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Pakistan: The dictator has gone but not his policies

By Farooq Tariq

Lahore, August 19, 2008 -- Thousands of people across Pakistan celebrated the humiliating departure of dictator Pervez Musharraf on August 18, 2008. As he announced his resignation -- in an unscheduled nationally televised speech of one hour -- private television channels showed the instant response of jubilation welcoming the decision in all four provinces. General (retired) Musharraf resigned as president of Pakistan as he was facing an impeachment move by the Pakistan Peoples Party-led four-party ruling alliance.

For the first time, not a single political party defended Musharraf after the announcement of the move by the ruling alliance. He was very isolated in the political field. Even the Mutihida Qaumi Party (MQM) was not ready to defend him in public, a party he was associated with for long time. All four provincial assemblies passed resolutions asking Musharraf to take a fresh vote of confidence. Sind and Baluchistan voted unanimously for this, while in Punjab, over 90 per cent against Musharraf; in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) over 98 per cent voted against. Such was the revulsion against Musharraf among the masses that many of those who were hand-picked politicians of Musharraf decided to abstain. The resolutions in all four provinces exposed the extremely weak social base of dictator Musharraf, who has been supported for nearly nine years by US imperialism.

There were at least four occasions during the last year alone when Musharraf could have lost power.

Musharraf must thank the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leadership for providing him with almost eight more months in power after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007. He could have lost power then, if the PPP leadership had decided to demand his immediate resignation. For five days after the assassination, Pakistan was under siege by the masses. Unfortunately, the PPP leadership decided not to do this and to take part in the general elections.

President in uniform

Earlier, after the restoration of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on July 20, 2007, the top judges were indecisive about the fate of Musharraf and allowed him to contest the election as a president in uniform. He was “elected” president for the second time by a parliament which was elected for five years only. A parliament elected for five years elected the president for ten years! The hesitation of the top judges to prevent him standing when challenged in Supreme Court of Pakistan provided Musharraf another chance to remain in power. He used dictatorial powers on November 3, 2007, to suspend all the top judges before the final decision of the Supreme Court.

February election outcome

The outcome of the general elections on February 18, 2008, was totally against general Musharraf. Instead of asking for the resignation of Musharraf after the elections, however, the PPP opted to work with him. This gave Musharraf another chance to remain in power.

The PPP leadership did not restore the top judges within a month of coming into power, as it had promised. The restoration of the top judges would have given the judges a chance to decide petitions challenging the election of Musharraf as president. Hence, a fourth opportunity to topple Musharraf was lost.

After implementing highly unpopular economic policies, the PPP leadership lost popularity at an historic speed. Had it not taken a decision to impeach Musharraf, the general could have decided to remove the PPP-led coalition government. The PPP took the decision to change gears and reverse its unpopularity. This has paid off for the time being.

While Musharraf formally had the dictatorial powers to remove the parliament at any time, he had already lost the social basis for that. He was more unpopular than the leadership of PPP.

The departure of Musharraf is the best news that Pakistan's people have heard in a long time. It was a defeat for the military and a major setback for those political trends always seeking refuge with the generals. It was very welcome news.

Importance of the lawyers' struggle

Musharraf lost the power as the direct result of the mass revulsion against him. There have been many important struggles against military rule during the last nine years of Musharraf's rule. The peasant struggle for land rights at Okara Military Farms during 2001-2005 set the tone among the most exploited strata of the society. The 10-day national strike by telecommunication workers against privatisation in June 2005 was another manifestation of workers' consciousness against the military dictatorship. The successful revolt of the Sindh masses against the building of the controversial Kala Bagh Dam, the three-day general strike in Sindh and Baluchistan province against the killings of Nawab Akbar Bhugti were important struggles. However, these revolts did not have a national character and remained isolated in one or other part of Pakistan.

It was the militant lawyers' movement after the removal of the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan on March 9, 2007, that was mainly responsible for the departure of the dictatorship. The 80,000-strong lawyers' movement showed tremendous energy to continue for more than one and half years. Young lawyers played a decisive role in this important movement.

Musharraf must be arrested

The PPP-led coalition government has earned a lot of respect by moving to impeach Musharraf. However, Musharraf should not leave Pakistan without being held accountable. The farewell guard of honour for the dictator even after his resignation showed some glimpse of what has been agreed to [behind the scenes]. It seems that dictator Musharraf has been offered safe passage and a luxurious retirement after his forced resignation.

The tradition of granting safe passage for military rulers after their departure from power has to be changed. A very popular demand is to arrest Musharraf so that he can face charges of murder and other crimes. Musharraf must be arrested. “Military out of politics” must be the main slogan for future. Thirty-two years of Pakistan's 62 years of independence have been under the direct military rule. However, no military general has yet been tried for the crime of breaking the constitution. The strong social movement in Pakistan at present will not be silenced or satisfied only by the departure of the dictator.

New wave of class struggle ahead

After the departure of Musharraf, a new wave of class struggle will explode in Pakistan. The PPP government has no excuse for not addressing the main question of price hikes. The implementation of the neoliberal economic agenda will be challenged by all sections of the working class. The PPP-led coalition has no other economic plan other than go the Musharraf way. The PPP wants to privatise the remaining public sector institutions. It wants to remain partners with US imperialism in the so-called war on terror. Its want to do the things that Musharraf could not do openly. The capitalist feudal-led coalition government of the PPP and PMLN will miserably fail in solving the basic problems of the masses.

The governing coalition's honeymoon after the departure of the Musharraf dictatorship may last. Mian Nawaz Sharif's economic policies are no different from the PPP's. The strong support for the judges and for accountability of the dictator has earned more respect for the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PMLN) than the PPP.

The PPP has taken back some of the lost ground, but not for long. The implementation of the neoliberal agenda will clear some of the dust from the real face of the PPP. An extreme right-wing party of the rich cannot base itself on the past reform agenda for long.

The restoration of the judges, if done as promised, will earn the PPP some more respect. However, that will also be tested in the economic field by the masses. All the measures against the dictatorship are being welcomed by the masses in the hope that it will help end their misery. The expectations of the coalition government are much higher now than in the past. However, the masses will once again be on the move, this time on economic issues.

A new era of class struggle will be a challenge for the forces of the left and the social movements. The religious fundamentalist forces are in the field. Most of them have been seen wrongly as anti-imperialist forces. However, they have no solution the problems facing the masses. The left forces have to fight against the pro-imperialist forces and those who are wrongly seen as anti-imperialists. It is a difficult objective condition for the forces of the left, however, what other option are for the left apart from fighting back?

The dictator has gone but not his policies. That is a real challenge that the Labour Party Pakistan and other left forces now face.

[Farooq Tariq is spokesperson for the Labour Party Pakistan. Email labour_party@yahoo.com or visit http://www.laborpakistan.org.]

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