Why did Pakistan’s military ruler General Musharraf risk millions of dollars in military and other financial aid from the US and EU by declaring martial law on 3 November?
He probably knew there was little chance of Pakistan’s major donor countries (the US and the UK) doing more than weakly threatening to cut that aid. In the short-term, to a large extent, the US and UK are inhibited by their reliance on Pakistan in the region — not least for logistical help with NATO operations in Afghanistan. A guarded promise from Musharaff (5 November) to go ahead with National Assembly elections in January was enough to see the US and UK back off.
In any case Musharaff has long wanted a concerted drive to arrest, neutralise or otherwise brutally intimidate Pakistan’s “liberal” opposition — the lawyers, human rights activists and media people that trouble him. Trade unionists and socialists have also been targetted (see page 7).
Musharraf’s stated reason for setting cops onto lawyers and putting judges under house arrest is that they are interferring with the army’s ability to bring to justice Pakistan many and various Islamist extremists. Only a power-obsessed anti-democrat of the tallest order could be capable of such breath-taking hypocrisy.
Musharraf is out to get people like Chief Justice Iftkhar Chaudhry because they want to stop him and the military from staying in power. Last March Chaudhry ruled that any “re-election” of Musharaff as President by the National Assembly (which Musharaff achieved last month) would be illegal; at Chaudhry’s instigation the Supreme Court were about to make the same ruling again. .
There is more to this crackdown, some of which we can only speculate about. It could be that Musharaff and sections in the army, do not trust or want the recent (US-backed) deal with the Pakistani Peoples’ Party (PPP) to share power after the election. Will the PPP accept the military’s dominant role in politics? The fact that the PPP, which has so far not called its people out onto the streets, does not seem a threat, may be immaterial to Pakistan’s ruthless military rulers — if they are feeling nervous about their position.
And there are much greater threats to Musharaff’s personal position and that of his brothers in braid.
Pakistan’s armed forces are now a colossal enterprise of different branches, including two separate intelligence agencies, and all sorts of direct and indirect interests in the Pakistani economy. Throughout Pakistan’s history the armed forces have been a constant, holding together Pakistan’s fragile state, backing up and overthrowing civilian governments, holding together by force a complex and conflict-ridden society. Those conflicts are worse than ever.
The growth in the dominance and effectiveness of the Islamist jihadists in the regions bordering Afghanistan and ongoing Sunni-Shi’a clashes are just part, a big part of the picture. There have been workers’ strikes (at Unilever for instance) and student protests. And to this must be added, above all, a conflict that threatens to develop into full scale civil war in Balochistan.
This year the government has used increasing force against largely secular Balochistan nationalists. Chief Justice Chaudhry (himself from Balochistan) pressured the government to release people arrested in the conflict, many of whom have not been heard of by their families for many months. Musharaff has also joined up with Islamists in an attempt to marginalise the nationalists and secularists in both of the two main peoples of the area, the Balochi and Pashtun. His Islamists of choice? The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F). And this group is a major ally of the Afghan Taliban!
The military are pragmatists when it comes to holding onto their own power and putting a lid on people fighting for greater autonomy. Of course they will back the Taliban in order to save their own position! Probably there are sections of the military who agree with backing the Taliban.
And the western powers? They have, up until now, stayed friends with these purveyors of violence because “putting a lid on it” — even if it involves giving direct or indirect support to the Taliban — might create some stability in the region, and therefore better conditions for capitalist exploitation. (In Balochistan, pumping out gas reserves).
Right now Pakistan’s military are unliklely to want to give up much power. That is bad news for the workers, democrats, and trade unionists in Pakistan. Socialists in this country urgently need to organise solidarity.