Pakistan - Which way forward?

Musharraf's hold on power hangs by a thread. With pressure on all sides he has very few options and the crisis continues to mount. The pressure on the masses continues to grow, and they can stand no more. The only way out of the situation, the only forward, is socialist revolution.

With the unleashing of a new wave of state terror after the imposition of martial law in the name of a state of emergency, the Musharraf dictatorship has shown its true colours. There has been brutal repression. Thousands of political and trade union activists have been arrested. Women workers have been severely beaten in front of the TV cameras. Trade unions have been further crushed and along with the state oppression there has been an avalanche of price hikes, and increase in poverty and unemployment - all as a direct result of the policies of the present regime.

At the same time the imposition of a state of emergency has further exposed the contradictions and conflicts within the state itself. The condition of the regime is so fragile and desperate that the Supreme Court, which in fact was trying to vent the wrath of the masses arising from the blundering and disastrous policies of the government, could not be tolerated by Musharraf and was dismissed. Through judicial activism, the Supreme Court was acting as a safety valve to preserve the existing order. The act of attacking the judiciary was in reality a self-inflicting wound for a crisis-ridden state. Most dictators in history enter a state of megalomania and madness on the eve of their demise. Cut off from reality, besieged in their echelons of power, they enter into the realm of insanity. Musharraf is no different; he is suffering from the psychosis of indispensability.

Pakistan today is in the throes of a civil war in several areas, the social fabric of the country is in tatters, the economy is crumbling and the army demoralised. More military personnel have been lost in these recent insurgencies than in the wars fought with India. This also shows how the imperialist "war against terror" has proved to be a disaster for every state that has joined the front line. It is also America's failure ‑ the imperialist rhetoric of "democracy", "human rights" and "freedom" has been exposed by this act of desperation on the part of Musharraf. It has also exposed the impotency of American might ‑ not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but now in Pakistan. Musharraf is gambling on that. The Economist (10 November) writes:

"He may have been surprised by the vehemence of the condemnation he has faced, especially from America. But, like a borrower whose insolvency would bring down a bank, he may calculate that much of his former backers' anger is bluster, covering a fear of their own impotence."

With Musharraf's fortunes tumbling and stability being ravaged by the severity of the crisis, the Americans have been trying desperately to bring some stability to their beleaguered ally. They tried to concoct a "deal" between Bhutto and Musharraf to give some support to their policy executioners in Pakistan. But as soon as Bhutto came out of Karachi airport on October 18, the sheer size of the crowd that had gathered sealed the deal.

Napoleon once remarked that there were times in war when every thing you do turns out to be wrong. Musharraf would have gone long ago. One of the major factors that have prolonged his rule was the compromises and capitulation of the opposition at every vital juncture. The main reason being the decline of the left, the hobnobbing of the PPP leadership with US imperialism and the rhetorical anti-imperialism of the Mullahs, whose rise was in fact the product of US policy itself. Across the board, all mainstream political parties are committed to the same economic doctrine that the Musharraf regime has pursued over the last eight years. This means that in a society ravaged by extreme hunger, poverty, disease, ignorance, unemployment, and other basic issues facing society, had in reality been abandoned by the traditional political leadership. They had no alternative economic policy or programme for the oppressed masses. The media, the intelligentsia and other institutions dominating the social and political horizon were obsessed with issues like "democracy", "independence of the judiciary", "liberal secularism", "the constitution", "the rule of law", "good governance", etc.

The parameters of all the political and intellectual debate were strangled within the conflicts of the political and state superstructure. After the failure of the economic model of Keynesianism in the 1960s and 1970s, all regimes, both dictatorial and democratic, have been aggressively pushing the policies of so-called "trickle down economics" and espousing the glories of the "free market". This has been disastrous for the masses in general and society as a whole. The uneven and combined pattern of growth has devastated both the physical and social infrastructure. The plight of the masses has become agonizing.

Yet the reality is that the Pakistani economy is in such a dire state that no politician could seriously embark upon any policy that could possibly salvage this rotting capitalism. Without its overthrow not a single issue faced by society can be solved. The ex-lefts and the traditional leadership shudder at this. Hence, they want to go into oblivion and drag the masses along with them. The Islamic fundamentalists have their real base in black money from drugs and weapons smuggling ‑ the madrassas, the fanatical zealots and reactionary tendencies being the main shield for their criminal financial networks and the black economy. Unless these financial resources are severed, the monster of fundamentalism will not go away. Above all, this is the financial material interest that props up and sponsors this religious bigotry. This is not going to happen under the existence of capitalism. After all, the black economy is as much a part of this system as a malignant tumour is part of a diseased body.

The petty bourgeois notion of finding a political solution to the war in the tribal areas and Swat is absurd and utopian. The regime has tried several “political solutions” from jirgas (assembly of tribal elders) to some of the most rotten compromises with the Taliban. Yet the conflict has flared up again and again. The crisis is too deep, intensified by the evolution of this paralytic capitalism and has now escaped the control of the structures of the existing system. It needs a surgical or revolutionary solution which is not possible through the military aggression of a decaying state or political compromises between different factions of finance capital. These contradictions have exploded as a result of the intensifying socio-economic crisis.

Similarly the lawyers' movement, although there were heroic deeds within it, could not get mass support because its demands and aims did not reflect the needs of the masses. Words such as "civil society", and "citizen" are the product of a Newspeak created by the intelligentsia in the service of the NGOs ‑ sponsored by Social Democracy in the West. This terminology is deliberately fabricated to blur the class divide and confuse the class struggle. These petty bourgeois outfits are totally absorbed by capitalist society. Most of these ex-lefts have a contemptuous attitude towards socialism and are trying to inject reformism into a society, the economic system of which has lost the capacity to reform. More than 150 years ago, Karl Marx very aptly described these tendencies in, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. He wrote:

"The fact that democratic republican institutions are required as a means, not of doing away with two extremes, capital and wage labor, but of weakening their antagonism and transforming it into harmony, epitomizes the peculiar character of social democracy. (…)

“But the ‘democrat' because he represents the petty bourgeoisie, that is a transition class, in which the interests of two classes simultaneously mutually blunt each other imagines himself elevated above the class antagonism generally. The democrats concede that a privileged class confronts them, but they, along with all the rest of the nation, form the ‘people'. What they represent is the people's rights; when a struggle is impending, they do not need to examine the interests and positions of the different classes.”

  “Now, if, when it comes to the actual performance, their interests prove to be uninteresting and their potency impotence, then either the fault lies with pernicious sophists, who split the indivisible people into different hostile camps, or the army was too brutalized and blinded to comprehend that the pure aims of democracy are the best thing for it itself, or the whole thing has been wrecked by a detail in its execution, or else an unforeseen accident has this time spoilt the game. In any case, the democrat comes out of the most disgraceful defeat just as immaculate as he was innocent when he went into it, with the newly won conviction that he is bound to win, not that he himself and his party have to give up the old standpoint, but, on the contrary, that conditions have to ripen to suit him.” (pp 46, 50, 51)

Even up until a few days ago Musharraf considered himself to be acting according to these notions. He was the apostle of "enlightened moderation", "liberation", a "democrat" in pursuit of "human rights", "women's rights", "secularism" and other such things. The fact that he has resorted to state repression demonstrates the futility of a genuine democracy and other such liberties in a crisis ridden economic set up.

Paradoxically, most of these slogans end up in the same language as the rhetoric being broadcast by US imperialism on a world scale. Hence, fundamentalism and other reactionary forces do not have to make much of an effort to paint these "liberal", "secular" civil society activists as an extension of imperialism. The rhetoric on imperialist "democracy" and "freedom" has been exposed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here in Pakistan, there is a seething revolt and revulsion toward the USA, and especially in the Pushtoon areas. The fundamentalists are trying to exploit this. But due to their own convoluted and obscurantist ideas they have not been able to get a mass base beyond certain limits. The real irony is that most "liberal" and "democratic" politicians, including the PPP leadership, are relying and appealing to US imperialism to reinstate democracy, get fair and free elections and force Musharraf to abdicate or give in to civilian rule.

The whole political establishment is waiting for the Americans to intervene and solve this mess for them. The man who is supposed to carry out this great democratic task is none other than the butcher of Honduras ‑ John Negroponte, the assistant US Secretary of State. What he is going to do does not need much explanation.

The question of free and fair elections and democracy are important. But if we take a glance at the chequered history of Pakistan, we can see that the only elections which were relatively free and fair were in 1970. If we look at the context in which those elections took place, we can see that there was a revolutionary upsurge of the masses which had brought the state to its heels. In reality these elections were relatively free because of the enormous pressure exerted by the 1968-69 revolution.

In those conditions, the state could not dare to rig them. The present movement of Benazir and her rapidly changing stance towards the Musharraf dictatorship is the product of another totally different contradiction ‑ the class antagonism in society. The long march she announced was brutally suppressed and subverted to some extent when the State could easily detain Benazir in Lahore and diffuse the thrust of the rallies. However, the regime has proven incapable of quelling the movement as a whole.

The students are joining in as have the lawyers, journalists and other sectors of society. The ideological conflicts have reopened between the different opposition parties. The right-wing APDM refused to join in the long march. When Imran Khan, who has been in league with the right wing, went to the Punjab University, a stronghold of the fundamentalist IJT ( Islami Jamiat Talaba), the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, his ardent ally in the APDM, he was given a bashing by IJT activists and bundled into police custody.

After her initial mumblings of ‘Roti, Kapra aur Makan', (Food, clothing, and shelter- the founding slogan of the PPP) in Dubai and Karachi, Bhutto has been withdrawing from that stance. She has been consciously reluctant to issue a call for a 24-hour general strike that could have bolstered her long march ‑ because along all the routes of the march there are industrial belts with millions of workers.

The one element missing in this movement against the Musharraf dictatorship is the entrance of the Pakistani proletariat onto the scene as an organised force. If the movement continues for any length of time, achieves a greater rhythm and higher momentum, the workers, who are not unaffected by the rapidly changing situation, could join in. Then the floodgates would open.

The discontent amongst vast sections of the Pakistani proletariat is enormous. They are seething with revolt. In the telecommunications, power, water, electricity, airlines, and postal sectors ‑ in fact in almost all sectors of industry ‑ there is a rising anger against the severe attacks upon the workers by this regime.

The state has plans to intensify those attacks. If Benazir had linked those demands with the political movement and called for a general strike on November 13, the day she announced the launching of the long march to Islamabad, Musharraf would have been finished.

In any case he is hanging by a thread. But such a call would have antagonized the Americans and threatened the system she wants to preserve. Hence, she has resorted to forming alliances with right-wing parties, including the Jamat-e-Islami, for a transition to democracy.

Just yesterday the Jamat gave Imran Khan a lesson on their democratic ideals. Perhaps she can learn a bit from Imran's experience. Musharraf is weak and dithering. But as of yet the Americans have not abandoned him completely. Negroponte might succeed in striking another deal. Musharraf is so disgraced by the current mayhem that he may accept harsher terms. Even if he is removed and elections are held under a new set-up things won't change substantially. Benazir could become prime minister as a result of elections in January, if they are held. But those elections would almost certainly be rigged. It is not ruled out that the agencies of the state might spring up a right-wing coalition through this doctored electoral process. Another military coup cannot be ruled out either.

In the present uncertainty that engulfs Pakistan there are all sorts of rumours going around. But whatever the outcome, Pakistan is not going to escape this conflagration any time soon. If Musharraf, the commander-in-chief, couldn't control the agencies and fundamentalist elements in the army, how would Benazir be able to do so within the context of the same teetering state structures, economic set-up and disjointed society?

In power under capitalism she will have to resort to the same policies of “trickle down economics” and as a result carry out the dictates of US imperialism. But the symbolic aspect of another PPP government could bring to the fore the other side of the class divide. The proletariat and oppressed masses are yearning for change. In spite of the pernicious suppression of media reports on this aspect of Pakistani society, the country has revolutionary traditions. There have been long periods of exploitation and socio-economic repression. The conditions of the toiling masses of Pakistan have become intolerable. They are losing patience. A change ‑ with their traditional party in power ‑ however symbolic it may be, could trigger a mass revolt.

The slowing down and impending recession of the world capitalist economy will have a devastating impact on the already rapidly deteriorating Pakistani economy. This will exasperate the social contradictions, and for Benazir to cope with such a scenario, on a capitalist basis, would be a nightmare. The vague illusion will evaporate and there will be no option for the working classes but to move on to revolutionary action.

If, with the lack of a clear programme and direction, and the hesitant and confusing policies of the leadership, the movement fizzles out, the prospect of right-wing government will become more probable. The ruling class might keep Bhutto in opposition for a later date when the threat of the movement erupts again.

With the presence of a strong Marxist organization such a revolutionary movement would not stop where it left off in 1968-69. That movement created a tradition ‑ the PPP. This will also bring the question of the survival of the PPP itself to the fore. The only option left is to implement the founding manifesto of the Party, which calls for a socialist transformation of society. That is the only way forward for Pakistan. All other roads lead to disaster and barbarism.

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