Pakistan: Futile crusades of a failed state

"Fifty-three years after its inception the Pakistani state is teetering on the brink. The fissures opening up expose the internal decay of its rotting structures. The economy is in a shambles, society is in disarray and its domestic and foreign policies have hit rock bottom. Successive rulers are forced to admit this but are unable to avert the rapid decline of the state and society. All their efforts only further exacerbate the contradictions and intensity of the problems faced by a bewildered and shocked population." Lal Khan, editor of the fortnightly Marxist magazine Jeddo Judh (Class Struggle) analyses the current situation of the military regime.

Fifty-three years after its inception the Pakistani state is teetering on the brink. The fissures opening up expose the internal decay of its rotting structures. The economy is in a shambles, society is in disarray and its domestic and foreign policies have hit rock bottom. Successive rulers are forced to admit this but are unable to avert the rapid decline of the state and society. All their efforts only further exacerbate the contradictions and intensity of the problems faced by a bewildered and shocked population.

This pathetic condition arises right back from the origins of the state. Pakistan came into being in the aftermath of one of the most turbulent periods of modern history. After World War II there was a huge wave of revolutionary upheavals all around the world. There was a massive upsurge of the colonial peoples, only comparable to the mass upheavals of populations at the time of the fall of the Roman Empire. In the Indian sub-continent the movement of the people against the British Raj took a new momentum in 1945-46. This movement of national liberation took a revolutionary turn and posed a direct threat not just to the British colonial rule but to the very existence of the capitalist - feudal system.

Due to historical crimes of the leadership and lack of a revolutionary party, the revolutionary movement was derailed. The Pakistani and Indian states were built on the bones of more than 2.7 million human beings. They were the victims of the ethnic and religious frenzy unleashed due to the failure of the revolution to succeed.

Half a century later all the dreams of the "Muslim" ruling class of Pakistan, to build a modern society have been shattered. Entering belatedly on the arena of history they were handicapped by the strangehold of Imperialism on one hand and their own integral weakness as a depleted class. They were not able to solve a single problem or complete a single task of the national democratic revolution. There was some development due to the spin off effects of the boom (1948-73) in the West. But this development was of a combined and uneven character. It further exaggerated the contradictions rather than solving them.

This contradiction of the Industrial development and lack of parallel social development exploded into the revolution of 1968-69. The virgin Pakistani proletariat mounted on the stage of history and moved forward with a revolutionary zeal to change their destiny. However once again the historical tragedy of humankind, the lack of a revolutionary leadership came to the fore and this revolution ended up in the war of 1971. This war resulted in the break up of Pakistan and what was East Pakistan became Bangladesh.

The post war revolutionary tide in West Pakistan, was diverted by "democracy" and radical reforms of state capitalism. The failure of these reforms to salvage society from its morass further exposed the incapability of the ruling elite to build a modern bourgeois state. Feudalism persisted in a vulgar fashion. The social and physical infrastructural base is far from adequate. It is nowhere near the basic prerequisites of building a modern Industry upon it. The national oppression in its present complicated and virulent form has further aggravated the crisis by undermining the modern national state. With exceptions of the interregnums of anarchic, corrupt and cosmetic phases of ' parliamentary democracy" the ruling class has had to resort to direct military rule, in most of Pakistan's chequered history. The new millennium has dawned on Pakistan under military rule yet again. Although it is very fragile and beleaguered, its weakness is its most dangerous aspect. With the aggravating crisis and a rising tide of mass revolt it can turn to severe repression and brutality. From its inception it has lurched from one crisis to another. Its policies have oscillated from appeasing US imperialism on one hand to bowing before the Islamic fundamentalists on the other. It has viciously promulgated the dictates of the I.M.F. There has been a spate of mass redundancies. The downsizing policy will end up with job losses of about 250,000 workers from various state and semi state institutions by the end of this year. This will have catastrophic implications on the society where 800,000 enter the labour market every year. Very few can get real jobs. Hence they become raw fodder for the huge informal (black) economy, fundamentalist and other reactionary organisations, violence, drug trade and other criminal activities, rampant in this turbulent society. The regime's crusade to retrieve usurped money from the ruling elite, to overcome the massive deficits and debts have hit a dead end. The reality is that the real ruling elite does not keep its loot within the confines of Pakistan. They have stashed away more than $88 billion dollars in the vaults of European and American Banks. This amount is more than the total GNP of $67bn and total domestic and foreign debt of $82bn. This proves how much they trust the country they rule. Hence the only class the regime can get to cough up some money is the middle class or the Pakistani migrant workers who have deposited their hard -earned savings in Pakistan. They have been duped with the idea that their money sent home might help in the country's economic revival.

The Afghan conflict

Historically and socially being a weak class, the petty bourgeoisie could not launch a viable resistance and the trader's strike ultimately faded out. This was the longest shut-down strike of the shopkeepers and traders yet it could not achieve its aims. But the other main obstacle in the retraction of the tax evaded and " illegal" money holdings is the extreme corruption of the state apparatus itself. The Pakistani ruling class could not set up a profitable Industry. Hence instead of feeding the state with revenues, they plundered the state. On the other hand they were involved in illegal activities like smuggling and drug -trade. To achieve this the connivance of the state agencies and institutions was necessary. This situation gave an extra leverage to the state specially the military to dominate relatively more, in the affairs of the state and society. The classical balance of the ruling classes controlling the state apparatus was disturbed to some extent. This was mainly due to the historical, financial, technological and social weaknesses of the Pakistani elite. This process was further aggravated by the exceptional geo-political situation of Pakistan. It played the role of bulwark of US imperialism in the Afghan conflict during the 80s in the cold war era. It was the biggest covert operation the CIA had ever launched.

The Americans, the Saudis and the reactionary Gulf states pumped in billions of dollars. This money was poured in to support the counter revolutionary fundamentalist civil war to destabilize the left wing regime in Kabul. The Islamic fundamentalist mujahideen were further prompted by the CIA to increase the cultivation of opium and production of heroin to raise funds for this reactionary war. The modus operandi in all this process was the Pakistani state and its rouge agencies mainly the I.S.I. (Inter Services Intelligence) under the regime of dictator Zia-ul-Haq. A large chunk of these billions of dollars made its way to the coffers of the Pakistani generals, intelligence officers and a whole network of individuals of the state apparatus. The Najibullah regime in Afghanistan collapsed due to internal dissent rather than the " struggle" of the fundamentalists. But ever since then this process has continued. The Americans have backed out from the fear of the Frankenstein they had created in the form of these fundamentalist lunatics and now Pakistan has to face the burnt. A massive black economy dominates every sector of political, social and economic fabric of the society. The informal (black) economy is three times the size of the formal (white) economy. But its most significant aspect is its penetration in the state apparatus gravely denting the discipline, co-ordination and control of the structures of the state. This process had made Pakistan more and more un-governable. How can a corrupt state apparatus so dependent on black money, extract that money to kick start the main stream economy. This is another IMF recipe which will fail to rescue Pakistan's economy from its rapid decline.

But even if the regime gets its targets of about RS 200 billion from the defaulters and sells of all its assets through privatisation, still it will be nowhere near the balance of payment deficit of US $ 11.3 billion by February 2001. All the assets put up for privatisation won't fetch more than $5bn. This means the country is very rapidly moving towards default. The Imperialists are extremely worried about its consequences. An IMF delegation is due in early July to find some solution. In spite of their hue and cry about democracy and hypocritic lectures on human rights this military regime is the last straw left for them. They are relying on it and openly asking the regime to be more repressive. Not just on the traders and the petty bourgeoisie, but mainly to aggressively carry through attacks on the working people by implementing the IMF recipes. This will mean further increase in the prices of gas (27% by Sept.), petroleum products, electricity, water and other utilities. Ironically this fourth Military dictatorship has come at a juncture where the economic morass is horrendous, the social fabric is in tatters and the social processes are rapidly spinning out of the control of the state apparatus. To inflict repression by a state suffering internal decay is totally a different story. The first two military regimes came at a time (50s-60s) when there were spin off effects of the boom in the West and growth rate touched 9%. The third vicious dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq came in the 80s when the Afghan operation was in full swing. Not only that the Afghan operation benefited the Zia Dictatorship but it had enormous income from remittances of Pakistani migrant workers abroad. This sum amounted to ($3.2bn per annum) and the economy had a growth rate of an average of 6.9%. These were some of the factors that led to the prolongation of the brutal Zia rule for 11 long and painful years.

Economy in tatters

At this juncture the economy is in tatters. The foreign remittances have gone down drastically. Between 1995-2000 the growth rate in large-scale manufacturing has been Zero (0%) according to the official figures. In reality it was negative mainly due to the closure of 6000 industrial units in this period. The overall growth rate of the economy has declined to just 2.4% by the end of the 90s and the population growth has been around 3% yearly. The foreign investment has been declining from $2bn in the early 90s to about $418 million this year. But this foreign investment has been mainly in privatization bids and in services sector. This means it is mainly the replacement of domestic capital investment by foreign capital with no increase in real and new industrial investment. The investment in utilities, mainly in the power generation sector has dealt a crushing blow to living standards. The high cost of electricity generation has meant the rise in prices in all sectors of economy and having cataclysmic consequences of further deepening the ongoing recession in Pakistan's economy. This stagnation has lead to stagflation that shows the decline in the economic activity of the country.

This has lead to increased poverty during the 90s. Between 1990 and 2000 the population that has fallen below the poverty line has increased from 17.2% to 35%. This means the population "living" below the poverty line has doubled in the last 10 years. And these are official figures. The real situation is much worse.

Health services have deteriorated rapidly. Now more than 77% of the population has to resort to some sort of private health services. The vast majority are forced to seek medication from quacks, unqualified "doctors" and medieval forms of treatment. Every year 1,35,000 women die during childbirth due to lack of proper medical facilities. The regime spends only 0.7% of the GDP on health which does not even fulfil the salaries of the personnel employed in the rotting state health sector. Only 22% have access to clean drinking water and 15% have sanitation facilities. Seventy percent of diseases are diseases of poverty. Infant mortality rate, still birth and other health indicators are some of the highest in the world.

The condition of education is pathetic. Less than 50% of children manage to get to the primary level. Less than 1.5% of the students are able to enter a university campus. The present regime in continuation of the policies of the previous regime is treading on the discourse of rapid privatisation of educational institutions. The NGOs are providing all sorts of statistical and analytical data support to the regime to destroy the already dying educational system. This means that health and education are fast becoming a luxury while about half of the population is striving for minimum physical existence.

Ironically the biggest intrusion in the health and education sector has been of black money. Due to the character of this pernicious capital it can not go into long-term investment like setting up Industries. Here it can become too exposed and be traced. Hence it goes into health, education, transport, real estate, retail business and services sectors. This black economy is like a cancer on the body of Pakistani capitalist economy. But still it is the product of capitalism and depicts the severe diseased nature of the system. In an economy where 65.5% of the GDP goes into debt servicing and 40% on defence the fiscal year starts with a negative balance. Hence the growth of black economy becomes inevitable. Although this has been a buffer for the Pakistan's debilitated economy, its role has speeded up the failure and disintegration of the Pakistani state. The pressures arising from below also have had an impact on the ruling state itself. The turmoil and turbulence resulting from immense poverty, unemployment, disease, illiteracy, crime, violence and bloodshed in society have opened up cracks within the institutions of the state and the armed forces. These were not only exposed during the October 1999 coup but are constantly making themselves felt in the policies, statements, retractions and oscillations in the actions and policies of the present military regime. The lower officers of the present military ranks are deeply perturbed not just by what is going on around them but they also feel the dragon of socio-economic crisis is coming closer to their lives. Although corruption gives a basis to the present economy yet everybody even in the state apparatus can not thrive on it to solve their problems. Hence there is severe anxiety and disenchantment with the present set-up. This can result in disastrous consequences for the state. In the higher echelons of power these contradictions are reflected in the form of these generals and the red tape representing different factions of finance \ black capital. The representatives of black money want to protect the structures of the nation state which shields the interests of these drug barons, money launderers and Mafia capitalists.

Fundamentalist coup?

On the other hand those sections of the generals and the ruling elite who have had their billions stashed in the Western banks are obliged to carry through the dictates of the Imperialist Institutions. This conflict between the 'Black' and 'White' Economies is erupting through the organs of the state and society. Its superficial political configuration comes in the form of a conflict between 'liberalism' and 'fundamentalism'. In reality they are the two sides of the same coin of the corruption bungling and plunder. They have originated from the same womb of paralytic cancerous capitalism that has evolved in the last decades. There are contradictory positions being taken by the regime on fundamentalism, Osama bin Laden, Taliban, Kashmir, Secularism and other issues. These are the reflections of the conflicts taking place behind the scenes between different sections of the state apparatus and the military hierarchy. These conflicts are bound to explode and another coup may take place. The only obstacle to such a development, at the present juncture, is the mutual fear of all the factions. They are afraid on the one hand of each other and at the same time of stumbling into a civil war that will spell the demise of the whole structure from which they gain their power perks and privileges. But all those processes that have brought matters to this pass are still raging vigorously in society. Above all they are beyond the control of this ruling caste. Sooner or later these contradictions are bound to explode into an open clash. Even if another coup takes place and it is able to avert a civil war then what possibilities the leaders of that coup will have? If it is lead by pro-fundamentalist generals what solution can they provide? None!

A conflagration erupted in Pakistan would have dire geo-political consequences also for the imperialist interests in this whole region. The threat of a nuclear holocaust will be posed if India and Pakistan go to another war. Even if there is no direct war between India and Pakistan the already raging proxy wars will further escalate leading to further anarchy, chaos, disintegration and bloody fragmentation in the whole region.

So the imperialists will try to contain the hostilities and maintain status quo. They will probably make concessions to the Musharraf regime and IMF will try to release its latest tranche of $1.25bn to resuscitate the economy. There is a targeted growth from around 4.5% to 6% this year, depending on a number of factors. The bumper cotton and wheat crops this year, purely due to climatic reasons, will perhaps help the slight increase in growth rate. Yet it won't sole anything and in reality exacerbate the contradictions in society.

The main political parties are in disarray. The Muslims League is splitting to pieces, the ANP (mainly a Pushtun based party) has splintered, while other nationalist parties are in tatters. The Islamic fundamentalist parties are howling at the top of their voices but they are neither being heard nor getting an echo. They are still a threat. Their prominence is the result of a lull in the society and the vacuum created by the collapse of the Stalinist left. But they lack a mass base in society and they represent temporary phenomena of the reactionary situation prevailing at the present time. The power and support they have, is being consciously exaggerated by the media and the Western imperialist pundits. It is also to give a justification and legitimacy to the present set up. The Stalinists and the left reformists are also using them as an alibi to justify the rotten alliances with the reactionary bourgeoisie leaders and parties. A large section of the ex-Stalinist left is trying to get solace in the lap of Western sponsored NGOs and recuperate from the wounds of their ideological defeat with the collapse of Stalinism in Russia and China. In the process they have become tools of preserving the status quo. It is hardly possible to differentiate their policies from those of Imperialism. The leadership of the PPP humiliated from the corruption scandals during their two stints in power is making odd and confused noises from the safe haven in London. But there is enormous ferment within the PPP. There are resurgent left currents in the lower ranks of the PPP. These could take on a crucial role in the next period. There are new stirrings in the trade unions. There are several strikes amongst the workers although sporadic and isolated at the moment. The youth are in a dilemma. They are fed up with the present situation. Yet they are looking out for an alternate devoid of corruption, vandalism and lumpenisation, which has besieged youth and students politics for almost a generation. Still the youth and students movement is showing signs of a new revival. The political and trade union leadership has failed to deliver. This has created a situation of general scepticism, apathy and cynicism amongst the masses. This has led to confusion and a certain level of disillusionment and demoralisation.

A socialist revolution is needed

The regime till now has faced no serious resistance. Still it is fragile, dithering and jittery. When the real resistance comes it is not sure that it will be able to exercise repression of the scale that the previous military dictatorships had inflicted. The regime is not sure of itself and the apparatus it rests upon. It is treading a very thorny path. Any major incident or event can explode into a stormy movement. With a slight improvement in the economy this possibility will increase. Rather than any stability an increased growth rate will bring more turmoil.

Faced with a challenge from below the regime will initially try to go for repression Perhaps it will declare martial law. But for the people direct rule in military uniform is not very different from martial law. That psychological barrier has already been passed. With the failure of repressive tactics the regime might lurch towards a "democratic" set up. It might yet try to use Imran Khan for this purpose. They are already promoting and pampering him as a new political icon. But in the turbulent times ahead he does not stand much chance to fulfil the task of saving this status quo. He will be a temporary and pathetic figure in this whole saga. He has nothing to offer and remains an arrogant disciple of Capitalism-feudalism. The media to fill up the vacuum would portray all sorts of flimsy and demagogic characters. These accidental and murky characters would be just petty impostors. If the movement begins on the industrial plane and on the real issues of unemployment, poverty, privatisation, price hike and attacks on the working class these demands would rapidly attain a political character. It would enter the political plane and then the whole system will be threatened. Initially the majority of the youth and workers would take the traditional path of PPP. But any move of the PPP leadership to divert the party on to reformist lines yet again will face with a crushing rebuttal not only from the workers but also from the new generation which would enter the ranks of the PPP in a changed situation. Such an upheaval can actually lead to a real break up of the party on class lines. The connotations, arguments and wranglings on the ideological debate reverberating in the PPP, are precursor of the events in the party that impend in the near future.

This whole process will unravel in ebbs and flows. The masses will learn through the experiences and the rapidly changing objective situation. All sorts of peculiar gadgets, gimmicks and episodes will clutter the political horizon of society. But the revolutionary storm of a mass upsurge will wash them away. From fundamentalism to left and right reformism, from nationalism to sectarianism all sorts of peculiar phenomena will be blown up to deviate the movement from its ultimate destiny of overthrowing this rotten system and its protectorate the decayed state scrap.

The oppressed masses of Pakistan have suffered through this ordeal of "democracies" and dictatorships. These are political super structures of an outdated, exploitative and rapacious socio economic system. Under the dictatorship the masses fought for democracy. Their leaders had given them the delusion that through democracy all their problems would be solved. But it was all loot and plunder. Their miseries intensified. With the sufferings they have also learnt from the hard school of experience. They are quiet but their eyes and ears are open. And they are thinking - developing a new consciousness - a revolutionary one. They are waiting and they shall rise. This is the verdict of history, it is the universal law of class society. Tyranny can prolong it can not endure.

Once they rise there is nothing to stop them. If a genuine Marxist organisation rapidly developing into a party is there- before the advent of masses on to the arena of history to change their destiny- then a Socialist Revolution in Pakistan is entirely possible with in the next few years. A Socialist Revolution in Pakistan will change the geography, economy, sociology, psychology not only of Pakistan but the whole South Asian sub-continent. Still its repercussions will not stop at the frontiers of Asia but will spread througout the world.