The Disaster in Pakistan: Legacy of Colonialism

Brad Forrest

Brad Forrest

The humanitarian disaster that is engulfing Pakistan due to the monstrous monsoon rains is partly due to the nature of the unavoidable natural disaster, the worst rains in a generation, but it is partly also due to the baneful effects of colonial slavery in the economically backward region. The torrent of rain has killed 1,500 people so far and affected six million, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

The rains have been pouring down in the fertile South Asian agricultural country for two weeks now with no letup in sight. Vast crop yields have been destroyed, livestock have been killed, and the prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, while calling for more international aid from the U.S. and others, said that the country’s economic development plans will be set back for years. More than 1.4 million acres of crops have been destroyed in Punjab province, the breadbasket of Pakistan (WSJ).

Many Pakistanis are now homeless, and refugees are even trying to seek shelter in monasteries high up in the Himalayas. Four million people will need food aid across Pakistan over the next three months at a cost of $100 million. Even now hundreds of thousands of people are still trapped in flooded areas.

But what is the real reason for the intensified suffering of the Pakistani people? In a word: colonialism. The modern state of Pakistan was established on 14 August, 1947, after years of British rule. The British government and military had looted both India and Pakistan for years until the independence movement booted them out. This was the era of Gandhi’s nonviolence, but it was also a period where the workers of the subcontinent came into their own. Unfortunately, the movement was misled by Mssrs. Gandhi and the Stalinist Communist Party. And under these auspices the All India Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, got a hearing to create the Muslim-based state that is called Pakistan. Partition had become a fact, leading to many communal deaths.

From 1947 to 1958 there was civilian rule for the fledgling state, but political instability, endemic in economically backward colonial countries, led to the first military coup d’etat by the General Ayub Khan. He installed himself as president during the period 1958-69. From 1972-1977 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto brought back civilian rule. In 1968-69, Pakistan was gripped by revolutionary events. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the Pakistan People’s Party promised to implement socialism. After the revolution was defeated, Bhutto was sentenced to death in 1979 by the reactionary military dictatorship of General Zia-ul-haq. General Zia introduced the Islamic Sharia legal code. From socialism to Sharia. What some countries endure!

The latest dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, was a complete tool of American imperialism, allowing his country to be used in the misconceived “war on terror.” But political instability being what it is, on August 18, 2008, Pervez Musharraf resigned from the presidency when threatened with impeachment and was succeeded by current president Asif Ali Zardari

All the successive dictatorships have a material base, the same material base that explains the infrastructural nightmare that underlies the current monsoon crisis. The 2005 estimate of foreign debt was close to $40 billion (in U.S. dollars). Pakistan’s GDP, is estimated to be $475.4 billion while its per capita income stands at $1027 (as of 2008).

The poverty rate in Pakistan is estimated to be between 23 and 28 percent. A large inflation rate of 24.4 percent and a low savings rate and other economic factors continue to make it difficult to sustain a high growth rate (Wikipedia).

When all is said and done, it is clear that Pakistan still retains the colonial economic structure minus the foreign soldiers. The structure of the Pakistani economy has changed from a mainly agricultural base to a strong service base. Agriculture now only accounts for roughly 20 percent of the GDP, while the service sector accounts for 53 percent of the GDP (Wikipedia). And of course, many services produce no new values, so in other words military oppression gave way to increased economic exploitation. Pakistan is the classic monocrop economy, producing primarily agricultural commodities that are low in value while buying high value capital goods from the imperialist powers. In economic terms this is called the twin trouble of “terms of trade” and debt and is why Pakistan doesn’t have the wherewithal to withstand a disaster the magnitude of the recent monsoon rains.

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