By Sacha Ismail
London and Washington's favourite military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, has been in power since 2000 and “constitutional” president of Pakistan since 2002. This year, he plans to have himself re-elected for another five term, and is determined to crush anyone who gets in his way.
The last month has seen a rising tide of protests sparked by Musharraf’s decision on 9 March to suspend Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, chief justice of Pakistan’s supreme court, and try him on charges of corruption.
Beginning with lawyers’ strikes and demonstrations, this movement has now drawn in wider forces, with all the country’s trade union federations, for instance, calling for actions against the government. The response from the regime has been widespread repression, with baton-charges, rubber bullets and tear gas. One TV station that portrayed images of bloodied protesters had its offices smashed and its staff beaten, while another was temporarily taken off the air.
Musharraf’s regime is a clear indication of how little Bush and Blair are interested in democracy. Chaudhry, himself naturally a conservative ruling class figure, was suspended because his independent mindedness got in the way of the government’s plans. On the one hand, he helped expose the disappearance of hundreds of Pakistanis by the Inter-Service Intelligence secret police, causing enormous embarrassment to the government; on the other, he overturned the sale of state-owned Pakistan Steel Mills to a group of businessmen close to Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.
Chaudhry was also due to rule on whether it is constitutional for Musharraf to run for a second term as president. The general wants to be re-elected by the existing parliament before new elections take place in October, and does not want a troublesome judiciary getting in the way.
The strongest political opposition to Musharraf, unfortunately, is made up of radical Islamist groups. The main bourgeois “democratic” parties, the Muslim League and the Pakistan People’s Party, have an appalling record in government. The labour movement and the left are very weak, after years of assaults on the working class, including by Musharraf. Nonetheless, they remain the only force that can be trusted to pursue the struggle for democracy through to its end.
• For more see the website of the Labour Party of Pakistan: www.laborpakistan.org