Turning Consciousness Into Organized Protests When Weapons Are Celebrated *

by Shahnawaz Khan Nowsherwani and Riaz Ahmed


What makes consciousness ...rulers war-hungry and weapon-friendly, minority
anti-nuclear soon to be pro-war, majority poor, ignorant and incapacitated?
How to turn consciousness of the masses into a fight that combines
anti-nuclear protest with the struggle for food, water and dignity -- a
protest that brings all threats and wars to an end?

Celebration and propaganda have camouflaged the social realities throughout
history. Poverty and dearth have been made to exist beside lavish
expenditures. May 11 and 28 were observed as an official day of celebration
in India and Pakistan. While the official media was engaged in mass
publicity furthering national pride by worshiping the burned mountains at
Chagai and rubble at Pokhran, the ordinary Chaghians and Pokhranis lurch in
penury. Miserable of Chaghai and Pokhran are told to feel honored because of
last years nuclear tests conducted there. These 'honored' people  however
yearn for potable drinking water after fifty years of independence while
the rulers boast their nuclear strength.

Pride and honor, considered to be backward in modern times, have staged a
come back. Progress in science and technique were supposed to replace the
notions of backward tribal culture with reason and respect. However in both
Indian and Pakistani official circles pride now appears as the hallmark of
the nations. A contrast of poverty and celebration seems to twin with
technique and backwardness. The impact of lust for pride was not
immediately obvious last year. The Kargil dispute and the ease with which
the specter of nuclear war has become acceptable to the masses shows the
enormity of that psychological impact. Fascism has made the dominant
consciousness to take the false pride as a horrible but conscious reality.

Despite a significant anti-nuclear campaign the near transformation of
nuclear specter into reality means the anti-nuclear campaign has hardly had
an impact on mass thinking in our societies. While systematic mass education
has been attempted at least by the left in India and a yet smaller section
in Pakistan it is clear to all of us that our efforts have had a minimal
impact. So much so that the entire opposition to weaponisation and war has
disappeared into thin air with a week of Kargil dispute. War dominates and
the war-hungry -- who were bitterly opposed earlier -- are keenly supported
by an entire spectrum.
 

The central question is that if 50 percent of Pakistanis and Indians live in
abject poverty, celebration contrasts with poverty and progress with
backwardness then why does not resentment become a general idea? What can
make people anti-war and unwavering for peace?
 

Linked with  it is a series of questions: Why people of Chaghai and
similar underprivileged in Pokhran are not out on the streets  in millions
demanding for water and end to poverty? Why masses believe in the official
side of the contrast? Surely there is a minority of urban conscious people
on both sides which is against weapons and wars but can this play a role in
changing the shape of people's lives? Is such a process possible to conceive
when resistance is confused and agitates against nuclear tests but supports
the national cause of war? Can masses be mobilized when they are massively
poor and work 16 hours a day for unfair inhuman wages? How can we turn the
single issue of miserable wages of people into a political idea? How can a
regional resistance to war and nuclear weapons be turned into national
resistance? What is to be done to transform consciousness so that the fight
against nuclear weapons and all imperial wars becomes a war against
poverty? We cannot answer all but will try to go through some questions.
Since the May celebrations have coincided (intentionally or unintentionally)
with war-like situation the following begins with the nuclear celebrations
and ends on war. Lets begin with celebrations and resistance to it.

It will be overstretching to state that there exists a genuine anti-nuclear
movement in Pakistan as compared to its counterpart in India. Nevertheless
there has been a section in Pakistan which agitates outside the realm of
written words and seminars. Last year after the May explosions a significant
section of the urban population, largely students, protested against the
Chaghai explosions. Within Pakistan, when compared to other parts, there is
much stronger anti-nuclear movement in Baluchistan -- the province being
marginal hardly gets national or international attention though both the
numbers and activity is far more superior.

Like last year, this year too in Baluchistan it strongly showed its
resentment against the nuclear test at Chaghai. Forefront among them have
been students and youth largely led by the Baloch Student's Organization
(BSO) which launched a protest week from May 22 to 28 against the nuclear
tests and the celebration of the May 28th as 'youm-e-takbeer'. Black flags
were hoisted over educational institutions and parts of provincial capital
Quetta. BSO organized a black-day procession on 28th which marched from
Quetta to Noski (near Chaghai) where a public meeting was held.  Balochistan
National Party (BNP-Mengal) and Balocistan National Movement (BNM)
Pushtoon Khwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) and Awami National Party (ANP),
along with the students also observed black day on 28th with separate and
joint protest rallies against celebrations. A joint demonstration of
BNP(Mengal), students, Pushtoon dominated PKMAP and ANP passed through
different roads of Quetta, holding anti-nuclear banners and chanting slogans
against the bomb and against the use of Balochistan land for tests. BNM held
a separate meeting at Baluchistan University to protest the day. In other
parts of Balochistan the nationalist parties and students organizations
launched joint and separate demonstrations. These protests were held at Hub,
Bela, Khuzdar, Turbat, Gwadar, Panjgur, Zehri, Kalat, Ostamohammed among
others.

In other parts of Pakistan the machinery of state and the right wing threat
dominates the minds to much greater extent. Still, in Karachi seminars were
held under the auspices of progressive groups as Irtiqa, Reasoners and the
left wing political parties like Labour Party of Pakistan and Tabqati
Jedojehad. Students from different educational institutions of Karachi and
people of the city held a protest demo organised by the BSO on May 28th at
the Karachi Press Club. Similar meetings were held in other cities, seminars
and meetings took place in Lahore and Peshawar.

Why anti-nuclear minority is more vocal and confident today in Balochistan
relates to the strength of the nationalists in the province as well as their
clarity about nuclear tests and its pitfalls. Last year students in Quetta
staged protests against the nuclear explosions before the Chaghai tests.
National sentiment against the use of Balochistani land as a testing site
for nuclear weapons, radiation pitfalls and environmental damage have
combined with the calls to fight for basic rights. Like many aspects of the
fragmentation of political practices the regional character dominates in
Balochistan, however the positive side is the willingness of the Baloch and
Pushtoon anti-nuclear protesters to bridge the ethnic and intra-party
divides.

But all that remained largely unreported in the national press. Even the
regional press carried smaller than usual reports because the official mood
was geared to celebrate last year's explosion much well before May 28th.
State controlled television is the biggest instrument, next to it is the
Urdu press. Most of the anti-nuclear movement has been ignored by this
press.  The liberal English papers are under severe pressure these days thus
the campaign remained in the cyber space where more and more messages are
forwarded by internet surfers to each other. Obviously the cyber
anti-nuclear campaign is in great deal a signifier of the class that is
involved in cyber-protests. Largely it has been the middle and upper middle
class professionals or liberals, who for one reason or another, have taken
an anti nuclear stance. And since the conscientious educated middle class
either runs or works in NGOs their working makes them even more marginal
when it comes to making a protest into a mass mobilization. The recent moves
of de-registring scores of NGOs in Punjab and Sindh has further quietened
NGO-styled expressions, most of the former 'radical' NGOs are on the run. On
the other hand the major political parties, with noble exceptions from the
Pakhtoonkhawa and Balochistan, have taken an even more belligerent line on
celebrations with one jumping over the other to take credit of last year's
explosions. Some credit Z A Bhutto for the 'miracle' while others are
grandioising 'scientists' and the even more closer to establishment promote
the 'firm stance' of the military vis a vis the 'reluctance' shown by the
government of the day in May last year. Thus in Pakistan the anti-nuclear
movement has, despite small but significant protests on the streets,
remained on the fringes of the political domain and the general idea about
being a 'nuclear power' permeates.
 

Comparatively the antinuclear movement in India is much stronger and more
clear about the objectives. There the communist parties have been in the
forefront organizing hundreds of thousands into protests against last year's
explosions thus bringing the weapons of mass destruction an item of public
criticism and debate if not outrage. For example Parkash Karat writes in
Peoples Democracy: 'The CPI(M) can legitimately claim to have played a major
role in building up popular opposition to the BJP¡¯s nuclear policy along
with other opposition forces' (January 10, 1999). In India the intellectuals
have been more openly against the nuclear and arms race and rather more
independent than the communist political parties which have shown
nationalistic variance on the issues of signing or not signing test
treaties. This vacilation, which at one time appeared to take a rather
firm and clear stance against imperialism, as the communists identified
treaties with tools of American hegemony, however quickly degraded into
greater rightward shift when the Kargil episode provided the fascist BJP to
homogenize all classes and castes and thus war mongering became a national
paranoia. Criticism of the BJP aligning itself with the American imperial
designs was politically worthy and appeared more nationalistic. This was
despite the fact that the dominant Indian left ignores the
market-socialistic hegemony of China. However the politics of elections,
flowing with the 'public opinion' etc crippled it to criticize its own
bourgeoisie and its militaristic tendency.
 

Weaknesses of anti-nuclear campaign carried their price. Some of those who
were opposed to the nuclear weapon soon found themselves supporting war --
knowingly that it can escalate into a horrific nuclear war.

Come Kargil it is difficult to differentiate between the jingoism of the
right and the dominant in left. The Political Correspondent writes in
Ganashakti of June 14: "India must not be seen to wince. The Pakistan
government and its Army have shown scant regard for even the bare essentials
of decorum even in the times of war; the mutilated Indian corpses are enough
proof of that. While mere hardening of position is definitely not the
answer, India must not be seen to be weak in these troubled times. History
has proved time and again that India is a country with an attitude; it is
time again to prove that." The less 'nationalists' found themselves
questioning the strategy and BJP's lead in the Indian Army instead of
questioning the whole war-game as such. So Praful Bidawi writes "Given the
intelligence agencies' failure and the Defence Ministry's initial failure to
vacate the claimed intrusion, progressively higher levels of force were
deployed by the Army. The decisive change took place when New Delhi started
to use air power on May 26 - for the first time in 27 years at that
border....This introduced a new element of speed and mobility - and hence
reduced the room for control. When you have aircraft flying at the speed of
sound, even a little deviation from the correct flight-path or target-line
risks straying across the zig-zag border" (Frontline June 05-18). When
tactics are questioned, ISI or RAW and Pakistan or Indian governments do not
get brushed aside instead one or the other side inadvertently appears more
or less guilty. Ironically all that directly justifies the intent of the
intrusion, battle or the war --  self-eliminating the element of questioning
the whole logic of war. It forgets that in every intrusion or war ordinary
are maimed and cleansed and this stance has given way to one or the other
justification for war -- thus nationalism dominates.

The Kargil episode has thus brought to fore the impotency and surely has
damaged the anti-nuclear movement. Now the political left in India is much
eager to support the much hated BJP on its war efforts as it founds little
room to maneuver given the proximity of general elections. In this sense the
right has been successful into transforming an unlikely war into a real
war -- more importantly in the consciousness of the masses. This development
makes the left and communists in India as crippled as anyone else and yet
again shows the tendency of Stalinism and Maoism unable to disassociate
themseveles from the national bourgeoisie and failing to build an
international anti-war campaign. Despite their misconception about CTBT, the
apprehensions of Sumit Sarkar (in Indian Economic and Political Weekly, July
4, 1998) and other campaigners about the 'nationalistic stance' of leftward
parties on deweaponisation have come close to be true.
 

In Pakistan the Kargil dispute predictably brought political parties and the
like on a single platform in denouncing Indian brutalities along with
unconditional pledge to the government for their support in fighting yet
another war, if necessary, without hesitation. Such is the enormity of the
consensus among various political formations that voices of dissent and
criticism left the local political scene and ignored the obvious opportunism
of the government of the day into further fueling the war mania. Noted
columnist and peace maker M Ziauddin went much out of his way in criticizing
'Indians', he  writes "Most Indians I had met since May last year and most
of what they have been saying since at least on their international affairs
programs over their TV channels indicate that today the Indians are
suffering from an acute bout of arrogance" (Dawn, May 26 1999). Liberal
press undoubtedly does not directly support war or pro-nuclear campaigns but
by labeling most Indians being arrogant is equivalent to saying that most
Pakistanis are Mujahideen. Identifying a section of the privileged and rich
upper class in India as most Indians homogenizes the stratified world of
India into the minds of Pakistanis as much as it does to bring all the
underprivileged into supporting the war effort of the privileged. Denouncing
as a whole the 'national' sentiments of the other side develops public
opinion, if not into supporting the war mongering on both sides, but
definitely leaves the people not questioning the general logic of war in
todays' world. The net result is that though not every pose for a war, or
now even a nuclear war, does result in a real war but surely the support and
combined muscle flexing makes the respective governments much more stronger.
With this strength they turn to attack internal criticism. Ironically within
a weak of Ziauddin's descripture of Indian arrogance he himself disclosed in
his column of June 01 that the government has reportedly made a hit list of
critical journalists. The next day the list appeared in the press with his
name included.

Similar to the strengthening of the internal governments after the nuclear
explosions the Kargil dispute has yet again not eradicated the plight of
Kashmiris but on the other hand has made greater war and greater casualties
even more consciously acceptable to the masses. The experience of war has
already been bitter for the greater masses of both India and Pakistan. Nor
has any clash on behalf of Kashmiris by either side brought emancipation of
ordinary Kashmiris even closer. However every new attempt for war does not
bring back to memory of masses the horrors of past wars equivalently. State
and mass media prevent that bitter recollection skillfully. Conversely,
every time a war is fought it is engineered in the name of humanitarianism:
against ethnic cleansing, violation of human rights and killing of unarmed
civilians.  As John Rees notes "There are currently over 20 wars raging
around the globe...The plight of the refugees is the stock pro-war answer.
Yet there were 15.3 million refugees made homeless by war in 1995"(in
Socialist Review June 1999).  The plight and right of self determination
have been set aside in the quest for greater dominance and even greater
opposition in Kashmir.
 

In this sense what can Indian and Pakistani establishments gain if there is
a war? The gains may not be exactly similar to that of the aggressors in
Balkans but surely the purposes are more linked to externally appearing to
be stronger in internally fragile situations. The final gains are greater
than the actual wars show. Masses of both countries will be the sole losers.
Attention from economic crises is diverted, short term objectives like
elections are easily achieved and social expenditure is further slashed in
the name of war effort. BJP after failing to bring any fundamental change to
the lives of ordinary Indian wants to whip up the nationalistic and swadeshi
sentiments so as to appear being able to do something, regardless of the
costs and implications. So too is the case with the PML government which
carried out  17% currency devaluation and raised oil prices precisely at the
height of tensions at Kargil. That was clearly the biggest short term gain.
It indicated  how calmly the burden of financial mismanagement of 1998 can
be transferred on the masses amid a deafening war clamoring. Other
casualties are coming home at a much faster rate both in the shape of
'hardened democracy' and suppression of fundamental rights.

Usually, when barbarism arrives in most modern societies it strikes
mercilessly at its institutions. As Pervaiz Hoodbhoy points out,  the first
casualty of Pakistani bomb is its own education system. By implication we
have proved that growth in science and education is not necessary to be a
nuclear power. "The prescription for success is sufficient money and
resources... Therefore one does not need high-class research scientists or
world-class universities. A couple of good engineering institutes will
suffice, together with a few good schools and colleges. More would be
welcome, but an expensive luxury. Hence Chaghai cannot give an impetus for
resurrecting an education system that had collapsed over a decade ago." In
that sense the notion of development via enhancement of education will not
be on our agenda any more, for one thing it never was in the first place.
Our Progress has come about with backwardness.

The atmosphere of celebrations amid a looming war imply that resources will
be directed more easily towards defense expenditure. As Zia Mian notes, the
foisted imagination of Pakistan being a nuclear-nation, 'Nuclear Pakistan',
implies nuclear disarmament is even more difficult. "Far better in their
view an endless nuclear-armed confrontation with India, that in turn gives
cause for demands for high military spending and excuses state failure and
government excesses in other areas".

However what Zia Mian and Pervaiz Hoodbhoy fail to pinpoint is the
background reason for military expenditure. If resources are not spend on
education, corruption means billions minted in arms deals and motorways
then is it just incorrect prioritization, corruption of a bad set of elites,
a conspiracy to keep masses poor? Can we explain wars and weapons as
requirement of a whole system, a class; poverty as a result of that
exploitation?

So what can be done so that resources are mobilized not to destruct but to
construct human causes? There surely is a need to bring to the general
consciousness of the masses the horror of war as much as it is to provide
peaceful alternatives. Obviously war and muscle flexing are to be opposed.

Consciousness of the masses is fundamental to alleviate poverty and
deprivation. Parliamentary system of democracy expresses that consciousness
but not in its totality. Anti-nuclear movement also expresses that
consciousness but than again not as a totality. In effect the single issue
campaign makes the nuclear issue isolated from the fundamentals which cause
the arms race. Kargil and the resultant nationalistic degeneration proves
dangers of such isolation. The net total effect is yet another distraction
most usually as an elitist campaign restricted to the liberal press itself.

The need is to overcome this isolationism and to come out of the nut-shell
into the open and with the masses. A grander expression of consciousness
that furthers consciousness is protest. Organizing protest is a difficult
task. A genuine protest can be a spontaneous response but that requires a
situation where people are en-masse conscious of their demands and hence
solutions. Usually the situation is not spontaneous. In those periods
politics requires protest for two purposes: either to increase awareness
among the population about the grievance of particular sector so that
unaffected come to know about it or to mobilize masses so that grievances
are redressed. The level of problems faced by the masses implies that the
awareness oriented protest remains largely isolated: it appears as small
news item when people gather outside press clubs of megacities, raise play
cards, chant slogans and disperse within 20 or 30 minutes. The masses
generally appear to remain oblivious of the protest which is almost
exclusively done on 'their' behalf. Such protests appear in newspapers on
the day after the anniversary of an event. The purpose  remains as an
exercise to raise consciousness of the masses and is a day event. It is more
of a memorial nature and for the purposes of remembrance. Critics call such
protests as futile and acts of yester-year revolutionaries. The protests
oriented towards mobilization of masses to actually seek redressal of a
problem, or an immediate solution in such a way that a state machinery is
forced to concede or retract, though attract larger participation but are
more difficult to organize. In such protests a small mass is already
conscious of the problem and thus are quickly mobilized into action.

In our society protests are difficult but nevertheless they do appear every
now and than and recently the frequency has increased in some areas. The
repression from the state, through its organs and most commonly the terror
of right wing in both ethnic and religious forms implies that those who are
involved in real politick find it difficult to organize protest.  One recent
example of protest that involved masses was the anger against the attack on
freedom of press earlier this year. Within a week the number of people
protesting increased as more sections joined hunger strikers and finally
mass rallies forced the government to concede. More recently protests
against an act of government or state organ has acquired greater attention
of those who wish to attract masses towards the injustices. The denial of
admission in medical colleges to students in urban Sindh, reaction against
the Anti-Terrorism Act, arrest of prominent journalist Najam Sethi in Lahore
have been the major examples in the last two months.

Nevertheless all the above campaigns show that after every attempt the
government of the day has backed down. But can this retraction be taken for
granted? Will the pillars of the state, especially the judiciary and
ironically more recently the notorious intelligence agencies, be rallied in
continuation? After all the imbalance of power in various sectors of the
state will soon shift towards the one who is able to dominate or cooperate
with others, than what will happen to the proponents pledging the state to
recognize the 'civil society' is anybody's guess. Hence every war effort and
every attempt to escalate the arms race has to be resisted if future
economic and political struggles are to be sustained. There is hardly any
difference between war and economic policy of the ruling class -- it is the
masses who pay the price in both cases.

Neither nuclear weapons have increased deterrence or have created a balance
of terror nor emancipation and right of self determination can be won for
others. Thus if the masses are suffering then their suffering can be ended
by their struggle and their organization that means going beyond the single
issue campaigns. Why that is necessary is because every campaign of
victimization and denial of rights poses us with a mightier, and not weaker,
state apparatus and thus shows their increased level of consciousness as
well. Thus there is a need to bring continuity to expressions of protests so
as to raise our level of consciousness.

Examples of unity of anti-nuclear Baloch and Pushtoon youth in Quetta,
admission demanding students in Karachi, journalists fighting for the
survival of Jang papers in Lahore and Islamabad shows that
consciousness transforms -- can win. They also indicate why mass-attracting struggle has to start from workplace and not in cyber-space.

When struggles of Baloch and Pushtoon are linked with that of Sindh and
Punjab and even more with that of Calcutta and Chennai what this
consciousness will do is to bring into question the accepted notions of war,
nuclear weapons, arms race and above all differentiate the
interests of the have nots and haves. Thats when memorial protest swells
into mass mobilisation -- protest no longer remains on behalf of others. As
Luckacs notes "For every system of state and law, and the capitalist system
above all, exists in the last analysis because its survival, and the
validity of its statutes, are simply accepted as unproblematic. The isolated
violation of those statues does not represent any particular danger as long
as such infringements figure in the general consciousness merely as isolated
cases... The strong point, or rather weak point in the state is the way in
which it is reflected in the consciousness of people. Ideology is in this
case not merely a consequence of the economic structure of society but
also the precondition of its smooth functioning". (in History and Class
Consciousness, MIT Press) That ideology needs to be questioned. Given the
level of consciousness the task is difficult but the existence of a weaker
campaign in Pakistan and dis-focussed struggle in India gives hope that
unity of the divergent forces by overcoming the ethnic, regional and
nationalistic differences may lead to an international campaign. As Kolko
says: "The long run is still a very long run, and whether the disintegration
of the present world capitalist order will take another century, or two or
three more, will depend on a range of historical factors some at least unknown at the present time."
 
* a modified version of the above was published in
the Political Economy section of The News, Karachi on June 06 1999.



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