Pakistan: Theatre of the absurd

Although the sixty-five years of Pakistan’s existence have been marred by instability and crisis, now even from Pakistan’s dismal standards the turbulence and conflagration has reached unforeseen heights. In the last few years’ violence, apathy, hyperinflation, sprawling poverty and callousness have acquired unprecedented proportions.

Deception, lies, hypocrisy, selfishness, corruption, intrigue and ruthlessness have become social norms. Ethics and morality have plunged to new lows.  Art, culture, music and social behaviour have withered. Politics has lost its ideology, the military has lost its professionalism, the state has lost its authority, the judiciary has destroyed its power, society has lost its relations and people have been denied even their meagre bliss.

From the air crash to the soldiers that perished under the glacier, the killing fields of Karachi, cold blooded assassinations in Baluchistan, the targeted sectarian slaughter of the Shias in Gilgit and Quetta, the bestial terrorist attacks by Islamic bigots along with imperialist drones spewing hellfire, mauling and killing innocents in Pashtoon areas; the list of tragedies’ wreaked on this land seems to be infinite. The teeming millions that inhabit this tragic country are in despair and agony. Today’s Pakistan has become a harrowing episode of suffering and misery.

With such gruesome tyranny stalking this land the ruling elites are cosseted in the garish orgy of exploitation, coercion and plunder.  Their conflicts are over the share of the loot and their fierce pursuit for state power is to satiate their insatiable lust for more. Opportunism has chanced upon obscene forms. Almost all the mainstream political leaders representing different sections of the ruling classes are entrenched in different tiers of state power yet they never stop crying hoarse about the abuses of governance. In government they masquerade as opposition. Being the perpetrators of extortion, slaughter and other crimes, they impersonate as the greatest crusaders against these evils.

Looking at the present political scenario one is reminded of Marx’s analysis of nineteenth century politics of the French elite. It is startlingly analogous. In his epic work The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx wrote:

“An executive power that finds its strength in its very weakness and its respectability in the contempt it calls forth...alliances whose first proviso is separation; struggles whose first law is indecision; wild, inane agitation in the name of tranquillity, most solemn preaching of tranquillity in the name of revolution; passions without truths, truths without passion; heroes without heroic deeds, history without events; development whose sole driving force seems to be the calendar, antagonisms that periodically seem to work themselves up to a climax only to lose their edge and fall away without being able to resolve themselves; pretentiously paraded exertions and bourgeois fears of the danger of the world coming to an end, and at the same time the pettiest intrigues and court comedies played by the saviours of the world.”

The ongoing tussle between the judiciary and the executive is as farcical as it is pathetic. The impotent rage being displayed by the so called political adversaries on talk shows and in press statements reflects a sharpening crisis unravelling rapidly. The hollowness of the issue, the travesty of a 32 second punishment and the whole rhetoric of the democratic freedom and independence of the judiciary makes it a theatre of the absurd.

There is a nauseating revulsion amongst the masses that have suffered under the militaristic rule by capitalism and the avalanche of vicious economic and social attacks being launched through its democratic facade. The legislature is a bungling spectacle where loyalties are traded and the torments of the oppressed are coquetted with.

On May Day Gilani announced a minimum wage of Rs. 8000 while Shahbaz proclaimed 9000. This would have been comical had it not been so awful. What family can survive on this amount with the galloping price hike that is traumatising the vast majority of the masses? In reality only a minority of ordinary workers get the official minimum wage. Women workers and those in the private sector are even deprived of this. The excruciating power shortages, rocketing unemployment and drudgery the working people are grappling with have made their lives miserable.

The military’s top brass is scared stiff to wrest direct rule from the incumbents. With the economy in a shambles, a rapidly decelerating  growth rate, ballooning deficits and society in conflagration, how can they even dream of having a military rule with growth rates of the Ayub or Musharraf eras?

There is a sharp rise in the class antagonisms within the armed forces. But in conditions of extreme distress and social convulsions threatening the system, a coup attempt from junior officers cannot be totally ruled out. In the current catastrophic socioeconomic crisis such a regime could attack the interests of capitalism for its own survival. But even such a drastic step would not overcome the crisis. A workers’ revolution cannot be substituted.

The other aspect of this crisis is the exposure of the weakness of the right wing. The formal opposition, the N-League cannot mobilise a movement on a massive scale. Hence they compromise at every delicate juncture. The Islamic fundamentalists have been thoroughly discredited mainly because of their tacit support of terrorism. The newfound right-wing populism of Imran Khan has prematurely climaxed. At most he can be another coalition partner in the next government, provided this socioeconomic system remains.

However, if political mendacity has lost its credibility then the state institutions have also decayed. The tumour of the capitalist crisis with its corrosive corruption has metastasized into the organs of the state. They have to be surgically transformed, and cannot be reformed.

In ordinary times elections give ordinary results. The only extraordinary elections with exceptional results were those of 1970, held in the storm of a mass upheaval. The PPP had emerged victorious in West Pakistan. The present PPP leadership have severed all links with the programme of 1970.

However, if there is a mass revolutionary uprising it will transform politics. The PPP can only win this battle by basing itself on its origins of revolutionary socialism. With policies of imperialist appeasement and capitalism this leadership will be swept away by the rising tide. A new revolutionary tradition shall inevitably emerge that will have to fight to the finish.

The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at

[This article was originally published in the Pakistani Daily Times]