Pakistan: Ousting of Nawaz Sharif opens up new crises

The political situation in Pakistan has been tense since the Supreme Court disqualified Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister. In response to his disqualification, Nawaz Sharif organized a march from Islamabad/ Rawalpindi to Lahore which started on 9th August. The very busy Grand Trunk (G.T) Road was chosen as a route for the march instead of a less busy motorway. In the rallies held as part of this march, Sharif asked, “Shouldn’t there be a revolution?”, “Are you ready for a revolution?”, “Will you stand by Nawaz Sharif in the revolution?”

He said; “The two hundred million people of this country are the real owners of this country. A few cannot over rule them. We will make the two hundred million people of Pakistan its real owners again; Nawaz Sharif has come to you. Did you not send Nawaz to Islamabad after making him prime minister?” he asked, prompting assent from the crowd. “But he was thrown out by someone else. Is this decision acceptable to you?” he roared, with the crowd responding with a resounding “No!” “Shouldn’t there be a revolution?” he said. “Are you ready for a revolution?” he asked. “Will you stand by Nawaz Sharif in the revolution?” he asked, inviting cheers of “Yes!” During a rally held in Muridke city, he said to his party supporters and workers “Do not worry. This is your victory. This is the defeat of those who have held the nation hostage for 70 years.”

In the last four years Nawaz Sharif has been in office, his policies failed to serve the wider interests of the working class, peasants and poor in Pakistan. There were only a few benefits for them but, in large, his economic policies helped to deteriorate the living conditions of the Pakistani masses.
It was a mass opposition in the streets, importantly the action of workers and youth that defeated the dictatorial military regimes in the past and put brought back civilian rule. This action took place with the hope of implementing policies that could benefit the workers, youth, peasants and poor. But all they have seen is corruption and anti-working class actions been taken. This is why wider sections of the Pakistani masses do not have any trust in any of the establishment parties or political elite.

Nawaz Sharif however still enjoy some support among his party members and some workers who remember well the difficult life under military dictatorships and want to defend civilian rule. Nawaz Sharif also reminds the public of this to win more support for himself. “Do not be disappointed,” he says, “do not worry. This is your victory. This is the defeat of those who have held the nation hostage for 70 years.” But Nawaz Sharif also came to prominence as part of the General Ziaul Haq-led dictatorship in the 1980s, serving first as a finance minister in the Punjab cabinet and then as chief minister of Punjab. Later he also led the right-wing Islami Jumhoori Ittehad (Islamic Democratic Alliance) to topple Benazir Bhutto’s government. Sharif and his family are accused of widespread corruption, and owning expensive properties in London and elsewhere.

On the other hand Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – Pakistan Movement for Justice – which was supposed to have stood against corruption and to defend democracy, uses this opportunity do the bidding of military. They claim Nawaz Sharif is maligning the military. They also accuse the judiciary of pursuing an anti-Pakistan foreign agenda. It is very common in Pakistan for the political elite to label their opponents as an agents of other countries.

Yes, we need a revolution. But what type of revolution is Nawaz Sharif calling for? It is not the first time that ruling elite use terms like ‘revolution’, mostly in demagogy way. Before Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Tahir Ul Qadri and PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) leaders also used such demagogic rhetoric. But, of course, all of them failed to explain what kind of revolution they are aiming to achieve. All of them benefit from the exploitive economic system and are not revolutionaries by any stretch of the imagination. They do this as they want to cling on to power by raising the hopes of the masses. But we should also ask why ruling class using the word revolution in Pakistani politics repeatedly. Do they mean a political revolution or a social revolution?

Revolution is not just a word, it meant to change the entire prevailing system. Social revolution means to change the economic relations of society and to establish new economic relations. The ruling class’s whole politics is only about protecting their economic interests. They introduce legislation to protect private property and to make exploitation legal. Lenin, in ‘The State and Revolution’, pointed out that ‘’the exploiting classes need political rule to maintain exploitation, i.e., in the selfish interests of an insignificant minority against the vast majority of all people. The exploited classes need political rule in order to completely abolish all exploitation, i.e., in the interests of the vast majority of the people, and against the insignificant minority consisting of the modern slave-owners — the landowners and capitalists.’’

The rhetoric of ‘revolution’ that ruling class parties and their leaderships use is for specific purposes. Most of the time, they use such rhetoric in periods of economic uncertainty, to channel the anger of the oppressed classes who are bearing the burden of the economic crisis and attacks on their livelihoods due to ruling class policies. The ruling class’s talk of revolution is limited to political infrastructure and they want change only to maintain their grip on power.

“Civilian Supremacy”

Nawaz Sharif is also talking about “civilian supremacy” in his public rallies and in TV interviews. He says that no state institution has the right to disqualify him as prime minister as the people of Pakistan gave him a mandate. No prime minister of Pakistan has completed their term of office; all of them were kicked out by the establishment, he claimed. It is true that in the 70 years since independence, almost half of that time Pakistan’s military ruled directly through martial law. On the other hand, the Pakistan masses have an inspiring record of resisting martial rule, as in the 1968-69 uprising against Filed Martial Ayub Khan’s military regime, the 1983 protests led by the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) against the military dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq, and the 2007 protest movement against General Parvez Musharraf’s regime. During these periods, section of the political elite either collaborated with the regimes or remained silent. Those from the elite who were expelled or were in opposition paid lip service to change and did not directly challenge the military. They waited for their opportunity to return to office to take the crown for themselves.

‘Civilians’ do not have control or real say in the government or in taking economic of political decisions. Voting in the elections alone provide no solution to the masses alone. They are left to choose between ‘the devil and the deep blue sea’, as the old saying goes. The elite, which control politics on behalf of the capitalist system, make economic decisions on their own behalf. Ultimately politics is “concentrated economics”. So the question of ‘civilian supremacy’ is linked to the economy of the country, and which forces control and own the economy.

Neo-colonial state 

Pakistan’s state structure did not evolved through its colonial masters. The country’s inheritance of an overbearing colonial machinery, in the form of a military and civil bureaucracy, and its cooperation with three major elites (feudal, indigenous capitalists and metropolitan capitalists), resulted in what became a complex, postcolonial state. While economically developed countries progressed through the establishment of a strong nation-state, the process in Pakistan was somewhat in reverse. Pakistan’s independence from the British rule resulted in a weak nation and a strong and domineering state structure that was oppressive and authoritarian. British rulers used this state machinery against the local people to protect their colonial interests. From partition, the Pakistani state played a crucial role in regional policy of US imperialism, particulary in Afghanistan, as front-line state during the Cold War. This strengthened the military establishment in Pakistan. The US did this to protect its imperialist interests in the region. As a result, during every strategic decisive moment or strategic shift, Pakistan faced martial laws. Pakistani state structure is still as brutal as it was during colonial rule.

It was a very hard decision for Pakistan’s establishment to build strong regional strategic relations with China and Russia in opposition to the US interests in the region. But the economic benefits linked with this strategic relationship attracted Pakistan’s establishment to align with China, Russia and other regional forces. In this context, the Pakistani establishment is about to quit the US strategic partnership in Afghanistan. In reaction, the US is mounting pressure on the Pakistani establishment. They are pushing for Pakistan to continue to follow their instructions regarding Afghanistan and also on regional strategic alignment. And of course it is very difficult for the Pakistani establishment to completely disassociate itself with the US.

At the same time, the US establishment senses a new scenario opening up, that new regional economic cooperation changes taking place will limit US influence and its future role in the region. There is speculation that US president Donald Trump is going to announce as part of new Pak-Afghan policy considering to imposing sanctions on Pakistan. Even if the US establishment is serious about this, they are well aware that it will leave them with a big bill in Afghanistan. This tension can further escalate the conflict that exists between the US and Russia-China.

In this period of the decline of US imperialism, there will be more clashes and small-scale wars in different parts of the world. Global capitalism is decaying and unable to overcome the crisis it faces. Out of this, mass movements can develop in different parts of the world. The masses no longer have any trust in the ruling parties of the past. They also do not trust their ‘revolutionary’ demagogy. But the important question is how will the struggles of the masses develop? The establishment of mass workers’ parties that can articulate the economic need and desires of the masses is vital. Such parties are the only force that could develop a far-sighted perspective and strategy to win the masses to fundamentally change their dire conditions.

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August 2017