In the wake of the recent Pakistan elections, which saw a victory for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and its party leader Nawaz Sharif, we publish here an article written before the elections by Fred Weston, editor of www.marxist.com, who takes a wider look at the economic, social, and political contradictions in Pakistan – a society pregnant with revolutionary potential.
In the wake of the recent Pakistan elections, which saw a victory for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and its party leader Nawaz Sharif, we publish here an article written before the elections by Fred Weston, editor of www.marxist.com, who takes a wider look at the economic, social, and political contradictions in Pakistan – a society pregnant with revolutionary potential.
Pakistan is a country that is literally falling apart in every sense of these words. Its already weak infrastructure is in a state of decay, with power shortages, water shortages, a transport system in a state of collapse, unemployment ever rising and with widespread poverty. This generalised state of decay is now eating away at the state itself, with national and religious conflicts widespread. The ruling elite see no other way of holding on to power than to provoke division after division among the people in the hope of weakening the impoverished masses. It is within this nightmare situation that the Pakistani Marxists are building a force that can offer the masses a way out.
The Pakistani ruling class has played no progressive role whatsoever in the close to 70 year history of the country since partition after the Second World War. Decades of low levels of both domestic and foreign investment have left the country in a state of utter backwardness. An indication of this is the fact that agriculture still accounts for more than 20% of output and employs over 50% of the workforce. Unemployment is very high, officially at 9%, but this is very far from reality because much of the economy is informal and underemployment remains high. The real figure is closer to 25%.
The UN Human Development Report has estimated that poverty in 2011 affected almost half the population. The population below the poverty line is officially 23%, but in reality 70% live in poverty conditions. Social inequality is extreme. The official minimum wage is 8000 rupees per month (around £55 sterling; €65; US£86), but most people (around 85%) get less than that, and are forced to live on 5000 rupees per month (around £30 sterling; €36; US$47) working for 12 to 14 hours per day.
The situation faced by the poor is horrific. 60% of children suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition, including during foetal development as a consequence of their mothers being underfed. In fact, a large part of the population only eats one meal a day, and this is mainly carbohydrates and lentils, meat being a luxury item for the vast bulk of the population. Low economic growth and high inflation with a spurt in food prices have worsened the situation even further.
Illiteracy is very high, particularly among women, two thirds of which get no education whatsoever. And 60% of the population does not get beyond primary school. Healthcare is practically non-existent for the majority of the population, with 80% turning to non-scientific medicine, forced to turn to “saints” (“pir”) in the desperate search for cures to their ailments, which involves prayers, reading of “holy” texts and even the wearing of leather straps around their necks. Things are so bad that half a million women die every year during childbirth due to the lack of proper facilities.
Those that do have access to “scientific medical care” have no guarantee of getting adequate treatment. Very often the medicines provided are either fake or out of date. Last year, for example, 130 people died in one of the most elite cardiac hospitals in the Punjab, the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore, because of this kind of medicine. In hospitals it is quite common to see three patients sharing the same bed and many simply lying on the floor. Basic machinery and materials, such as oxygen for example, is not available.
In spite of the dire need and the growing population, no new hospital has been built in the Punjab in the past twenty years. This is due to the very low spending, with only 0.3% of GDP dedicated to developing healthcare. Of the 137 lowest spending countries in healthcare and education, Pakistan comes 134th and137th respectively.
Also, much of healthcare has been forcibly privatised. But there is also extreme oversubscribing of medicines. This is because the multinational pharmaceutical companies pay doctors to subscribe their medicines, they arrange holidays for doctors to encourage them in these practices. All the multinationals are involved in this.
Inflation stands at over 11%.The weakness of the economy is also expressed in a depreciation of the Pakistani rupee by more than 40% since 2007, going from 60 to the dollar to 100 to the dollar.
IMF loans and conditionalities
In November 2008 the government was forced to go begging to the IMF for help as the country was in a severe debt crisis. The “help” consisted of an IMF loan of US$11billion with a high interest and strict conditions attached. Central to the agreement to clinch the loan deal was a commitment on the part of the government to reduce the fiscal deficit from 7.4 percent of GDP in 2007/08 to 4.2 percent in 2008/09 and 3.3 percent in 2009/10.
Among the measures to achieve these targets were increases in the price of electricity and fuel, and cuts in subsidies. Even before the loan was granted energy subsidies had been cut and the interest rate was increased as a means of tightening monetary policy. Today the Central Bank’s discount rate stands at 12%!
The real situation facing the Pakistani economy can be seen in the difference between the amount it exports and the amount it imports. In 2012 it is estimated the country exported $24.66 billion but its imports reached the figure of $40.82 billion. This is clearly unsustainable and means that the level of debt just keeps mounting up, adding even more pressure on the government to cut spending.
In fact, the level of the national debt is higher than it has ever been in the past 60 years, since the very creation of the Pakistani state after the Second World War. So high is the debt that simply to service it consumes between 55 and 60 per cent of GDP. A further 20 to 25 percent goes on military spending. The rulers of this country have priorities which are diametrically opposed to the mass of the population. While the vast majority live in abject poverty, the country is one of the top ten arms buyers in the world.
However, even these “official” figures do not give the full picture, for the black economy, the illegal submerged sectors, have actually outgrown the “legal” economy. The black economy now employs close to 73% of the real workforce, and this sector is tightly intertwined with the state and the military. A large part of this is connected to the drug trade, but it now also includes real estate, construction, transport, retail trade, domestic servants and large parts of the agrarian sector. This huge part of the economy provides no revenues to the state in terms of taxes, as the sector pays no taxes!
As most people do not have a permanent job with a contract, only around 2% of the population actually pays taxes, and overall taxation as a percentage of official GDP is around 9%, and most of this comes from government workers who are taxed at source. This level of taxation is lower than that of Somalia, a country considered a “failed state”.
Even what infrastructure was built up in the past has fallen into a pitiful state of disrepair. There are constant shortages of power, gas and water. The railway system is in a mess. An indication n of how bad the situation n has become is the fact t that PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) has half its fleet grounded due to safety concerns. There are food shortages of basic items such as sugar and flour. At times fuel is scarce or can only be obtained on the black market at inflated prices.
Sucking lifeblood out of the country
Nawaz Sharif with Hilary ClintonIn the early 1990s Nawaz Sharif launched a privatisation programme and this was continued after 1993 by Benazir Bhutto. In 1995 Bhutto in fact allowed independent power producers (IPPs) from countries such as Austria, the United States and Hong Kong to take over the running of power supplies, in exchange for kickbacks for Benazir and the cronies around her. Since then a total of US$3billion in profits have been repatriated by these multinational corporations every year, a total of US$54billion in 18 years. This gives an indication of the real relationship between Pakistan and the major imperialist countries. Rather than these providing so-called “aid”, they are sucking the life-blood out of the country.
Since the 2008 IMF loan the situation has deteriorated further. Rather than solve the economic crisis faced by the country, the opposite is the case. After five years there is now no money to pay back and service the old IMF loan, and there have been negotiations for the granting of further loans simply to pay the interest on the old loans. But the IMF has been holding back, as they want to see who wins the elections. Then they will come up with more “help” in the form of further loans but with even more stringent conditions, with demands for even deeper cuts in public spending, more privatisations and a further depreciation of the Rupee.
The state of electric power supplies is indicative of the mess created by the parasitic Pakistani ruling class. They sold off the electricity network to foreign multinational corporations. These now charge exorbitant rates, which many people, local administrations and private businesses can’t afford to pay. And because they don’t get paid, these companies stop production of energy. The irony, however, is that the IPPs use oil in their power plants which they are allowed to import duty free, thus allowing them to make huge profits!
There is much talk of the need to increase capacity, but the truth is that Pakistan has an overall capacity well above its needs. It is not that there is not enough capacity; it is a problem of paying the multinationals who were given the industry to run. As the bills don’t get paid, the companies stop producing power, even though they are still making fabulous profits because of the high prices charged.
The situation is absurd, and it boomerangs on industry as a whole. Because of the constant unreliability of the power supply many companies have been forced to close down. In the Punjab alone 40% of industry has closed because of this, and millions have lost their jobs. In fact, many capitalists are “de-localising”, moving out of Pakistan – in spite of the cheap labour available – to India, but also to Afghanistan, Bangladesh and other countries considered to have a more stable power supply.
Foreign investment has dried up, now at its lowest level in five years, while the foreign banks are siphoning off billions of dollars which are being taken out of the country. Deindustrialisation is taking place on a grand scale as plants are either simply closed down or moved to other countries. Pakistani capitalists are investing in the Middle East, Bangladesh, Malaysia, anywhere but Pakistan itself! What is taking place is in fact a flight of capital out of Pakistan. This confirms the parasitic nature of this ruling elite, which failed miserably to develop the country in the past and is now making a bad situation even worse.
This lack of investment is also affecting agriculture. Pakistan is a very fertile country, but due to lack of investment its agriculture has remained backward. So much so, that many vegetables are now actually being imported from India because they are cheaper.
The parasitic nature of the whole system is revealed by the fact that banking is the most profitable sector. A lot of the money the banks have at their disposal is laundered drug money. And the government, instead of fighting this, has been actively facilitating it. For instance, they declared an “amnesty” for the holders of billions of dollars of black money, by allowing them to declare it in exchange for paying a percentage as “tax”. This would allow for the cleaning up of a lot of these funds. In spite of this, very few have taken up the offer. Also, as there is very little productive investment taking place in industry, a lot of money is simply being stashed in the banks.
Corruption and the “illicit” procurement of power are also problems that aggravate the situation. Many industrialists “steal” power through illegal connections, by-passing the meters and siphoning of power without it being registered. This explains why there are “line losses” of over 28% of the overall power supply.
Corruption, black money and fundamentalism
This highlights an important aspect: corruption and black money act like buffers that avoid a total collapse of the whole system. But it is like a cancer outgrowing the body, and it applies to every sector of the economy and the state.
However, this also has another side to it. Those profiteering from the black economy are also funding the fundamentalist terrorist outfits. Behind these there are the different factions within the ruling class fighting each other over resources. In the logging industry, for example, there are different groups vying for control of trade in timber and they use the various fundamentalist groups as their own personal militias.
All this amounts to a situation where Mafia capitalism has taken over. There are now cartels that control industries such as cement and sugar, where they fix their own prices and over which the state has lost all control. In the late 1970s this phenomenon only affected about 5% of the economy, but today we see how it has ballooned to over 70%.
Today the main imperialist powers complain about the rise of fundamentalism, but they prefer to hide the fact that the whole process was actually started by the United States who promoted these reactionary outfits to combat left-wing movements in the past.
In Afghanistan it was the Americans who funded the Islamic fundamentalists when they used them to fight the regime that came to power after the Saur revolution in 1978. Part of this was the actual promotion of the drug trade, which was used to finance these gangs. Today 90% of heroin in the world comes from Afghanistan and the trade route is through Pakistan. Thus, they actually contributed to strengthening the Mafia elements.
China versus the United States
As if this were not enough, there is also the very complicated national question leading to several different conflicts. Baluchistan is in a state of civil war, but behind the different groups fighting on the ground are various imperialist powers. There are two proxy wars going on between the United States and China on the one hand and between Iran and Saudi Arabia on the other.
The United States are attempting to curb the growing presence of China, by backing the Baluchi nationalists. The Chinese built a deep sea port in Gwadar on the coastline of Baluchistan close to the mouth of the Gulf of Hormuz, through which around 20% of world oil is transported. Between 2007 and 2012, under pressure from the US government, Pakistan conceded the running of the port to PSA International, [formerly the Port of Singapore Authority] one of the world’s largest port operators, but very recently it was handed back to the Chinese and is now run by the China Overseas Port Holding Company.
The Chinese presence in Gwadar is a serious threat to the US Fifth Fleet in the Middle East. China also has plans to build an oil refinery in Gwadar and link this to Kashghar (Xinjiang) in western China by pipeline. Gwadar is only 1500 kilometres from Kashgar, whereas the nearest Chinese sea port is 3500 kilometres away. A 2000 kilometre road is also being built that would link Gwadar to Xinjiang. This would allow China to have quicker and cheaper crude oil imports from Iran, the Gulf and Africa transported overland to north-west China. It would also allow Chinese exports easier access to the important Middle East markets.
Baluchistan is also a source of mineral wealth, which both China and the US are interested in controlling. There are gold, copper, zinc, bauxite, uranium and gas reserves with a potential value of US$1.5 trillion.
These important details reflect the growing weight of China in Pakistan, at the expense of US imperialism. For example China has now surpassed the USA in the selling of arms to Pakistan. Pakistan buys 42% of its arms from China and 36% from the United States.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is also involved in the area as it attempts to stem the influence of Iran, which borders directly with this part of Pakistan. In fact Baluchistan itself is divided, with a part in Pakistan and another in Iran. As part of its manoeuvres, the Saudi government is funding Islamic fundamentalists in the region. It also supplies the Pakistani military with free oil as a means of reducing Iranian influence.
The Chinese, however, are also seeking to muscle their way in with the fundamentalists. They invited Jamaat-a-Islami (a party similar to the Muslim Brotherhood) for talks with the Chinese Communist Party leaders. These so-called “Communists” have no problem in making deals with utterly reactionary forces as long as this favours the interests of the ruling elite in China.
China also has close ties with the Pakistani military, which is a new development. It shows that sections of the Pakistani military tops see no point in lining up with the interests of US imperialism. Some of the top brass of the Pakistani military are in fact now very close to the Chinese.
This reflects the fact that China has made important investments in Pakistan, the Gwadar port and the Gwadar-Xinjiang highway among them. China has also been investing in Afghanistan, further adding to its weight in the region. One not unimportant detail in building up its influence among the Pakistani military is the fact that the Chinese have started paying bigger kickbacks to Pakistani officials than the United States.
Pakistan is actually a key country for the Chinese, being the shortest route for its imports and exports to the Middle East and Africa, and it is also part of a wider strategy of the Chinese to increase not only their economic hegemony in the region, but also their military presence. The Chinese have built three other deep sea ports in South Asia, apart from Gwadar, in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma, and are in the process of negotiating the construction of a fifth in the Maldives, all of them with the potential to be used for military purposes.
The aim of all this is to achieve domination in the Indian Ocean. As a counterweight to this, the United States are leaning on India in an attempt to build it up against Pakistan. This also explains the ongoing conflicts and tensions between India and Pakistan. And it also explains, for example, the proxy war in Bangladesh between pr-Chinese factions and pro-US factions.
National Question in Baluchistan
But the main centre of US-Chinese conflict remains in Baluchistan. There the Shias are being slaughtered. The Hazara people (who are Shias) are paying a terrible price for this conflict and are suffering terrible atrocities, with regular killings, bomb blasts and so on. The Baluch Nationalists (who leaned to the left in the past) are now pawns in the hands of the Indians and Americans. The leaders of the Baluch Nationalists have shifted from being pro-Stalinists to pro-American. This is another classic case of an imperialist power “promoting the interests” of small nations, when in reality they are simply using them to push forward their own agenda in the region.
The situation in Baluchistan is also further complicated by the fact that it borders not only Iran but also Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban leadership are in fact based in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan! There are also tribal conflicts that flare up. Tension is building up between Pushtoon and Baluch tribes and these could become full-fledged wars.
There are also intra-Baluch conflicts. Two Baluchi tribes, the Marris and the Bhugtis are at war with each other over the control of local assets. And even the Baluch nationalists, while in conflict with the Pakistani army, are also divided among themselves over adopting either an agenda for full independence or autonomy under the present parliament.
Last year the Republican house representative Dana Rohrabacher, of California, who is member of the the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, put forward an amendment to the US Congress stating that the people of Baluchistan should “have the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country.” Although Obama distanced himself from Rohrabacher, and the US Embassy in Pakistan issued a statement affirming that the United States “respects the territorial integrity of Pakistan,” and that “it is not the policy of the administration to support independence” for Baluchistan, it shows how far a section of the US ruling class is prepared to go.
This, of course, would be an extreme solution. Its aim would be two-fold: to limit the spread of Chinese influence in the region while at the same time destabilising neighbouring Iran. An “independent” US-baked Baluchistan would have to take the running of Gwadar port out of the hands of the Chinese. And independence for the Pakistani side of Baluchistan would serve to foment separatism in Iranian Baluchistan. Although this is not the desired policy of the US administration, for such a development would destabilise further an already extremely unstable region, at some stage the whole situation could spiral out of control. It would not only destabilise Iran, but could lead to the eventual breakup of Pakistan itself, a nightmare scenario for imperialism.
In these conditions the Baluch provincial “parliament” has been a farce. It has 63 members and has been repeatedly closed down and reopened. In the previous elections five years ago to the Federal parliament the Baluch Nationalists boycotted the elections and therefore by default the PPP won a lot of seats. This time, however, the Baluch Nationalists are standing and this will mean a collapse in the number of seats the PPP can win in this region, adding to its demise nationally.
Karachi, the main industrial centre of the whole country and the capital of Sindh province, has been racked by endless carnage. There are regular bomb blasts and target killings. In fact, if less than ten people are killed in one day it is considered “big news”. There is a criss-crossing of ethnic conflicts, conflicts between different fundamentalist gangs, all representing different power and economic interests.
The Sindh provincial government has been a coalition between the PPP and the MQM [Mohajir Qaumi Movement]. This coalition has constantly broken up and reformed. The tragedy of the situation is that the MQM is a chauvinist party based on Urdu speaking Mohajirs. These are the descendants of Muslims who moved from India to Pakistan after partition in 1947. Whereas in the rest of Pakistan there was integration, in Sindh this was not the case and they have maintained a separate identity. It was also the policy of the military dictator Zia ul-Haq to promote Mohajir chauvinism as a means of dividing the powerful Karachi proletariat after the defeats of 1971-72. The MQM has semi-fascist connotations and its activists have been involved in physical attacks and even killings of PPP activists. In spite of this their leaders cosy up together in government.
There is also a strong Pushtoon presence in Karachi which explains the existence of the Pushtoon nationalists in the form of the ANP, Awami National Party. The ANP, like the Baluch nationalists, in the past had a left nationalist stance, but in recent times they have shifted to supporting US imperialism.
The PPP has traditionally had a very strong base in Karachi, as the working class there is very strong and the PPP has always been seen as the party of the working people. Ali Bhutto also came from Sindh and the party has a strong historical presence in the whole region. But as a result of five years of the party being in government nationally, with all the policies it has carried out, and at the same time being in coalition with the MQM locally, its support has waned.
On top of these main parties, there are also several different variants of Islamic fundamentalist outfits, the latest arrivals being the Taliban. As a result violent conflicts have flared up between the different gangs. In reality what we have here is different Mafias fighting each other over land-grabbing operations, extortion rackets and other lucrative criminal activities. They masquerade as “political parties” but it is common knowledge that they are in reality the armed wings of different criminal gangs.
This ethnic based conflict has led to a situation where the different groups, Mohajirs, Baluchis, Pushtoons and so on, mostly live segregated from one another. On top of the ethnic divide there is also a religious divide between Shias and Sunnis, the Mohajirs being mainly Shias and the Pushtoons and others being mainly Sunnis.
However, the fragmentation of society goes even further than this. There is now a growing conflict within the Sunni community between the Deobandi and the Barelvi. Around 15 per cent of Pakistan’s Sunni Muslims consider themselves Deobandi, while the majority are considered Barelvi. The Deobandi are being manipulated by the Taliban and Jamaat-a-Islami and the Suadi regime is also involved.
The situation in Karachi highlights the utter rottenness of the Pakistani ruling class. As they are incapable of offering a minimum of civilised conditions for the masses, in order to keep the working people down and stopping them from uniting in a movement against the real culprits, the capitalists and landlords, they promote division after division at every level of society, leading to a generalised fragmentation of the very fabric of society.
The only force that can cut across all this is the working class. The workers have no interest in fighting each other along ethnic lines. That, by the way, explains why in 2008 the Marxist candidate of the PPP, Riaz Lund, did so well. He was able to connect with workers of all national and religious groups. It also explains why this time the clique around Zardari refused to allow comrade Lund to stand. It shows how rotten they are, preferring to lose a seat rather than let a Marxist be elected.
The Punjab is the most populous province of Pakistan and the most developed. But even here there is an attempt to divide the population between those who speak Punjabi and those who speak a dialect of Punjabi, Saraiki. It is an attempt to stir up divisions in order to distract from the real social and economic issues. The PPP has always had a strong base in the South Punjab (less so in Central and Northern Punjab), but as the PPP has been immensely weakened by its period in national government, by default Sharif will win in the province.
Sharif’s party has in fact been governing the Punjab as he won in the provincial elections. But because of this there is no great enthusiasm among the downtrodden masses for Sharif either. He has done nothing for the people of the Punjab and that explains why many will either abstain or simply sell their vote to the highest bidder. In fact many poor consider that the only thing worth doing with one’s vote is to sell it and eat for a day!
Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas
In the province of Pakhtunkhwa (formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province) the PPP and the ANP (Pakhtun nationalists) have been in a coalition. This is the province worst hit by terrorism. In Peshawar, the provincial capital, there are daily bomb blasts, which recently led to the killing of a senior ANP minister. Here the Islamic fundamentalists, in spite of all the propaganda, do not have a mass base, but they will manage to get some seats. Pakhtunkhwa will most likely see no party winning an outright majority and after the elections the region will be governed by a loose, unstable coalition government.
What we have described about the growth of the black economy applies even more so to this province that borders Afghanistan. The area is also suffering constant American drone attacks. In spite of all his promises, Obama has presided over a tenfold increase in the number of such attacks, compared to the situation under Bush.
The United States are bombing the border areas, known as FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the semi-autonomous tribal region situated between Pakhtunkhwa and the Afghan border). This is a very underdeveloped area where tribal laws are applied, and yet it is also an area where the voice of Marxism is strong.
In the 2008 elections comrade Ali Wazir contested the national Assembly election (NA-42) in Wana, South Waziristan constituency. He courageously stood against right-wing Mullahs vehemently opposing the imperialist aggression and fundamentalist terrorism. He stood openly as a communist and organised a vigorous campaign on a programme of revolutionary socialism that was well received, especially from the youth of Waziristan It is generally accepted that he was the real winner, but the result was disputed and was withheld for some time. The officially announced votes of Ali Wazir indicated that he had won. But the judiciary, unwilling to grant victory to a Marxist, preferred to declare a mullah the winner. Comrade Ali is standing again this year as an independent, and reports we have received indicate that his campaign is going well.
The coming elections
Asif Ali Zardari – also known as Mr. 10 Percent – was the husband of the previous PPP leader Benazir Buttho. He widely believed to have been behind her assasination in 2007 – Photo: World Economic ForumThe result of the May 11th elections is not easy to predict, with the situation being so volatile. But one thing is clear: the big loser is going to be the PPP, which could come in third behind Sharif and Imran Khan. This is because Zardari is now a hated figure. Opinion polls vary in what they reveal about voter patterns. The three largest parties will be Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, Imran Khan’s PTI and the Zardari-led PPP. According to some, each of these three parties could win anything between 20 and 30 percent of the votes. This would mean a weak coalition government would be the only option.
Other polls have indicated that the PPP vote may be much lower, in effect a collapse compared to its victory in 2008 while Sharif could win as much as 41%. Last year Imran Khan was riding high, with some polls indicating he could win up to 60%. He is in fact a right-wing populist, but has attracted a lot of youth because of his anti-corruption rhetoric and the promise of genuine “change”. Since then many corrupt elements jumping from the other parties as they sink have joined his party, somewhat tainting his image, but he still remains popular among wide layers. The remaining votes would be divided between the MQM, the ANP, Jamaat-a-Islami and other local parties.
The truth is that after the elections any type of coalition is possible. As The Economist (March 23) pointed out, “Opinion polls now put the conservative Mr Sharif well ahead of the PPP. His party looks likely to be the biggest after the May election. But almost certainly it will need to find coalition partners, especially from areas outside its Punjab heartland. With a first-past-the-post electoral system, and regional factors driving politics, Mr Sharif will not romp into office. And he will certainly find daunting challenges if he gets there.”
A government of national unity including the PPP, Sharif, Imran Khan and the Mullahs is not ruled out. Whichever combination emerges, it will be an unstable regime from the very beginning.
The point we have to remember is that whoever wins, the programme of that government has already been written by the IMF. It includes four basic pints: 1) Further privatisations; 2) reduction of labour rights, with further casualisation of labour; 3) cut what subsidies remain, on such things as basic food items; 3) deregulation with no state control over profits and finance. This programme is merely the continuation of what has already been partially achieved.
What we are seeing, therefore, is the further discrediting of parliament and all the main parties. None of them offer any solutions to the workers and poor. Life is one long misery for millions of people in Pakistan. But what other options are there? Once the next government reaches the end of its life, how can the bourgeoisie continue to govern the country?
In the past the spectre of a military coup would have become very real by now. The problem is that the decay in society has also eaten away at the military apparatus, which has been severely weakened. It is also riven with internal divisions, as we have seen, with different factions within the officer caste representing different interests and also lining up with opposing imperialist powers. Also, the tops of the army are very wary of taking over and having to run the country in the conditions it finds itself in. Therefore a military coup is not the most likely option.
However, a coup of the lower ranking officers cannot be completely ruled out, as the chain of command in the Pakistan army has also been weakened, and these layers, more in tune with the people at large, could be pushed into taking action. It is a remote possibility, but nonetheless if it did materialise we could even see the military taking back into state ownership some of the sectors and services that have been privatised, for the situation demands such measures just to achieve a minimum of functionality.
In this vacuum, we also note a phenomenon which has emerged in other countries. The Judiciary have been playing much more of a role in politics at all levels, moving against individual politicians and even manoeuvring against the ISI (Pakistani Secret Services).
Normally the Judiciary would hide behind the scenes and attempt to present themselves as impartial and above party politics. But due to the weakening of the state apparatus, the ruling class is now prepared to use any instrument available to impose its rule.
For example, Gilani the former PPP Prime Minister was removed by the judges. They asked him to write a letter to the Swiss authorities asking them to investigate Zardari’s finances as he has a lot of money stashed away in Swiss banks. Gilani refused, and then the judges used this as an excuse to remove him from his position.
Zardari has a long standing reputation of being extremely corrupt, which explains why he has been known as “Mr. 10%” for many years. It is common knowledge in Pakistan that he recently received from one business tycoon his own personal plane and a 5billion rupees bomb-proof palace in Lahore with twenty acres of land.
Even The Economist could not refrain from commenting on this in its March 23 issue:
“Just weeks before an historic election, President Asif Ali Zardari, head of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), blithely moved into a mansion in Lahore built especially for him. With sprawling grounds, a reportedly bomb-proof design, a helipad and a huge swimming pool in the basement, the building is fit more for playboy parties than for affairs of state.
“The palace seems to sum up the arrogance and greed that has marked Mr Zardari’s time in office. His party has not bothered to explain how it was acquired. It stands in a development built by a property tycoon with a reputation for gaining influential friends. The president’s spokesman insists it was paid for by ‘the Zardari family’ but provides no details.”
The levels of Zardari’s relations with the Judiciary are also farcical. A business tycoon friend of Zardari enticed the son of the Chief Justice to Europe and had him filmed in an embarrassing situation. And when the judges attacked Zardari he had the film released. This is the level of Pakistani bourgeois politics!
This, combined with all the anti-worker policies the PPP has implemented, explains why this party that once had the allegiance of millions is discredited to a large degree. It continues to hold a certain base simply because there is no alternative on the left. It would seem in fact that Zardari has been out to destroy the traditions of the PPP. In spite of this, during the election campaign the PPP never used his image on any of its posters. In fact, they desperately tried to revive their fortunes by using images of Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and her son who carries the Bhutto name. But none of this is going to save the PPP in Sunday’s elections.
Back in 2007, when Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan the millions who turned out to welcome her revealed the potential for a mass movement around the PPP. That is why she was assassinated. They had to kill the symbol in order to kill the real movement of the masses. This they succeeded in doing.
Subsequently, Zardari rose to the top of the PPP in a situation of despair for the masses. Demoralisation set in, and Zardari exploited this to push through his policy of cuts and attacks on the working class. During his term in office the situation for the masses worsened further.
This general mood of despair also affected the labour movement. There have been some important strikes in the recent period, such as that in telecommunications, at Pakistan International Airlines, at the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation, and others at Unilever, Coca Cola and so on, but in general the overall levels of strikes has been relatively low.
Part of the reason for all this has been the lack of a point of reference for the masses. The PPP also played a role as the masses waited to see what “their” party would do for them. Now, however, the PPP is about to face a humiliating defeat. A Sharif dominated government will simply continue and deepen the same policies. In the context of IMF pressure and the growing crisis of capitalism worldwide, the already awful conditions faced by the masses are destined to get far worse.
The real mood of the mass of the people is one of disgust with all the politicians and with the system they represent. What is being prepared in Pakistan is a major eruption of class struggle. If we want to understand what we can expect in the coming years in Pakistan then all we need to do is look at the movements in Tunisia and Egypt that brought down rotten decades-old dictatorships.
In this situation the PPP will be torn apart by the contradictory class pressures that will be brought to bear on it. Already, there are indications of anger coming to the surface among the ranks of the PPP. It is in this context that the Marxists in Pakistan will play a major role. They already have significant bases among the youth and the working class, in every major town and province, in every industry. What is being prepared is social revolution which will shake the whole of South Asia and beyond.