The masses of Pakistan are bracing themselves for yet another election under another military dictatorship. They do so amid fears of vote rigging, manipulation and fabrication of the results on the part of the regime which is attempting to get its civilian toadies into positions of power within the so-called new democratic set-up. Lal Khan, editor of the Asian Marxist Review looks at the perspectives for the coming period.
The masses of Pakistan are bracing themselves for yet another election under another military dictatorship. They do so amid fears of vote rigging, manipulation and fabrication of the results on the part of the regime which is attempting to get its civilian toadies into positions of power within the so-called new democratic set-up.
The dictatorship in the build-up to the elections has issued several ordinances and constitutional amendments which give enormous powers to Musharraf himself. Even by the historical standards of Pakistani "democracy" the post election set-up will be a dictatorial regime. Musharraf will be able to dismiss parliament and the prime minister. All the crucial decisions will be taken by a National Security Council, where the chiefs of the armed forces will call the shots.
The military regime is weak
After the debacle of the farcical referendum in April 2002, which was shamefacedly rigged to give Musharraf a mandate to rule for another five years, the dictatorship is now on a rapid decline. The regime is weak and it is facing crisis on all fronts. Musharraf has survived at least three serious attempts on his life by the fundamentalists. They are bound to try again. The American aggression in Afghanistan has failed to eliminate the Islamic fundamentalists and now Musharraf has to face the consequences for his slavish support of the imperialist adventure.
The aggressive stance of India and the threat of war on the eastern frontiers has also exposed the weaknesses of the regime. It capitulated over Kashmir and toned down its support of the Kashmiri rebels in their struggle against Indian oppression and brutality. This had been the cornerstone of the policy of the Pakistani state ever since its inception. The generals and the military top brass are very bitter, but are reluctant to act at this stage because a military coup against Musharraf could lead to the crumbling of the actual state apparatus itself. But Musharraf's policy of continued retreat, which is resulting in the erosion of the authority of the state, the military elite sooner or later may be forced to act.
The economy is in a mess
The economy is in a mess and the military regime has obediently carried out the IMF recipes with unprecedented speed. Prices have soared and the population living below the poverty line has increased from 36% to 52% since October 1999 (that is when Musharraf came to power in an accidental coup. The prices of electricity, oil, gas and basic utilities have risen more than 70% in the period 1999-2002. In the same period the unemployed labour force went up from 2.33 million in 1999 to 3.5 million in 2002 and the unemployment rate increased from 5.89% in 1999 to 7.82% in 2002. And these are official figures!
In spite of Musharraf's shameful capitulation to American imperialism, the Bush administration has not given him any significant financial aid to bail out Pakistan from the deep economic crisis it is enmeshed in. The Americans treat him as a lackey, constantly scolding and bullying him. With fears for his life and failing on all fronts, Musharraf has become more and more isolated and alienated. Hence the desperate acts of accumulating more and more powers in his hands.
At the same time the regime is trying to engineer the elections and trying to get the desired results. They are trying to forge different pro-regime political parties and alliances. The state intelligence agencies are working round the clock on these political manoeuvrings. Yet the more they work and form these alliances the more these politicians and the regime get discredited.
Regime may rig elections
There is a general feeling that the regime will rig the elections. This has led to disenchantment and indifference towards the electoral process amongst the masses. The traditional enthusiasm seems to have dissipated. At the same time there is a rising discontent and hatred towards the regime. If there is a low turnout in the elections and the results are similar to those of the referendum, the whole exercise of a tame election and controlled democracy could backfire on the regime. There is an enormous contempt amongst the masses towards the "King's Party", which is being pampered by the state to act as its civilian lackey in the post election set up. This party is a hotchpotch of right-wing politicians and has been constructed by the state machine through the media and other organs of the state.
The electoral victory of this regime-sponsored alliance would confirm that rigging has actually taken place and could provoke of a mass revolt in the aftermath of October 10.
Weakness of Islamic fundamentalists
The Islamic fundamentalists have been pushed back as a result of the withdrawal of state support and sponsorship. This has exposed the fragile and limited social base the fundamentalists really have in Pakistani society. Now they are struggling for their political existence. In an unprecedented move all the arch rivals representing different Islamic sects have been forced to form an electoral alliance to save themselves from a humiliating defeat. It is doubtful that even this alliance called Mutheda Majlis-a-Amal (United Conference of Action) can save them from the disastrous defeat, which they face in the forthcoming elections.
In frustration more and more youth from these parties and splinter groups are resorting to terrorism. Hence the phenomena of Islamic fundamentalism will not go away, but in this era of a decaying capitalist society it will aggravate the general conflagration and descent into violence.
Disarray of nationalist parties
The nationalist parties in the Sindh, Baluchistan and the North West Frontier are also in disarray. Their leaders have made scandalous compromises with the Pakistani/Punjabi ruling classes who have carried out brutal oppression of the nationalities in these areas over the last 55 years.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union the progressive rhetoric and the thin veneer of socialist slogans have disappeared from the speeches of the leadership of these nationalist parties. They have capitulated to capitalism and are looking towards US imperialism. Now they are making all sorts of alliances in a desperate attempt to remain in the political arena. Over the last 10 years most of these leaders used the nationalist rhetoric just to enhance their share of the loot within the Pakistan ruling classes. Some of them have entered pro-dictatorship alliances exposing themselves to the masses of the oppressed nationalities.
Imran Khan, with his billionaire British wife Jemima Khan, is trying to put up an image that is a combination of Pakistani chauvinism and vulgar liberalism. He is one of the jokers in the pack of cards of Pakistani politics. In spite of his anti-corruption rhetoric he will not go much beyond his base amongst a section of the petit bourgeoisie.
Fragmented political spectrum
There are several other contenders representing different factions of Pakistani and international capital. This makes the political spectrum much more fragmented than ever before. But the main right-wing opposition to the regime is the faction of the Pakistan Muslim League led by the ousted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shabaz Sharif. Both of them, along with the rest of their families, are in self-exile in Saudi Arabia that was brokered with Musharraf by the Saudi princes.
The Muslim League was the traditional party of the Pakistani bourgeoisie. Like the ruling class itself its political party has always been excessively dependent on the state. The state has used the Muslim League as its offshoot. Every dictator has used the clothes of the Muslim League to masquerade as a civilian ruler. Musharraf is also using another faction of the Muslim League as a political tool to perpetuate his rule.
As with the system itself the Muslim League has dithered and disintegrated with the passing of time. Now there are almost as many factions of the Muslim League as there are letters in the alphabet. Zia ul Haq's son has formed yet another faction in the name of his father - PML(Z).
But the PML(N) has more support than other factions mainly because of its opposition to the regime. If the elections are not rigged it might get a significant number of seats in the parliament. But most of the politicians in the various Muslim Leagues are turncoats and they have a tradition of changing loyalties at the slightest chance of making personal gains. Most of the bourgeois politicians in Pakistan have been involved in corruption and plunder. Hence one look from the state and they change sides.
Despite Musharraf's rhetoric about accountability the most corrupt and detested politicians have ended up in his faction of the Muslim League and other parties of the pro-Musharraf alliance known as the King's Party. The only time when the Muslim League had a relatively sizeable social base was in periods of reaction and stagnation.
The Pathetic state of the "left" parties
The condition of the so-called "left" parties is pathetic, to say the least. They have formed an alliance of about seven parties. The total membership of all these parties is less than the number of parliamentary seats being contested in the election! Most of them are NGOs masquerading as political parties. They have limited themselves to putting up a reformist programme and they refuse to challenge the capitalist system. None of these parties dares call for a socialist revolution as a solution to the miseries of the oppressed classes of Pakistan. In spite of these compromises with the capitalist system they will be insignificant in the elections.
These NGOs have always spent mammoth amounts of money in their election campaigns. They extract this money from the West as NGOs playing a reformist role and preaching reformist ideas to undermine revolutionary ideas. They have been presenting themselves as charities, whose real aim is to corrupt and weaken the workers and the youth.
The PPP would win "fair" elections
The Pakistan Peoples' Party would win the majority if the elections were even relatively fair. There has been only one election in Pakistan's history that is considered to be genuine. That was in December 1970 and the PPP swept those polls. The main reason why those elections were relatively fair was that they were held in the aftermath of the 1968-69 revolution and the PPP entered the electoral foray with a socialist programme and manifesto. The state was forced to use the elections to divert the revolutionary tide that was surging at the time.
The subsequent PPP government deviated from its founding manifesto and pursued capitalist policies which further impoverished the masses. This led to apathy and disillusionment amongst the workers and youth. It was due to these pro-capitalist policies that in the 1997 elections the PPP was routed and suffered a historic defeat. Even the PPP leadership in private was talking about the "end of the party".
The sectarians were euphoric and really believed in their own perspectives of replacing the PPP with their minuscule parties. It was only the Marxists in the PPP who predicted that the PPP would rise again from the ashes of the 1997 defeat as soon as the masses began to move.
However, the PPP leadership has not learnt much, nor has it understood the laws of its own revival. The corruption the 1994-96 PPP government was involved in and its other blunders have been overshadowed by the experience of the subsequent Sharif government and the economic and social attacks of the Musharraf dictatorship in the consciousness of the workers and the toiling masses.
Benazir Bhutto made several gestures of conciliation with the Musharraf regime. But in his brute arrogance Musharraf rejected them. The PPP leadership, in a way, was forced to go into opposition. But it has refused to launch a movement for the overthrow of this military regime. They are terrified of the consequences, as the movement would get out of control and go beyond the confines of the capitalist system. The PPP leadership doesn't want this and wants to maintain the status quo. But with the extreme crisis and the plight of the masses, which has become so intolerable, this situation cannot last.
Slight shift to the left in the PPP
On the other hand the PPP leadership needs to have some credibility to keep itself in the political arena. Hence it has to give some hope to the people. Therefore there has been a slight move to the left in the manifesto that it is putting up for these elections. They are calling for an end to privatisation, no more redundancies, no payback of "some" loans and similar left-reformist demands.
However, we have to understand that once in power they will have to abide by the dictates of the IMF and the World Bank. On a capitalist basis there is no other way possible. That means further intensification of the exploitation and misery of the masses. Yet even at this stage there is a visible move to the left in the PPP ranks. If a PPP government once again takes the road of capitalist policies, it will not take long for the masses to erupt into a movement. This situation will have a deep impact within the PPP itself. Being the traditional party that the toilers of Pakistan have always turned to in moments of crisis it will not be immune to the pressures from below. An internal cleavage along class lines will become a strong possibility in the intense heat of the class struggle.
However, even before all that becomes a reality, the prospect of a subdued PPP prime minister and government functioning within the confines of the colossal powers of Musharraf and the so-called National Security Council is not a very bright one.
If relatively fair elections do take place such a scenario would open up. This would create an unprecedented political crisis of the state and the government. This contradiction and clash could easily spill over into society. Wave after wave of revolution and counter-revolution would ensue.
Rigged elections would provoke masses
It would be precisely to avoid such an outcome that Musharraf may rig the polls. If this does happen, it could provoke a mass upsurge. In any case Musharraf has locked himself in an impossible situation. He has closed his own escape routes. In the wake of a mass movement the military would have no option but to remove Musharraf. But then what?
The options facing the capitalist ruling elite are dwindling rapidly. The masses had a terrible experience of bourgeois democracy in the late 1980s and 1990s. Pakistani capitalism is so weak that after 55 years of independence it has not been able to complete even a single historical task of the National Democratic Revolution. Nor can they ever do so.
It has not been able to sustain parliamentary democracy for any reasonable length of time. It is not an accident that for more than half of the period since independence Pakistan has been under direct military rule and that explains why the workers, peasants and youth of Pakistan abhor military dictatorships.
There are glorious traditions of struggle against military regimes. One of the biggest tragedies of military dictatorships is that they throw back the consciousness of the masses and in this process they create illusions in capitalist "democracy". These were largely shattered by the experience of the 1990s. The present silence and lull should in no way be interpreted as any support for Musharraf. In reality there is a seething hatred against Musharraf underneath the surface and this is bound to erupt sooner rather than latter.
Islamic fundamentalism has been discredited. Rather it never had any credence in the eyes of the vast majority of the people. There is burning anger against US and Western Imperialism. The madness of Bush in Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq is rapidly increasing this anger.
Influence of the Marxists
Conditions are intolerable and the masses are desperately looking for a way out. This pressure can be gauged by its effects within the PPP. There is a slight shift to the left in its election manifesto. But more importantly now, there are several PPP parliamentary candidates who openly proclaim to be Marxists and are calling for Socialist Revolution as a solution to the problems facing the Pakistani working people.
In the turbulent times that lie ahead they would play an enormous role in spreading the message of Socialist Revolution amongst the masses. And a mass force organised around a revolutionary Marxist programme would cut across the whole process and lead the mass upsurge towards a Socialist victory. The impacts of such a revolution would be felt far beyond the frontiers of Pakistan. It would be a beacon to the workers and oppressed masses across the whole of the Indian Sub-continent and beyond.
Those who dare…WIN!