At the present stage Pakistan is passing through its worst economic crisis, social turmoil and the most peculiar insurgency in its northwestern border areas and Pushtoonkhwa. There are more suicide bombings in Pakistan than Iraq, Afghanistan or any other country. The State and the Army seem to be split and different factions, representing conflicting sections of finance capital are involved in this internecine war. This is reflected in the statements of the political elite. The traditional right wing led by the Muslim League (Nawaz) calls it “their” (i.e. the Americans’) war. The PPP government blindly following US dictates calls it “our” (i.e. Pakistan’s) war. Recently an “in camera” joint session of the Parliament reached a “consensus” policy on national security. This is another rotten compromise destined to be shattered during the first attempt (if any will be forthcoming at all) to pursue this policy. In the last few months several such agreements and oaths have been broken without any glimmer of guilt or remorse.
In its issue of 25 October 2008 The Economist commented:
“There is no consensus among the country’s most senior soldiers and politicians on how to conduct the war. Differences were widened rather than narrowed by a closed-door briefing by the army to parliament this month, and this week parliament passed a resolution calling for dialogue with the extremists to be made the priority.”
Debt and default
On the economic front the country is facing a debt default and the economic gurus of the bourgeoisie and the rulers have been running to the USA, China, Europe and Saudi Arabia in a desperate attempt to find the 10 to 15 billion dollars needed urgently to avoid an economic meltdown and thus avoid being categorised as a ‘failed state’.
Finally they have resorted to seeking a bailout from the IMF. However, this time the IMF is coming up with very stringent conditionalities yet unforeseen anywhere in the world. The PPP government has not been able to implement its own mild proclamations about restoring trade unions and student unions due to the fear of the reaction of imperialist institutions. The following report that was splashed on the front page of one of the largest English language dailies in Pakistan, The News, exposes the content of the agreement being worked out in Dubai between the IMF and the Pakistani officials.
“Pakistan will have to cut its defence budget by 30 per cent in the next four years if it agrees to the IMF conditions for a bailout package now being discussed in Dubai between the two sides, a document containing the IMF conditions seen by this correspondent reveals.
“Under extremely tough conditions, Pakistan would get $9.6 billion from the IMF during the next three years at a mark-up rate of 16.7 per cent per annum.
“The document says that if Pakistan accepted the IMF funding, it would reduce the number of posts entailing pension in the government and semi-government departments from 350,000 to 120,000.
“The IMF will propose taxation structure under package of reforms in the Federal Board of Revenue and Rs50 billion increase in the current target of revenue under the head of general sales tax,” (...)
“…Imposition of the agriculture tax will be made mandatory at the rate of seven per cent on wheat production and 3.5 per cent on other crops,” it maintains. The proposals say that the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) would submit quarterly report to the Islamabad office of the IMF for the monitoring and analysis of revenue collection as direct and indirect taxes. The IMF would propose changes wherever it wanted, it adds.
“The document says the IMF representative would be part of the FBR administrative structure and offices of the fund would be set up in all the provincial headquarters to monitor the general sales tax collection at the provincial level.
“The proposals also say that six IMF directors and two World Bank directors would monitor preparation of the federal budget in the finance ministry. They would give budget proposals and the Pakistan government would be obliged to comply with all these proposals.
“The Pakistan government will have to provide details of loans it got from all other lenders, including China, 48 hours before signing the funding agreement with the IMF and 25 per cent of the government assets pledged as securities for such loans will be the property of the IMF,” the document says.
“The IMF intervention in the affairs of the central bank (State Bank of Pakistan), provision of the details of foreign exchange reserves and remittances as well as flow of foreign exchange through other commercial banks are among other strict conditions to be entailed by the IMF funding. No IMF or Pakistan government official was available to comment on these conditions despite several attempts by this correspondent.” (The News, Islamabad, 24 October 2008)
The Economist analyses this IMF bailout in the following lines:
“A nuclear armed front-line state in the ‘war on terror’, Pakistan faces economic meltdown… The economy is close to freefall… IMF support is expected to come with austere strings attached. Defence and development expenditure may be among the casualties. Neither the army nor the general public will be happy.”
The conditions of the masses have deteriorated at breakneck speed in the last seven months under the PPP-led coalition government. The electricity outages (load shedding) have risen to 16 to 20 hours in urban and rural areas, while the price has been raised by 46%, with a target of 71% in the next few months. There have been astronomical rises in food and other basic needs including fuel. Poverty, unemployment and the fall of the population below the absolute poverty line has been unprecedented in the 61-year history of Pakistan’s existence. According to the World Food Programme (WFP) 77 million people in Pakistan face different degrees of hunger; that is 28% up from last year. The mass protests rising spontaneously, burning electricity bills have been rampant, and increasing by the day.
Cold indifference of PPP leadership
The most ironic aspect within this calamitous situation has been the cold indifference expressed by the PPP leadership and the government towards the plight of the masses. Now the coalition partners and the leaders of the PPP are jostling among themselves and wrangling over even more lucrative ministerial posts. The coalition parties in the government, after the half departure of the Muslim League Nawaz, are the MQM (the ethnic neo-fascists), the JUI (Islamic fundamentalists) and the ANP (the bourgeois Pushtoon Nationalists).
Zardari is the president of Pakistan and the co-chairperson, along with his son, of the PPP. Yusaf Gillani, a former minister of General Zia ul Haq who assassinated the founder of the PPP Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, is the PPP Prime Minister of the country.
In the February 18 elections the masses had once again voted overwhelmingly for the PPP, as their tradition of political struggle. It was yet another attempt to get some respite for themselves from the extreme misery they are enduring.
There has been a flood of PPP supporters with ‘files’ and applications for jobs to the PPP offices. But the size of these crowds has been diminishing and most are now falling back in despair and hopelessness. Yet the miseries of life have become so intolerable that they are forced to join the wave of protests against the lack of electricity and other basic amenities. These protests are now becoming more violent and clashes with the police are on the rise. However, at the moment these protests are more of a sporadic and “spontaneous” character, as the right wing is too weak and in a state of compromise with the Zardari regime and there is no substantial force on the left to give them leadership and direction.
There is discontent and frustration not just among the wider masses that supported the PPP but also amongst the workers and activists of the party. Although a number of PPP activists have been inducted into some government posts and given petty government contracts, there is no room in the economy for the vast majority of the PPP activists to be accommodated. The funds for development allocated in the budget have already dried up. They have to be directed to current state spending and debt repayments. Most developmental projects started by the previous governments are now standing still. This has brought further agony to the life of the masses.
Strains within the ranks of the PPP
All this is producing strains within the ranks of the PPP and its base of support. The mass support for Zardari and the PPP – so powerful just a few months ago – has now taken a nosedive. According to recent polls Zardari’s support has dwindled to 13%. This creates a precarious situation for the PPP activists and office bearers (who are appointed) as they cannot justify or defend any of these policies that have played havoc with the lives of the deprived. In fact what they are doing is avoiding the ordinary working people and the impoverished masses. Only the trade union bureaucrats, the shopkeepers, sections of the middle classes and other businessmen who have some reserves of “fat” left are participating in PPP activities that are nothing compared to what they were before the PPP came into office.
Such conditions are putting enormous pressure on the layers of advanced workers and youth and there is a mood of revolt not just against the PPP leadership and the government but againt the PPP itself. This is not the first time that such conditions have arisen when the PPP has come into office. The difference today is that it is a much more drastic situation.
The PPP leaders, although indifferent to the plight of the masses, are worried about their own political and social credibility that is eroding rapidly. Hence they are more inclined to a tighter control of the nominated party apparatus and try to crush any left opposition within the party. There have been some dissidents at the top, but mainly for reasons linked to getting top ministerial posts and other lucrative positions in the government. However, Zardari has been able to manipulate them and buy them off in one way or another. And they have sold out.
Zardari has attained power through manoeuvres and outright capitulation to imperialism and now he is the second richest man in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif is not far behind at number four. But Zardari’s political power is not as reliable as his financial and economic assets. Although even this is doubtful due to the worldwide economic and financial meltdown and crisis.
The army is not at all pleased with this. Having a “commander-in-chief” with Zardari’s background is not very inspiring for the military brass. But American imperialism is putting on all the pressure to restrain them from intervening in a country that has been ruled by the army for more than half of its history. However, the situation among the middle and lower ranking officers is volatile and to keep the lid on this boiling dissent may not be easy for the Americans and the high command of the Army.
All the blunders that Zardari and his coterie are making and the orgy that is going on in the luxurious echelons of power are fomenting a hatred from below and giving a certain leverage to the right wing led by Nawaz Sharif, who also has the support of the most virulent strains of Islamic fundamentalists such as the Jamat-i-Islami. If the right wing were to take power, how long such a right-wing regime or for that matter a military dictatorship could last or stem the rot. What could they do to retrieve this crumbling economy? Not very much at all.
There was an article that appeared in a Sindhi paper recently, written by Wajid Shams ul Hasan, Pakistan’s High Commissioner in London and a close associate and protégé of Zardari. He wrote that the biggest threat to the PPP leadership was the presence of the Marxists within the party rather than the top PPP leaders who were hostile to Zardari for being deprived of top posts in the government! The PPP leadership has in fact tried to purge the left in the PPP. They have used ex-lefts with all sorts of methods, from offering perks and privileges to outright harassment and repression.
Role of the Marxists
On this score they have also been defeated. The Marxists in fact have gained in some areas where there are elements of genuine political and ideological activity within the PPP. The recent interventions of the Marxists in Quetta, Karachi, Multan and the Punjab PPP Executive Committee meeting in Lahore with a clear revolutionary position has had an electrifying effect on the workers and youth in those meetings. The Marxists won these positions in the PPP from below on a revolutionary programme.
The Marxists have not lost their heads and have not allowed the policies of the leaders and the pressures from certain advanced layers of workers and youth to make them become desperate. They steadfastly moved forward side by side with the masses basing themselves on Lenin’s dictum “patient, persistent and consistent”. This has not been the first time that the Marxists in the PPP have had to face such challenges. They refuse to leave the masses who still have hopes although diminished at this stage to the mercy of Zardari and his sycophantic coterie.
The absence of an alternative doesn’t leave them with much choice. Socialism today is a forbidden word among the PPP’s nominated leadership at all levels. Although the PPP originates from the 1968-69 revolution and its founding socialist programme, that gave it its traditional base, and although the leadership has abandoned its socialist foundations, large sections of the masses still have illusions in the party as a vehicle for change in their lives. In ordinary times the masses always opt for the seemingly easiest and most available solution. But experience and huge historical events propel them onto the revolutionary path. Lenin in his epic work “Left wing communism – an infantile disorder” wrote on this question:
“If you want to help the ‘masses’ and win the sympathy and support of the ‘masses’, you should not fear difficulties, or pinpricks, chicanery, insults and persecution from the ‘leaders’ (who, being opportunists and social-chauvinists, are in most cases directly or indirectly connected with the bourgeoisie and the police), but must absolutely work wherever the masses are to be found.”
If the PPP government is overthrown through a military coup or is replaced by the right-wing parties through elections the PPP would find itself back in opposition. And it is not ruled out that this could happen sooner rather than later, if we take into account the severity of the present crisis. But even when the PPP is in power there is a palpable dissent within the party. Accidents can happen and as Engels pointed out, they are the result of a long lasting deeper necessity. In this situation some other accidental figure or group with rhetorical sloganeering and radical speeches can come to the fore. Zardari after all inherited his wife’s party, not her authority. And in any case, he doesn’t carry the “Bhutto” name, which is of a much greater importance in an underdeveloped country like Pakistan.
Marxists do not make a fetish of the PPP. We do not identify with Zardari or the clique around him. They are carrying out anti-working class policies and disillusioning many honest party activists, and particularly the working masses that support it. In these conditions the Marxists are extremely flexible in the way they work. What we have to understand is that for Marxists working in the PPP, “patiently explaining” our programme, does not stop us from going directly to the workers under “independent” banners such as the PTUDC or the BNT. We have to work wherever the masses are in struggle for their emancipation.
The Marxists will explore every left-wing tradition of the masses. We will enter every avenue that leads to the proletariat and the revolutionary youth. The ultimate objective of the involvement of the Marxists is to build up and develop a mass revolutionary tendency. Especially at a time when the PPP government is carrying out the most vicious attacks against the working classes in Pakistan, the Marxists should be at the forefront in leading the mass resistance that is rising by the day.
Recent interventions have shown that there is rising support for socialist ideas and Marxism within the ranks and the wider supporters of the PPP. These interventions were based on the PPP’s founding socialist programme of 1967 and the revolutionary election manifesto of 1970. These documents call for the overthrow of capitalism through a socialist revolution. All this will further grow with the worsening crisis, instability and experience of the real character of the present leadership.
At the same time the Marxists have to stand out within the PPP and cannot be apologetic for such drastic acts of the PPP leadership against the workers. This struggle outside the PPP will inevitably help to build a wide base of support within the PPP. Similarly the daring stand and struggle of the Marxists against the capitalist and feudal leadership within the PPP ranks will get an echo far beyond the confines of the PPP.
In the coming seismic convulsions there will be enormous ferment and conflicts within the PPP. In the case of a right-wing or fundamentalist upsurge and attack, the Marxists must adopt the tactic of the united front with the workers and youth both within the PPP and in the trade unions and other traditional organisation of youth and workers.
If the Marxists can build a substantial qualitative and quantitative force, the scenario will be very different. In the wake of a new movement along the lines of 1968-69 when the PPP became the tradition of the masses due to the absence of a mass revolutionary alternative if a sizeable Marxist revolutionary alternative is built up in time, this time we can avoid the revolutionary movement being derailed. This will pave the way for a socialist victory. We have fought and defeated opportunism and ultra-leftism before. We shall do it again. We refuse to change our course. We shall fight and we shall win.
- Pakistan in Turmoil by Zuhaib Butt (October 29, 2008)
- Pakistan: Rulers Playing Games – Masses in Unprecedented Suffering by Lal Khan (September 2, 2008)
- The role of the Pakistan Army by Lal Khan (July 22, 2008)
- Pakistan: Largest ever congress of Marxists in Kashmir by Yasir Irshad (July 8, 2008)
- Pakistan: “When worlds have to be won” by The Struggle (July 2, 2008)
- Pakistan - unravelling of the democratic farce by Lal Khan (May 15, 2008)
- 27th Congress of The Struggle meets at crucial turning point in Pakistan’s history by our correspondent in Pakistan (April 2, 2008)
- Pakistan: Coalition - no solution! by Lal Khan (February 20, 2008)
- Pakistan elections: The Mother of all Frauds by Alan Woods (February 19, 2008)