Pakistan: A state at the crossroads

Nothing has changed under Musharraf

When General Musharraf took power in October 1999, after disposing of the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, he promised many things. He was going to revive the economy, establish political stability, root out the widespread corruption, develop provincial harmony, wipe out poverty, establish true democracy, improve the law and order situation and reform the decaying state institutions.

After ruling the country with an iron hand for the last six years, he has miserably failed to fulfill even one of his promises. According to a well known political commentator, Ayaz Amir, “General Musharraf has forgotten his seven point agenda and the only agenda he remembers is to please America and hold on to power.” (Dawn, 19 August.)

General Musharraf seems content with having full control over the state machinery and the power-brokers. In the last year he has been able to strengthen his position in the army. He has removed all the prominent ‘hawks’ and fundamentalists from key positions. Now his liberal, moderate aides are occupying all the key posts in the military. He is controlling everything, but only from the top; at the bottom things still look gloomy for him. He is enjoying the full support of the top military brass, which is crucial for him to retain power in a very hostile political atmosphere. But the situation is completely different at the bottom. There is widespread disillusionment in the ranks about his surrender to American pressures. The same disillusionment is giving rise to frustration even in the middle ranks.

The government minister for religious affairs, Dr. Aamer Liaqat Hussain, said in the Daily Times on May 7 this year: “There is an ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) within the ISI, the former more powerful than the original. They were the godfathers of the Taliban. Who attacked president Musharraf? Only army personnel can do this. A third attempt on president Musharraf’s life is still possible. There are people who are enemies of Musharraf sahib. They will not spare me either. My life is in danger too. President Musharraf should be careful about his life. He has his enemies within, that includes the army”.

A corps commander in Peshawar, Lt. General Safdar Hussain, said in the News on July 10: “A process of Talibanisation is under way in North Waziristan and we are trying to halt it as we did in South Waziristan, with the help of tribal elders and ulema (religious leaders). Certain people are indoctrinating the tribesmen and certain religio-political parties are also involved in this. Killings of Taliban in skirmishes with coalition forces in Afghanistan help in this indoctrination of certain tribesmen, while certain US policies, which are disliked by the tribesmen and other Pakistanis, also spark such attitudes. Pakistani religious parties are supporting this process of Talibanisation. I do not want to name them. I think this is a part of their political agenda and they do not condemn terrorism openly.”

Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly and senior leader of the MMA (Muthida Majlis Amal) alliance of religious parties maintains in the Daily Times: “The Pakistani government is deceiving the US and the West by helping militants enter Afghanistan from Waziristan. The government should reveal the identity of the infiltrators and explain its reasons for launching these people into Afghanistan. These men are being moved from Waziristan to military training camps in Mansehra before being sent into Afghanistan.” “The army will soon oust Musharraf,” says Qazi Hussain Ahmad, leader of Jamat-i-Islami (JI).

All these statements reflect the sentiments of different factions of the ruling layer. The infighting is very visible among them. Despite having these frictions, the military generals still have a strong grip on the economy and politics. The civilian politicians have shown their inability to fight against military domination and to put up a serious challenge to military intervention in politics and the economy. The only class which has always taken on the military dictators is the working class. It is the only class which can end the political and economic domination of the army.

“Mullah and Military Alliance”

Mullahs have close ties with the military generals. Both work closely to maintain the present ‘status quo’. Right-wing religious Islamic parties have a long history of working with the state and serving the interests of the ruling elite. All the main religious political parties serve the ruling elite in different periods according to the situation and what is required. During the Afghan war, the Jamat-i-Islami was used by General Zia. During the second term of Benazir Bhutto, the Jamiat Ulmai Islam (JUI) was used to set up the Taliban in order to capture Kabul. Both the main components of MMA – the JUI and JI – are still helping Musharraf to retain power. They use Islamic rhetoric to hide their corruption and pro-military policies. They are also using anti-American rhetoric and slogans to get support from the masses.

The present political set-up under the military umbrella could never have been able to last so long without the support of the religious alliance – the MMA. The Musharraf regime has facilitated them becoming a friendly opposition.

The Musharraf regime started a clamp-down against some hardline Islamic groups after the London bomb blasts this July. Nearly 700 activists have been arrested, belonging to different groups. This is not the first operation of this sort; the same kind of operation and clamp-down was started after New York’s September 11. A few groups were banned, but continued their open activities under the nose of the government quite freely.

Now this regime is once again giving the impression that it wants to root out fundamentalism, which is not true. The Musharraf regime wants to control the religious right wing. They do not want to crush them. Even if Musharraf wanted to crush them, he would not be able to because the extreme right nationalist faction within the state will oppose it. Jamat-i-Islami represents that nationalist, religious right faction.

Despite having this alliance, there are differences on some issues, which can sharpen these contradictions between liberal and extreme right wing factions. The main contention is over Kashmir and friendly relations with India. The Musharraf regime is under enormous pressure from imperialist powers to solve this problem – to end hostilities between the two neighbouring nuclear states. Musharraf has made a U-turn on the Kashmir policy which is not acceptable to hardliners.

The other matter of contention is the departure of the Musharraf regime from the two decade-old state policy of promoting Jihad and extreme ideas on Islamic teachings. Many training camps have been closed down and open recruitment campaigns have been banned. This has aroused widespread anger among Jihadi organisations. These Islamic, armed fundamentalist groups enjoyed state funding, training and all sorts of patronage for more than two decades since 1977. Some of these groups today want to physically eliminate Musharraf. He has been forced to change almost all government policies which were promoting the Jihadi culture.

Differences also exist on policy in relation to Afghanistan between the pro-US and pro-Taliban wings. Both the ‘liberals’ around Musharraf and the extreme right-wing nationalist groups know that an all-out fight between them on this issue will weaken their control over the state machine and severely damage their interests. That is why they are avoiding a head-on collision. But they are involved in dangerous proxy warfare.

Peace process and arms race

Pakistan and India both are saying that the peace process between them is irreversible, but at the same time the arms race has intensified. The generals are happy with several aspects of this situation. Peace, together with increased defence expenditure, is ideal for the generals. Normal relations mean no war and military tension; increased defence spending means more money for their high living standards and also expensive arms deals, which are very attractive for the generals on both sides.

The US is playing an important role in this peace process and in the arms race, with the resumption of military aid to Pakistan after a decade-long hiatus. Domestically, this gives the generals a chance to play up jingoistic sentiments. India has signed a 10 year defence pact with the US government. Both countries will also get F-16 fighters from America.

Pakistan tested its first cruise missile on 11 August. It has the capacity to deliver nuclear warheads with “pin-point accuracy” at a distance of 500 kilometres. The president, General Musharraf, made no secret of the fact that the missile was India-specific and alluded to the imbalance that had been created by India’s decision to acquire Patriot missiles from the US. The test made a mockery of the recent high-profile announcement that the two countries would warn each other before test launches. A Pakistani spokesman tamely said, “We are only supposed to give pre-warning for ballistic missiles”.

The arms race between India and Pakistan is a double-barrelled one, with one barrel containing conventional warheads and the other barrel, nuclear warheads. Some existing missiles can hit targets at a distance of 2,000 kilometres. India will shortly better this range by test-firing a missile with a 3,000 kilometre range. India is working on an inter-continental range missile that could hit places as far away as Los Angeles. Pakistani scientists are busy working on extending the range and accuracy of their missiles. The 18 month-old “composite dialogue” between the two countries has given the perfect cover for their increased military expenditures.

There is no sign that these peace overtures have slowed down the arms race. Pakistan increased its military spending by 15% in its latest budget – about double the rate of growth of the economy. It plans to spend $3.75 billion this fiscal year. India increased its military spending by 7.7%, which follows an increase of 27% over the previous budget. It plans to spend $19 billion this fiscal year. The two countries, among the poorest in the world, are spending some $23 billion annually. These costs are even higher when evaluated in purchasing-power-parity (PPP) terms. India spends $100 billion in PPP terms, which makes it the third largest military spender on the globe. Islamabad and New Delhi have committed their nations to a fruitless arms race, ensuring the continued impoverishment of their masses.

More dangerously, this process carries within it the seeds of a horrific conflict. For example, the $3 billion that Pakistan will spend on 75 F-16s could be used to improve the quality of life for the millions who live below the poverty line. The government could build some 8,000 primary health care units and 100,000 new village schools, double the budgetary allocation for higher education and health and increase the number of cement plants and sugar mills by 50%. But it is impossible in the capitalist system. It raises the question of changing this rotten system, and transforming society on socialist lines. Workers’ democracy and a planned economy will provide the basis to wipe out poverty, exploitation and unemployment.

Political situation

The military continues to dominate the political scene in Pakistan. The generals have the final say in all the main issues and policy-making. They are using the parliament and PML (Pakistani Muslim League) as a civilian dress and cover. All the decisions are not made in the cabinet but in the corps commanders’ meetings. Their economic interests are forcing them to be involved heavily and directly in politics at every level. They enjoy good support in all the major political parties of the country. But this situation will not last long. There is widespread disillusionment in the working masses about military rule. The anger against military domination and control in politics and the economy is also on the rise in the working masses.

The attitude and consciousness in the working class about the generals has changed significantly in the last few years. The implementation of the vicious anti-working class policies of the IMF and the World Bank has played an important part in this change. The overwhelming majority of the working class is against the policy of privatisation. Unemployment, rising poverty, price rises and fast increasing inflation have made the situation worse for the working masses.

All the political parties are willing to work with the generals. The Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) is more than keen to make agreements with generals to share power with them. The PPP is no longer interested in the problems of working people. It has completely transformed itself into a capitalist party. The MMA occasionally uses anti-American rhetoric and slogans to keep their support intact.

All the parties have the same economic programme including the PPP and the MMA. They all want to implement the same policies of privatisation, retrenchment and free market economy dictated by imperialist international financial institutions to super exploit the working masses. All the capitalist parties have betrayed the working people and that has created a situation in which they are not taking a keen and active part in politics. Their consciousness is very complex. There is widespread hatred and anger against the present system.

There will be few people who have hopes in the present repressive capitalist and feudal system. But there are no clear alternative ideas. There is also widespread disappointment with the existing main-stream political parties and clear mistrust also exists. There is no working class alternative at the moment. Such an alternative can attract a whole layer of the working class, which is seeking an alternative. Especially politically aware workers are really looking towards an alternative. Now a thin layer of youth and students are also interested in socialism. There is a big vacuum on the left.

The Socialist Movement, Pakistan (CWI) has very small forces compared to the size of this vacuum. But big opportunities lie ahead for the SMP to become a major force in the politics of the country. The SMP has to play a leading and key role in building the working class alternative. It has shown this potential during the PTCL (telecomm) strike earlier this year. In spite of having small forces, it played a key role in organising this struggle. It will not take very long for the working class to come back onto the political scene and rise to overthrow the rotten capitalist and feudal system and to transform the semi-capitalist, feudal and tribal society of Pakistan along socialist lines.

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