General Pervez Musharraf has announced that general elections will be held before 9 January 2008 as the pressure from inside and outside Pakistan mounts up. He has also announced the dissolution of the national assembly and all the four provincial assemblies from 15 to 20 November. This has come as a big surprise to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) (PML-Q) and its allies, which wanted to extend the tenure of the assembly for one year. A few days ago, Musharraf announced he would call general elections in February 2008 but after the army formation commanders meeting he announced the new date. But he refused to lift the emergency and Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) or to restore the Constitution immediately.
This shows that the military top brass do not see the present situation continuing for a long time. It also reflects that power is slipping away from Musharraf and new power centres are emerging. Now, it is clear that he wants to hold the elections under the PCO and emergency rule. That will make it easier for him to manipulate the election results. He is trying to give the impression that everything is normal and under his control. But he seems very tense and uncomfortable. He wanted to use the announcement of the elections to divert the attention of the opposition parties and other sections of society towards the elections from the present protests and demonstrations.
Musharraf hoped that the coup against the judiciary and media would be completed within a few hours and everything would return to normal. But events have told a different story. The media has openly defied the orders and instructions of the government and ousted judges of the superior judiciary, who are still under house arrest and have made very aggressive statements against the regime. Benazir Bhutto has also change her tone and started to campaign aggressively against repression and emergency rule. Western imperialist powers are also putting more pressure on Musharraf to restore the constitution and lift the emergency. He has started to realise the fast changing situation and has responded with more repression to crush the opposition.
After getting the verdict of the new Supreme Court in his favour, General Musharraf might opt to take off of his uniform and become a civilian president for another term of five years. But one thing is clear; the regime will become more repressive and brutal for all those who are against military rule and its intervention in politics. The regime has already amended the military act to allow the trial of civilians in military courts on charges of anti-state activities. These amendments have also brought some other offences under the military act. Under the new laws, the military can court-martial civilians. The regime has also amended the press and publication laws to stop any kind of criticism against the military, the president and the government. The punishment for criticising the army will be three years imprisonment. Any sort of criticism against General Musharraf will be considered as treason and sedition. More repressive measures have been introduced to curb the media. The new judiciary has already started to show full compliance with the establishment. Now the regime wants to bring the media, lawyers and political activists under full control. These repressive measures and laws show that the regime is frightened of a possible onslaught from the poor masses in coming years. The regime is making every possible effort to create more fear in the masses to stop them coming onto the streets.
Under pressure from Western imperialism, the Musharraf regime will be forced to become more civilian-based with some democratic features like an elected parliament, a civilian president and a civilian government, but the military will continue to dominate politics from behind the scenes. With these new laws, Pakistan will become like Burma.
Benazir Bhutto has changed her previous stance on the regime and announced the end of the deal and negotiations with the regime. The same Benazir was urging and begging Western imperialist powers to broker a deal with the regime a few months ago. But now, she has started to distance itself from the regime to give the impression to the people that she is against military rule. She was cautious in the beginning but as soon as she felt that Musharraf was under pressure and seemingly weakened, she started to challenge the regime. Now she is talking about revolution and people’s power to bring down the regime! She is appealing to the workers, students, traders, peasants, urban poor and masses to come out onto the streets to defy the regime. She has already announced a long march to Islamabad from Lahore, but she has changed the route after the announcement of the elections in January.
Benazir and the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) are trying hard to shelve the idea that it is a pro-regime party. She wants to put more pressure on the regime to get more concessions. She is fully exploiting the situation in order to become more popular with the masses so she can negotiate with the regime on better terms. But the masses are still not ready to trust her and view her with suspicion. But more aggressive campaigning and radical rhetoric can won her some support amongst the masses and more votes. It is not clear that how long she can go along the road of confrontation. The next couple of days will determine the future course of Benazir and her PPP. But at the moment she has become the main opposition leader and won the sympathies of a defiant media and intelligentsia for supporting the restoration of the ousted judges.
She has become more confident because Western imperialism is criticising Musharraf for emergency rule and the crackdown against political workers and lawyers. Now she knows that American imperialism has no other option but to support her so she wants to get maximum support from the masses to make gains in the upcoming elections. The ruling PML-Q and its allies are feeling the heat and fast changing situation. The war of words between the PPP and the PML-Q has intensified in the last few days. If the PPP succeeds in showing some strength on the streets then the pressure will be increased on the ruling party.
Lull and despair
There is still a widespread lull and despair exists about politics in the masses and the working class. The overwhelming majority of the working class and poor masses is not ready to trust any political leadership or party. Everybody is desperate to get rid of the present regime and there will be nobody in the working masses supporting the regime. There is widespread anger and hate against the present regime but still the working class in general is not ready to come out and show this anger. As we have explained in our previous articles, the people have lost their trust in the political process. They see no leadership that can change their lives and conditions or can solve their basic problems. Even the PPP and Benazir are not talking about a clear alternative program and system. The iron is ready to be hit but there is nobody that can play the role of a hammer to give it shape.
But one thing is becoming more and more clear; the situation is heading towards class polarisation and confrontation in the next few years. There is talk of revolution in tea shops, houses and workplaces as the only solution to end tyranny and repression. Consciousness is not clear about what sort of revolution they need and how to bring it about but people seem convinced that it is the only way. The volcano of anger and hate is close to eruption but the working class lacks the confidence that is necessary to take on the monster state apparatus. But as events unfold further and the working class starts to move, this situation can change very quickly.
The situation is clearly moving in the direction of a revolutionary outburst by the working masses. If Musharraf succeeds in holding on to power for a few more years, it is more likely that he will become the Ayub Khan of the present era, the dictator who created the conditions for revolutionary change in the late ‘60s. Radicalisation has already started to take place in the younger layers of the middle class. The middle class is the backbone of the present protest movement. The increasingly confident and radicalised layers of the young middle class students can provide confidence to the advance layers of the working class. The problem with the present trade union movement is that the old leadership and activists are not confident enough to take on the regime dominating it. As the new layers of young worker have started to become the active part of the trade union movement, the situation will start to change.
It is not possible to give a specific time and date of the beginning of a revolutionary movement but one thing is sure and beyond any doubt; slowly and steadily we are moving towards that stage. The next couple of years will give birth to a revolutionary upsurge of the working masses because the rotten and repressive system has eroded and dashed all the hopes that people had left in them of a better life under the existing system. There seems no end to the political chaos and turmoil that breeds one crisis after the other. Life has become unbearable under the free-market economy. The people of Pakistan have never experienced the unprecedented price hikes that refuse to stop and bring more misery to the already impoverished masses. The ordinary working class family can no longer feed their children three times a day. The minimum wage is not enough to buy even flour and curry for an average family.
There is an urgent need to build a mass party of the working class that can win the trust of the working class and poor masses. This party can provide an alternative to the working people. A party based on a clear socialist program and strategy can lead and organise the struggle of the working masses against the feudal and capitalist system. A radical socialist programme can win the hearts and minds of the impoverished and exploited working class and poor masses.
Khald Batti, Socialist Movement – Pakistan, (CWI), Lahore