Pervez Hoodbhoy in New Politics:
The left has always been a marginal actor on Pakistan’s national scene. While this bald truth must be told, in no way do I wish to belittle the enormous sacrifices made by numerous progressive individuals, as well as small groups. They unionized industrial and railway workers, helped peasants organize against powerful landlords, inspired Pakistan’s minority provinces to demand their rights, set standards of writing and journalism, etc. But the Left has never had a national presence and, even at its peak during the 1970s, could not muster even a fraction of the street power of the Islamic or mainstream parties.
A comparison with India is telling. While the Indian Left has also never attained state power — or even come close to exercising power and influence on the scale of the Congress Party — it looms large in states like Kerala, Tripura, and West Bengal where it successfully ended iniquitous feudal land relations. Across the country it helps maintain a secular polity, protects minorities, keeps alive a broad focus on progressive ideas in culture, art, and education, and uses science to fight superstition. Today, a Maoist movement militantly challenges the depredations of capitalism as it wreaks destruction on their native habitat. Left-inspired movements noticeably impeded passage of the U.S.-India nuclear deal. Indeed, for all its divisions and in-fighting, the Indian Left is a significant political force that is a thousand times stronger than its Pakistani counterpart.
Surely this difference begs an explanation. The answer is to be found in Pakistan’s genesis and the overwhelming role of religion in matters of the state. Understanding this point in detail is crucial to the question: how can one hope to make the Pakistani Left relevant in the future? Are there intelligent ways to deal with a major handicap?