Pakistan: General Musharraf resigns as president

Will this end the country’s political crisis?

The Pakistani masses have now seen the back of another military dictator as General Musharraf finally resigned as President on Monday18 August. His resignation ended the months-long speculation about his future. The streets erupted with jubilation as soon as he announced his resignation. The people started dancing with joy and tons of sweets were distributed – a tradition during celebrations in Pakistan.

Musharraf was forced to resign to avoid the humiliation of impeachment in the parliament. On the 7th of August, the coalition government announced it would initiate impeachment proceedings if he refused to step down. This decision did not come as a surprise to many; it had been expected since the formation of the coalition government after the election earlier this year. The resignation of Musharraf marks the end of an era which has seen Pakistan plunged into economic, political and social crises. Musharraf is leaving Pakistan a more fragile and fractured country than it was when he came to power in 1999.

Safe exit

Musharraf decided to resign after getting assurances from the army and the US administration that he will not be put on trial and will be given full indemnity for his actions. He was willing to face impeachment at the beginning and considered different options to get out of this difficult situation. He even considered using the constitutional power to dissolve parliament in order to avoid the impeachment process. He tried to get the support of the military commanders on this issue but they refused to give it to him. His political party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) or PML-Q, was in tatters as most of its MPs openly announced they would vote against him in the impeachment proceedings.

According to news reports, Musharraf only decided to resign when the army’s General-in Chief, Kayani, clearly informed him that if he was not willing to resign then he would not only face impeachment but also a trial and prosecution. He was left with no choice but to opt for the safer way out – resignation. It is most likely that he will not stay in the country, possibly settling in the USA. The army generals wanted to give him a safe exit as they did not want to see an ex-army chief being humiliated by the civilian politicians. The Bush administration and the Saudi government played a key role in brokering the deal between the government and Musharraf. This deal is underwritten by three guarantors:- the Bush administration, the Saudi regime and the Pakistani army. Under the deal, Musharraf will not face trial or prosecution.

The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) or PML-N, the second largest party of the ruling coalition, was not in favour of a “safe exit” for Musharraf. But the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the larger coalition partner, wanted to give him a “safe exit”. It is very clear that the military establishment would not allow a trial of its former chief and four-star general because it would be seen as an “insult” for the top brass. The civilian politicians are not yet strong enough to take on to the military’s power. As a symbolic gesture, the army has allowed Musharraf to continue living in military accommodation – in the official residence of the army chief.

The fall of Musharraf

Yet another military dictator has departed after creating a social and political crisis of every kind. His struggle to cling on to power ended only after nine years of tyranny which began in1999. General Musharraf came to power and ruled the country as Chief of Army Staff (COAS), like his three predecessors. His uniform was his first line of defence and the army an instrument of self-empowerment and control. The day he doffed his uniform, he was no longer the master of his own or his country’s fate.

The loss of the army’s institutional power was effectively the beginning of the end. Musharraf kept the uniform as long as he could. Yet given the simmering resentment both inside the army and outside, there was no option but to relinquish office.

Like the former military dictators, General Ayub Khan and General Zia-ul-haq, Musharraf did four things to ensure his political survival. He strengthened the powers of the presidency through: constitutional amendments. (Ayub wrote a new constitution). He attempted to gain popular legitimacy through a rigged referendum and by taming the judiciary to secure a legal cover to his illegal, unconstitutional actions. He also created a political party the PML-Q.

As we can see from the unfolding political events since his stepping down as COAS, the artificial political arrangement did not last long. He did everything possible to retain power, but in the process eventually ran out of options. The sacking of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary in March 2007 and the imposition of Martial Law in November 2007 proved fatal steps. He even secured a deal with the leader of the PPP, Benazir Bhutto, prior to her assassination, to continue his rule. The result of the February 18 election, in which his manufactured political party, the PML-Q, lost badly was to blow the whistle on his rule. His fall from power was only to be a matter of time, following his decision to take off his uniform. Musharraf may have gone but his legacy will continue to haunt the people of Pakistan.

Future of coalition government and political stability

Local observers and commentators are saying that, with the resignation of General Musharraf, political uncertainty will be over and a new period of stability will open up. But the realities of the political situation on the ground point in another direction. There are still important differences in the ruling coalition on many issues. The most contentious issue between the PPP and the PML-N is the issue of the restoration of the judiciary. The PML-N wants the judiciary restored immediately and through an executive order. But the PPP supports restoration of the sacked judges only as part of a constitutional package. The PML-N had already resigned from the federal cabinet in May on this issue. The ruling coalition twice announced a deadline to restore the judges but it failed to materialise on each occasion. Now they promise to restore the judges within 72 hours of Musharraf’s departure.

The issue which can split the coalition is the war on terror. The PML-N and the JUI (Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam) want to halt the military operations in the tribal areas and in Swat. But American imperialism is putting huge pressure on the government not only to continue these military operations but to expand them to other areas. The PPP and the Awami National Party (ANP), two of the coalition partners, do not want to offend the Bush administration and want to continue with military operations. There are differences on other issues which can cause trouble and lead to even greater political uncertainty in the coming months.

It is unlikely that the coalition government will fall apart immediately, but such a possibility cannot be excluded indefinitely. The “common enemy” has now gone. Opposition to Musharraf was the biggest factor which brought the old rivals together in the current coalition alliance. The ruling establishment will try everything possible to create rifts and hostility between the main capitalist parties. The long-term alliance and collaboration between the PPP and PML-N is not in the interests of the ruling elite. In the long run this alliance can become a counter-weight to the political domination of the ruling elite, especially the military establishment.

There are many challenges faced by the coalition government:- The rise of religious extremist militancy in the tribal areas and a large part of the North West Frontier Province; the shortage of food items and sky-rocketing inflation; the increased poverty and hunger; a faltering economy and continued nationalist insurgency in Baluchistan. All of these are crucial issues now facing the government.

The main excuse given by the ruling coalition for not solving these problems – Pervez Musharraf – has now been removed. The ruling coalition has failed to check the soaring prices of food and prevent the economic downturn. The working masses are still queuing for hours to buy wheat and flour. The health and education services have been crippled. The real test facing the government has just begun.

Mood of the masses

The coalition government has gained some more time and support after forcing Musharraf out. However, the working masses are not in a mood to give a lot of time to the ruling alliance. There is already widespread disappointment at the performance of the government so far. Before the resignation of Musharraf, all the surveys were indicating a rapid erosion of support for the PPP. In the very short term, the PPP will gain some support and take the credit for ousting Musharraf. If the ruling alliance succeeds in restoring the deposed judges, this might be re-enforced for a short period especially amongst the middle class and sections of the working masses. But if the ruling alliance fails to restore the judges, then the present support will turn into disappointment and anger. Neither will the ruling alliance be able to sustain the hopes of people as the economic crisis remains unresolved and worsens.

There is still widespread discontent and disillusionment amongst wide layers of the working masses with all the political parties. People have simply lost trust and confidence in the political parties and leaderships. The anger and hatred against the economic and social conditions is mounting. The majority of working and poor people have lost their hopes and dreams of a better future and life.

While there is a certain pause in the struggle of the working class movement, some sections of the working class, like the telecom and power-loom workers have shown their strength and fought back. Although these struggles have yet to become generalized, they point the way forward. The working class is politically isolated from the centre of the political process because of the absence of a party which represents them.

The working class urgently needs its own party to fight for their class interests. Such a party, on the basis of a radical Socialist programme, can mobilise the masses against the exploitation, tyranny, poverty and rotten capitalist and feudal system. There is no way forward for the working masses under capitalism. A socialist transformation is the only way forward.

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August 2008