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Musharraf takes off his uniform: Pakistan enters a new phase of the class struggle

by alan woods Friday, Nov. 30, 2007 at 12:46 PM

Events in Pakistan are moving fast. Yesterday General Musharraf quit as army chief, and was hastily sworn as president on the same day. The general hopes that in this way he will win respectability in the run-up to the election promised for January 8. This sets the stage for a big shift in Pakistan. The splits and conflicts at the top are providing a breach through which the accumulated discontent of the masses is thrusting itself forward. Events will then take on a logic of their own. The dictatorship has been brought to its knees by mass demonstrations and protests and by the intolerable contradictions that afflict Pakistan at all levels. As we predicted, the return of Benazir Bhutto brought millions of workers and peasants onto the streets. This is not thanks to, but in spite of, the policies and conduct of Benazir, who is an ally of US imperialism and until recently was attempting to reach a compromise with Musharraf.

The return of Benazir Bhuttto and Nawaz Sharif, and the formal exit from the army of General Pervez Musharraf spells the beginning of the end for the dictatorship, which has run out of steam and is collapsing under its own weight. Although martial law is still in place, the dictatorship has been exposed as a paper tiger. Its days are numbered.

Nawaz Sharif, who was deported to Saudi Arabia after only four hours in Pakistan, was permitted to return home at the insistence of the Saudis, allies and paymasters of both Musharraf and Sharif. The Saudi royal family took Sharif back on the understanding that Benazir Bhutto would not be allowed back to contest the election either. Yet Musharraf, at America's urging, allowed her to return. So the Saudis demanded he be allowed back. The Saudis want to prevent a PPP victory at all costs, and want Musharraf to lean on the Muslim League to keep Benazir out of office.

Washington was at first relieved when Sharif was deported in September, but, having witnessed the mass mobilizations that were provoked by Benazir's return, is now pleased to see him back. The imperialists and Musharraf will try to balance between Sharif and Bhutto. They will try to push them into a coalition as a safeguard against the masses.

General Musharraf has been pressurized by Washington to continue with the elections, but martial law, including a ban on political gatherings, imposed on November 3rd, continues. So far it seems the election may be held under the current emergency laws. The General has removed any judges that seemed independent from the Supreme Court and appointed his stooges in their place. The latter have obediently thrown out all legal challenges to the general's re-election. The task of guaranteeing Pakistanis a fair election will fall to these gentlemen.

For the lawyers and professional politicians "democracy" is a matter of getting into lucrative parliamentary and ministerial positions. Their main objection to Musharraf is not one of principle but merely that the army was getting too big a share of the state pie and not leaving enough for them. For the "political class" the whole question boils down to a struggle to see who gets their snout into the pig's trough.

The American bourgeois have other interests. They have their own (much bigger) pig's trough at home. The defence of what they call "America's interests" is ultimately connected with this. But in order to protect "America's interests" (that is, the interests of the big US banks and multinationals) they must attend to foreign policy.

US foreign policy has two departments: the first is the US army, navy and air force, the second is diplomacy. The first uses naked force to crush enemies, the second uses a combination of threats, bribery and corruption to obtain the support of "friendly governments", since friendship is also a commodity and can be purchased like any other commodity.

Unfortunately, also like any other commodity, friends can cease to be useful and their market value declines accordingly. The market value of General Musharraf's friendship has been very low for quite some time now. Therefore Washington is looking for new friends in Islamabad.

Musharraf's second coup, launched in a desperate attempt to impose himself as president in advance of the January election was highly embarrassing for America, which was trying to broker a deal between the General and Benazir Bhutto.

Pakistan is a key element in US foreign policy in Central Asia. But it is in deep trouble, beset by a fatal combination of economic collapse, Islamist insurgency, terrorism, splits in the state and political chaos. The exact outcome is impossible to predict. But one thing is clear: instability will grow, and together with it a growing social and political polarization that will give a powerful impulse to both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary tendencies.

In the short term, the "centre" will gain in the form of a government of Benazir Bhutto, probably in coalition with the Muslim League. But this will be shown to be impotent and unable to solve the fundamental problems of society. The "centre" will be exposed as a gigantic zero.

The imperialists and the Pakistan ruling class is not afraid of Benazir but it is terrified of the masses that stand behind her and the PPP. They want a fundamental change in society and will not be satisfied with empty speeches and promises. They want roti, kapra aur makan (bread, clothing and shelter), which Pakistan capitalism is not able to give them.

Both Benazir and Sharif are terrified of taking power under such conditions. That is why Sharif is making noises to the effect that he will lead a boycott of the election unless certain conditions are met. He was nonetheless careful to register himself as a candidate before the deadline expired. This is hardly the action of a revolutionary democrat who is preparing to lead a boycott campaign! Rather it is the action of a political merchant engaged in the gentle art of haggling. Similarly Benazir Bhutto's half-hearted talk of a boycott also did not prevent her from submitting candidacy papers punctually.

All this is just so much posturing. The Americans will put heavy pressure on all parties to go ahead with the elections, and Washington's voice cannot be ignored. Probably the regime will make a few cosmetic concessions and the elections will be held. Sharif will be silenced by the offer of a few lucrative ministerial posts in a coalition government.

Nawaz Sharif did not return to Pakistan to lead a mass campaign for democracy but to fill his pockets. He wants to restore his party, which has been depleted by defections to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Qaid). This can only be done by the promise of large amounts of cash or at least promissory notes that can be cashed in at some future date. He has a certain amount of ready cash from his Saudi backers (the Saudis are always extremely generous when subsidizing reactionary forces).

However, the real way to win over the hearts and minds of professional politicians in Pakistan is the lure of High Office (in other words, a license to print money). Since it is clear that the PPP will win the elections, this poses a small problem for Mr. Sharif. He is therefore roaring like a lion about boycotts and suchlike in order to put pressure on Benazir to do a deal with him and allow him a share of what is called in the trade "the fruits of office".

Benezir Bhutto is involved in the same game, giving PPP tickets away, not to those honest and dedicated Party workers who stayed in Pakistan to fight for democracy and socialism, but to all kinds of wealthy parvenus who have nothing in common with the PPP or socialism. Musharraf hopes to play off Benezir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif against each other. But if elections are held in January, and they are not completely rigged, the PPP should win.

Despite her personal aversion for Sharif, it is possible that Benazir will agree to a coalition because she needs an excuse for not carrying out policies in the interests of the workers and peasants. But the workers and poor peasants will not accept any excuses. They will press forward with their most urgent demands. This will open up a whole new situation for the class struggle in Pakistan.

All the petty intrigues and manoeuvres are taking place at the top. The journalists and commentators are fascinated by this "political drama", which resembles the noisy squabbling among the midgets at a circus. All these endless combinations and deals are only the froth on the waves of the ocean that are the visible expression of the powerful currents underneath. What is decisive, however, is not the former but the latter.

The crisis in Pakistan is not a superficial political crisis but a crisis of the regime itself. Weak Pakistan capitalism, rotten and corrupt to the marrow, has led a vast country of 160 million people into a horrific impasse. For more than half a century the degenerate Pakistan bourgeoisie has shown itself incapable of carrying the nation forward. It now finds itself in a complete impasse, which threatens to drag it down into a horrific abyss.

Only the masses, led by the working class, can show a way out of this nightmare. The real constituency of the PPP is the masses: the millions of workers and peasants, of revolutionary youth and unemployed, of women and progressive intellectuals, who came onto the streets a few weeks ago, braving terrorist bombs and police batons to welcome the PPP leader. They were not cheering an individual but an ideal: the ideal of a genuinely democratic and just Pakistan, a Pakistan without rich and poor, without oppressors and oppressed - a socialist Pakistan.

In the next period the masses will have to go back to the school of Benazir Bhutto where they will learn some harsh lessons. But the masses in general always learn from experience. How else are they to learn? The next period will be a period of storm and stress. A PPP government will be immediately subject to enormous pressures from all sides: the masses will demand measures in their interests, and the imperialists, landlords and capitalists will demand measures in the interests of the rich and powerful. It will be ground between two millstones.

Only our tendency understood and predicted this development. As usual, the ultra left sects were utterly incapable of understanding the way the masses think and move. As always the Marxists participate in the real, living movement of the masses, fighting for the same concrete goals against the same class enemies. We do not lecture the workers and peasants from the sidelines like a school teacher lecturing little children. We explain patiently, stage by stage and help the workers to draw their own conclusions.

In the end, the workers and peasants will learn how to distinguish between those leaders who stand for the interests of the working people and those who do not. The Marxists in the PPP will oppose all attempts to form coalitions or deals with the Moslem league. We demand the implementation of the original programme of the PPP, a socialist programme based on the expropriation of the landlords and capitalists. We will develop the necessary transitional demands to relate every concrete struggle for advance to the goal of the socialist transformation of society.

The battle lines are being drawn ever more clearly: either black reaction or the triumph of the socialist revolution in Pakistan, in India and in the whole subcontinent. Let Pakistan be the first country to strike a blow for socialism and light the flame of revolution in the entire Subcontinent!
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