Donate to Links

Click on Links masthead to clear previous query from search box

GLW Radio on 3CR

Recent comments


Syndicate content

Pakistan: A ‘soft’ military coup?

"The issue of election rigging is just a cover for Imran Khan. His real motives include covert opposition to the military operation against Tehreek-e-Taliban, opposition to the PMLN’s attempt to put Musharraf on trial and to cover-up the performance of the Khayber Pukhtoon Khawa provincial government."

By Farooq Tariq

August 30, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Claims and counter claims by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI), Mullah Tahir Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and the governing party of Pakistan, the Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), of who contacted the army chief first for “mediation” or “facilitation” have puzzled the vast majority of people in Pakistan.

Late-night August 30 meetings by Khan and Tahir Qadri with the army chief General Raheel Sharif have been severely criticised by members of parliament as showing the weakness of the PMLN government. The government then came up with the excuse that it was the wish of the two “protesting long marchers” to meet the army chief.

Since August 20, a few thousand supporters of the PTI and the PAT have been occupying the main road leading to the parliament, Prime Minister House and the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad. Both right-wing parties were unable to mobilise a “million” people as promised to demand the immediate resignation of the prime minster on charges of rigging the May 2013 general election.

Despite claims and counter claims, it is an established fact that the government has allowed the two protesting leaders to have direct contact with the military. They both are expecting and wanting a military coup after their occupation of the main road, which is being televised live 24 hours a day by all main commercial media. It showed the extremely weak nature of Nawaz government’s democratic credentials.

In fact, a soft military coup may have taken place. The army has earned lost ground and is being presented by the media and the government as a saviour of the “system”. Thirty-four out of 65 years of Pakistan’s independence has been under military rule, the last ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, left power in 2009 after a mass campaign against him by lawyers and most political parties.

The military will be able to dictate all its terms to the PMLN government if it survives a hard military coup, a remote possibility that cannot be ruled out. The civilian government that has dared to show some independence from military domination for over year and half with its policies of peace talks with India and the trial of Musharraf may have to abandon these defiant policies.

The occupation of the main road by the PTI and the PAT has fizzled out. It has not spread all over Pakistan. The deadline set by the two parties’ leaders for the final show down has been extended over a dozen times. Imran Khan’s appeal for mass civilian disobedience was opposed by the majority of traders and businesspeople. His party has submitted the resignation of some 30 parliamentarians. However, the provincial government of Khaiber Pukhtoon Khawa, formed by Khan’s party, has not resigned, a double standard that has not gone down well with the people of Pakistan.

Khan launched his long march on August 14 to protest against the rigging of the general election last year. He is demanding that Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif resign to pave the way for a fresh election. The PTI’s Azadi March (liberation march)  caught the imagination of many in Pakistan in its initial stage, however the expectation that 100,000 motorcyclists would lead the “million march” were not realised. It failed miserably.

A few thousand marchers left Lahore, from the residence of Imran Khan at Zaman Park, riding in expensive cars.

The Azadi March is being complemented by the Inqlab March (revolution march) called by the PAT. The PAT is a religious political grouping active in the fields of education and health and has a worldwide network of charities. The government allowed the “Revolution March”, led by religious scholar and chief of the PAT Mullah Tahir Qadri, only after an initial bid to repress it. Tahir Qadri, a Canadian citizen, has talked about changing the system and replacing it with a more progressive set-up. The PMLN government’s strategy to arrest workers and cordon-off the provincial capital Lahore and the federal capital Islamabad with large containers worked well.

The left-wing Awami Workers Party has characterised the two marches led by rich politicians and mullahs as reactionary and appealed to the working class not to participate. Both marches had reached Islamabad separately at the time of writing. The unity of the two actions was hit hard by the big egos of Khan and Tahir Qadri, who could not agree who would lead the rallies.

In the meantime, PM Nawaz Sharif has been repeatedly asking: “Why the march and what is our fault?” He asked the question in his long-awaited nationally televised speech on August 12.

Imran Khan says that the May 2013 general election was rigged and is demanding a new mid-term election under a government of technocrats. He later made a U-turn on the issue of a technocrat-led interim government after the president of the PTI, Javed Hashmi, objected and refused to be part of the long march.

The issue of rigged elections came a “little” -- 14 months -- late. During that period, Imran Khan formed the provincial government in Khayber Pukhtoon Khawa province and the PTI is still in power there.

Imran Khan was at ease with the federal government  and started negotiations with the religious fundamentalist Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). As expected, the talks did not go very far and a military operation was launched by the federal government in June 2014.

Initially, Khan raised questions about the operation; his main objection being that he was not consulted. Later, it turned out that the interior minister Choudry Nisar, from the ruling PMLN, had not been consulted either. Khan endorsed the military operation reluctantly and offered help from his Khayber Pukhtoon Khawa provincial government.

Within a month of the launch of the military operation, Khan announced that he would march to Islamabad to finish the rule of a “corrupt royalist” government. Many commentators were puzzled about the real motives of the long march.

It seems that Khan, who has always tried to please the religious fundamentalists, is again on the same path. A military operation could not be opposed publicly, so he started a campaign against the PMLN on the issue of election rigging.

It is worth noting that during the 2013 general election campaign political parties like the Pakistan People’s Party, the Awami National Party and the Mutihida Qaumi Movement were attacked by suicide bombers. They were not allowed to canvass in public by the fanatics. Both the PMLN and the PTI were not attacked. The reason was simple: both were seen as sympathetic towards extreme religious groups.

Now the conservative right-wing parties are at loggerheads on the issue of power sharing. Both are in power, one in the centre and other in Khayber Pukhtoon Khawa province. Imran Khan wants power at the centre just 14 months after the general election. It seems an untimely decision as the PMLN has not lost all the popularity it enjoyed after the Pakistan People’s Party failed miserably during its 2008-13 term.

The PAT and the PTI have presented the most serious challenge to the PMLN government in its one and half years in office. Both are using a revolutionary vocabulary to attract the masses. Azadi (independence) and Inqilab (revolution) marches are an insult to the real meaning of the two slogans. Khan’s PTI is supported by and joined by the rich of Pakistan. It has become a right-wing conservative capitalist party. The PAT is a counterrevolutionary party using revolutionary slogans. It wants religion as the dominant political force to guide the state.

These parties are gaining popularity because the Nawaz government has failed miserably to do anything to lift the poor.

The PMLN is overseeing a fast implementation of a neoliberal agenda. To fulfill the conditions of the International Monetary Fund for a US$5 billion loan, the PMLN government has doubled electricity prices and increased the prices of gas and other services. A wholesale privatisation of major public-sector institutions has been announced despite massive opposition by several political parties and trade unions.

The issue of election rigging is just a cover for Imran Khan. His real motives include covert opposition to the military operation against Tehreek-e-Taliban, opposition to the PMLN’s attempt to put Musharraf on trial and to cover-up the performance of the PTI’s Khayber Pukhtoon Khawa provincial government.

The real question is: what will happen after the dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad? The PMLN has made it clear that it will not give in. The Lahore High Court has declared these dharnas unconstitutional. Imran Khan says that he will not come back without securing resignation of the prime minister. Tall claims have been made by both Khan and Tahir Qadri. It seems both are expecting some sort of military intervention. There is no other way to remove this government. However, direct military intervention seems unlikely at present:

  • The two marches lack support in Sindh and Balochistan. That is an important factor why the military might not move to take power.
  • There is a total opposition, at least in words, by all major political parties (except the PTI). Even the PTI leadership is paying lip service to the cause of democracy.
  • There is still a vibrant lawyers’ movement and an activist judiciary that is totally against a military takeover and they are not going to validate a military coup as was the case in the past. 
  • Social movements, organisations and peasant and trade unions will oppose a military takeover. 
  • The present civilian government is not unpopular to the extent that a military coup would be accepted. 

Imran Khan is in haste. His “rigging formula” is not being accepted by the majority of the people. His appeal is still confined mainly to Punjab. He has used very dogmatic language. He has made a bad case against the PMLN government. It might have been different if he launched his campaign a year or so later.

[Farooq Tariq is general secretary of the Awami Workers Party Pakistan.]


AWP for parliamentary democratic system and constitutional rule

This piece is in line with recently (31 August, 2014) released statement by Awami Workers Party federal executive committee. Initial lines tell grounds on which party views the situation;
“Awami Workers Party (AWP) has reiterated its support to the fledgling parliamentary democratic system in the country, and once again rejected the dubious methods of the PTI and PAT, warning that the complete mayhem that has unfolded in front of the Parliament/PM House may descend into total breakdown of constitutional rule.”

Democracy and Pakistan Army

The situation in Pakistan-Punjab is very critical as Farooq Tariq has analysed the political situation through a very dodgy protest which started in the mid of August by two conservative and semi - religious parties.

Both parties, PTI and PAT, used all the methods to spread the protest in the cities of four provinces of Pakistan but failed.

The most recent development shows in Pakistan that the Army General had one to one meetings with the head of the Protest leaders. The Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had also several meetings with the Army General and it shows there is no breakthrough and agreement how to overcome this crisis which has now entered into a 'violent phase'.

Pakistan Army on the surface clearly continues to show no favour to any political party but supports the democratic process in Pakistan. But the history of Pakistan Army shows that it had ruled Pakistan directly or indirectly since 1958. The army has a strategic link with the USA and its policy in the Middle East where new waves of terrorism is gripping the countries like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt. The oil rich states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar are playing a very effective role to support different sectarian political groups to tackle Iran in the Middle East. I think Pakistan army is observing too this political game in the Middle East. Iran and its allies in the Middle East are also fighting proxy wars and this is a very complex situation to analyse because the role of the Obama administration is also becoming clear to which religious faction and ethnic group to support against the rise of ISIS - a very dangerous terrorst group.

Pakistan army is also fighting against certain terrorist groups in Pakistan and the USA has praised Pakistan for this fight and operation.

However, this week is very crucial for the elected government of Pakistan to survive the 'Protest Movement' led by semi - religious groups which want nothing but the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Pakistanis know that this government has no clear economic planning and no economic programme for the welfare of people who have been suffering from poverty, the rise of food prices and the policies of the IMF.

Will Nawaz Sharif survive this week? Only God, USA and Pakistan Army can answer this question.

The Nature of Pakistan

Something that all observers have to understand in order to make sense of Pakistan is that Islam is central to its existence in a way that this religion is not in other countries.

Pakistan was carved out of British India in 1948 as the British were finally forced to give India its independence. Britain's final, poisonous gift was Pakistan. It was composed of all the Muslim-majority states of India but one (Kashmir, where the princely ruler was a Hindu). The various provinces that made up Pakistan had greatly different cultures from each other - Punjab, Sind, East Bengal, Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province, which is majority Pushtun.

The crucial fact is that, because of these differences, Islam is the one crucial component of Pakistani nationalism. Everything else that unites the provinces of Pakistan also unites them with India, while everything else that divides the provinces of Pakistan from India also divides the provinces of Pakistan from each other.

The loss of East Bengal in 1971 led to the realisation that the Pakistani national identity could not be taken for granted. The military then made a fundamental strategic choice of promoting Islam heavily in order to create this national unity. The last thing it wants is for Pakistan to fall apart into its constituent ethnic groups, all of which would easily fall under Indian domination.

As a result of this, Islamist political parties enjoy disproportionate political leverage in Pakistan. Even when they get very small proportions of the vote, they enjoy far greater power to influence State policy than other parties of equivalent size. This has led, of course, to the most outrageous violent behaviour, which only rarely gets punished by the authorities and even armed insurgencies like the Pakistani Taliban are treated with kid gloves.

It is in this context that the intervention of the military in the current Pakistani political crisis is to be understood. The two conservative Islamist parties which have engineered this crisis have far more sway with the military than might be seen merely by looking at how many people they can put on the street. I don't know what the outcome of the current crisis will be, but the Islamists will get far more out of it than they deserve.

Powered by Drupal - Design by Artinet