Pakistan: Change, what change?

The deposition of a relatively feeble chief executive by the hyper-swanked judiciary is yet another episode in the ongoing internecine conflicts between the different sections of the state to protect the interests of Pakistan’s ruling classes.

This ongoing internal strife within the apparatus of the Pakistani state reflects a deep malaise that has set in and is now erupting in a ferocious turbulence that threatens to wreck the whole system and social structures dominated by this same state. The economic policies of preserving and imposing of capitalism by successive regimes, civilian or military, have crushed society and imposed vicious economic and social suffering on the ordinary inhabitants of the land.

Imperialist plunder and the exorbitant expenditure on the military, along with looting on the part of the ruling elite, have hardly left anything for the 190 million souls who live in this land. The infrastructure is in tatters; price hikes are traumatizing; poverty is tormenting; basic needs are either lacking or unaffordable and the life of the vast majority has become a living hell. In the scorching heat with temperatures touching 50 degrees Celsius, electricity outages of around 20 hours a day in vast areas of the country were enough for mass intolerance to explode.

In the last few days before the prime minister’s disqualification, there were violent and lightning protests. The seething anger fractured the superficial lull with scattered but fierce outbursts of the wrath of the youth and the toilers, who were in fact being punished and subjected to relentless torment by load shedding that had paralysed their lives.

Although the right-wing facade of an opposition led by the Sharifs tried to use this issue to their own political advantage, soon they realised that it was unravelling way beyond their control and they were more terrified than even the coalition regime at the Centre. Hence, they scrambled to pull back the forces that had been unleashed. But it is one thing to mobilise the masses, but quite another thing to control them when their anger erupts with a vengeance.

The footage of the scenes of these fierce protests was to some extent reminiscent of the events that took place after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007. Attacks on banks, police stations, petrol pumps, luxurious shopping malls, power companies’ offices, palatial homes of some political stalwarts and all those symbols of mass hatred were the targets of this mass frenzy. It is true that if there is no revolutionary party that leads, organises and sustains a mass movement then it is bound to become anarchic and chaos ensues. Further, lumpen and other elements can take advantage of such a situation; arson, vandalism and looting are predictable. This is especially true for the initial stages of a movement.

The present outburst, however, is not an isolated one, as there have been several outbursts in the last few years against load shedding, price hikes and other torments inflicted upon society. There has not been a mass movement of countrywide dimensions since October 2007. The October 2007 movement that was rapidly building up and becoming very radical was derailed, drowned in grief and despair through the assassination of Benazir.

What is interesting is the extreme weakness of the state, which was terrified of these ebullitions converging into a mass upheaval. The media and the intelligentsia have tried their best by arraying and engaging mass consciousness to side with different state institutions and factions of the ruling classes. But the real issues of life such as electricity outages are so severe that sooner or later the masses have no choice but to retaliate.

Although there are personal and material conflicts between sections of the state and elite, they do maintain a certain coordination to run the system they represent. But as the system deteriorates rapidly, social convulsions are sharpened and trigger tremors within the top echelons of power. Internecine conflicts within the ruling class burst out into the open. The conflict between the judiciary and the executive reflects such turmoil.

After the judiciary/Malik Riaz row subsided, the social and economic issues agonising the masses again reverberated with violent protests. The fragility of the state and the regime at different tiers could not withstand any more social unrest. With the killing spree in Karachi, bloodletting in Balochistan, turbulence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, imperialist aggression and fundamentalist terror in the tribal areas and a fierce mass rebellion in Punjab, this was all a bit too much for the state to handle. Added to this was the exposure of the real character of the state agencies and other institutions in this organic infighting.

The next ploy was therefore the removal of the prime minister to vent the pressure building up in society. This, however, could not work very long to divert, deviate and subdue the masses from rising against the present onslaught. A change in the ruling elite cannot change the harrowing conditions that are prevailing now in Pakistan.

With the economy in a downward spiral, the situation will deteriorate further. Capitalism has lost its capacity to improve social conditions even an inch through a change at the top. Nor is the conflict between the various organs of the state going to diminish. Already the candidacy of one of the PPP nominees has been thrown into disarray after an anti-narcotics agency, run by a serving major general of the army, issued a warrant for his arrest.

Now Raja Pervez Ashraf has been tipped as the next prime minister by the PPP. His choice itself lays bare the bankruptcy of the ruling PPP leadership. If early elections are held, there would be mass abstentions. The traditional right-wing and religious parties are trying to forge an alliance. The right-wing populist Imran Khan may join in. But even if they win they cannot solve anything. With the end of this government, the present ruling coalition will be in disarray. The allies will be in the political market to make more gains and new coalitions with plush portfolios.

With the present PPP leaders, this charade of governing through reconciliation was extremely beneficial for the ruling classes and the imperialists. They were getting all the attacks on the masses carried out by the “leaders” of the traditional party of the people. In the last four years, what the masses have endured will have given them hard lessons. Elections in the present situation will have results tailor-made in Washington, but with a revolutionary uprising, 1970 will be repeated on a much higher plane.

The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at

[This article was originally published in the Pakistani Daily Times]