Pakistan: PPP strengthens its grip on power but country plunged into crisis.

Urgent need of a mass working class party

Within a few months of the new government taking power in Pakistan the country has been plunged into a new crisis. Economically bankrupt and compelled to go to the IMF for a loan, hourly power cuts, rising inflation, mass unemployment and a vicious war being fought on the Afghan-Pakistan border the country stands on the brink of collapse and disintegration.

PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari, won the 6th September presidential election with thumping majority. He defeated his rival PML-N backed candidate and secured 482 electoral votes out of a total of 732 votes. The PML-N candidate got 152 votes and the PML-Q candidate 34 votes. The National assembly, Senate and four provincial assemblies constitute the Electoral College for the presidency. Asif Zardari won a majority of votes from the Sindh, North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan. However, he lost in the most populous Punjab province. The PPP leadership and government tried everything possible to get Zardari elected unopposed but PML-N refused to withdraw its candidate. The PML-N has also formally announced that it will split away from the ruling coalition and join the opposition benches in parliament. Now the PPP holds all the most power full political and administrative posts in the government and state apparatus.

Asif Zardari silently climbed up to the highest constitutional position in the country. It was not a sudden decision taken in haste to assume the Presidency but a well planned move prepared over months. Zardari agreed to impeach Musharaf after getting assurances from the international powers that he will be accepted as new president. Asif Zardari also gave assurances to the same powers that he will continue the policies of the Musharaf regime.

Most powerful civilian president

Formally, Zardari will be the most powerful civilian president elected under the 1973 constitution. He will enjoy all the powers incorporated into the constitution by General Musharaf, a president in military uniform. He has the power to; appoint and dismiss all the senior officers of the armed forces, the Chief Justice, the Chief Election Commissioner, dissolve parliament and other constitutional legal powers. It is clear that he turned down the request for him to become Prime Minister by the PPP after the elections because he was not interested in becoming a powerless Prime Minister. He was eyeing the powerful presidential position. There were many commentators who argued that Zardari would no be accepted as President by the military and he would be compelled to withdraw his candidacy. All these commentators simply ignored the fact that the military establishment is not in the position to directly dictate the political terms at this stage It is retreating from direct intervention on the political front for a temporary short period of time. General Musharaf,s long military rule resulted in a lot of opposition and resentment towards direct military involvement in politics. The experience of previous transitions from military to civilian rule shows that the generals after every transition disengage for a short period to give the impression that they have no political ambitions. But after short period of time they are compelled to re-engage, initially behind the scenes. They know that civilian governments will fail to resolve the mess created by the military dictatorship which allows them to intervene again. This cycle of military and civilian rule has been repeated throughout the checkered history of Pakistan. Zardari took full advantage of the situation and elected himself to the position of a constitutionally powerful president. It is not likely that Zardari will surrender his new presidential powers to the prime minister and become lame duck president. He will run the government from the presidency like General Musharaf. He will do, without a uniform all the things that Musharaf did in uniform. Like Musharaf , he will be a new puppet of American Imperialism in Pakistan.

Even though Zardari was elected as civilian president he has rapidly become almost as unpopular as general Musharaf was after 9 years of military rule. His refusal to restore the senior judiciary, sacked by Musharaf, was a big blow to his credibility. Having made several promises and announcements about restoring the judiciary, after Musharaf’s resignation he refused to honour the written agreement signed between him and Nawaz Sharif on this issue.

Old wine in new bottle

The PPP led government is continuing with all the policies started by the Musharaf regime. It is actively involved in war on terror and continuing the military operations in the tribal areas and NWFP. It is aggressively pursuing the IMF dictated neo liberal economic policies of privatization, structural adjustment, retrenchments and further liberalizing of economy. Poverty, inflation, unemployment and hunger are rapidly increasing as the result of these economic policies. There are hardly any visible changes in the main policies of the present government compared to the Musharaf regime. The PPP led government has so far failed to come up with a clear strategy to tackle the main issues faced by the working masses and poor.

The PPP leaders claimed that they will avenge Benazir Bhutto’s murder and that the present system will be completely changed. In reality the first 7 months of the PPP led government has told another story. The only thing that has been done in the last 7 months is to replace Musharaf loyalists with PPP loyalists. The PPP government has appointed friends and relatives of the party leadership to the key posts. Now the PPP leaders are saying that democracy has been restored and the PPP has taken revenge against the system as it has elected its candidates as president and prime minister. But the “democracy” that has been introduced has not yet touched the lives of working class people. The same rotten, repressive and brutal regime and social system continue to unleash more misery onto to the masses. The PPP led government has so far failed to bring any relief to the already impoverished masses. This so called “pro-people government” has put more burdens on them. This government is serving the interests of the ruling classes just like the previous government.

Another flawed transition

The masses in Pakistan have had to endure yet another flawed transition towards democracy. The pro-PPP intellectuals and so-called independents, progressive writers and commentators, are trying their level best to prove that the coming to power of a civilian government has completed the transition from a military government to the democratic one. These intellectuals and writers are also trying to prove that Asif zardari is the only hope for a democratic future. Any criticism of the government and Zardari is taken as pro-military. Anybody who criticizes the PPP led government and its failed policies is declared to be Musharaf,s ally. This intellectual hysteria is the result of mounting criticism of the PPP government for continuing the policies of previous regime.

This so called democratic transition is in fact a power sharing deal between the military establishment and the civilian politicians. It is brokered by US and British Imperialism. In such deals, the imperialist powers and military establishment seek assurances from Pakistan’s political leaders that they will continue with the policies which best serves their interests. The military establishment is especially interested to get assurances about indemnity for all those involved in the military regime. In the name of “pragmatism”, there is all too often a tendency to reproduce status quo, after every transition. The politicians have accepted the domination of the military establishment in the politics and always tried to strike a deal with it to secure the power. This is not the first time that the PPP leaders have made such power sharing deal with the military establishment. In 1988, the PPP, led by late Benazir Bhutto, made a power sharing deal with the military Generals to form the government. She agreed to continue the same foreign and economic policies of the previous military regime. This included the policy to continue intervening in Afghanistan. Throughout the so called “democratic decade” of the 1990s, the military continued to dominate politics but without being in the frontline. The civilian governments have had no power to form or alter the major foreign and internal policies without the approval or consent of the establishment.

The policies against the masses of the present government are the direct result of this flawed transition. President Zardari has admitted that he negotiated the deal in order to oust Musharaf and retain some important powers but there were some conditions assurances attached to this deal. The experience of democratic transitions shows that unbridled military rule is replaced by the some kind of quasi-democratic constitution with big limitations and restrictions on democratic rights.

What is needed in Pakistan is not a flawed democratic transition but a revolutionary socialist transformation of the state, economy and society. The existing political system and state structure is wracked by contradictions and is incapable of delivering a genuine constitution that defends the interests of the mass of the people.

Mass disillusionment

Accepting the military’s predominant role and flawed transition only serves to reinforce the mass of people’s disillusionment with politics. Every military dictatorship in Pakistan tried its best to “depoliticize” society and discourage people from becoming involved in politics. The military dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq, (between 1977 and 1988) was the most vicious, repressive and brutal of them. It tried to silence every voice raised in favour of democractic rights, social justice and fundamental rights. Yet all the brutality and repression failed to destroy the political culture and political parties that existed in the country. Thousands of political workers and trade union activists were brutally tortured and put in prisons. What military dictatorship failed to do in 11 years, the flawed transition towards democracy in 1988 did it in few years as PPP government failed to deliver policies in the interests of the masses. The disillusionment reached new levels in 1999 when the military coup against the elected government met with little resistance. There was hardly any resistance and opposition against this coup because masses were completely disillusioned with politicians and civilian governments. The main stream political parties failed to put up determined resistance and opposition to the military regime.

Then the policies and misrule by military regime created some illusions and hopes amongst a layer of society that parties like PPP and PML-N would represent a significant change in the situation. The results of the elections on the 18th of February clearly indicated that these illusions and hopes existed. But the politics and policies adopted by the PPP led government since it came to power has eroded such hopes. There are very few people which still have hopes that the government will offer anything. There is open contempt towards politicians, political parties and the entire political process amongst the working masses. There is wide spread disillusionment and disappointment amongst wide layers of the middle class and working masses. Support for the PPP government is at all time low and its credibility is now in question.

The political parties have abandoned their programs, manifesto, ideas and principals just to get a share in power. The ideas, principles and program have become a joke in main stream politics. This process has led to a situation in which most of the parties have become like personal fiefdoms of the leaders. The credibility of politicians and politics are at the lowest levels recorded. Whatever politicians say, very people really believe them.

There is no mass political party to represent the interests of the working class and poor. There is urgent need of a mass working class party with clear program and strategy to organize the masses against this rotten system and politics.

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October 2008