Pakistan: Punjab provincial government deposed; PPP resorts to dictatorial measures

By Farooq Tariq

Lahore, February 27, 2009 -- The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leadership has a problem on its hands. There are not many ways to defend the governor of Punjab's ruling on February 25, which imposed a two-month suspension of the Punjab Assembly. The most respected and moderate leader of PPP and chairperson of the Senate, Mian Raza Rubani, justified the decision by saying that it was necessary to stop the ``prevailing state of anarchy''. He was talking to Kamran Khan on the private television channel Geo.

What was this ``prevailing state of anarchy''? A few hundred angry activists of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) protested in cities throughout Pakistan. They were opposing the Supreme Court decision earlier to bar Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his elder brother, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif,  from contesting elections and holding elected offices. The three-member Supreme Court bench upheld a decision of the Lahore High Court in this regard. These judges had taken the oath of the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) when General Musharaf announced the state of emergency on November 3, 2007. Ever since, the lawyers' movement has been demanding their removal.

On a small scale, the protests were not unlike those after the murder of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007. Yet in this case, there was no property burnt, no looting of banks or burning of railways as was the case following Bhutto's murder. The situation could have been tackled easily by the police.

However, the PPP leadership has been waiting for an opportunity to remove the PML-N Punjab government for a long time. The governor of Punjab, a member of the PPP, made public statements threatening this several times.

On February 26, speaking at a massive public rally in Sheikhopura district of Punjab, Nawaz Sharif accused President Zardari of being behind the ban. "Don't break the law, wreck public property or take the law into your own hands", he told his supporters. Sharif said the main cause of Pakistan's current problems emanated from former president General Pervez Musharaf's eight years in power. Musharaf overthrew Sharif's government in a 1999 military coup, but his supporters were trounced in elections last year and he stood down.

Sharif criticised judges appointed by Musharaf and said he had been "let down" by Zardari, who he forged an alliance with to win the elections. "I put all my trust in him, but he broke my trust", he said. Sharif said as far as he was concerned, his brother Shahbaz Sharif was still the chief minister of Punjab. President Zardari has dismissed the Punjab government and given control to the governor who is one of his loyalists. Earlier, Zardari's prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gillani, caused surprise when he said he had been shocked to learn of the Supreme Court's decision. He said the attorney general had not taken him into his confidence. 

The removal of the Punjab government is a dictatorial measure by the PPP government that follows in the footsteps of General Musharaf. It is a despotic decision that is difficult any democratic person to justify. The PPP leadership has done many wrongs during its first year in power. This adds another. It is the end of its deceitful ``reconciliation policy''. This is a road to more repressive measures.

The decision to remove Punjab's PML-N government is an integrated effort of the PCO judges and the PPP leadership. This is mainly preparation to handle the situation before and after the proposed ``Long March'' of lawyers from March 12-16, 2009. They are preparing to deal with the lawyers' movement by using an iron fist that willlead to a new round of arrests, detentions, torture and other dictatorial measures against those who are challenging the remnants of the Musharaf dictatorship.

This is a reminder of the situation after Musharaf's imposition of emergency rule. On November 7, more than 800 lawyers were arrested from Lahore alone. Then more than 10,000 political activists were sent to jail in a bid to foil the challenge posed to the dictatorship. Even Benazir Bhutto was arrested.

The judgement of the Supreme Court against Mian Nawaz Sharif is based on an allegation by Musharaf, who accused him of hijacking a plane while Musharaf was flying back from Sri Lanka on October 12, 1999. The then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif attempted to remove Musharaf from his command, but Musharaf opted to take over instead of accepting the order. It is now clear from all the evidence presented by several eyewitnesses that he had already planned this military coup with other military generals. During the Musharaf period the courts sentenced Mian Nawaz Sharif to life imprisonment for this alleged hijacking.

The Supreme Court judges have now declared Mian Nawaz Sharif is ineligible to contest elections based on a court sentence under Musharaf rule. They also imposed the same fate on Mian Shahbaz Sharif, thus losing his Punjab assembly seat and chief ministership. His provincial government had to go as well.

The PPP leadership covered up the Supreme Court's unjustified decision by announcing ``it is a court decision that we must respect''. The PPP's hawkish leaders like Fozia Wahab and Qasim Zia presented this view on several news channels and in newspapers. They were sarcastically reminded by several other commentators that it was also a Supreme Court decision that led to the father of Benazir Bhutto, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, being hanged during the military dictatorship of Zia ul-Haq. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged on a false murder charge on April 4, 1979, following a split decision of the seven-member Supreme Court bench.

What should have been the normal procedure in such a situation where the chief minister of Punjab was disqualified? The Punjab provincial assembly should have been called to elect a new leader who enjoyed the support of the majority of the assembly. However, despite all their efforts, the PPP leaders were unable to obtain a majority in the Punjab Assembly. The PPP rulers feared another PML-N member would become the leader of the house and be eligible to form the next Punjab government.

The announcement of the lawyers' Long March and Dharna (sit-in) to demand that the PPP government restore the independent judiciary has baffled, puzzled and confused the PPP government. Looking for ways to handle this situation, the PPP finally opted for dictatorial measures. It seems the PPP government has removed General Musharaf only to adopt his dictatorial trends. A dictator is gone but not his policies. The party has thrown away the glorious democratic traditions won through the heroic struggle of political activists, including the PPP, in fighting Pakistan's military dictatorships.

The PPP under President Zardari cannot be viewed as a party of liberal democrats. Rather it is a party ruled by a feudal and capitalist elite, supported by the most reactionary political trends. Like Musharaf, the PPP has earned a lot of hatred from the masses.

The Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) has condemned this dictatorial measure. The LPP will be in the forefront of the lawyers' Long March as it has done in the past. The LPP has little in common with the capitalist politics of the PML-N. To oppose the governor's rule in Punjab is not meant as support for PML-N policies. It is a principled democratic stand. The LPP has never had any illusions in any section of the ruling class to solve the basic problems facing the working class of Pakistan.

The only way forward is to strengthen an alternative working-class politics based on socialist ideas, not on the the politics of the rich. There has to be a very flexible but firm ideological socialist base to analyse the complex politics of Pakistan and other underdeveloped countries. This is not a straight road. There will be many twists and turns.

[Farooq Tariq is spokesperson for Labour Party Pakistan. Email or visit and]