizing their dream of bringing about a revolution on a sort of Marxist model and establishing a fair and just society, free from want and deprivation.

This is a largely untold story of an almost heroic contribution of selfless individuals who worked in most adverse and repressive conditions before and after independence. This is a story of a fairly large number of intelligent and passionate youth who were greatly influenced by the communist ideology; a story of those countless young men and women who were powerfully moved by the socialist ideals of a society free from colonial oppression and exploitation where hunger, poverty, lack of healthcare for the sick and denial of universal equal opportunities for the education of children will not be a crushing destiny for a large population of working classes. It was a promise of an ideal society where extreme wealth, opulence and indecent waste of a few will not flaunt the misery and want of millions. A society where fruits of labour of the workers in the factories and peasants in the farms will not be forcibly expropriated by powerful owners of the capital and land, and the wealth will be shared and distributed equitably. It was to be a world where no foreign territories and countries were to be occupied and subjugated to serve the ruthless colonial masters and where no unjust and imperialist wars to be fought in which millions of young men, women, and children of working classes are killed, maimed, and raped. These and similar ideals have agitated the minds of youth in all ages. A sharp analysis of the roots of an exploitative class system and the ideals of a fair, equitable and classless society and the methods and path to achieve these ideals was expounded by Karl Marx in the middle of the 19th century. And its first practical example as demonstrated by V.I. Lenin in the form of the first socialist state in Russia in 1917 led by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had an electrifying effect on the youth in India and around the world. Hundreds of young men and women in every country turned into dedicated communist workers with thousands of their sympathizers joining in the battle of ideas and for seizing political power to realize their cherished goals of a fair, equitable ‘socialist society’.

The history of the communist movement and its parties in India and Pakistan is the story of these brave idealist men and women. But this is also a story of its failures, unpardonable follies, shameful betrayals, internal rivalries, and not in-frequent displays of low intellect and lack of astute ability of its leaders to objectively analyze the situation. In the end, all said and done, there is no escape from the conclusion that the communist leaders failed in leading their dedicated workers and mobilizing the masses for a meaningful real social and economic change in their lives. It is the story of a political and social movement that shook our society but eventually failed. Now even its memory is fading.

Nevertheless, this movement, in its prime, was able to produce a fairly large number of remarkably dedicated and highly talented political activists and sympathisers who were powerfully motivated by the socialist and Marxist ideals. Countless freedom fighters, political workers, writers, poets, film-makers, artists, musicians, journalists, student leaders, trade union & peasant workers, and rank & file party workers threw in their lot for the ideals led by the communists. Arguably, these ideals clearly dominated our literary prose, poetry, lyrics, films, music, and theater for well over four decades by producing a huge repertoire of highly remarkable creations. It’s a great legacy; an incredibly powerful political and social movement of the time that had once engulfed almost all dimensions of the social and political life of united India from 1920’s onwards and continued impacting the life of the people of India and Pakistan for many more years after independence in 1947.

In the end, why it failed? Was this failure because of state repression? But, almost as a rule, the communist movements were always and everywhere subjected to fierce state repression. In many places, the state repression was aided and supplemented by brutal murders and executions by organized ruthless fascist thugs. Admittedly, the state repression was severe and brutal in the newly founded state of Pakistan after the blood-stained dust settled and smoldering fires of the partition of India were subdued. Inheriting well from the legacy of the outgoing colonial rulers, the Pakistani state hurriedly re-built itself from the Muslim sections of the famed ‘steel frame’ of the erstwhile British civil services. Its armed forces, in large measure, continued to be supervised by the senior British officers occupying key civil and military positions in the new government at the request of the newly inducted Governor General and the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The inexperienced and untrained politicians from politically and organizationally less developed majority Indian Muslim parts of India who had been catapulted into power by the sudden turn of events almost wholly relied on the expertise of experienced British and local civil and military officers. Quickly re-grouping and rebuilding itself, the Pakistani bureaucracy was desperately trying to meet enormous operational challenges faced by the new born state: lack of governing infrastructure and trained resources, almost empty treasury, and, most of all, constant pouring in of homeless and penniless immigrants crossing over borders from India to seek shelter and to redeem pledges of ‘riches’ and ‘prosperity’ in the independent country for Indian Muslims made to them during the sentimentally charged movement for Pakistan. And to top it all, there was a real or perceived threat from country’s arch enemy India on its eastern front and further advancement in Kashmir while a hostile Afghanistan at the back was demanding to re-draw the border far beyond the Durand Line inside the country. At this juncture, the new government in Pakistan could hardly afford to tolerate a hostile communist propaganda filtering in through India for inciting political agitation and, more so, a possible attempt by the communists to seize power. The state of Pakistan dealt with the newly formed Communist Party of Pakistan that was still in its embryonic stage with a decidedly heavy iron-clad hand. Communists were hounded everywhere and many of them were simply put behind bars to isolate them from their few followers. A major crackdown against the party and its allied bodies was initiated in the spring of 1951 and, finally, the party was formally outlawed in the summer of 1954. A merciless hunt for the socialist and communist activists ensued, brutally carried out by the police and intelligence agencies under the newly strengthened US influence and its rising economic and political domination on the country. The fledgling Communist Party of Pakistan could not withstand this massive blow. It fractured and broke up into small groups with little, if any, coordination among them. Later, few of these groups coalesced and revived a centralized party organization and managed to achieve significant influence in the country’s politics during 1960s but suffered multiple internal dissensions and splits that weakened their bite.

Clearly, apart from the severe state repression, causes of the failure of the communist party in Pakistan also lie in its internal weaknesses and tactical blunders. Perhaps, the party circumstances at the time dictated that the initial leadership of CPP was dominated by the Muslim communists of mostly North Indian origin migrating from India on the advice and encouragement of the CPI leadership. It is observed that even the communists and Marxists were not entirely free from the ethnic prejudices. The dominant Urdu-speaking communist party leadership naturally produced undercurrents of ethnic and regional rivalries in the party. Indeed, it produced the first dispute in the party even before its formal foundation in Calcutta in March 1948. The other off-shoot of this situation was that the CPP leadership in the initial stages, in large measure, relied on the logistic support and strategic directions from the parent CPI leadership. Within the hierarchy of the recently formed Cominform (Communist Information Bureau) in 1947, the successor to the Third Communist International (Comintern), its reporting line was also not direct to the headquarter but through CPI in Delhi. This organizational and ideological subservience also resulted in sheer lack of original thinking among CPP leaders in correctly assessing the domestic conditions and formulating their independent strategic plans and tactical moves suited to Pakistani society’s peculiar situation. The peripheral parts of India, which comprised of Pakistan in 1947 were not as much politically and economically developed as those parts that remained in India. Accordingly, the communist party’s organizational structure was also considerably weaker in Pakistan at the time of partition. It was mostly confined to Lahore and few other bigger towns. Moreover, most of the leading communist leaders and workers in Pakistani areas belonged to Hindu and Sikh religion. Barring a few exceptions in Sindh, almost all of these communist leaders and organisers moved across the border, leaving little organizational capacity behind them. Seriously lacking in trained and competent analytical and leadership skills, the CPP relied mostly on somewhat trained migrant workers coming from India. In the circumstance, it could only display a rather mediocre performance and committed blunders on its way. The want of high quality analytical skills, brilliance of mind and superior political competence sufficiently rooted in the local conditions continued to drag its way in CPP’s development in future also. It was mostly confined to big cities like Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Hyderabad. The pre-dominantly Hindu or Sikh middle class intelligentsia of Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Hyderabad having been evacuated from these urban centres, Karachi, the capital of the new country, emerged as the most politically active city. Karachi emerged as a big cauldron of newly arriving immigrant population from all parts of north, central and south India. Perhaps, because of the new communist party leadership’s ethnic origins its influence was also most visible on Karachi’s youth. Quickly, it was able to produce a vibrant and powerful student and trade union movement in Karachi that greatly influenced the intelligentsia of the country for a long time.

After suffering a massive blow of state repression in mid-1950’s, CPP’s efforts at its re-organisation in spite of enhanced state repression and tragic death of one of its senior-most leaders, Hasan Nasir, during interrogation in judicial custody, it suffered another blow in mid-1960’s from inside: the split of international communist movement between Soviet and Chinese communist parties. Following the pattern in all other countries of the world, the CPP was also bifurcated into pro-Russian and pro-Chinese factions, further weakening its overall effectiveness in country’s politics. Soon, in the wake of Pakistan’s war with India in September 1965 and the negative role for Pakistan played by the Soviet Union in support of India, the pro-Soviet CPP significantly lost its credibility among Pakistani people.

On the other hand, the pro-Chinese CPP’s political influence reached its zenith during and after the popular agitation against President General Ayub Khan that was ignited in the autumn of 1968, leading up to country’s first general elections on universal, adult franchise in 1970. Forging a ‘united front’ with a young populist Sindhi leader of West Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and helping him to establish a progressive anti-imperialist Pakistan People’s Party, the CPP quickly rode on the massive surge of popular and student agitation during the period. With the support of an effective organizational network across the country, the communist party protagonists rose in great prominence and political influence on PPP’s stage. The slogans of ‘roti, kapra, aur makan’ (bread, clothing, and housing) and ‘peoples rights’, and forging unity of workers and peasants for the struggle for peoples’ democracy, land reforms, national and provincial autonomy, anti-imperialism, and improved labour conditions introduced by the communist party workers in both wings of the country gained immense popularity and general acceptance among large sections of a greatly agitated Pakistani polity.

But in spite of this unprecedented rise in popularity of the socialist ideals, and for the first time ever, prominence of communists emerging as popular leaders in Pakistan, the exercise culminated in a disastrous and rapid fall of the communist party fortunes. Suddenly, CPP leadership in a left swing decided to pull out; restraining its members and supporters from contesting forthcoming elections and, opposing the electoral process as a means of bringing about a change in society. It was like applying full brakes when the so-called ‘mass movement’ was in full swing. The reluctant and exasperated members on the ‘mass fronts’ were even expelled from the party on charges of indiscipline if they did not comply with the strict orders from the top. The enigmatic course of action that CPP leaders abruptly took at this crucial juncture of withdrawing its workers from the popular political stage will long remain a moot point of debate among communist workers and political observers in and outside the country. This controversial tactical move of the CPP leadership resulted in its abrupt isolation and removal from an effective political role. The outcome of the fairly transparent general elections in 1970 in the country helped precipitate cataclysmic changes in the politics of Pakistan. The Bengali nationalists, struggling for their rights of self determination for long, swept the elections in East Pakistan, unexpectedly, at least for the ruling junta, winning absolute majority in the national parliament. East Pakistan, the eastern wing of the country was separated by over 1,800 km of Indian territory in the middle. The predominantly West Pakistani military junta, fully aided and abetted by Bhutto’s People’s Party, plainly denied East Bengal’s popular leaders their constitutional right to form the government in the centre. The incensed youth of East Pakistan rose in rebellion, wholeheartedly joined by the CPP organization of the eastern wing. The ruling Pakistani military junta met humiliating defeat in a brutal war against the national liberation army of East Bengal, aided by the open intervention of the Indian army. The uneasy and increasingly painful chord of the forced ‘unity’ of the two wings of the country, West and East Pakistan, snapped. In the wake of ensuing debacle, the CPP in West Pakistan having already forfeited its share in the parliamentary politics had no lever and the capacity to play an effective balancing role in the crisis. Unfortunately, blindly towing the line of ultra-centrist Bhutto and the military junta, it lost its feet and, perhaps, the will to act decisively. The after-shocks of the Bengal’s debacle and coming to power of Bhutto as a vicious and arrogant ruler of what remained of Pakistan caused multiple fractures in the once powerful pro-Chinese faction of CPP.

Soon, however, all factions of CPP, regardless of their orientation were practically eliminated from politics and were eventually liquidated in due course. In the next few years the communist movement in Pakistan was completely disintegrated even before the collapse and liquidation of the Soviet Union in early 1990s. The fall of the Soviet Union only provided it an honorable excuse for the final bow out. The movement went into total oblivion. Astonishingly, in less than 30 years of its establishment, the Communist Party of Pakistan practically ceased to exist in any meaningful way. That a party carrying an impressive legacy of 27 years of vibrant history prior to its formation, came to nought in a short period should surprise a political observer.

The present effort, a humble attempt to trace history of the communist movement of India and Pakistan, going into its roots in the freedom movement of India and seeking to track its development over a period of about sixty years, aims to address this riddle. The purpose of this inquiry is to identify the root causes and the context of the successes and failures of this movement, particularly in Pakistan. The history of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) is inextricably linked with the history of the Communist Party of India (CPI). The CPI’s past continued to cast its long shadows over the new born CPP for many years. Most of the so-called ‘internal party debates’ and acute differences that emerged among break-away factions of the CPP on matters of so-called ‘strategy & tactics’ had been an echo, nay, exact remakes of the identical ‘debates’ that had been repeatedly discussed and argued in the past in CPI. During previous 27 years of its existence before the formation of CPP in 1948, the CPI had a history of many zigzag movements and somersaults over the questions of correct ‘revolutionary path’. To paraphrase what Marx commented in his brilliant The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (2) on a Hegel remark, ‘history repeats itself; the first time as tragedy, the second as farce’. Getting passionately engaged in identical ‘debates’ over and over again and committing every time the folly of same ‘policy initiatives’ and then completely reversing those very policies repeatedly was a sad phenomenon in the history of the communist movement in India and later in Pakistan. Apparently, trapped among the ghosts and spirits of the past and seemingly blinded to the changing conditions of the societies they were working in, the communist party leaders of India and then Pakistan were condemned to repeat their mistakes and move in circles between two opposite poles of extreme ‘radicalism and reckless adventure’ on one end and complete ‘capitulation and total subservience’ to the ‘national bourgeoisie’ on the other. In spite of parroting the hymn of pursuing ‘scientific socialism’ and ‘concrete analysis of the concrete situation’ with religious fervor, there was hardly anything ‘scientific’ in practice in their so-called ‘analytical’ pursuits.

Generally, there have been little academic and serious journalistic writings produced on our shared past; many parts and dimensions of our shared history have been altogether eliminated from our narrative. The shared facets of our common struggle for freedom and communist movement and the communist parties in India and Pakistan have been completely excised from our text books and history. There are, particularly in Pakistan, hardly any serious, non-partisan academic studies of our common freedom struggle or of the history of the communist parties in India and Pakistan. Perhaps, this negligence was due to the fact that writings on the subject of communism and socialism were always viewed with suspicion and taken as ‘seditious material’ by successive governments in Pakistan. Now that the state repression for so-called ‘communists’ is no more a serious issue after the end of ‘cold war’ in 1990s, the subject itself has lost its charm and seems to be no longer in ‘fashion’. It has been completely relegated to the forgotten recesses of the past. No one seems to be seriously interested in looking at it with critical scrutiny. In any case, the sad and almost complete absence of the tradition of serious study of the ‘social sciences’ and history in the academic and popular journalism in Pakistan has made writings on such subjects disappear from the book shelves. For writers and publishers alike these subjects are now ‘irrelevant’, having little, if any, commercial value. Today, there is little interest in Pakistan to study, evaluate, understand, and correctly assess the powerful social and political movements of the past –the communist movement is one such movement– that had played crucial roles, not only in our political and social lives but have, in more ways than we suspect, fashioned the world that we live in today. Pakistani state has denied the society free access to an impartial study of its past. It is eliminated from its primary textual sources. As a result, Pakistanis are, generally, unable to coherently explain themselves. Particularly, the Pakistani youth that is reared and groomed in state administered educational framework today has hardly any skill and requisite training to address or challenge the received narratives. They cannot detect factual errors in these narratives – errors that often appear to have been deliberately introduced, left unattended for so long that they have hardened into our collective embedded memory. Here we have a ‘schooled’ youth that may think only in terms of ‘given’ parameters. It has been totally shielded from the intellectual debates of both the past and present times— a sort of ‘sense of history’. It naively believes and, therefore, insists on universal correctness of its own narrative. We have been, as a matter of state policy, deprived of the critical insight to discern our historical and cultural peculiarities. We are not giving our youth the necessary language and academic training to examine our own intellectual legacy. No wonder, many of them no longer have any interest in it.

Arguably, much of the present day’s world political and social thinking and the way the modern governments, in both west and the east, are managing their state affairs have been greatly influenced by the socialist and communist movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. It could well be argued that the concepts of modern world’s universal health, education, public welfare, and social security net have origins in, and direct links with, these movements in the past. Perhaps, this is the reason that much of these policy infrastructures are now slowly being dismantled in many western societies.

Nevertheless, fortunately, there is a considerably large amount of published material (research articles, analytical monographs, books, memoirs, personal interviews etc.) available in public domain on the history of the communist movement in India for a student of history and politics to benefit from. The major challenge is in Pakistan; there is hardly any research material, academic or even serious journalistic work available on the history of the communist movement and the communist party of Pakistan. Unlike India, there is little research and compilation work that has been done by activists, independent researchers or academicians in Pakistan. Whatever little has been written and published is fragmentary and mostly comprise of sentimental and non-serious journalistic accounts of few ‘popular’ events. These accounts are, as a rule, woefully lacking in critical details, substance and analytical scrutiny. These writings about the communist movement in Pakistan hardly provide any information about dates, time, people, context and a coherent and plausible sequence of historical events. Unfortunately, the common malady of general writing in Pakistan of complete disregard of attention to details, dates, context, consistent and coherent sequencing of the narrative is also a banal feature of the writings of communist or socialist activists and writers. Unfortunately, most of the first generation leaders and communist activists of 1940s through 1960s have already passed away without leaving any known documentary narrative or a record of oral history of the early turbulent days of the communist movement in the country. Only a few have made an attempt to record their reminiscences of their active lives after reaching the twilight of their eventful lives. But, unfortunately, these few writings that have so far appeared display woefully muddled thinking. They seriously lack in relevant historical information, analytical depth and clear perspective. The second generation of the leaders of the left movement who were, although, young and junior during 1960s and 1970s but still occupying mid-level positions in their organizational structures, are also now on the verge of bowing out or becoming gradually incapacitated due to their failing health and memory.

With only scant verifiable information available and source materials non-existing, an exercise in attempting to reconstruct a logical sequence and a coherent explanation of events long past in the communist movement of the country is an enormous challenge for a non-academic novice like this author. Begging an apology from readers in advance for gaps in necessary details and context or a weakness in the analysis, for want of authentic source material and perhaps, more so, for lack of academic skill is, therefore, in order.


Now, few words about the structure of this book. While writing some historical account, its break up into different periods or phases is usually arbitrary and, at best, reflects its division in writer’s mind only. In real world, the dynamics of history is too complex, inextricably interlinked and continuous to allow its compartmentalization in either geography or time periods. The history of the communist movement in Pakistan, in my mind, is inseparably linked with the origin and development of the communist movement in India. The history of the communist party of India in turn had deeper roots in the broader Indian freedom movement. This historical perspective has led the present writer to divide the history of the Indian communist movement in three phases: the roots of revolutionary struggles (1905-1920), the origin and formative phase of the Communist Party of India (1920-1932), and its rise and fall in the Indian politics (1933-1951). In order to keep focus on Pakistan, the developments in CPI after 1951 have not been covered in detail, though, some major policy shifts that took place in CPI’s politics after 1948 continued to have an indirect bearing on the CPP’s politics and course of action. These later developments are only selectively referred to, where necessary, in order to understand the context and its relation with some important event or debate taking place in Pakistan’s communist movement.

Part – I

Chapter One discusses the roots of revolution going back into the social and political developments that took place in India at the turn of 19th century and unfolding of the 20th century. The formation of the first communist party of India did not take place in a void, without any roots in the Indian society and its history. It was, in fact, a culmination of few revolutionary movements that go back many decades in the history of the freedom movement of India. This chapter seeks to demonstrate how three independent streams of revolutionary movements relating to Indian society developed quite independently, then met and converged together in a certain historical backdrop to lay the foundation of the Communist Party of India in Tashkent in 1920.

Chapter Two seeks to trace the genesis of the Communist Party of India and track its rough and rocky path during the formative phase of the Communist Party of India from its inception in 1920 and its merger in 1925 with the indigenous communist groups originating in the Indian soil and their journey till 1932 when the party was reorganized to bring it into a meaningfully effective form. This first phase is characterized by the efforts of few brave individuals and groups of individuals who were making efforts to lay the foundations of the communist movement in India and form small communist groups in different parts of India. They loosely coordinated and exchanged ideas among themselves. During this period, there had been conscientious efforts to establish an All-India centralized party structure and such an organization was indeed established in the First Congress of the party held in 1925. But, because of frequent arrests of the few pioneering communist workers and extremely minimal resources at their disposal in this initial phase, both in terms of manpower and finances, the party organization couldn’t function effectively and meaningfully. A sort of power tussle going on at this stage among people outside India holding positions to have influence over the formation and policies of the communist party in India also took its toll in this formative stage.

Chapter Three discusses the rise and fall of the CPI during 1933 and 1951. During this second phase of relative maturity and strength, CPI gained considerable organizational effectiveness and political and social influence in the Indian society. The party organization and its allied bodies expanded rapidly and gained respectability in their respective areas of operation. This period witnesses a significantly powerful impact that the CPI and its allied bodies managed to generally make on Indian society in spite of its many critical weaknesses. Almost a whole generation of leading creative writers, poets, artists, film makers and intelligentsia of Indian society was predominantly influenced by the ideals of socialism and communism spread through a large array of bodies and associations spawned by CPI. The policy vicissitudes, however, continued to plague the party, now on even larger scale and rapidity. Close to the end of this phase, Pakistan was founded as a result of the partition of India and, consequently, a separate Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) was formed. The founding of CPP, incidentally, coincided with the launch of an ultra-left, recklessly adventurous aggressive policy thesis of the CPI that had also cast its shadow over the initial phase of the CPP. This ultra-left policy of getting involved in extremely radical initiatives, though, temporarily catapulted the party in high profile but it took its heavy toll. This aggressively radical policy, however, was reversed and the second phase was terminated in 1951. For CPP, however, it was a little too late. At that very moment, CPP received the first fatal blow on its organization on account of its alleged involvement in a failed military putsch, planning to overthrow the Liaquat Ali Khan government in Pakistan and seize political power. The debates of strategy & tactics and resulting policy swings witnessed during this phase continued to haunt the newly established CPP in its future course of life.

Chapter Four starts focusing on the areas that form Pakistan today. It briefly discusses the political evolution of these areas and the events leading to the founding of Pakistan. It seeks to analyze the class composition of the political movements proceeding to Pakistan and tries to capture the socio-economic backdrop that the early Left movements in Pakistan found themselves confronted with. In my view, the failure of Pakistani Left, in general, to correctly understand the underlying class and national conflicts of the areas of Pakistan, before and after the formation of Pakistan, was a major cause of its remaining ineffective in the political struggle. For ease of reference, the term Pakistan has been used to refer to these areas while discussing historical background and events of the communist movement of Pakistan even before its actual founding in 1947. Although, eastern Bengal was part of Pakistan (as East Pakistan) from 1947 till 1971 but reference to it is also restricted to where it was necessary to the context in order to keep focus on today’s Pakistan and by no means for it being any less important. This chapter discusses the initial challenges that the Left encountered during its endeavor of rebuilding the organization in the new country almost from the scratch. Pakistan was founded on the bedrock of a newly awakened Muslim nationalism in South Asia and there was much diversity in terms of culture, language, and politics. Besides pressing issues relating to infrastructure development, finance, rehabilitation of refugees, and national security threat perceptions, debates relating to trauma of partition, Islam’s role in politics and government, Urdu as national language, and ‘Pakistani culture’ and interpretation of Muslim history were also dominating the intellectual discourse in the new country. The party also experienced a dispute among its few members right at its inception. Though, the immediate organizational impact of this dispute over leadership was not significant at this stage but the undercurrent of ethnic and regional rivalry that was evident in this dispute continued to plague the development of an effective and sustainable pan-Pakistan communist party in future.

Part – II

Chapter Five seeks to assess the impact and consequences of the ultra-left radical policy thesis of the 1948 Second Party Congress on the development of the Left and the newly formed Communist Party in Pakistan. It deals with the political analysis of CPP in regard to the composition and class character of different factions of the competing ruling classes and the Muslim League during early years of Pakistan. CPP’s mis-assesment of the class characterization in Punjab resulted in missed opportunities and its incorrect alignments. In particular, this chapter evaluates the alleged role of the communist party in the famous Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case in 1951, a watershed event in the history of CPP. Regardless of the actual measure of its role in the so-called ‘conspiracy’, its impact on the fledgling CPP was, without doubt, enormous.

Chapter Six deals with an important event in the left movement; the great divide in the international communist movement that caused the formidable world communist bloc splitting into two; one led by Mao Tse-tung (now Mao Zedong) of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and the other by the leaders of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU). The dispute between the two parties came out in the open in the international communist movement in 1960 and intensified by 1962-63. By 1964 the split was complete with two fiercely competing rivals. The international communist block was also divided. The Left in Pakistan and the CPP were also divided into two rival factions: pro-Russia and pro-China leaving the overall movement weakened and fractured.

Chapter Seven seeks to asses the context and impact of a fairly effective participation by one of the leading CPP faction that had espoused the pro-China policies in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s People’s Party in the mass agitation against General Ayub Khan and its last minute withdrawal from the political stage of electoral contest. Arguably, the effectiveness of this party’s influence on the popular mass politics of the country achieved during this period was unprecedented. But, the party at the last minute inexplicably recoiled and bolted; it decided to withdraw its members from the electoral contest. This action had a profound effect not only on the party organization but, possibly, on the future course of country’s politics as well.

Chapter Eight discusses the subsequent rapid decline and eventual liquidation of the entire communist movement in the country. It was unstoppable downhill slide, which could not be arrested in spite of many feeble attempts.

Part – III

Chapter Nine seeks to discuss some theoretical issues relating to the efficacy and relevance of Marxism in today’s world, but with particular reference to Pakistan. Especially after the fall of the ‘Berlin Wall’ and collapse of the Soviet Union, it is argued that this event marked ‘the end of history’, not in terms of the occurring of events but in terms of the ideological conflict and debate between the capitalist world’s ‘liberal democracy’ and alternate system based on socialist and ‘Marxist’ ideals projected by now disgraced and dismantled Socialist block. Meanwhile, China has also carried out significant alterations in its path and has made spectacular strides on its way to its peculiar economic and social development of its society to mark its thunderous entry into the 21st century. Wild speculations are being made to forecast its position in the global balance of power by 2049 when it will celebrate its first centenary of the communist revolution in China, ushering in a new order in October 1949.

Is Marxism relevant today? Clearly, for a large number of people the debate is long over. For few others, it may still be lurking below the ashes in smoldering embers. Or, alternatively, a new paradigm shift in ideas is needed by those who are not at ease with either of the two positions. Probably, there are still a large number of people who find a compulsive choice between the two given options equally abhorring. Is there any light for them at the end of the tunnel?

Notes: Introduction


2 Selected Works, Karl Marx and Frederich Engels, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1970, p. 96

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