Pakistan: The case of Nazar Gondal - a victim of a vicious ruling class and a system in terminal decay

From Pakistan we have another outstanding example of courage and determined struggle against the corrupt authorities. Nazar Gondal (a recently elected nazim, or mayor, in the Punjab), following in the tradition of comrade Manzoor Ahmed, the Marxist MP elected last year, has refused all attempts to get him to buckle under and abandon his class struggle principles. He now faces the wrath of the Pakistani ruling elite that has been enraged by this stand.

From Pakistan we have another outstanding example of courage and determined struggle against the corrupt authorities. Nazar Gondal (a recently elected nazim, or mayor in the Punjab), following in the tradition of comrade Manzoor Ahmed, the Marxist MP elected last year, has refused all attempts to get him to buckle under and abandon his class struggle principles. He now faces the wrath of the Pakistani ruling elite that has been enraged by this stand.

Nazar Gondal

The Military dictatorships in Pakistan that have dominated most of its chequered history have had an obsession for so-called ‘grass roots democracy’. This is neither a co-incidence nor an accident. Ayub Khan opted for his so-called “basic democracy”. He successfully manipulated things to attain a hollow electoral victory against Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah (the sister of Pakistan’s founder M. A. Jinnah) in the presidential elections of 1964. The people of Pakistan gave their verdict on all those underhand manoeuvres in the 1968-69 revolutionary uprising, which not only overthrew the Ayub dictatorship but also came close to overthrowing the whole system of capitalist exploitation.

Later, the Zia dictatorship once again tried to use the elections to local bodies on a non-party basis to atomise the working class, divert mass movement and perpetuate his own oppressive rule. In spite of the fact that the 1986 movement against him was deliberately watered down and diverted from the real issues by the political leadership of the mass movement, Zia could not survive the rising pressure from below. His masters and the state had to get rid of him to avoid the gathering storm.

What followed the fall of the Zia dictatorship was an inept 11-year “democratic” rule. These quasi-autonomous regimes failed to resolve any of the problems faced by the masses. In fact their miseries worsened. This democratic facade had dashed their hopes, plunged them into disillusionment and exhausted the people’s quest for a solution to their problems. That explains why the General Musharraf coup was greeted with mass indifference. It is true that there was not a whimper of protest at the fall of the so revered “democratic experiment”. But this does not mean that the coup evoked any blissful enthusiasm or a rejuvenation of a beleaguered people.

Musharraf, if at all he is capable of imposing his plan, started experimenting on an already exhausted and tormented society. Like all dictators he came out with a “new” and “unique” plan for the “devolution of power”. This democratic recipe of today’s generals is no different from the similar futile experiments of the past.

The problem with the mindset of the military elite is that if anything is to be successful in penetrating into their thinking it has to be couched in an idiom of strategy and tactics that is familiar to them. There is a strange superiority complex reigning within the military hierarchy that leads it to express a certain arrogance and contempt for the ‘civvies’. This is also due to the character of the Pakistani capitalist/feudal elite. Its historical belatedness and technological and economic weakness forces it to plunder the state resources and society as a whole, rather than to generate profit through genuine production. That is why the state and its most forceful institution, the armed forces, play such a key role. The supposed “custodians of the state” become the main participants in this orgy of loot and plunder. Ultimately this leads them to direct rule in a crisis-ridden society. However the sustaining of this power and control is a complex and problematic affair. Hence the plans for the present “devolution of power” and “grass roots democracy” yet again have faltered and floundered.

An atomised society in the epoch of stagnation and lull is mostly dominated by bourgeois ideas and petty bourgeois and lumpen elements. As Trotsky once remarked, “The petty bourgeoisie knows only of one God—power.” The rise of fundamentalism and opportunism in present-day Pakistani society reflects this vacuum and reaction. The military uses such rural and urban petty bourgeois elements to achieve an electoral justification for its own rule. Such social bases are not only weak and temporary, but as soon as a mass upsurge erupts these elements evaporate like a drop of water on a red-hot stove. Rather than replacing it, the present “Nazimins”(mayors) system of devolution of power has distorted the age-old bureaucratic system of governance inherited from the Raj. This has resulted in chaos in the administration and judiciary, creating even greater hardship and agony for the common people. In spite of being doctored to be non political by the protégés of the dictators, these recent local elections were very political. As in the general elections the divergence and inconsistencies in their results reflected the dissent within the state apparatus itself.

On the other hand there was no serious lead or line of action from the leadership of any of the political parties towards these local elections. The leadership of the PPP, which is perhaps the only party to have been created by the people of Pakistan (in the late 1960s), was confused and wavering to say the least. Their reluctance to take a clear stand and their ambiguous and evasive policies, which are in contradiction to the interests of their own supporters, the impoverished masses, and to the PPP’s very own founding Socialist programme, resulted in a humiliating and unceremonious end to their two stints in power in the 1990s. In fact to this day the PPP leadership had not fully recovered from those setbacks. Its unwillingness to adopt a revolutionary path has made it even more difficult for it to stage a come back. Hence this lack of a clear programme and strategy on the part of the central leadership of the PPP meant that its candidates in these elections were left to their own spontaneous local initiative and allowed a strong element of opportunism to marr the party’s campaign.

In its strategy the Musharraf regime, like all the previous dictatorships, tried to use these local elections to build up its own “de-poliliticised” social base. However it is not within the power of dictators, however strong or brutal they may be, to eradicate politics from the psychology of the masses.

In spite of this, Musharraf tried to use this “grass roots” democratic sham as a base to clinch the notorious Presidential referendum. Even Musharraf himself had to apologise for the farcical and corrupt nature of this exercise. But above all it exposed the fragile nature and futility of this “new” system devised and imposed by the generals. Instead of devolution of power it was devolution of corruption and political exploitation to wider layers of society. As far as the women’s seats/quota is concerned, the majority of women who were “elected” to these local bodies were either from the elite aristocratic families or were involved in different criminal and immoral activities. Paradoxically these women were most vulnerable to corruption and bribery during the Tehsil and District Nazim elections.

The worsening economic and social situation forced Musharraf to fabricate a democratic gimmick and call for parliamentary elections to diffuse the pressure building up from below. This whole process ultimately culminated in the formation of the “King’s Party” in the National and Provincial elections. Most of the corrupt politicians (who were also up for legal prosecution) rushed on to the bandwagon of the military regime to escape prosecution. Their baptism at the hands of the Generals gave them a new political life and allowed them to preserve their loot. All these “democratic” politicians spared no effort to eulogise the military dictatorship as the only saviour and benefactor of Pakistan.

However, these democratic politicians, conceived and bred in the womb of the military dictatorship, came out with their true colours as soon as they had assumed the crumbs of power from the military elite. They tried to suppress any opposition, even within their own system. This was the inevitable result of a historically weak and redundant economic and social grouping. They have been especially vicious in the Punjab, the bastion of Pakistan’s reactionary ruling class.

A case in point is the removal of Nazar Mohammed Gondal, the district Nazim (mayor) of Mandi Bahauddin in the Central Punjab. Nazar Gondal was elected to the parliament (National Assembly) as an MNA on a PPP ticket in back in 1993 from this constituency. After the present King’s Party (or PML-Q) regime was established at national level and in the Punjab, he was the only PPP district Nazim in the Punjab who refused to sell out. He refused all the lucrative offers and defied the threats of the state, and never gave in. His younger brother Zulfiqar Ali Gondal who was elected Member of the National Assembly in the October 2002 elections from the same constituency refused to sell his vote to the PML (Q) prime ministerial candidate even when offered an important and powerful federal ministry.

When the regime failed to crush the opposition and defiance of Nazar Gondal through brute force, they decided to remove him through a so-called “democratic process”. The regime bought off several of the members of the District Council and took them away from the scorching heat of the plains of the Punjab to luxurious mountain resorts where they were made to take an oath to vote against Nazar Gondal. Thus the state authorities deceptively started the preparations for a no-confidence motion. Police and other institutions of the state were unleashed to carry out acts of intimidation and harassment of the District Council members to get them to vote for the motion. A whole saga of intrigues, conspiracies and a big flow of cash were in full swing. Nazar Gondal was on his way to Oslo to attend a political function. On hearing the news of the no-confidence motion he called off the visit and rushed back to Mandi Bahauddin to face the attack.

On Saturday August 16, 2003 the no-confidence motion was presented by a stooge of the rulers. Nazar replied to the motion stating that his only crime was to fight for the oppressed classes. He refused to capitulate and compromise on his class struggle principles. Eighty-five out of 92 members were present in the chamber. Forty-four full members voted against Nazar Gondal, while six acting Nazims who were not eligible to vote were allowed to cast the votes by the state authority. The no-confidence motion needed 47 votes in a house of 92 to succeed. But the regime could only muster 44 votes in spite of all the efforts and carrot and stick policies of the state.

This means that the no-confidence motion has been defeated. More than 30 members including women defied all the pressures and rejected all offers and voted to reject the motion. Unprecedented valour and defiance was exhibited, especially by some of the women members, who refused to be intimidated and faced all the risks of a male dominated society and a repressive state.

This case is now pending in the Lahore High Court and will have to go through a long and protracted legal procedure till a decision is reached by the judiciary. In an objective situation of relative lull and stagnation such defiance is rare. This whole episode has enormously enhanced the stature of Nazar Gondal in the area and within the PPP nationally.

The failure of the regime to defeat Nazar Gondal has landed them in a state of sheer frustration. The military sponsored Chief Minister of the Punjab, notorious for using obscene and cruel methods to crush his political opponents and his lackeys, has resorted to a character assassination campaign and vicious attacks against Nazar Gondal and his supporters. They have registered a false kidnapping case against two female district council members, Farhat Basheer and Nagina Sadaf in a police station in Lahore, right under the nose of the Chief Minister himself. Nazar Gondal has also been falsely implicated in this case. Such acts are very characteristic of the Pakistani semi-capitalist, semi-feudal ruling elite who are mostly propped up by, and act as stooges of, the military dictators. These politicians, especially this upstart family from Gujrat, have been from generation to generation the lackeys and sycophants of the most brutal dictators in Pakistan’s history. But this vilification campaign is bound to backfire and will only result in further stimulating the struggle against this vicious regime. The people of Mandi Bahauddin are only too well aware of the past and the character of Nazar Gondal. This struggle can expand too much wider dimensions.

But this very case in point clearly explains that there can be no devolution of power without the devolution of capital and resources in a society riddled with dearth and poverty. This is a society where 10,000 people are forced below the poverty line every day, where healthcare, education and the basic amenities are getting more and more beyond the reach of the masses. In this situation the eleven billion dollars of the so-called foreign exchange reserves, the official 5.1% GDP growth rate and other such rosy figures of development are not totally irrelevant for the teaming millions. The brandishing of such fantastic figures rather than boosting morale becomes a stigma, a source of sarcasm and adds insult to injury for the impoverished masses living in conditions of extreme distress, deprivation and misery.

The real picture of the Musharraf regime is reflected in the fact that during his three and half years of despotic rule the proportion of the population living on less than a dollar a day (the absolute poverty line) went up from 36% to 52%. At the same time 84% of the population lives on less than 2 dollars a day. And the conditions are further rapidly deteriorating. These figures expose the real state of affairs in Pakistan. There is a price tag at every level of the political ladder in this society drenched in corruption. Nazar Gondal has refused to accept it. Thus we have the vengeance of the rotten elite and its system for defying them.

The Pakistani ruling classes have failed to complete or accomplish any of the tasks of the democratic revolution during the last 56 years. Nor can they ever do it in this socio-economic system. This has been the history of “democracy” and politics in this economically deprived society. Hence a genuine grass roots democracy cannot be conceived, nurtured and developed until and unless the socio economic disparities are surgically removed. Nothing less than a Socialist Revolution can carry out such a transformation. But such a revolution will create its own path, its own leadership, its own channels and its own methods, not created from above by the state, but against the present capitalist system, which is defended by this state.