Pakistan ‘Democracy’ brings no benefit for the poor

FRFI 215 June/ July 2010

As the summer begins in Pakistan, soaring temperatures are matched by rising prices and increased electricity black-outs. For the people of Pakistan, everyday life has yet to see the promised benefits of the transition to democracy. This is not surprising: the movement that ousted General Pervez Musharraf in 2008 lacked any clear ideological vision for Pakistan. Necessary though it was to end Musharraf’s dictatorship, the vacuum created by his removal was filled by the same corrupt and discredited political elite that has historically dominated Pakistan’s politics.

 

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Pakistan: military fight against Taliban counterproductive

FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010

As the military operation launched by the Pakistani government against the Taliban in the northern areas of the country enters its eighth month, there are several fundamental questions about the effectiveness of the Zardari government’s approach to dealing with the Taliban. While there can be no doubt that the Taliban and its millenarian vision must be challenged in Pakistan, the state’s response has been insufficient and misguided.

Military force

Following abortive attempts at appeasing the Taliban at the start of 2009, the government and military establishment have initiated and sustained a military campaign against the Taliban in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). While the military has retaken control of Swat from the Taliban and dislodged it from key towns in FATA, the human cost has been tremendous. Over three million people have been displaced and now live in makeshift refugee camps scattered across the rest of the country. Information from the battle zone is tightly controlled by the military, making it virtually impossible to independently verify government claims of success, or to determine the number of civilians killed in the conflict, or the extent of the damage to cities, towns, and villages in the region.

 

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Poor communities devastated by earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir

Poor communities devastated by earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir

On 8 October an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale devastated parts of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The earthquake has so far claimed more than 90,000 lives and if the relief effort is not stepped up the death toll will be far greater. This terrible disaster has worsened the suffering for the people of the area already divided by India and Pakistan’s dispute over territorial control of Kashmir.

On 11 October, India responded to the relief operation by supplying medicine and other supplies. They have also opened up the Line of Control with Pakistan to make rescue work easier.

Pakistan is internally divided by language, class and social conflict. All forms of democracy have failed in Pakistan and military dictatorship is entrenched. Following the 1947 partition, Pakistan has repeatedly been involved in direct conflict with India. Its brutal politics led to the civil war of 1971 resulting in the division of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. Under the leadership of General Musharraff, Pakistan plays the role of US lackey in South East Asia. He provided the US administration with a naval base during the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. He systematically oppresses both radical and reformist political groups and is a great supporter of globalisation.

 

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Pakistan: Dictatorship and resistance

The movement now challenging General Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule in Pakistan is the greatest threat to his control of the state since he seized power in 1999. Although it is dominated by largely bourgeois and petty bourgeois elements lacking the organisational capacity to foster popular participation in the struggle against military rule, the movement itself represents an opening of the political space within Pakistan that has historically been dominated by an extremely reactionary military. While the extant political parties in Pakistan, dominated as they are by the interests of the propertied classes, are not going to promote the interests of Pakistan’s underprivileged majority once the current regime collapses, the current wave of popular protest presents an opportunity for the impoverished masses to organise and advance their own independent interests in a situation freed from the repressive authoritarianism of the military. HASSAN JAVID reports.

The proclamation of emergency rule in Pakistan is the latest episode in a saga stretching back to General Musharraf’s failed attempt to remove Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry from the Supreme Court in March 2007. Despite having tacitly supported military dictatorships throughout Pakistan’s history, the judiciary had begun to assert its own independence by investigating reports of the Musharraf government’s increasingly evident abuses of power. Consequently, the court proceeded to block the privatisation of the Pakistan Steel Mill, one of the largest industrial units in the country, on the grounds that the bidding process had disproportionately favoured groups with links to members of the government, and also started to look into the ‘disappearance’ of hundreds of people allegedly involved in terrorist activities. Musharraf’s subsequent unconstitutional dismissal of Iftikhar Chaudhry was an attempt to coerce the judiciary into obedience and was met with fierce resistance by judges and lawyers across the country. In scenes reminiscent of the movement that toppled Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military dictator in 1968, rights activists and political parties rapidly joined the lawyers who had taken to the streets demanding an immediate end to military rule. As protests wracked Pakistan’s major cities, Iftikhar Chaudhry was reinstated as Chief Justice in July, following a ruling by a panel of Supreme Court judges formed to investigate the allegations levelled against him by the government.

 

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Pakistan: instability deepens

In the days following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi on 27 December 2007, Pakistan was brought to a complete standstill as thousands of protestors demanded that Bhutto’s killers be brought to justice. Much of the agitation was directed against the state, with Musharraf being blamed for not taking security measures that could have prevented the assassination. Indeed conspiracy theories swiftly circulated directly implicating the regime in the incident.

This is very doubtful. Bhutto and Musharraf had been on the verge of striking a political deal that would have seen Bhutto’s PPP come to power with Musharraf as President following general elections scheduled for 8 January. The widespread protests at Musharraf’s crackdown in 2007 questioned the regime’s ability to maintain its hold on power. In the face of waning international support and rising domestic op position, reaching a power-sharing agreement with a popular mainstream party like the PPP was one of the few means through which Musharraf could hope to cling on to power.

 

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Pakistan at a critical juncture

On 20 September, close to 60 people were killed and over 250 were wounded when a suicide bomber targeted the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. It was the 29th suicide attack to have taken place in Pakistan in 2008. Less than a mile away from the site of this latest bombing, Pakistan’s newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari had just delivered his inaugural address to a joint session of parliament that had been attended by Pakistan’s military chiefs and foreign diplomats. The speech was considered to be significant, not only because it was symbolic of the country’s transition towards democracy, but because it addressed key issues facing the government, not least of which were the rising militancy of the Taliban in the country’s north, and the repeated violations of Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty by US forces based in Afghanistan.

Since coming to power in February, the democratically-elected government, led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which replaced the dictatorial regime of General Musharraf, has reeled from crisis to crisis. In addition to an escalating military conflict with the various elements of the Taliban based in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and increasing incidents of terrorism across the country, the government has had to contend with a rapidly deteriorating economic situation and the fallout from the global food crisis. While many of the problems can be attributed to external factors, such as the state of the global economy, as well as the flawed policies of the previous regime, the new civilian leadership’s handling of these issues has been inept, giving rise to an increasing disenchantment with democratic rule. Given the weakness of progressive, left-wing political forces in the country, the transition to democracy and away from authoritarian rule was seen as a positive political development in Pakistan. The failure of the current democratic regime would be disastrous for Pakistan.

 

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