What lies behind recent developments in Pakistan? Why did the Supreme Court lift the ban on Nawaz Sharif returning to Pakistan for him only to expelled by the Military as soon as he set foot on Pakistani soil? Why are Benazir Bhutto (in exile) and the military dictator Musharraf trying to reach a deal over how the country is to be governed in the next period? None of these manoeuvres can be understood without looking at the terrible nightmare that the Pakistani people have been thrown into.
The Pakistani economy is in tatters, the social fabric of the country is tearing apart, civil war is raging from Waziristan to Balouchistan, Karachi is in the throes of a possible ethnic and nationalist conflagration. Yet again, national oppression has become a festering wound, the state has lost its sting, the opposition leadership has capitulated and tried to kill the vigour of mass resistance, culture has been vandalized, human relations have deteriorated, cynicism dominates the intelligentsia, obscurantism with its open fangs threatens society, liberalism exudes a sickening vulgarity, and economic and social oppression are agonizing human life.
The story of Pakistani capitalism is over. And in spite of the present apparent impasse, the masses will rise beyond all imagination of the reactionary Pakistani media. It is a universal law of class society that the waves of class struggle may ebb, but they always come back with a vengeance and enter the arena of history as the masses attempt to take their destiny into their own hands.
The quasi-military dictatorship in Pakistan has been lurching from one crisis to another ever since it took power through a bloodless coup in October 1999. However, the turbulence and convulsions since then have been aggravated so much that the regime is now teetering on the brink. The recent episode of the return of Nawaz Sharif, twice former prime minister, and his subsequent deportation to Saudi Arabia adds to the string of tumultuous events which are shaking the regime more and more.
Nawaz Sharif is a business tycoon and was brought into politics by the vicious Zia dictatorship in the 1980s in reward for the massive wealth showered upon the generals by his entrepreneur family who had enriched themselves with the loot they had accumulated under the despotic military rule. He is a right-wing politician who was overthrown by the military when he tried to over-assert his power, which in itself was at the mercy of the generals. His political base mainly comprises of businessmen and shopkeepers. After his overthrow ‑ and safe exit to Saudi Arabia negotiated with Musharraf by the Royal family under influence of Bill Clinton ‑ he was fast dwindling into political oblivion.
Ironically, it was Benazir Bhutto who brought him back into the limelight by pestering reluctant PPP activists to portray him as a champion of democracy. Benazir's main motive in forming an alliance with Sharif's party was to stop any left radicalisation within the PPP and present herself to the "world community" as a pro-market politician.
But then the Americans forced Benazir towards conciliation with Musharraf, and so she had to break with Sharif. Meanwhile, the Islamic nationalist and other right-wing parties allied themselves with Sharif and they formed the APDM (All Parties Democratic Movement) in London. All this further bloated Sharif's megalomaniac tendencies to which he has always been vulnerable.
He had the notion that on his return millions would pour onto the streets and the regime would crumble and abdicate power in his favour. This was not to be. Most of his party leaders, mainly capitalists and landlords, had switched sides as soon as he was ousted from power. They had joined yet another version of the Muslim League formed by the army, in line with the whole of the political history of Muslim Leagues propped up under every military dictatorship.
In spite of the fact that there was no mass turnout or paralysis of society, the response of the Musharraf regime was equally desperate and nervous. The massive state operation carried out on the return of Sharif exposed the fragile nature and the rapidly dwindling confidence of the Musharraf regime. Sharif is back in the comfort of his personal luxurious palace in Saudi Arabia but the convulsions continue to rattle the state and society in Pakistan.
Trotsky in 1932 wrote on the February 1917 regime in Russia, "The government with its inattention to the masses, its light-minded indifference to their needs, its impudent phrase-mongering in answer to the protests and cries of despair was raising up everybody against it. It seemed as though the government was deliberately seeking a conflict." This description graphically illustrates the state of the present crisis ridden regime in Pakistan.
The crisis is so intense today that never in the history of Pakistan has anyone seen such confusion, perplexity and bewilderment in society. The media, pseudo-intellectuals and analysts are adding to this confusion. They are raising all kinds of secondary issues, such as the judicial crisis, the Red Mosque, the Musharraf-Benazir deal, the return and re-exile of Nawaz Sharif, the uniform of the President, frivolous statements by American diplomats and presenting them as key issues in the minds of the masses. But the real aim of these analysts, together with all these scandals, is to hide the real economic and social turmoil ravaging society. The speed and intensity of these explosive events is such that while one incident is taking place the next one comes rolling over it. The speed of events is actually the symbol of the intensifying socio-economic malaise that is engulfing society.
A failed state
The Pakistani ruling class has been a failure ever since its inception. Today they are even worse than they were in 1947. An important contradiction of this epoch is that the ruling classes of underdeveloped countries have to bear the brunt of the crimes and sins of world imperialism. In fact it is the basic law of this system. Under the cruel burden of imperialism those states fail that cannot accumulate a large amount of finance capital because monopoly capitalism does not allow them any concessions in this cutthroat competitive globalisation. The Pakistani state is facing the same dilemma.
Where we see explosive contradictions in the state and in the politics of the ruling classes, there we also see changing coalitions, compromises and alliances at every juncture. Who is not in a deal with someone or other? But behind every "deal" there are financial interests. Behind the Islamisation of the Mullahs there is the need for protection of black money. Without the patronage of the state agencies, the Mullahs could never have dreamt of the number of votes they got in the 2002 general elections.
This criminal network was established by the CIA to finance the Afghan jihad of the 1980s. Every "deal" of the MQM is aimed at guaranteeing the protection of its extortionist gangs in Karachi and elsewhere. The PML(N) represents those big shopkeepers, businessmen and industrialists who could not get a share of the looting of the last few years. Nationalist leaders now want their own "independent" small capitalist markets with support from the USA. But why would the Pakistan Army give them these markets when it is having a free roller-coaster ride of its own?
So long as the army was not so deeply involved in finance capital, the story was different. But after the Zia-ul-Haq regime the penetration of finance capital within the Military has itself become a source of discord within the army. This process has been responsible for the internal decay and weakening of military discipline. To fulfil the ever-increasing demands of the exploiters and overcome the deficits in State expenditure they have to rely on the World Bank and the IMF. These imperialist institutions have accumulated this wealth by plundering and exploiting the masses of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Therefore, when these institutions give loans or "aid" to local brokers they give them on brutal terms and conditions. This makes the local elite subservient to imperialism. In Pakistan most of the plundering is carried out by imperialist monopolies and international financial institutions in connivance with the Military and the elite.
Capitalism has reached such a point where it cannot justify its own existence any more. This should be understood not from a commercial but a social point of view. It has to resort to vicious exploitation and unprecedented oppression.
The condition of the Pakistani capitalist economy is a miserable one. The rise in the growth rate actually ends up in lowering the living standards of the vast majority of the impoverished populace. Due to the intensity of this crisis deceit, corruption, fraud and erosion of social values and life are endemic. The aggravation of lumpen tendencies with the high rise in crime, bloodshed, insecurity and plundering due to this corruption and social degeneration, has taken urban and rural life hostage.
The sharp rise in poverty, disease, unemployment, illiteracy, price hikes and filth, has rapidly worsened the conditions of the masses which is resulting in cultural suffocation, obscurantism, alienation and frustration. The main reason for this apathy is that no political party or leadership or tendency on the political horizon is offering any real solution or a way out to end this misery.
The greed of the ruling classes has reached such an intensity that they are plundering the wealth of the country on an unprecedented level, even for a corrupt country like Pakistan. In the last three years the section of the ruling class in power has had loans worth Rs.33 billion waived and at the same time it has received subsidies to the tune of Rs.24 billion. This blatant theft of Rs.57 billion was to the benefit of just 1122 feudal lords, industrialists and businessmen. Among them 11 industrialists alone plundered Rs12.3 billion in 2003 from the State.
There is a major balance of payments crisis with the highest ever deficits in trade as well as in the current account. Foreign debt in the year 2004 was $35.47 billion. It has now reached $40.172 billion. This has happened in spite of the record home remittances by overseas Pakistanis of $6.5 billion and a record overseas direct investment of $64 billion.
Currently 78 percent of the population lives on less then $2 a day. 82 percent of the people are forced into non-scientific modes of medication. 68 percent of diseases are due to poverty. 54 percent of children cannot go to school. Expenditure on health as a percentage of GNP was 0.7% in 1998-99. In 2005-06, the expenditure on health was a paltry 0.5% of GNP ‑ the lowest in the world. In 1999-2000 expenditure on education was 2% of GNP. In 2004-05 it was as low as one percent. Thus misery and suffering stalk the land.
Privatisation, downsizing, liberalization, restructuring, the contract system, forced redundancies and other such savage policies are brutally crushing the working class. This social chaos, corruption and looting is also creating huge fissures and contradictions within the State institutions. The Pakistani ruling class due to its historical belatedness, technological and financial dearth, has difficulties in surviving in the present era of globalisation. In this process the ruling class is so dependent upon the state institutions, especially the army, that after the imperialist monopolies the Pakistani army has become the largest financial and industrial entrepreneur in the country. Now more than 25% of the economy is the property of the military top brass.
The explosion of internal crises in the various institutions of the State, including the army, is basically the reflection of the conflict between different financial interests. On the surface it appears as a conflict between Islamic fundamentalists and the Liberal factions, but in fact it is a battle for the booty that comes from looting. Both the liberal and fundamentalist political tendencies rest on the same economic base: capitalism!
We have the phenomenon of "Talibanisation" along Pakistan's border regions, which has escalated even more rapidly since the latest political crisis began. As people flee their villages to escape armed fanatics, the state has been unable to protect the population and is rapidly losing credibility and authority. The surrender of about 300 soldiers and officers in South Waziristan to just a few score Taliban is just one example. Apart from the Taliban there is also widespread public anger against the army which could render the loss of morale amongst the troops much more serious.
In the meantime, the terrified military top brass is insisting that Maulana Fazl ur Rehman, who leads the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI), be part of any future government, whether it is led by Benazir Bhutto or the ruling Pakistan Muslim League. The JUI has been the mainstay for the revival of the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan; the motive being extortion of huge sums of money in drug smuggling and other criminal activities by the Taliban to finance their jihad.
As long as the JUI is to be a part of any future Pakistani regime, it is impossible to imagine that the government will be able to move against the Taliban. This has forced Musharraf to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds, much to the chagrin of the Americans. This deeply contradictory policy is now catching up with him. Doomsday scenarios aside, what is clear at this moment is that a fundamentalist insurgency may simmer for a while. The chances of the Islamic parties ever sweeping the general elections and having the opportunity to transform the state and society however, are very remote. They usually run out of steam far earlier than the imperialist and other exponents would like us to believe. Their valour never matches their thunder. This is not to understate the damage and mayhem they can cause in this decaying and disintegrating capitalist society and state. In fact this Islamic fundamentalism is the product and the distilled essence of rotting Pakistani capitalism.
Among the rank and file of the army mistrust, suspicion and dejection is increasing due to the increase in wealth and plundering of the military elite. In the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan more than 1000 soldiers have been killed in a futile and reactionary war of American imperialism. Desertion of security personnel has increased due to these casualties. Hundreds of Frontier Constabulary soldiers have deserted. More than 3000 deserters from the Pakistani Army are in prison in Attock Fort. This has increased pressure on the top-ranking layers of the Army due to which Musharraf's position has been weakened. This is the reason why the Americans want to strengthen him by getting him the support of Benazir. But this deal has its own complications and hindrances.
The tragedy of tradition
The PPP was formed in the late 1960's as the result of a revolutionary upheaval of the workers and peasants of this country. Now it has been dragged into the market economy of capitalism where every ideology has a price. An interesting historical incident that should go down in the record books has happened during this crisis: a dictator has met an exiled leader whom he has exiled himself. This incident not only highlights the impotency of this peculiar dictatorship but the hypocrisy and deception of "resistance" and "struggle" of the political leaders.
However, this is not the first time that Benazir Bhutto has struck a deal with a military dictator. In 1984 she left Pakistan through a deal with General Zia ul Haq that was negotiated by her friend and important associate of the US administration, Peter Galbraith. Similarly, her return in 1986 and subsequent assumption of power in 1988 were brokered through "deals" with the Military establishment conducted under the auspices of US imperialism. With every deal she has dragged the PPP away from its founding socialist principles and tried to present herself as a statesperson more capable of diverting the mass movements and protecting the interest of imperialism and finance capital than others.
However, with the present "deal" there is too much at stake for both Benazir and Musharraf. Benazir is aware of the resentment she is provoking amongst her supporters with such actions. Musharraf on the other hand faces the dilemma of how to dismantle the political structures he has built comprising feudal, capitalist and other opportunist right-wing politicians. The only god these people worship is power. In the event of losing state power their whole edifice for plundering and self-enrichment would collapse. So although their electoral base is mainly state-sponsored, they are still trying to dissuade Musharraf from striking this deal with Benazir.
Hence the deal is facing multiple obstacles. But the Americans are putting enormous pressure on both sides to go ahead with the deal. Fighting "extremism and promoting moderation" are the buzzwords that Benazir repeatedly uses as the rationale for having a secret dialogue with Musharraf. This stance is clearly geared towards winning the support of the White House.
In an interview with the Washington Post on August 26, 2007 she said, "The international community and the armed forces have confidence in Musharraf."
"International community" is Ms. Bhutto's euphemism for the US administration. It means mainly the White House whose monetary, military and public support for Musharraf is viewed with a mix of awe and jealousy by Benazir.
Her assessment, which is also probably quite accurate, is that the White House is unlikely to ditch Musharraf. Thus, Ms. Bhutto's message to the American audience is that by supporting Benazir along with Musharrraf, Washington can have the best of both worlds, and stem the tide of "extremism" in Pakistan and in the region. At the same time she makes a display of a democratic farce.
When it comes to acknowledging the role of the US in influencing power politics in Pakistan, Ms Bhutto in an interview with a US TV channel, PBS aired on August 21, had no qualms in saying that, "We keep them [Americans] briefed, and they are certainly engaged with all the political parties in Pakistan." In the Washington Post interview she came out openly, "We want stability in Pakistan, fair elections and General Musharraf is our ally." She claims to have fought extremists more effectively than Musharraf, and if she gets back in power in the near future she wants Musharraf to be on her side because she doesn't want the security forces to disagree with her in an attack on internal militancy.
At the same time she is worried about the decline in her mass support due to this rotten compromise she is trying to broker with the Military dictatorship. In an interview with "The Observer" (London) on Sunday, September 9, 2007 Benazir Bhutto said her campaign would be inspired by the old slogan of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) "Food, Clothing and Shelter". She added that, "We represent the underprivileged, the peasants, women, young people, the minorities, all those who have been neglected by elite governments."
The word "proletariat" is, however, conspicuously absent from the sections of society she claims to represent. Similarly, she has never condoned the founding principles of the party. The founding document of the PPP clearly states, "The ultimate policy of the party is the attainment of a classless society which is only possible through Socialism in our times." Benazir would shudder at such a prospect.
Incidentally, just a week before this interview she declared "full support" for NATO in Afghanistan and that "Pakistan would remain a firm ally of the USA" under her next expected term in office.
Such contradictory policy statements show her desperation when her support amongst the masses is rapidly dwindling and there is a seething resentment amongst the PPP rank and file due to her desired deal with the Musharraf dictatorship.
The situation within the PPP is at a low ebb. The little internal political life left has shrunk. Most activists and leaders have been indoctrinated and programmed with the perception of attaining personal gain, financial benefits and other perks and privileges by the Party coming to power and it matters little at what cost and with what shameful compromise. Hence there is not much activity in the ranks of the party at the present time. But with Nawaz Sharif deported by force of the state, a smooth homecoming of Benazir, facilitated by the same state apparatus, would not build up any political fortune for the Party. Benazir would be further discredited in such a scenario. Therefore she will probably further delay her return.
It is true that PPP has been the traditional party of the toiling masses of Pakistan since the 1968-69 revolution. But sometimes the tradition of the workers in the words of Marx, "weighs like an Alp" on the consciousness of the proletariat. This tradition has somewhat decayed and rotted but due to the lack of a revolutionary force on the country's political horizon the masses still have no alternative. And although Benazir's compromises and conciliations with capitalism and its military state establishment have created political retrogression and some confusion, the PPP remains the only mass expression of the Pakistani workers and peasants.
That is why once the PPP comes to power it would find it extremely difficult to carry through the agenda which the Americans want Benazir to execute. It is not that the Americans want a Musharraf-Benazir deal to curb "Islamist extremism" or to install a "democratic regime". What they are in actual fact terrified of is a workers' movement developing against this disastrous capitalist policy being aggressively carried out in Pakistan. They have seen the potential for such a movement in the Telecommunication workers' strike of 2005 and the steelworkers' struggle in 2006.
That is why this intended imperialist pre-emptive strike through the Benazir/Musharraf deal would not work. It could actually achieve the opposite and provoke an outburst of anger and revulsion that has been accumulating for several years now. After the Sharif fiasco in Islamabad on September 10, Benazir will be more worried about her "deal". To be seen returning to Pakistan, with military consent, when Sharif has just been expelled would do little for her reputation and would weaken her ability to influence the masses. With the passage of time and frustration at her failure to reach a deal with Musharraf, she can become more agitated and resort more towards an antagonistic stance and take on an anti-regime posture against Musharraf. And although it might have the effect of pleasing the masses who may also adopt a mood of temporary deceptive relief, such a move would become more complicated and hazardous in the face of the pressures of US imperialism.
In such difficult circumstances the tasks of Marxists are clear. It is vital the revolutionaries stand shoulder to shoulder with the workers and the toiling masses in the most difficult and nauseating conditions into which they are being forced by the ebbs of historical evolution. The role of the PPP leadership is no different from that of the Social Democratic leaders of Europe and elsewhere. They are called on to use their authority to moderate the struggles of the oppressed, to hold back their revolutionary aspirations. It is only by standing with the masses in such painful conditions, that the Marxists can lead them when the tide turns and the proletariat moves in a revolutionary direction.
Lenin was very clear in this relationship between the revolutionary vanguard and the working class. In "Left wing Communism", Lenin writes:
"If you want to help ‘the masses' and to win the sympathy and support of ‘the masses', you must not fear difficulties, you must not fear the pinpricks, chicanery, insults and persecution on the part of the ‘leaders' (who being opportunists and social chauvinists, are in most cases directly or indirectly connected with the bourgeoisie and the police), but must imperatively work wherever the masses are to be found. You must be capable of every sacrifice, of overcoming the greatest obstacles in order to carry on agitation and propaganda systematically, perseveringly, persistently and patiently, precisely in those institutions, societies and associations - even the most ultra-reactionary - in which proletarian or semi proletarian masses are to be found." (Left wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder, Lenin, pp. 61)
A mass revolutionary upheaval in the next period in Pakistan will outshine even the 1968-69 revolution which created and gave stature to the tradition of the PPP. Such movements are iconoclastic in character, they create new revolutionary traditions that change societies, reshape destiny and transform history. A revolutionary tendency can play a decisive role in such events.
Even with the relatively small forces of revolutionary Marxism in Pakistan, a subjective factor can give organization and direction to such a movement. Such a revolutionary upheaval can overthrow capitalism, destroy the roots of religious fundamentalism and obscurantism, smash the shackles of feudalism and remove the yoke of imperialist stranglehold and exploitation. Such a feat can only be accomplished through a Socialist Revolution. A socialist victory in Pakistan would open the floodgates of revolutionary upheavals across the South Asian subcontinent from Afghanistan to Burma where the masses are seething with revolt and yearning for a socialist transformation.
- Pakistan: the Storming of the Red Mosque - When Chickens come home to Roost by Adam Pal (July 13, 2007)
- Pakistan - a state at war with itself by Lal Khan (May 15, 2007)
- Pakistan: Lawyers’ Protest shows crisis of regime by Alan Woods (March 29, 2007)