Pakistan: Martial law imposed

Constitution suspended, fundamental rights denied

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Martial law imposed

On Saturday 3 November, General Musharraf imposed martial law across Pakistan. Under the guise of a state of emergency, he declared a new Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) and suspended the existing constitution. All fundamental rights – freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of the press – are denied. All political activities have been banned and a crackdown is taking place against leaders and party workers of the main opposition parties – the PML-N of Nawaz Sharif, the Islamic organisation, Jamaat-e-Islami, and some NGOs and civil rights organisations.

A purge of the senior judiciary has begun and demonstrations are being brutally suppressed by armed police. Thousands of arrests have been made. The figure could be reaching the 6,000 mark.


This is the second time that General Musharraf, as chief of the army, has carried though such measures. The first time was on 12 October, 1999 when he removed Nawaz Sharif from government.

A desperate Musharraf has launched this assault to hold onto power. During the last few days, there had been rumours that the government had lost patience and wanted to take extra-constitutional steps to cow the rebellious senior judiciary and media.

On Saturday, these rumours became reality and the regime showed its true face. The much talked about ‘democratic transition’ has turned into a military dictatorship. The parliament, provincial assemblies, federal and provincial governments will continue to exist to try and give the impression to western imperialism that there is no military dictatorship or actual martial law. But all this just camouflages the real character and nature of the regime that Musharraf is trying to impose.

The regime versus the judiciary

There has been tension between the military-dominated government and the senior judiciary since March – a split at the top of society. But it took a decisive turn on Saturday when the Musharraf regime attacked the judiciary with full force. The Chief Justice and other Supreme Court judges considered to be anti-government were removed. Under the new ordinances, the judges in the High and Supreme Courts around the country were asked to take fresh oaths of office. A majority refused. Only five out of seventeen judges of the Supreme Court complied and in the Sindh High Court, only four out of 27 took a new oath.

Meanwhile, a seven-member bench of the Supreme Court declared the new Provisional Constitutional Order unconstitutional and illegal. This means that two different parts of the state machine are confronting each other face to face. The main armed wing of the state has attacked an unarmed part of the state. The section of the military and intelligence services around Musharraf was not happy with the way the Chief Justice and some senior members of the judiciary had condemned their ‘illegal’ behaviour and decided to try and make a final blow against them.

General Musharraf accused the Supreme Court of taking the side of ‘extremists and terrorists’ and interfering in government matters. The main reason given was thee attacks on the state administration and the security agencies through judicial interference. This, he claimed, had badly affected the war against terrorism and economic growth. By interfering with executive functions, it had weakened the government’s authority, undermined the morale of the police and hampered the intelligence agencies. The judges had overstepped their powers when they released some militants through court orders and made the Supreme Judicial Council irrelevant. Government officials had been humiliated in the courts and the separation of powers had been eroded, affecting the operation of law and order in the country.

This charge sheet clearly shows the grievances of the regime against the judiciary for taking unprecedented steps against the excesses of the police and bureaucracy. Normally, the courts cover up the wrongdoings of the state officials, but in recent months even the Supreme Court itself has started to take action against them.

Musharraf and the people around him were obviously frightened of a decision expected from the Supreme Court this Tuesday. It was due to pronounce on the eligibility of his re-election as president while still wearing his general’s uniform.

The Musharraf government was also not happy with the remarks made by the judges during the hearings of the case against the forced deportation of Nawaz Sharif and also those dealing with missing persons, undoubtedly abducted by the state.

There were clear indications that the Supreme Court would not be prepared to validate any extra-constitutional steps or measures taken by the regime, as it had done in the past. This is a major showdown between a now relatively independent judiciary and the Musharraf regime itself. It is a battle between the judiciary trying to keep its independence and the regime attempting to re-establish its dominance over the judiciary.

This battle is not over. It is the beginning of a new struggle between different sections of the ruling classes. If the regime succeeds in purging hostile judges and inducting pro-regime judges into the senior judiciary, that would be a big blow to the judiciary. But if a protest movement develops around this issue, then the tables may be turned against the whole regime.

It is not clear what will be the outcome of this battle but one thing is sure: Pakistan has plunged further into turmoil and anarchy. The events of the next week will determine the immediate outcome. The armed wing of the state has shown its strength and muscle to the judiciary and working masses; now it is down to the leaders of the working and down-trodden people to show their mettle in fighting this dictatorship.

Police state

If Musharraf is not brought down, under the PCO he has issued Pakistan will become a police state. The courts will not be able to hear any cases against state officials and government functionaries. The police and intelligence agencies will become bolder in their violation of laws and basic rights. Their actions will not be open to challenge in the courts and they will have a free run against opposition political party workers and leaders. Their actions will be officially sanctioned, no questions asked. The repression will extend to workers and their organisations as the government uses violence to suppress all opposition.

Pakistani police and law enforcement agencies are notorious for abusing their powers and torturing and humiliating opposition activists. A tamed judiciary would help the police to cover up their actions. Fundamental democratic and human rights have already been suspended.

Anti-regime judges have been put under house arrest. Nobody is allowed to meet them and their phones have been shut down. This is only the beginning and more repressiion is likely in coming days. The number of arrests will increase as the opposition movement develops.

Origins of crisis and prospects for Musharraf’s survival

As we have explained in previous articles, the Musharraf regime has failed miserably to satisfy the needs of the working and poor people. It has also failed to deal with rising terrorism and sectarianism in the tribal areas and in the Swat district of North-West Frontier Province. Now it wants to crush the media and the judiciary. Along with the unarmed political party workers, they are far easier targets than the fully armed Islamic militants in the tribal areas. Now, the regime will target opposition workers in the name of ‘the war on terror’. It will aim to introduce new draconian laws which give more powers to the police and intelligence agencies and further restrictions on trade union and political rights.

General Musharraf is desperate to save his own skin and will do everything to remain in power. He has taken the country back to square one and the position of October 1999. After eight years of pious claims about democracy, an independent media and judiciary and respect for human rights, he has now returned to military rule. The imposition of the POC will not solve anything. On the contrary, it will aggravate the already uncertain and tense situation. He is desperate to regain the direct control and power which he has lost since March of this year, when the judges started their defiance.

It can be safely said that this new declaration of martial law will prove to be one of his gravest errors of judgment – a sorry indication that nothing has been learnt from his past mistakes. It has already aroused the disapproval of his closest imperialist allies externally and will further fracture an already weakened federation within Pakistan. It will alienate those with severe grievances against central government, such as in the Tribal areas and Baluchistan. It will throw what little credibility the government had – internally and externally – down into a very deep abyss.

It will be difficult for Musharraf to last long, following this draconian act of desperation. His future depends partly on what attitude the major imperialist powers like the US and Britain take towards his move. It could depend on whether another layer of the army tops carries through a counter-coup against him or, also of major importance, what the reaction of the political parties and working masses is in the next few days. He is left with no other way out if his latest move fails to safeguard his position. Even the beginnings of a mass movement could make it impossible for Musharraf to hang on to power.

Weakened state

In the televised speech justifying his actions, Musharraf’s body-language was a clear indication that he is not very confident! It was the speech of a man who has lost much; he did not look like a confident military ruler. His speech was empty and failed to impress anybody. This is really the beginning of the end. Musharraf is trying to give the impression that the generals and the civilian bureaucracy fully support him but this will change dramatically as the opposition to his rule increases.

He has made a mistake in opening two fronts at the same time – against the media and the judiciary. Both enjoy huge respect and support amongst the masses. His regime is the most hated and unpopular in the history of Pakistan.

Support from Benazir Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party is the key to Musharraf’s survival. She appears to be trying to persuade him to drop the PCO and go ahead with elections. If she is forced to turn her back on him, he will plunge further into deep crisis.

Against all expectations, Benazir, who had flown to Dubai, returned immediately after the promulgation of martial law. She has condemned it, refused to accept the regime’s justification for it but used very calculated and cautious words to oppose it. Bhutto has called for a struggle to restore democracy.

All opposition parties have condemned the PCO and announced that they will organise a struggle against it, but it will only become clear in the next few days whether these announcements will be translated into action or not. In the present situation it will be difficult for any party to openly support the regime.

The regime took on to the media and judiciary because it was confident that people would not come onto the streets to protest against its actions. But the regime underestimates the anger that exists amongst the working masses. These latest actions of the Musharraf regime will provoke the masses; once their anger explodes into decisive action, the regime will collapse like a house of cards.

Capitalism is a system of crises, turmoil and repression. These will continue until the capitalist system itself is defeated. The way to end the ongoing political turmoil and constant crises is to build the forces to conduct a mass struggle for the overthrow of the bosses’ and landowners’ system. This would have to have the aim of forming a democratic workers’ government, in alliance with the poor farmers and peasants and spreading the struggle throughout the continent.

The Socialist Movement, Pakistan demands:-

  • An end to martial law and military government; for new elections to a constituent assembly
  • Stop repression and arrests; release all detained lawyers, political leaders and protesters
  • No negotiations with the regime; no confidence in any imperialist dictated deal
  • Remove the ban on political activities and guarantee trade union rights
  • Trade unions and workers’ associations to prepare mass political action to defy the regime, up to and including general strike action
  • An immediate reduction in the price of food and essential commodities of at least 50%.
  • Stop the killing of innocent people at the behest of US Imperialism in the name of a ‘war on terror
  • No to right-wing political Islam, terrorism and sectarian atrocities
  • All-out struggle for a democratic, representative workers’ and peasants’ government. Socialist planning and policies to end the crises and turmoil.

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November 2007