Dr Lal Khan is a Marxist political worker and analyst based in Lahore Pakistan. He was a hero of the student movement against the Islamic-fascist General Zia ul haq , sentenced to death he escaped to Europe where he joined the International Marxist tendency. He has lived and worked in India as well. A very well read man he is the editor of Asian Marxist Review. He has wrote many books amongst which “Partition and how it can be undone”, Kashmir;s ordeal the Marxist Perspective and “21 century Socialism” are worth mentioning. He has written an article on the situation in Pakistan which is worth reading as it disscusses some important issues which are being confused in Pakistan.
|Pakistan – unravelling of the democratic farce|
|By Lal Khan in Lahore|
|Thursday, 15 May 2008|
|The resignation from the federal cabinet of fifteen ministers belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) PML (N) has exposed the fragile nature of the present ‘democratic’ set-up.
The ‘coalition’ based on the so-called “grand national reconciliation” has split just after 41 days in power. This coalition government was cobbled together under the auspices of US imperialism and the Pakistan state to stave off a looming crisis that threatened the whole system. But now this fragile coalition has collapsed ‑ another failure of the Pakistan ruling classes and imperialism. The Economist of May 10 gives a pessimistic picture of the situation:
Ever since the return of Benazir on October 18 last year there have been mass upheavals and turbulence throughout society. Events have been unfolding in an explosive and unprecedented rapid pace.
Such was the severity of the upheavals that sections of the state decided to assassinate Benazir Bhutto on 27 December 2007 in Rawalpindi in an attempt to quell the rising tide of the masses, who had come out in a mass movement to challenge this rotting capitalist system. Food, shelter and clothing were their demands. They were yearning through this upheaval to get rid of the poverty, unemployment and misery into which they were being thrown by Pakistani capitalism. The wrath of the oppressed masses was evident in the reaction to the assassination of Benazir as the lava of mass anger and resentment poured onto the streets and Pakistan was virtually paralysed for more than 48 hours.
However, the PPP leadership refused to call a general strike against the postponement of the elections from the original date of January 8 of this year, which was done at the behest of US imperialism. The results of February 18 elections were meticulously engineered to suit the ruling classes and US interests. The PPP was made to win, yet it was the highest loser. Had the PPP got a two-thirds majority ‑ which was a foregone conclusion ‑ the rising tide of mass upheaval would have put such tremendous pressure on a PPP government that it would not have been able to fudge the basic demands of the oppressed who were supporting it.
Before, during and in the aftermath of the elections the State Department officials played the main role in manufacturing this right and left wing coalition set-up. The US ambassador in Pakistan, Ms. Anne Peterson, has been the most active and enthusiastic politician in this country ever since then. She has been interviewing every minister and has been dictating every little detail in the moves of this government.
The PML(N) finance minister immediately flew to Washington to get fresh economic instructions from the World Bank and the IMF. In spite of all this, the coalition has collapsed. The immediate “issue” was the restoration of the judges sacked by Musharraf.
On the other hand, the different factions within this retrogressive and redundant ruling class are vying for power. They are in conflict with each other as they all wish use this newly gained political power to get their huge loans written off and plunder whatever is left of the state and exchequer. In the brief history of Pakistan all regimes have indulged in this orgy of blatant corruption and nepotism.
But the real issue has been the unprecedented price hikes, the high rate of inflation, and the rise in poverty levels that have shaken society. In the first twenty-eight days of this new democratic set up, hailed by almost every body from US imperialism to the ex-left NGO’s, there have been more price hikes than in the last five years of the preceding regime.
Pakistan’s economy is now in a free fall. The highest ever inflation, trade deficit, current account deficit and worst ever macro-economic indicators are evidence of the rot and the terminal sickness of Pakistani capitalism. The economy is teetering on the verge of a sharp steep recession compounded by a global economic crisis. The rot is far greater than just the budgetary overruns and current account deficit. Pakistan’s economy faces high inflation, a global financial, oil and food crisis, energy shortages, capital flight, stagnant exports, falling foreign exchange reserves, a rapidly depreciating currency and decline in investment levels. The main brunt of this capitalist crisis has once again to be faced by the already impoverished toiling masses of Pakistan.
According to the officials of the World Food Programme more than half of Pakistan’s nearly170 million people are now short of food due to a surge in prices. According to the WFP survey, the “food insecure” had risen from 60million to 77million in March. But since installation of the present PPP led government food insecurity has risen at a horrendous pace.
The WFP report says: “There is a very big gap between the increase in prices and increase in wages… the purchasing power of the poor has gone down by almost 50 percent.” And that was in March. UNICEF says that 200,000 Pakistani children die annually because of unsafe drinking water, dysentery, diarrhoea, typhoid and gastroenteritis. Out of the 137 poorest countries Pakistan’s GDP percentage spending on education stands at number 134 and health at 137! Yet Pakistan is the 11th largest importer of arms and weapons of mass destruction.
The impact of this severe socio-economic crisis has implications for the state and politics. The widespread violence, civil wars and bombings ravaging Pakistan’s social fabric are a graphic example of this. Similarly, different institutions of the state are rotting and in a state of a rapid internal decay because of this crisis. Ultimately the intense instability of society is a reflection of this crisis. Imperialist exploitation and capitalist lust for more and more profits, further exacerbates these contradictions and intensifies turmoil.
The network of the media, the state and the politicians, under the patronage of US imperialism, tries to distract the masses from the real issues by raising and fabricating a series of non-issues. One of the main non-issues raised by these people has been the question of the Judiciary. In a country where 90% of the population does not have the money to buy food, how can they buy justice through the exorbitant fees of the lawyers and the courts?
The conflict between the judiciary and other institutions of the state are symptoms of the failure of Pakistan as a nation state. The mass upsurge after October 18 last year had cut across these movements and all the “civil society” gimmickry and had brought the real issues of deprivation, poverty and exploitation to the fore.
However, after using the masses, the PPP leadership betrayed the party’s own founding programme yet again and started playing the absurd game of “national reconciliation” to preserve the present exploitative system. Nationally they patched together a coalition with the right wing, especially with Sharif’s PML (N), the traditional party of the reactionary ruling classes. This coalition also included Islamic fundamentalists in the form of the JUI(F) and the ANP, the right-wing Pushtoon nationalists. The fact is that the unanimous vote of all the parties in parliament for the PPP’s prime ministerial candidate, Yusuf Raza Gillani (a former minister of the Zia dictatorship), was an indication of the fear of the ruling classes due to the threat they faced from the oppressed masses.
In the Sindh regional parliament the PPP leadership went a step further. They included 13 ministers in the cabinet from the MQM, the neo-fascist outfit based on urban Sindh. This organization has been responsible for the assassination of hundreds of PPP activists in the last two decades. In Balouchistan, where there are 63 members elected to the provincial assembly, 62 have joined the PPP led government in Quetta. In the NWFP (Pushtoonkhwa) the PPP is in coalition with the right-wing Pushtoon Nationalists, the Awami National Party. On 13th of May this so called liberal, progressive coalition government announces the imposition of Sharia law (the Islamic code) in different areas of the province. In Punjab, the largest province of Pakistan, the PPP is in a coalition government led by the PML (N).
The meaning of all these coalitions is that the PPP leadership wants to use them as an excuse, a shield behind which to hide, in order to carry through policies of aggressive capitalism. The PPP’s federal privatisation minister, Naveed Qamar, has announced the privatisation of 10% of shares of Pakistan Steel Mills. This was the most contentious privatisation in which the previous regime was defeated by the militant struggle of the workers led by the PTUDC. Now the PPP government wants to sell the Steel Mills off in several instalments. The PPP regime has also asked the Privatisation Commission to meet its $21billion annual privatisation target by June 30 of this year.
In reality the new PPP-led democratic regime is continuing the policies of the previous right-wing government. But the Pakistani economy and society is in a much greater crisis and these policies of so-called “trickle-down economics”, as dictated by imperialism, will only worsen the crisis.
In this worsening crisis, on the one hand there will be more turbulence and turmoil, but on the other hand another mass explosion is also a strong possibility. The workers in telecommunications, the railways, Water & Power and several other sectors of the economy, have started to move in protest demonstrations and rallies against these policies of the PPP-led regime. These protests will intensify in the coming period and a movement can explode on the industrial front as a reaction to the deceit and betrayal they have suffered on the electoral plane.
Although the Americans and other bourgeois strategists are trying to patch up the PPP-PML(N) rift, the crisis refuses to ebb. Even if they succeed, this artificial coalition would break down with an even greater bang sooner rather than later. Napoleon once remarked that you could do anything with bayonets except sit on them. The crisis is so intense and Pakistani capitalism is so rotten that the crisis is bound to get worse in the coming weeks and months.
This crisis will also provoke splits within the PPP itself. Although there is no real left wing in the top leadership of the PPP, the masses orientating towards the PPP are asking questions, getting angry, and yearning for change. And there is no solution without a socialist revolution. This was the main theme of the PPP’s founding documents written forty years ago. The leadership has breached that programme and manifesto more than once.
In spite of all this, the masses have clung to their traditions with utmost loyalty and innumerable sacrifices for three generations. How many times are they going to tolerate such betrayal again? Pakistan and PPP have entered a crucial period. For the masses capitalism has become intolerable. They are looking for an alternative socio-economic system. The advanced layers amongst the youth and workers are moving towards revolutionary conclusions. The social basis of fundamentalism is in sharp decline Nationalism is in a blind alley. Democracy on a capitalist basis is failing the masses.
If we look at the reality of the experience of this “democracy” for the toiling masses of Pakistan, Lenin’s definition in his brilliant work Proletarian Revolution and renegade Kautsky is extremely pertinent. Lenin wrote:
The cohesion and discipline of the military has been seriously affected by the influx of finance capital. A military dictatorship, although not ruled out, could not sustain itself as in the past. The options for the ruling classes are vanishing rapidly. The forces of revolutionary Marxism, although modest, are gaining strength. It is no accident that on May Day 2008 there were twice the number of demonstrations led by the PTUDC as compared to last year.
For the liberal intelligentsia, civil society and ex-lefts, however, it is all doom and gloom. Pessimism and scepticism are luxuries for the few. We revolutionaries and the proletarian masses cannot afford such extravagant luxuries. For the masses it is now a struggle for survival and existence. This struggle can erupt into a revolutionary movement sooner rather than later. A strong Bolshevik-Leninist organization with a correct programme, strategy and Marxist leadership can become a mass revolutionary party and lead the oppressed toilers of this land to a socialist victory. And the revolutionary repercussion of such a victory shall spread far beyond the existing frontiers.