Pakistan: the retreat of the generals - from here, but to where?

Lal Khan, in Lahore, analyses the difficult situation now facing the military dictatorship of General Musharaff after his humiliating submission to the demands of US imperialism. He also looks at the dire economic situation that has been aggravated by the conflict with India

General Pervaiz Musharraf's "Address to the Nation" on 12th of January was being hailed by the Americans days before it was to be delivered "live". Hours before the speech the state forces had rounded up hundreds of activists from various Islamic fundamentalist outfits and sealed their offices. This was a preventive measure to curb any retaliatory action and violent demonstration that might have erupted in the wake of this so-called "historic" speech.

The speech in the phrase of Shakespeare was, "word, words, words and words." There was nothing new in the fundamental policy or the tone that the present military regime had been espousing ever since it came to power through an accidental coup in October 1999. Even more than that, it was another Pakistani ruler reading out the dictates of US imperialism as most of them had done all along in the country's 54-year brief history. General Pervaiz Musharraf was doing nothing new and nothing historic. His only problem was that of an agent trying to switch the goal posts at the behest of his master.

The main content of his speech was liberal rhetoric against Islamic fundamentalists, which had been going on for some time. It was only a bit louder and harsher as the fundamentalists had had a drubbing very recently in Afghanistan. This made the possibility of a fundamentalist outburst remote. Hence the General dared to go for a crackdown on "terrorism", which, in the past, he used to call by a more glorified name.

He reiterated the same policy on Kashmir as the Pakistani establishment has been pursuing for the last 50 years. Even the wording of this rhetoric was no different. Hence no fundamental change of policy was put forward on the "core" issue of Kashmir that is being portrayed as the main cause of hostilities between India and Pakistan.

In another rhetorical display Musharraf offered an olive branch to Vajpayee as "president" of Pakistan. In the next sentenced he spoke as the commander-in-chief of the Military, 'threatening' India with dire consequences if attacked. This was to appease the hawks in the state establishment and to build up nationalist chauvinism on which the army would have to rely in the event of a movement of the masses.

Then in English he "appealed" to the Americans to solve the Kashmir issue for him. In reality he was asking the Americans to repay him in kind for this absolute subservience. The speech was a propaganda exercise with demagogic gestures and dramatic proclamations - a show designed to perpetuate his rule - and a very poor one at that. If we look at the main theme and the points raised in Musharraf's speech they are just exalted rhetoric which ends up by maintaining the status co and the previous policy.

The response of most liberal, ex-lefts, political parties and some NGOs masquerading as political parties, was pathetic. Responding to this speech one of these creatures described the decisions as "positive", saying that it will "go along way towards the creation of a tolerant societyÉ appreciated government steps to regulate the workings of the madaris and the compulsory issuance of NOC before construction of a new mosque." (The News, Lahore. 31 Jan 2002)

Such is the disgraceful and pathetic degeneration of these ex-lefts that they have developed much confidence in the rotting bourgeois state. And one with a nude military dictatorship imposed on its helm.

The Pakistan Peoples Party's acting secretary, Genaral Raza Rabbani, said that the party would issue a detailed reaction to the "address" from its central secretariat in Islamabad. In his own capacity, however, he said that General Musharraf has taken a "fundamental decision" pertaining to the future of the country. The only grievance the PPP leadership had was that no election date was announced, an ill-concealed lust for power.

Even the mainstream Islamic fundamentalist parties have muted their position on this issue. Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the detained leader of Jamat-e-Islami the largest fundamentalist party in Pakistan had the following to say in a confused article published on the morning of January 12, 2002 several hours before the speech. "It is therefore, high time for those who are interested in seeking a solution to this problem to come forward and use their clout to ward off the hovering war threats and persuade the two governments for re-conciliation."

Jamaat-e-Islami was the USA's staunchest ally in South Asia for more than four decades until the 1990s. They carried out innumerable atrocities and assassinations of left wing activists, students and trade unionists at the behest of US imperialism in that period. They broke ranks when the Americans abandoned them after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan. Now in spite of their anti-imperialist rhetoric they are indirectly offering themselves as "coalition" partners to save the capitalist state in its death throes.

Those fundamentalist outfits involved in sectarian violence and banned by the regime obviously have condemned their organizations. Even before the speech and the state actions, most fundamentalist organizations had already packed up and left setting out for the next adventure in connivance with some sections of the state.

The Indian response was as pathetic, hypocritical and obtuse as the 'speech' itself. The subservience of the leaders of the largest 'democracy' in the world to US imperialism was no less shameful and cowardly. Due to the intensifying crisis of Indian capitalism and the fragile nature of the regime the Indian rulers are whipping up more and more the war frenzy and the demagogy of "war against terrorism".

They are also exposing their imperialist designs of regional hegemony, that they have harbored and have been nurturing for a long time. They want to demolish Pakistan's economy and weaken it, as it is the only country in the region that can, to some extent, resist the Indian hegemony in this region.

The Indian ruling elite is not sparing any expense in its efforts to bring Pakistan to its knees. They themselves are suffering economic losses in amassing troops on the border, raising a high military alert and imposing different forms of sanctions on Pakistan, which actually hurt themselves more.

The Indians have already spent more than Rupees 10million in moving the troops to the front lines and maintaining a condition of high alertness in the armed forces. The expenses continue to rise every day. India is losing more revenue from having blocked Pakistani airplanes flying over Indian airspace, than is Pakistan from its flights being blocked over Indian air space. While the burden of these acts of war frenzy is being put on the Indian masses a vast majority of which are forced to live in utter misery and destitution.

They are imposing war-related taxes which will further aggravate the impoverishment of the people. India has a defense budget of $15.6 billion that is one of the highest per capita GDP expenditure on defense in the world. The Indian finance minister Yashwant Sinha in a recent statement announced, "He was prepared to give access to unlimited finances to support the war effort". This would be extracted from the blood, tears and sweat of the Indian working class! This madness of the reactionary Indian rulers cannot endure for too long. The masses will inevitable rise in revolt against this hysteria of the ruling classes and the reactionary BJP regime.

As far as this notion of Pervaiz Musharraf's speech being able to end Islamic fundamentalism is concerned it is, so say the least absurd. The possibility of tolerance, harmony and stability by the action of the Musharraf dictatorship being propagated by the regime and echoed by liberals and ex-lefts is nothing but a vicious deception.

The violence and terror in Pakistan society is not only due to the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism. In reality Islamic fundamentalism has been fomented and came to the fore due to the intensifying organic crisis of capitalism and the vacuum created by the collapse of the mainly Stalinist left. The betrayal of Benazir Bhutto and other traditional trade union and left political leaders has played no less a role. The virtual collapse of the state sponsored health and education facilities has given rise to massive privatization of these sectors which have made them inaccessible to the large sections of society. On the other hand the Islamic fundamentalists sponsored by the massive black economy have penetrated these sectors to obtain a certain mass base and to create recruits in the religious schools for obscurantist fanaticism.

If we look at the present state of affairs, the Musharraf regime has no possibility of salvaging this situation on the ground. The crisis ridden capitalist economy does not allow this to happen.

In the so-called Afghan Jehad (Holy War) of the 1980s in Afghanistan against the Soviets, the vicious Zia dictatorship did reap some benefits. Although the bulk of the financial benefits came from heroine trade weapons smuggling and other criminal acts instigated by the CIA.

US imperialism had much more at stake and the fight was against a regular army of the second largest power on earth. Now it was against the obscurantist and primitive Taliban that were more of a tribal religious militia, than a regular army. The US economy wasn't in recession and Pakistan's economic growth was 6.9% average in the 1980's as compared to the 2.4% official figure today.

If we look at the present situation Pakistan has been badly hit by the present Afghan war. The escalation of tension on the eastern border with India has further aggravated Pakistan's economic plight.

Pakistan's troop deployment on the LOC (line of control - Kashmir) is estimated to be around RS.3 billion. The deployment on the rest of the 2,900-km border has entailed an expenditure of another RS.7billion. In total terms the costs of this war alertness incurred by Pakistan has been even greater than India's. Already the government is estimating a loss of about $3bilion in Pakistan's economy as the consequence of the events following the September 11 incident. The most adverse of these developments has been the decision of the international shipping and insurance companies to designate Pakistan as part of the war zone - the only country to be designated so.

If the tension continues for another couple of weeks, things would become more difficult for Pakistan's economy. The total cost may even go beyond $5 billion during this year. This would set Pakistan's economy even beyond square one. Hence Musharraf's appeasing speech!

In trade the main sector hit is the textile sector. In Pakistan, 60% of the total work force - some 25 million workers - is employed directly and indirectly by the textile sector. Orders from large American retailers are down more than 40%. As a consequence, at least 150,000 Pakistani workers in this sector have already lost their jobs. 177 textile-manufacturing units have already closed down as a direct consequence of the war. The textile industry is vertically integrated with the agricultural sector, as Pakistan is the fourth largest exporter of cotton. Spillover job losses would cross the million mark. The agricultural sector, already in dire straits, would suffer disastrous consequences. According to official estimates the war has put back Pakistan's economy at least half a decade.

Pakistan spends RS157 billion on defense (38% of the total revenue) and RS316 billion is spent on debt servicing. The two put together amount to 113% of the total revenue collection. That is where the vicious cycle begins. There is hardly any money left for development of health, education, transport, housing, sanitation, clean drinking water and other basic facilities of the social and physical infrastructure. Although the official budget designated for defense was $2.6 billion it has already gone over $3billion and further rising with impending threat of war. Pakistan's Afghan misadventure has cost $1billion and its Kashmir policy has already cost $35billion over the last two decades. The nuclear gimmickry has already extracted more than $10billion from the oppressed and downtrodden of Pakistan. With the closure of industry, fall in economic growth and the decline in the formal sector the economy will be pushed more and more into the grasp of the clutches of the so-called black economy.

The black economy is not really an extraneous phenomenon. It is the cancerous outgrowth of a diseased body of capitalism in a terminally severe crisis. The black economy since the late seventies has soared. It is more than three times the formal or so-called white economy. With the intensification of the crisis in this sector the ruling state will have no option to tolerate and even encourage the black economy to prevent a total collapse and use it as a buffer.

But the black economy will not only have a deep impact on the socio-economic patterns of growth, it will inevitably bring along the baggage of reactionary political forces as it brought to the fore Islamic fundamentalism in the recent years. This is a recipe of conflicts leading to further turmoil and conflagration. Hence by no means can the liberalism of Musharraf bring any harmony and stability to Pakistan, neither in the short nor in the long term. It would be exactly the opposite. Fissures and conflicts in the state will open up and civil strife, violence and bloodshed will spread throughout society. This means that Musharraf's imperialist sponsored crusade against fundamentalism could end up with even greater disastrous results.

Although after the debacle in Afghanistan the strength of the fundamentalists has gone down, they are certainly not out. Even Mullah Omar and Osama are still at large. Mullah Omar escaped the most sophisticated American war machine on an old motorbike. This one event explains the real dynamics of the Afghan war. The possibility that Osama is somewhere in Pakistan cannot be ruled out either. These are not just trivial anecdotes but can have a drastic impact in the future.

By changing the people at the top one can't necessarily change the roles and character of institutions. This is the case with the ISI. The fundamentalists and their masters in the ISI might have buckled to avoid the present onslaught but they can reemerge with dreadful ferocity once this is over. The involvement of important sections of the state with fundamentalism is very much there. Pakistani security officials have confessed that while unemployed semi-educated youth form the core support of these groups hundreds of educated Pakistanis, including doctors, engineers, government officials and those working in sensitive federal government organizations have also joined these groups. The infiltration of the Pakistani state by Islamic fundamentalists is as much a phenomenon as is infiltration across the porous Afghan-Pakistan border.

According to the daily 'The News', "A close relation of a deputy director of Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) confirmed that the Deputy Director took leave from office in November to join the Taliban in their battle for Kunduz. After the fall of Kunduz the FIA official made a safe return to Pakistan and rejoined the service, his relative requested not to name the officeÉ In another case a mid level official in a ministry of defense organization took three months leave last year to secretly join Lashkar-e-Tayaba and headed for Jehad in Kashmir."(The News, Lahore. 13 Jan. 2002)

Another vicious and barbaric Islamic fundamentalist outfit known as Al Akhwan, headed by a monster named Mullah Akram Awan, comprises of serving and ex-army officers and service men. The list goes on.

Those who had exaggerated the power and strength of Islamic fundamentalism are now prematurely rejoicing its so-called demise at the hands of the Musharraf dictatorship and imperialist onslaught.

The assassination on Dec 21st of the brother of Pakistan's home minister, who is leading the offensive against Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan, is also a warning that cannot be ignored.

Another important factor to reckon with is the extremely corrupt nature of the Pakistani state. This means that with huge amounts of black money in their coffers the Islamic fundamentalists can buy any sensitive information and even vital functionaries of the state.

While Pakistan's military commanders were still shaping the contours of their first ever push against the fundamentalists last week, the underground leadership of the Jihadi (fighter) groups such as Jaish-a-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Tayaba, Herkat-ul-Mujahideen, AL-Badr and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen had already altered their identities and selected new bases for their future secret actions. There are secret parleys going on between these diverse sectarian groups to cobble together a unified military force. Most have already moved into Pakistani controlled Kashmir to act as freedom fighters that even Musharraf has to condone. Pakistani intelligence officials also point out that it would be impossible to track down the financial assets as most of them had parked their money in Pakistan in the names of businessmen in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, who also make regular contributions to these organizations (sometimes, through extortion, and blackmail and sometimes to buy their protection through the fundamentalist organizations.)

It is not surprising that when the military regime seized their bank accounts in response to the US ban, there was hardly any money left. According to a top Pakistani central bank official, "Frankly there was nothing in those accounts to freeze".

Though estimates vary, the country's interior ministry estimates that these groups were still in possession of 1.2 million "illegal" Kalashnikovs. They also have several surface-to-air missiles, rocket launchers and abundant arsenal with them, still intact.

It is also difficult for the state functionaries to abruptly change policy in the opposite direction. Again, according to "The News"; "Senior Sindh police officials acknowledged that the police was under instruction to let these militant groups in Karachi recruit people for guerilla training and to solicit funds for holy wars in Kashmir and Afghanistan (before September 11)É It is too difficult for us to adjust to new guide lines," said a senior Karachi police officer who received orders two weeks ago to launch a crackdown against all "Jehadi" activists in Karachi." (The News 13 Jan 2002)

Questions are being raised about how thoroughly General Musharraf controls the ISI, though he did recently replace its chief. It is still known as an army within the army. Musharraf's personal security has been tightened. According to the Economist (5 Jan 2002) "General Musharraf is not Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, but his successor might be." This may not be necessarily true but the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism is far from over in Pakistan. Creating illusions that Musharraf's words and actions can eliminate fundamentalism are extremely misguiding and dangerous. Most of the draconian laws being passed by this regime could be used against left wing activists and trade unionists in the immediate period ahead. Once a mass movement of the workers rises and the revolutionary option is posed in society this regime will came down viciously upon the workers. What guarantee is there that this state and the imperialists will not revitalize Islamic fundamentalist reaction and use it against the mass movement? Rather it would be their preferred option as in the past.

The Pakistan army and state have not even fully abandoned Islamic fundamentalists as a whole. They have rather shifted their stakes to those groups who have not come into the limelight. For example they are now concentrating on Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and covert parleys are underway with its mother organization Jamaat-e-Islami. They want to use this organization in their Kashmir policy, which they are refusing to abandon. They also prefer this organization because its recruits are mainly from the Kashmiri indigenous youth and there are fewer Arab Afghans and Pakistani recruits. Zia ul Haq's son has been appointed emissary of Musharraf and even the notorious fundamentalist and former ISI boss General Hameed Gul is in consultations with the regime. The prophet of Pan-Islamism and an ardent supporter of the Taliban is not there for nothing and he has sinister designs for the months ahead.

In this economic mess the adoption of the IMF policies of privatization, restructuring, downsizing liberalization etc., by the military regime will further increase unemployment, poverty and social crisis. This is the only road which this regime can take. Under capitalism there is no other way. To create illusions in such a dictatorship is criminal and tantamount to the subjugation of a mass workers' movement to a reactionary and vicious bourgeois state.

Hence it is vital to expose the hypocrisy of the dictatorship, its double standards and its real class character. This regime is a stooge of US imperialism and is only there to further the interests of capitalism and rule of the oppressor classes.

The monstrous and barbaric phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism cannot be destroyed or abolished by a regime, a state, an army or a class, which created it in the first place. Nor can this "liberal" dictatorship create those preconditions in society, which can cut fundamentalism at its roots.

Only by overthrowing the social and economic system which breeds such vicious monstrosities, can the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism be decisively abolished. Only a Socialist Revolution can accomplish this task. No degree of liberalism can create a secular state in a society beleaguered and bogged down under the weight of the past, primitiveness and obscurantism. Capitalism in this epoch of decline does not and cannot have the capacity to carry through any of the historical tasks of the bourgeois revolution. The rotten bourgeoisie of Pakistan and India is forced again and again by the compulsion of its historic belatedness to resort to fundamentalism and other such reactionary methods to preserve its rule. Temporarily, in periods of apathy and lull, these factions of capital come into conflict with each other as a result of the social crisis. In the wake of a movement, these so-called "progressive liberals" and reactionary fundamentalist forces converge together to crush the masses to preserve the curse of capitalist exploitation.

The stresses and strains of wars, threats of war, social chauvinistic hysteria and jingoistic frenzy have cast their shadow and had their toll upon an already destitute mass of people under the yoke of crushing imperialist domination and capitalist oppression.

Yet they have no option but to rise. They will surprise many. The mass upheavals are bound to explode. But such movements can only aim for victory on the basis of a clear revolutionary programme and leadership - a programme of irreconcilable class struggle.

The workers of Pakistan have much bigger revolutionary traditions than this curse of fundamentalism imposed upon them by the failure of the liberal bourgeoisie and reformist leaders.

Once they rise, fundamentalism will be washed away in the tide of revolutionary ferment. The decaying and debilitated state will be smashed and with a Marxist programme and leadership the class war will be fought to the finish. This will lay the foundations of a planned economy upon which a genuine secular state with workers' democratic control and management would be created. Society will surge forward in leaps and bounds.

Such a change in Pakistan would be an impossible temptation for the workers of India to resist. They will also break the shackles and move towards a socialist revolution. The formation of a socialist Federation of the South Asian subcontinent would be a decisive step in transforming the destiny of mankind from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom.