Update on Pakistan: After the “Emergency”

Against the Current, No. 132, January/February 2008

Farooq Tariq

GENERAL PERVEZ MUSHARRAF has “taken off the uniform” and lifted the emergency as of December 15th. But Labour Party Pakistan rejects the Musharraf’s claim that the emergency is lifted. It is “lifted” with the Constitution amended, and with all the repressive measures protected by a decree. General Musharraf’s actions within 42 days of the “emergency” cannot be challenged by any court and the changes don’t have to be ratified by a two-third majority of the future parliament: According to General Musharraf these measures are now part of the Constitution; no one can change it.

[Also relevant is Musharraf’s removing from the Constitution a provision that civil servants, including army officiers, had to wait two years after retirement before running for elected office. It was on that basis that his October election (by federal and provincial parliaments stacked with his supporters) was challenged. When it seemed that the Supreme Court might rule against him, he imposed the emergency decree and dismissed the Court. — ed.]

Earlier Musharraf had taken off his military uniform to become the “civilian” president. This is just a farce. We condemn these dictatorial maneuverings and ask the working class of Pakistan and internationally to continue its struggle until the overthrow of General Musharraf.

The lifting of the emergency is littered with over 10,000 arrests of lawyers, political activists and students. Many thousands were forced to stay away from their houses under the threat of arrest. Many hundreds were brutally beaten up. Top judges and lawyer leaders are still in detention.

Is It “Mission Accomplished”?

The main aim of the emergency was to get rid of the independent judiciary. That mission is accomplished with new handpicked-judges installed at the Supreme Court and High Courts. All these repressive, dictatorial, undemocratic, brutal and unjustified action of General Musharaf from November 3rd have been “legalized.”

The real name of emergency was martial law; rule imposed by the military commander-in-chief can only be described as martial law. No demonstrations are allowed. All the electronic and print media remain under watch; several have been completely shut down. The private televisions channels were off the air for a month and GEO, the most popular private television channel, is still off.

The emergency was not “a bump on the road to democracy” as was claimed by Richard Boucher in the U.S. Senate hearings on Pakistan, but a wall erected to stop the path to democracy. The wall is still is there.

Calling elections under emergency rule was another political maneuver to dodge the growing international opposition to military rule. The general elections to be held January 8, with all the repressive measure protected by the amended Constitution, do not provide equal opportunity to all. The elections under the new caretaker government, handpicked judiciary and Election Commission will not be fair and free. Both the judiciary and commission are composed of Musharraf supporters.

LPP Supports the Boycott

The boycott of these elections is the only remaining option for a genuine opposition to General Musharraf. This is the response of 25 political parties, the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM), to the call issued by the Pakistan Bar Council.

The boycott is the strategy to further the struggle for restoration of democracy and judicial independence. Without the restoration of the judges who refused to take the oath under Provisional Constitutional Ordinance there can be no guarantee of free and fair general elections.

Fully half of the total candidates who filed to run in the general elections have now withdrawn their nomination papers. I, myself, was a candidate for the National Assembly from Toba Tek Singh, and I reacted positively to the call to boycott. In fact all 30 candidates from the LPP have so.

[In contrast, Benazir Bhutto, hoping to be elected a third time as prime minister, is calling on the United States and “world community” to “put its weight behind fair elections” in Pakistan. See her Opinion article “Why the world needs democracy in Pakistan,” Christian Science Monitor, December 10, 2007: 9 — ed.]

General Musharraf has enriched the military officer cast with billions of rupees. He sees it as protection and for the time being feels safe as civilian president. But once the mass movement spreads to all parts of the country, there will be splits and divisions among the military officer caste as well. That will be the time when Musharraf confronts difficulties as a civilian president.

Participating in these elections would legitimize the Musharaf dictatorship and all its repressive measures. The only way to get rid of dictatorship has been to launch a mass movement alongside with the present struggle of the militant lawyer’s community.

The LPP therefore decided to boycott the elections and join the All Parties Democratic Movement. The APDM had called for a mass movement against the dictatorship, including the boycott.

Meanwhile the so-called liberal and progressive parties like the Pakistan Peoples Party initially stabbed the movement by entering into negotiations with the military dictatorship. After an initial detour, the PPP leadership at present is trying its best to go along with the military dictatorship. It has abandoned all its promises for the restoration of the judges, and all the farcical actions of the Musharraf regime are hailed as a “step towards democracy.”

The APDM alliance is no longer the right-wing alliance dominated by the religiously fundamentalists that it was when it formed in July 2007. The new APDM of December 10th is, in its essence, a broad-based bourgeois alliance, a combination of radical nationalist, democratic, socialist and religious parties.

The APDM’s program today is a bourgeois democratic one opposed to military dictatorship. The balance of power has shifted toward the radical parties. Today there is no other politically broad-based platform of opposition to the regime.