Pakistan: New twists and turns in Pakistani politics

The threat of Emergency or Martial Law is not over yet,

Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world where political predictions are very difficult to make, because the political situation changes every few months. The political and social crisis is so deep that it is impossible for any regime to bring long-lasting stability in the country.

As the present regime is losing power and becoming increasingly unstable, it is bringing more volatility and uncertainty. One day the media has news of a possible deal between the main opposition PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) and the military ruler Musharraf. Next day, something contrary on the imposition of emergency rule comes out.

On one hand the regime talks about elections while at the same time it also talks about imposing emergency or even martial law. There were rumours in all the news channels for 24 hours during August that the government had decided to impose an emergency in the country and wants to postpone the general elections for one year. Everybody was worried. The stock market crashed, losing more than 900 points in one day. Foreign investors started withdrawing their money.

After this 24-hour drama and confusion, the government announced that emergency will not be imposed. General Musharraf later told the media that the government had sent him the proposal to impose an emergency but he refused to sign.

In fact he did it only after a phone call from the US foreign minister. His legal advisers also asked him not to impose emergency under these circumstances. The Americans and legal advisers saved him from another possible embarrassment at the hands of the Supreme Court.

The present situation in Pakistan can be described in one word – confusion. Every one seems confused in the ruling class including government, opposition parties and military establishment. Musharraf wants his re-election as uniformed president from the present assemblies at any cost, but is still unsure that he will be able to do that. There is no certainty when the general elections will be held.

Musharraf is also not sure whether to make a deal with the PPP. There is also confusion in the opposition camp. Both PPP and JUI, the largest component of religious parties’ alliance (MMA), wants to strike a deal with the government.

Some opposition parties want to bring down the present regime through street agitation, but they have no clear strategy to do that. Some opposition parties want to boycott general elections under Musharraf but other parties want to contest the elections under any circumstances.

Will Musharraf survive?

The most debated issue is, how long will Musharraf survive? No doubt Musharraf’s power has weakened in the last few months. The reinstatement of the Chief Justice of Pakistan by the Supreme Court on 20 July was the biggest below to his regime since he took over in 1999. Now Musharraf faces a hostile superior judiciary, a more concerned establishment, rising Islamic militancy and extremism and increased discontent about his rule.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for him to continue as president and army chief at the same time. With the presidential election looming, the issue of his uniform again takes centre stage. Musharraf desperately wanted to re elect himself as president in uniform to continue his rule. He has the required majority in the assemblies to get himself elected but the laws and the constitution do not allow him to continue as uniformed president.

He needs the support of two-thirds of Pakistan’s legislators to amend the constitution, which is not available to him. In 2002, the religious parties’ alliance MMA provided him the required number to amend the constitution. Now he wants to get the PPP’s support to amend it again.

If he failed to re-elect himself as president from the present assemblies, as a result of a supreme court decision against him, he will most likely impose emergency or direct military rule to hang on to the power. But this would be a blunder on his part and most likely he would be removed by another General. American politicians are also putting pressure on him to drop the uniform and become civilian president.

Musharraf has few options left to continue his rule. He is very unpopular amongst the masses and he is also not enjoying the same support in the military as he was some time ago. The next few months will determine the future of General Musharraf and his allies. But clearly he will not be able to extend his rule in the longer term without making new alliances and giving more concessions to staunch opponents like former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. His survival mainly depends on the superior courts’ decisions on different constitutional issues.

Rebellious judiciary

There is a rebellion going on in the superior judiciary against the establishment. For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the judiciary is asserting itself and showing independence from the establishment. The judiciary has not only started to make decisions against the establishment but it is also taking up issues they never tackled before.

The Supreme Court not only reinstated the Chief Justice but also struck down the decades-old law which allowed the government to send judges on forced leave. The countrywide month-long struggle of lawyers and political activists gave the superior judiciary new confidence to go against the establishment.

A hostile judiciary can become a big obstacle to a regime which wants to extend its rule beyond the legal limits. The Supreme Court is taking many actions against the police brutalities and tortures, crimes against women and against illegal measures and actions of the establishment.

An overwhelming majority of people now looks towards the Supreme Court with new hopes. The Chief Justice is still the most popular and respected person linked with a state institution. For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the superior judiciary has started to hear petitions against intelligence agencies for detaining people without any legal proceedings.

All the political parties are approaching the judiciary on all sorts of issues. Judicial activism is hurting the government badly and making it difficult for them to fulfil their wishes. A new confrontation is taking place between judiciary and establishment, a new phenomenon in Pakistan.

Traditionally, the judiciary helped the establishment draw up its political designs. The judiciary always provides legal and constitutional cover and legitimacy to the military governments and even allows them to amend the constitution according to their political requirements.

But this decades-long cooperation came to an end on 9 March when Musharraf tried to sack the Chief Justice. It is not easy for the establishment to curtail the pro-active judiciary. Confrontation between two state institutions will further deepen the crisis.

Musharraf-Benazir deal

Finally Musharraf took another u-turn and decided to get the support of his arch-rival Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf in his seven years rule constantly attacked Bhutto for being corrupt and a security risk for the country. To strengthen his power, however, he decided to make a compromise with her.

The deal between General Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto has finally been achieved though both deny any deal between them. American advisers played a key role in this deal and they are putting lot of pressure on Musharraf to make concessions to Benazir.

US Imperialism is also pressurizing Musharraf to finalise a power-sharing formula with the PPP after the upcoming general elections. For the Americans the Musharraf-Benazir coalition is the best option to carry forward their policies in Pakistan. They insist that Musharraf should take off his uniform and become a civilian president after securing the second term.

Benazir is ready to accept him as civilian president if he accepts her as prime minister. There are still some issues that need to be settled before implementation of the deal that will benefit Musharraf and gave him some time in power.

But this deal has further eroded support for Benazir Bhutto, who is ready to make any sacrifice to come to power. She strongly believes that the establishment will bring her to power. She has lost confidence in the masses and wants to get support from the Pakistani establishment and American imperialism. The PPP is continuing to shift further to the right.

Benazir and Musharraf have common policies on many issues. They both are Pro- US and followed American policies. They both have neoliberal economic policies, believing in the free market economy and wanting to continue with the rotten and repressive capitalist system.

Crisis of leadership

The latest surveys by BBC radio, local news channels and other bodies clearly show there is a serious leadership crisis in the country. No leader at present can claim that he or she enjoys the overwhelming support of the masses. According to these surveys, Z.A. Bhutto the founding chairman of PPP, executed by a military ruler in 1979, is still Pakistan’s most popular leader, followed by Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf stands in sixth spot.

Nawaz Sharif has become popular because he refused to make any sort of deal or compromise with Musharraf. Benazir Bhutto has lost support since she met Musharraf. No religious leader is in the list of ten top politicians of the country.

According to these surveys, the majority of people have no trust in military generals or civilian politicians because they have failed to deliver. In 2004, the religious leaders were the country’s most trusted politicians but now they are the least trusted.

These surveys reflect the general mood of working people. The overwhelming majority has no interest in politics because they feel betrayed by political parties and their leadership. The main political parties have no real programme, strategy and ideology to solve the basic problems faced by the working masses.

Opposition parties routinely criticise the present regime for price hikes, poverty, unemployment, falling living conditions, rising Islamic militancy and the lack of basic facilities like health, education, clean drinking water and decent housing, but these parties have no alternative programme and policies to answer these problems.

If you ask them how you can solve these problems, the religious leaders always reply, Islam is the solution. For capitalist and feudal leaders the answer is democracy. They are not interested in the issues of working people. Working-class people have lost faith in politics and a clear majority consider it a waste of time. Hundreds of thousands of people who came to welcome the Chief Justice when he was travelling to different parts of the country are not ready to come out on the streets at the call of political parties.

The process of political alienation of the working class has even increased in the last few years. For the masses, all the parties are the same and their only objective is to share power with the establishment to plunder the state resources.

The charisma and popularity of PPP and Benazir Bhutto has eroded to the lowest levels. Religious leaders have been discredited and are losing support. Nationalist parties in different provinces are not enjoying the support they enjoyed in the past. Military rule and generals have also become very unpopular.

The already existing political vacuum is widening and becoming bigger. This situation can be compared with that in the early 1960s which led to the mass movement of working class and poor in 1968-69, the biggest revolutionary movement in the history of Pakistan.

Mass workers party

No working-class party exists in Pakistan. The working class has no political voice and platform to fight for its political interests. The absence of a mass working class party further disillusions working people from politics. The working class needs its own party with a clear socialist programme.

Many trade unions raise the idea of a working-class party but nothing practically has been done. Some union leaders use this slogan to satisfy their membership, which are putting pressure on them to form a workers’ party. The question is mainly raised by the right wing union leadership which is frightened at the prospect of a real mass working-class party based on a radical fighting programme.

There is no opposition to the idea of a workers’ party in the wider layers of workers and especially trade union activists. As the working class started to take part actively in politics, the idea of a new workers’ party will become more prominent in the labour movement.

Socialist Movement Pakistan (SMP) has been raising this idea in the trade unions and working class since 2004. SMP is constantly campaigning on this issue and it got a very positive response from workers.

SMP plans to launch a countrywide campaign during the general elections to be held in December this year or early next year. There is big potential for this campaign to develop on a national level. SMP is also campaigning to organise a national trade union conference on this issue next March.

These small steps can pave the way for big steps in this direction. The next few years will be crucial. A mass revolutionary party of the working class is a difficult task, but it needs to be done. The political situation is ripening for such a development.


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