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.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Tue, 08/19/2008 - 18:02

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http://socialistworker.org/2008/08/19/a-us-backed-dictator-tossed
 

A U.S.-backed dictator tossed overboard

Snehal Shingavi explains why the U.S. could no longer keep its man Musharraf in charge of Pakistan.

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF has now joined an infamous legacy of Pakistani military dictators--Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan--who have been forced to resign because of immense popular pressure.

Musharraf resigned from the presidency on August 18 rather than face impending impeachment charges, thanks to a deal brokered by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. While much of the Western media has been preoccupied with what effect his resignation will have on the "war on terror," they have ignored how Musharraf's ouster has invigorated the civil society organizations, unions and left-wing groups that took to the streets in celebration of his downfall.

In reality, Musharraf's resignation is a crisis of the West's own making. As Musharraf has drawn Pakistan further and further into the U.S.'s imperial designs, popular dissatisfaction has grown with these policies. And in the past few years, Pakistan has seen its economy decline, its acts of terror increase and violations of civil rights rise dramatically.

This is a far cry from the "order" that Musharraf promised when he came to power in 1999. As the chief of staff of the armed forces, Musharraf overthrew then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in a bloodless coup. Sharif's regime was riddled with corruption. Also, a section of the domestic ruling class chafed at Sharif's habit of antagonizing the West, first with nuclear weapons tests which incurred sanctions and then by criticizing U.S. foreign policy. But Sharif overplayed his hand. He threatened to oust Musharraf, but was himself forced from office instead.

Once in power, Musharraf immediately began a policy of reorganizing the military and the Pakistani economy. He benefited from a period of economic growth, stimulated in part by India's booming economy.

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ONE OF the primary reasons that Musharraf lasted as long as he did was because of the role that he played in the U.S. war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Musharraf was initially reluctant to collaborate, given that Pakistan's fortunes and regional influence had actually been raised as a consequence of the Taliban's capture of Kabul in the 1990s. But after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Bush administration needed support from frontline states like Pakistan in order to pull off an invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and hunt Osama bin Laden.

Thus, a combination of threats and economic benefits moved Pakistan more fully into the U.S. orbit. Pakistan's military bases, intelligence and personnel were made available to the U.S. military. In exchange, the U.S. lifted sanctions on Pakistan and helped steer foreign direct investment into the country. This cooperation with the U.S. war on terror, though, brought Musharraf into immediate conflict with several forces inside of his country.

First, there was the military and intelligence establishment, both of which had been inculcated with Islamic ideology since the military regime of Gen. Zia Ul-Haq, who seized power in 1977 and was killed in 1988. Thus, Musharraf's about face, turning yesterday's Muslim allies into today's terrorist enemies, didn't sit well with large parts of the military. The army and intelligence operatives responded by only half-heartedly participating in efforts to secure the border, drive out al-Qaeda, close Islamic schools (madrassas) and shut down Islamist outfits.

For example, Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI) did crack down upon some Islamist outfits in the regions bordering Afghanistan--the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Northwest Frontier Provinces (NWFP). Yet at other times it turned a blind eye to such organizations, allowing the Taliban and al-Qaeda to gain strength in the region. But the repression of Islamist movements antagonized Muslim organizations and ordinary Pakistanis, who chafed at the complicity of the Pakistani military in the U.S. imperial project.

Indeed, Musharraf's cooperation with the U.S. against Afghanistan and Iraq soon turned major Islamic parties and organizations against him. Several attempts were made on Musharraf's life by suicide bombers and other would-be assassins. The most spectacular confrontation with the Islamists took place last year, in a bloody police operation to oust Islamist militants who the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in the city of Islamabad.

In order to carry out the U.S. war, Musharraf also had to pursue a domestic agenda of neoliberal, pro-business economic policies and the suppression of political freedoms and liberties. The first part of the agenda meant breakneck privatization of state-owned industries at bargain-basement prices, while the second meant that Musharraf routinely suspended the constitution, shut down mainstream media outlets, declared states of emergency and even disappeared political dissidents.

Perhaps the most egregious of Musharraf's crimes was the political engineering of his tenure as president. The 2002 referendum that Musharraf used to justify his seizing control of the presidency was widely disputed as rigged. Musharraf also angered the judiciary by refusing to resign his position as head of the Pakistani military, despite the fact that the constitution explicitly prohibits the executive from holding a position in the armed forces.

As Musharraf prepared to seek election in 2007, calls for him to resign from the army grew, sparking a protest in the judiciary itself. The election debacle began with the Supreme Court of Pakistan threatening to declare Musharraf's presidency illegal, and concluded with Musharraf suspending the constitution, firing the judges who opposed him and stacking the judiciary with loyal judges (who still hold their positions). This provoked a massive protest by lawyers, students and ordinary Pakistanis to demand the reinstatement of the judges. Popular dissatisfaction only sharpened.

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THE CONSTITUTIONAL shenanigans of Musharraf allowed the U.S. to engineer the return of Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister and head of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), to contest parliamentary elections. She could have provided the legitimacy that the U.S. needed to conduct its war on terror, but her assassination earlier this year meant that the U.S. would have to cobble together a much more fragile set of allies.

In the wake of Bhutto's assassination, her PPP won the largest number of seats in the parliamentary elections, followed closely by Nawaz Sharif's PML-N. The two rival parties formed an uneasy anti-Musharraf coalition government, and it appeared that Musharraf might be able to survive because of the government's weakness.

By summer, however, the PPP and PML-N closed ranks to push for Musharraf's impeachment. Next, Pakistan's four provincial legislatures passed votes of no-confidence in Musharraf. An impeachment proceeding appeared inevitable. So Musharraf agreed to a plan hatched by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia which allowed him to leave his office and potentially accept voluntary exile. In the meantime, the office of the presidency will be assumed temporarily by Mohammadmian Soomro, a Musharraf ally, until the parliament can elect a new president.

The biggest beneficiaries of Musharraf's resignation will be the PPP, headed by Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, and Nawaz Sharif's PML-N. But Musharraf's resignation has actually ignited and inspired grassroots activism throughout the country--and unless the judiciary is restored and the economy improves markedly, the instability in the country is not likely to end soon.

Also, the resignation of Musharraf hardly caught the West by surprise. Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani of the PPP made a recent trip to Washington with the intention of convincing the Bush regime that the war on terror could be fought without Musharraf at the helm. The U.S., while unhappy at losing a reliable ally, didn't lift a finger to help Musharraf. The Bush administration realizes that the PPP is willing to play the role the Americans want them to.

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THE U.S. needs continued Pakistani support for a number of political and military objectives. On the one hand, Pakistan's position as an important Muslim nation allows the U.S. to project the lie that it has regional allies. On the other hand, it needs Pakistan to secure its border with Afghanistan, which has enabled the Taliban and its allies to obtain resources and reach safe havens.

The new civilian government in Pakistan will likely produce some changes in military policy. But these will take some time take effect, and are not likely to be substantial. In fact, both the lawyers' movement and the PPP have campaigned for Musharraf's ouster on the basis that they would be better equipped to handle the terrorists without him.

And the problems that Pakistan faces will not be resolved by simply removing Musharraf. Tariq Ali recently explained:

Musharraf's departure will highlight the problems that confront the country, which is in the grip of a food and power crisis that is creating severe problems in every city. Inflation is out of control and was approaching the 15 percent mark in May 2008. Gas (used for cooking in many homes) prices have risen by 30 percent. Wheat, the staple diet of most people has seen a 20 percent price hike since November 2007, and while the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization admits that the world's food stocks are at record lows, there is an additional problem in Pakistan. Too much wheat is being smuggled into Afghanistan to serve the needs of the NATO armies. The poor are the worst hit, but middle-class families are also affected and according to a June 2008 survey, 86 percent of Pakistanis find it increasingly difficult to afford flour on a daily basis, for which they blame their own new government.

Some of these economic troubles could have been solved with the extraordinary amount of money that Pakistan spends on its military and the war on terror. But as long as the priorities for Pakistan are determined by what is best for the country's tiny elite and the U.S. empire, ordinary Pakistanis will continue to suffer.

The hope for real change in Pakistan will depend on whether or not the social movements of the day can seize on the opportunity to advance an altogether different--one that begins with removing Pakistan from the project of building the American empire.

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Submitted by Communist Part… (not verified) on Tue, 08/19/2008 - 20:26

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Dictator Perviz Musharaf resignation is the victory of the democratic forces of Pakistan.

Instead of honoring him by a safe passage to Perviz Musharaf, he must be charged and tried in the open court. Musharaf is a symbol of dictatorship, conspiracy against the people, a subservient of imperialists and America, who adopted the supremacy of the imperialist international monetary institutions. The political and parliamentary forces must file cases against him and also withdraw all those decisions imposed in the country on the demands of the imperialist and international monetary institutions and to eradicate this menace for ever.

This was stated by the Comrade Imdad Qazi member Central Secretariat, Communist Party of Pakistan in the party policy statement, on the resignation of Dictator President Musharaf. Comrade Qazi further said and demanded to stop the military operation immediately in Balouchistan, deal with the militancy in NWFP politically. All the policies must be framed in the benefit of the country and peoples of Pakistan instead of the imperialist America. He further demanded to stop the wave of the increasing inflation and prices hikes. The country�s financial policies must be prepared by the Pakistani pro people economists. Judiciary must be restored at the 2nd November 2007 position. Throw out the imperialists paid economic policy makers because the strengthening of democracy is based on the sovereignty and the freedom of the economic policies from foreign pressures. The people of Pakistan must force the rulers to fulfill at least the upper three basic demands on priority.

Mansoor Saeed
International Department
Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP)

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sat, 08/30/2008 - 14:24

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Karachi, August 28: On the call of lawyers' movement, a two-hour long
Dharna [sit-in] was held at M A Jinnah Road, Karachi. It was the first
protest soon after the forced exit of General Pervez Musharraf and also
the fourth betrayal of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party leader Asif
Ali Zardari on the issue of restoration of the Chief Justice and other
judges dismissed by Musharraf.
More: http://www.asia-pacific-action.org/node/161