On Saturday November 3 President Pervez Musharraf declared virtual martial law, imposing a state of emergency throughout Pakistan, suspending the Constitution and replacing superior courts. This amounts to his second coup d'etat after he seized power in October 12, 1999. It is a desperate move that underlines the extremely unstable nature of the regime, which is losing support by the day.
In the proclamation of emergency, the general blamed growing violence by militants and a judiciary which he said was working at "cross purposes" with his government and the legislature. It is a gambler's throw that could plunge the country's political future into chaos.
It does not suit the interests of US imperialism, for which Pakistan now has a key strategic importance because of the war in neighbouring Afghanistan. Washington has been putting pressure on Musharraf to crack down on the pro-Taliban forces that have been crossing the frontier to fight the coalition forces in southern Afghanistan.
This pressure has undermined Musharraf. His army has suffered severe losses in the tribal areas where they have tried unsuccessfully to uproot the militants. There is still a powerful wing of the army and above all the Intelligence Services (ISI) that supports the Taliban and al Qaeda and is protecting them.
Musharraf is powerless to do anything about this. The army is his only basis of support, and that is very shaky. Therefore, the strategists of US imperialism have come to the conclusion that Musharraf is no longer any use to them and is disposable. They were looking to Benazir Bhutto to take over instead.
Benazir has lost no opportunity to pose as a pro-western "moderate". But behind Benazir and the PPP stand the masses who yearn for a change. They are loyal to the original socialist aspirations of the PPP and are demanding Roti, kapra aur makan (bread, clothing and shelter). The attitude of the masses was shown when Benazir returned to Pakistan: at least two million people came onto the streets: the overwhelming majority were workers, peasants and poor people.
In order to avoid any upsets and dampen the expectations of the masses, they were pushing the general to do a deal with Benazir. But this is easier to say than to do. The general is reluctant to resign as head of the armed forces and stand for election as a civilian politician. If he were to put aside his army uniform as the "democratic" opposition is demanding, it would be like placing his head in the hangman's noose.
The personal fate of Musharraf is of no concern to Washington, but it is of considerable interest to the general, who, like most people, would like to die of old age. He has repeatedly stated that his army uniform was "like a second skin" to him. More correctly, by continuing to wear it, he hopes to save his skin. But this is by no means certain.
Pakistan has had a stormy history since it attained formal independence, together with India, in 1947. Since then the weak Pakistan bourgeoisie has shown itself completely unable to take this huge country forward. It remains plunged into poverty and feudal backwardness. The economy is in a mess and the country is going backwards not forwards.
The weakness of Pakistan capitalism has been manifested in extreme political instability. Weak "democratic" regimes have been succeeded at regular intervals by military dictatorships of one kind or another. The last dictator, Zia al Huq was murdered (probably by the CIA). Musharraf fears the same fate, and is clinging to power. But power is slipping through his fingers.
This coup came only 12 days before the expiration of General Musharraf's presidency and the present assemblies and while an 11-judge bench of the Supreme Court was in a weekend recess in its hearing of challenges to his election for another five-year presidential term mainly on grounds of his army office.
In the recent period there were signs of disintegration of the state itself. Splits are opening up at every level. The clearest manifestation of this was the rebellion of the judiciary, which is now suspended. Its latest act was to rule the President's actions unconstitutional. But the class struggle cannot be determined by constitutional jiggery-pokery. The general responded by suspending the Constitution and laws of the country.
The Provisional Constitutional Order has put the Constitution in "abeyance". It tries to sweeten the pill by saying the country will be "governed, as nearly as may be, in accordance with the Constitution". This means - as far as it suits the convenience of the General. Seven of its articles relating to fundamental rights will remain suspended, and the president is empowered to amend the document "as is deemed expedient" - expedient, that is, for Musharraf.
But Musharraf is running out of options. In this latest gamble, he has put aside not only the Constitution but also his own powers as president, which were already considerable. Instead, he has preferred to act as Chief of the Army Staff. Instead of a dictatorship under the fig-leaf of a constitutional Presidency, we have the open dictatorship of the army: rule by the sword.
However, as Trotsky explained, the army and police are never sufficient to rule society. A regime without a base in society must be an unstable regime - a regime of crisis. In all probability it will not last long. In reality, the Musharraf dictatorship was always weak. Its main strength consisted in the weakness of the opposition.
The actions of the general were "greeted with immediate condemnation at home by opposition parties, lawyers and human rights groups and concern from ‘war on terror' allies like the United States and Britain" says the Dawn. But all this is just so much hot air. The so-called "democratic" opposition has revealed itself as impotent and toothless, utterly incapable of conducting a serious struggle against the dictatorship.
As for the complaints of "democratic" United States and Britain, they carry no weight
whatsoever. London and Washington have turned a blind eye to the
Musharraf dictatorship as long as it suited their interests.
The emergency proclamation said a situation had arisen where the "government of the country cannot be carried out in accordance with the Constitution" and "the Constitution provides no solution for this situation". As a matter of fact, this is correct. The contradictions of Pakistan society are too deep and irreconcilable to be mediated by lawyers and constitutions. By suspending the Constitution Musharraf is only admitting this fact. He is acknowledging the fact that the class struggle is reaching an unbearable point where it can no longer be contained by formal rules.
The emergency proclamation was immediately
followed by change of command at the Supreme Court as well as changes in
provincial high courts, crushing any semblance of independence of the judiciary.
The fundamental rights suspended by the PCO related to security of persons
(article 9) safeguard as to arrest and detention (article 10), freedom of
movement (article 15), freedom of assembly, (article 16) freedom of association
(article 17), freedom of speech (article 19), and equality of citizens (article
It said the Supreme Court or a high court or any other court "shall not have the power to make any order against the president or the prime minister or any persons exercising powers or jurisdiction under their authority".
Even in the moment of truth, however, the general's hand has wavered. He has not abolished the present federal and provincial governments, and both houses of parliament and the provincial assemblies were kept intact. This is hardly the actions of a man who is sure of the ground upon which he is treading.
In justifying his actions, the general
referred to the "visible ascendancy in the activities of extremists and
incidents of terrorist attacks". His proclamation also contained a long
charge-sheet against the superior judiciary some of whose members, it said,
"are working at cross purposes with the executive and legislature in the fight
against terrorism and extremism, thereby weakening the government and the
nation's resolve and diluting the efficacy of its actions to control this
"... (T)here has been increasing interference by some members of the judiciary in government policy, adversely affecting economic growth, in particular," it said, adding that there was "constant interference in executive functions."
It also blamed the judiciary's interference for having "weakened the writ of the government, the police force ... been completely demoralised and ... fast losing its efficacy to fight terrorism, and intelligence agencies ... thwarted in their activities and prevented from pursuing terrorists."
While "some hard core militants, extremists, terrorists and suicide bombers, who were arrested and being investigated were ordered to be released," it said and added: "The persons so released have subsequently been involved in heinous terrorist activities, resulting in loss of human life and property. Militants across the country have, thus, been encouraged while law enforcement agencies (were) subdued."
The most significant part of this declaration is the open admission that sections of the state are "completely demoralised". It reveals the inner weakness of the state itself - including the armed forces, police and security forces. The real reason for this is that the Pakistan state is split from top to bottom and has been for some time. Musharraf is trying to conceal the split by placing his army boots on the table. But he is leaning on a broken reed.
Lenin explained long ago that every revolution begins at the top, with splits in the old regime. That first condition already exists in Pakistan. The second condition is that the middle class should be in a ferment and wavering between revolution and counterrevolution. In Pakistan the middle class is completely alienated from the ruling clique. This is partly reflected in the protests of the lawyers, although the movement contains contradictory elements.
The other factor is that the working class should be ready to fight and to make the greatest sacrifices to change society. In recent years there has been an upsurge of the class struggle in Pakistan, with major strikes like that of the telecommunications workers and Pakistan Steel. In the last few days there was a national strike of PIA (Pakistan Airways). These strikes have hardly been mentioned by the media outside Pakistan but they are of great symptomatic importance. They show the reawakening of the mighty Pakistan proletariat.
The final and most important condition is the existence of a revolutionary organization and leadership. Does this exist in Pakistan? Yes, it does! The Pakistan Marxists represented by The Struggle have grown in strength and influence in recent years. They have conquered one position after another and have succeeded in uniting the overwhelming majority of the militant youth and working class activists around them. They have a strong and growing presence in every region, every nationality and every important city.
In the struggles of the workers, they have played an outstanding role. Together with the PTUDC (Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign) - the most important militant trade union organization in Pakistan, they have scored significant victories like the defeat of the attempt to privatize Pakistan Steel. In Kashmir they have won over the majority of the students to Marxism and in Karachi and Pukhtunhua (the North West Frontier) they have won many adherents from the former Communist Party.
As readers of Marxist.com will know that the comrades played an active role in the mass demonstrations when millions of workers and peasants demonstrated their support for the PPP on the return of Benazir Bhutto. We were the only ones on the Left to understand the role of the PPP and the only ones to predict how the masses would respond. The Pakistan comrades intervened on these demonstrations, distributing revolutionary literature and burning American flags. They were enthusiastically received by the workers and peasants who want the same things that we want.
The destiny of Pakistan will not be decided by paper constitutions or lawyers' tricks, by hypocritical declarations about "freedom" and "democracy" by people who have no real interest in these things. Neither will it be determined by intrigues and manoeuvres by the bourgeois politicians and imperialists. Only the workers and peasants have a serious interest in conquering a genuine democracy.
The working class will naturally fight for democracy. But the workers will fight for democracy with their own methods, with their own slogans and under their own banners. Only in this way can the movement succeed in its objectives. Only the mass revolutionary movement of the Pakistan workers and peasants can fight the dictatorship and establish a genuine democracy, which can only end in the overthrow of the dictatorships of the corrupt Pakistan landlords and capitalists.
Musharraf's coup is just another act in the drama of Pakistan. It will not be the last act! We are confident that the working class will react to this offensive of the ruling clique as they have done in the past: by stepping up the class struggle on all fronts.
We appeal to all members of the international labour movement to come to the aid of our Pakistan comrades. Move resolutions of protest in the trade unions and workers' parties! Send messages of support to the PTUDC! Raise collections for the PTUDC and send them urgently so that we can express our support not just in words but in deeds!
Please act now!
Workers of the World Unite!
London, 4th November 2007
- Pakistan: The oppressed awaken from their slumber – sabotage won’t stop them by Lal Khan (October 22, 2007)
- Three Million Receive Benazir Bhutto - the legacy of 1968-69 continues by Adam Pal (October 19, 2007)