Pakistan – Musharraf forced out
On 18 August, hours before the Pakistani parliament was due to consider formal impeachment proceedings against him, General Musharraf resigned from his post as Pakistan’s president. Ninety per cent of the Pakistani people greeted this with genuine relief and happiness.
What made him a special target of hatred was his total subservience to US imperialism in the latter’s ‘war on terror’ – a war which most Pakistanis loathe. Under this Faustian pact with the devil, the Pakistani army, instead of being an instrument for guarding Pakistan’s borders against foreign intruders, became a deadly vehicle for waging war on its own people in the tribal areas of the Frontier province along the border with Afghanistan. This aroused fierce opposition to his regime and spawned an armed resistance against the Pakistani army in the tribal heartlands, resulting in the killing of hundreds of soldiers and the capture of even larger numbers.
It was in pursuit of this menial task in the service of US imperialism that the Musharraf government found itself in a confrontation with the Pakistani judiciary – a confrontation sparked by the insistence of Iftikhar Choudhary, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, to investigate the disappearance of suspected Islamic radicals at the hands of the security forces, with some of them, like Khaled Sheikh Mohamed, surreptitiously handed over to the US intelligence agencies, to be whisked away to dungeons in Guantanamo Bay and other centres of torture.
General Musharraf’s response to the refreshing display of independence by the Chief Justice was to sack him, an act which sparked widespread protests, in which tens of thousands of lawyers poured on to the streets of towns and cities across the length and breadth of Pakistan in protest against the government’s arbitrary action. The government’s humiliation was absolute and complete when a few months later, on 20 July 2007, Chief Justice Choudhary was reinstated by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, dealing a deadly blow to the regime of General Musharraf, whose standing went into free fall and left it in total isolation, from which it was never to recover.
General Musharraf could only cling to power through the backing of the army and the support – financial, military and diplomatic – of US imperialism. The problem with this was that he could only secure US support by doing the latter’s bidding through an active participation in the so-called war on terror, that is, by unleashing the Pakistani army on the population in the tribal areas, which harbours sympathy for, and gives assistance to, the Afghan resistance. And the more he resorted to this extreme measure, the more desperate became his position and the more hated and discredited became the army in the eyes of the Pakistani people.
This produced the disconnect between his popularity with US imperialism and his total isolation and lack of legitimacy at home. The more support he received from US imperialism, the more discredited he became inside Pakistan. No wonder then that he was the target of attacks on his life on three occasions, all of which he survived narrowly.
Reliance on US and fundamentalism
Musharraf lasted as long as he did by, on the one hand, playing on US fears that he was all that stood between Pakistan and an Islamist takeover, and on the other hand, letting fundamentalism grow on his watch. Guided as he was solely by the motivation to keep himself in power, lacking as he was in popular support, he had no option but to rely on fundamentalism and the socially most conservative forces to build a support base for himself while keeping at bay the relatively secular bourgeois parties such as Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) of Mr Nawaz Sharif. Encouraging fundamentalist forces to gain support, his regime every now and then cracked down on them. While a section of his army officers were actively engaged in egging on the Jihadis, another section was busy arresting some of them and handing them over to the tender mercies of the CIA or torturing them within Pakistan. This game of being able to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds could not be carried on indefinitely.
His sacking of the judges, his inability to satisfy either the Pakistani élite or the masses, isolated him and the army to such an extent that, through a US brokered arrangement, he had to allow the return from exile of Benazir Bhutto, drop all corruption charges against her, and hold elections as a way of legitimising his military rule. Benazir paid with her life for collaborating with this US-hatched conspiracy.
Meanwhile Musharraf stepped down as head of the army and was sworn in for a second five-year term as president on 29 November 2007 by a rubber stamp parliament brought into existence through a rigged election a few years earlier. Since his power was based on his position as head of the army, the moment he shed his uniform power began to drain away.
The election held in February this year was won by the PPP and PML-N, while Musharraf’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) (PML-Q), and other fundamentalist outfits were wiped out. The Coalition government formed by the two major parties – the PPP and the PML-N – was under mass pressure to get rid of Musharraf, either through the judicial route or impeachment proceedings in parliament. After the provincial assemblies had overwhelmingly passed resolutions of no-confidence in the president, the hollowness of his position was there for all to see even if these resolutions were non-binding.
This set the stage for the parliament to consider formal impeachment proceedings. General Ashfaq Kiyani, Musharraf’s hand-picked successor as the head of the army, distanced himself from his former boss and refused to intervene on his behalf, just as he had not permitted the army to rig the February election in favour of the army-supported parties, for fear of volcanic popular uprisings against such a course of action. Without the army backing, General Musharraf was nothing. Having no popular base and being hated by the masses, having been deserted by the army, he had no option other than to resign, for US imperialist support alone could not keep him in the presidential palace. The only other option open to him, that of dissolving parliament was equally unavailable in the circumstances.
As he leaves, Pakistan is in a mess, for which Musharraf’s army regime bears a larger share of the blame, as does the Bush administration which fully supported and kept in place his army dictatorship. Musharraf’s departure brings to an end the barely disguised military rule in Pakistan.
With his disappearance, the danger is that the Coalition between the PPP and PML-N will disintegrate as each of them goes its own way seeking short-term political advantage, when in fact they should be seeking to address the serious economic and political problems facing Pakistan. Inflation is running at 24.3 per cent, which hurts the poorest sections of society the most; the country is experiencing declining economic growth, dwindling investment and a fiscal meltdown; the Pakistani rupee has slid to an exchange rate of 76 to the dollar (down 23 per cent since January); the army is always in the wings, ready to take over at any opportunity; last, though not least, while there is a state of rebellion in the tribal areas, there is intensified pressure from US imperialism for the Pakistani government to wage war on its own people in the interests of US’s ‘war on terror’.
If the newly elected government is to have a life and meaning, it must bring some relief to the Pakistani masses, who have suffered long and hard. It must also resist US pressure by refusing to wage war on its own people. The overwhelming majority of the people of Pakistan, as indeed of the people throughout the world, support the Afghan resistance against imperialist aggression, as they do the Iraqi and Palestinian resistance.
The elected government, instead of accepting US dictate and clamping down on its people, ought in fact to give expression to the yearning of the Pakistani masses to resist imperialist brigandage in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine and Lebanon, as well as interference in the affairs of Pakistan. Such a stance will have the effect of weakening imperialism and give a moral boost to the resistance movements in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East, and win over the Pakistani people, especially in the tribal areas, away from fundamentalism to the mainstream secular forces. The alternative course cannot but end in total disaster. Pakistan is no longer able, as the Pakistani masses are no longer willing, to cooperate with the US in its ‘war on terror’. Any attempt by the new government in this direction will alienate the Pakistani masses, lay the conditions for the fragmentation of the army and the break up of Pakistan.
Time alone will tell which way the government will move. All the same, the end of the Musharraf military rule is one of the best things to happen in Pakistan for a decade. While being a devastating setback for the carefully laid plans of US imperialism, it has created a space for the development of a working-class movement and the mobilisation of the vast masses of Pakistani people in the struggle for a people’s democratic revolution which, by clearing away the lumber of feudal oppression and exploitation, cannot but end up preparing the conditions for the next – socialist – stage.
1. In fact, as we go to press, this is already happening. Nawaz Sharif’s party have withdrawn from the government over the refusal by the PPP leadership to restore Iftikhar Chaudhary to the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Obviously the PPP is apprehensive that Chaudhary might challenge the validity of the reconciliation order signed by General Musharraf which withdrew the corruption charges against Mrs Bhutto and her husband and paved the way for her return to Pakistan under the US-brokered agreement.