As the din goes on of the media-based politics that the moneyed political elite so adores, and the petit-bourgeois hordes scramble in an orgy of lobbying the pseudo “experts” of the different factions, the oppressed masses in the depths of society look on with a passive indifference.
But this superficial silence of the vast majority of the simmering populace has its own clamour - the resonance of a seething discontent and revolt below the surface is clearly there..
After more than two and a half years of elections, the agenda of mainstream politics has not moved beyond the issue of electoral rigging. Elections have become a day-to-day routine, rather than an act which empowers a certain government to redress the grievances of a deprived society. Apart from other reasons, they have become a non-issue being overplayed by the corporate media and the filthy rich politicians to distract attention from the real burning issues that are crushing the country—while the ruling PML (N) has mastered rigging to the level of an art. The PTI has developed a twitch, inadvertently moaning, groaning, and cursing rigging and corruption. This soap opera is being shown on the television screens and social media as entertainment for the vociferous and fitful middle classes. The masses, however, remain distant and apathetic towards this media gimmickry.
The truth is that every mainstream party is in crisis and is losing its social base amongst the masses, who have given up any real hope in this corrupt and impotent politics. The PML (N) regime is being run by a “kitchen cabinet” of three, while all the other federal ministers are openly at each other’s throats..
The PTI has lost most of the by-elections, and its internal dissensions are ferociously repressed by its despotic leader, Imran Khan. The PPP’s mass base has shrunk drastically, as seen in the recent by-election in NA-122.
What Zia ul Haq and the military establishment couldn’t do to the party, Zardari has managed to do, molding the PPP into his own image - despised and discredited. The revival of the PPP’s fortunes becomes bleaker by the day.
The MQM is facing internal splits and fatal conflicts as much as the wrath of a military establishment that was scorned by its acts of insolence to its mentors. The ANP, after blatantly embracing neoliberal capitalist policies, internal dynastic strife, and, more importantly, its dismal and corrupt performance in the previous provincial government in Pushtoonkhawa, has been reduced to a shell.
Like most other mainstream parties, the family soap of its dynastic leadership has entered a tragic phase. The nationalists have been weakened more by the betrayals of their leaders and their capitulation to capitalism than the manoeuvres of the state. Those genuinely fighting for national liberation are smeared by the links of their leaders with the various imperialist vultures plundering the resources of these lands.
The Jamaat a Islami, JUI (F), and other known Islamic parties are not immune to this process. History is a testament that these obscurantist entities only flourished under the patronage and watchful eyes of the military establishment. The madrassas and their other social welfares projects are a façade for their criminal acts to accumulate black money. Their predominant army of supporters came from the petit bourgeois who, in the current era of social media, are being lured by the other, more attractive avenues and commercial indulgences.
The organic and inherent weakness and erosion of the corrupt civilian political elites raises the spectre of the repressive alternative of the military as the saviours of this tragic land. Trotsky, the great revolutionary Russian leader, said, “the crisis of mankind can be reduced to the crisis of leadership.” This has never been more applicable as in today’s Pakistan, and explains why—in a country where the military has ruled directly for almost half its chequered history and carried out harrowing atrocities upon the oppressed masses—it is being peddled as a saviour.
The generals, however, are reluctant to take over direct power. Why should they, when they can see the burgeoning economic and social crisis in society, and are already calling the shots in crucial policy matters, from foreign policy to commercial decision making? At the same time, they are the biggest entrepreneurs in the manufacturing, real estate, construction contracts, and services sectors of the formal economy. The generals’ tentacles in the informal economy penetrate much deeper, but none of the ingenious “Think Tanks” can dare to expose this state of affairs.
This political impotence of these parties and leaders - who are no more than pawns of Pakistan’s rotten capitalism and commission agents of imperialism - stems from the failure of the system itself. In spite of the cooked figures and lies about favourable conditions, the macroeconomics of the country is in bad shape. Despite the praises from the imperialist financial institutions, the prospects of any economic growth and betterment are extremely limited.
In its history, Pakistan’s economic growth averaged a rate of around six percent. The last two democratic regimes have struggled and failed to reach even a modest 4 percent growth rate, in spite of the fact that in this moment in time the hegemony of finance and corporate capital in Pakistan is absolute, and all parties have capitulated to preserve this system by hook or crook.
Pakistan’s finance ministry and imperialist financial institutions that actually control this economy are rejoicing in a false delusion. The high foreign exchange reserves and the low rate of inflation are exhibited as successes of the PML (N) regime. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in reality are a political and monetary conglomerate. These parasitic institutions must serve their political subscribers and impose such policies on recipient countries, like Pakistan, that enhance the probability of repayment of foreign loans. Pakistan’s forex reserves of about 19 billion dollars are the result of large foreign borrowings, and the low inflation rate is because of declining global oil and gas prices.
However, there is a clear disconnect between this right-wing capitalist regime and the World Bank/IMF’s celebrations, and the everyday reality confronting the ordinary people in Pakistan. If you are unemployed or underemployed, high foreign exchange reserves and the low inflation rate are practically meaningless.
Pakistan currently has a working-age population of some 100 million, nearly half its population. Most of this labour force works less than 35 hours a week, thus qualifying as underemployed. In order to stave off an even more drastic conflagration in the coming period, Pakistan will need to create at least 2 million new jobs a year and achieve an annual GDP growth rate of 7 percent. This is a tall order for a system that has rotted to the core.
The reality on the ground is that all key economic and social indicators are deteriorating. Among others, this is evident from the circular-debt figures—up from Rs. 411 billion in 2013 to Rs. 633 billion as of June 30, 2015. This mammoth amount of hard-earned capital from the blood and sweat of the Pakistani workers is being blatantly robbed by the IPP’s [Independent Power Producers], the imperialist and local private power producers who are paid astronomical amounts by every government in power whether they produce any electricity or not. This gruesome plunder is continuing due to the agreements signed by regimes of the PPP and the PML (N) in the 1990’s, who reaped massive bribes for selling off the power production and consumption of the future generations to these corporate vultures.
Pakistan’s is far from a fair-taxation regime, the cornerstone of basic fiscal justice even on a capitalist basis. The indirect taxation component of its Rs. 2.7-trillion tax pool for the current financial year is 57 percent. This regressive taxation (the lower your income, the more taxes you pay) is cruel and exploitative. If your electricity bill is Rs. 20,000, about 40 percent of this is tax; if your landline phone bill is Rs. 3,000, about 30 percent is taxes; if you buy high-speed diesel, the ad valorem tax is 45 percent.
Every dominant political party’s economic recipe to come out of this catastrophic crisis is the “miracle” of FDI (foreign direct investment). Paradoxically, with the crisis of capitalism on a world scale, the opposite has been the outcome. Domestic and foreign investors are keeping their wallets shut. Foreign Direct Investment, which peaked at $5.4 billion in 2007–8, has hit a 13-year low of $709 million. If the traditional party of capitalism, the PML (N), has failed to improve the economic situation, none of the other mainstream parties, be they secular or Islamic, vying to serve the ruling classes better, can do much about pulling this economy out of the disastrous crisis it is in.
Some more savvy and astute politicians, realising the historical bankruptcy of this system, have developed plunder to a fine art. All the talk in all political spheres, and in the intelligentsia’s debates, is about corruption. The more they scream against it, the more it spreads throughout the economy and society. It is a social norm that has become a way of life. With almost two-thirds of the economy in the informal sector, corruption is not the cause of the crisis of capitalism, but is a product of this system, one without which it can no longer function.. In a society where the ruling classes cannot generate a healthy rate of profit to preserve their socio-political status and certain stability in society, they have no option but to plunder the state and society. The resultant deprivation of the masses spreads misery and destitution throughout society. The more the misery, the more will be the corruption.
It has penetrated every aspect and organ of the capitalist state and society like a metastasizing tumour. The PML (N)’s victor from NA-122 in Lahore, Ayaz Sadiq, in his first interview after victory let the cat out of the bag when he said, “now it has become impossible for any ordinary person to contest election as it has become such an expensive exercise where only billionaires can seriously indulge in this electoral process.” This shows that ideologies and politics hardly matter in elections. All one needs is bags of money to reach the height of power.
In today’s Pakistan, jobs are at the mercy of bribery, health and education is a privilege for the upper middle classes and the moneyed elite, and tycoons can buy off ministries and dictate every policy. This mad lust for money has created an insane social milieu. Human souls and delicate relations have been debased by the lust of money. This system has reached a stage where any reform or improvement of society has become a deceptive slogan. The crisis is unravelling rapidly, pushing society even further into the horrific abyss of plunder, bloodshed, and human devastation.
Under capitalism, the future of society is harrowing and barbarous. It is not an accident that the masses have profoundly rejected the prevalent politics. In their agony and pain they have come to the conclusion that that this system cannot deliver. The system is rotten to the core. It cannot be reformed. The seething silence and alienation of the masses reflects a burning quest to end this misery.
The necessary task of the surgical removal of this cancerous system depends upon the oppressed masses’ ability to carve out a revolutionary mass party and a Marxist leadership as they enter the arena of class struggle. The historic task of every class conscious youth and worker is to fight to the finish for the socialist transformation of Pakistan.