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Pakistan - a powder keg ready to explode
SOCIALIST PARTY general secretary Peter Taaffe (left) was recently on a speaking tour of south Asia. Here he describes his visit to Pakistan.
NOTHING CAN prepare you for leaving the quite modern Karachi Airport to confront for the first time the living hell of the sprawling conurbation of Karachi. Transport spews out noxious gases, going the wrong way along the 'motorway'. There are more flies than I have seen in my life, buzzing around waste littering the streets.
I was no normal tourist, whistled from the airport to an 'upmarket' city-centre hotel. I was here at the invitation of Pakistan's fastest-growing left organisation, the Socialist Movement Pakistan (SMP). I later attended the SMP Congress.
I was taken to a 'two-star' hotel, which at first glance I took to be another of the slum dwellings I saw on the journey from the airport. This residence, whose poorly-paid staff were extremely polite and helpful, would certainly not make it onto the guest house list of a British seaside resort!
While there, I had a glimpse of the nightmare for the masses in 'modern' Pakistan. In baking heat, day and night, the electricity and with it the fans, could suddenly cut without warning. Just after I left, the city suffered a three-day power cut, which left no water for washing, sewage disposal, etc.
Horror without end
Lenin once described capitalism as "horror without end" for the working class and poor. Pakistan is a living example of this and Karachi, once its industrial centre and still the fearless centre of working class resistance, gives a face to this horror.
I spoke at meetings in Hyderabad and Tandojan, moving from the 'fifth' world to the 'sixth', in terms of the masses' conditions and the degradation that capitalism means for them.
It is eight years since I was last in Pakistan and the deterioration in conditions was palpable. A minister in Musharraf's regime admitted while I was there that "63% of the population are on or below the poverty line". Behind these bare statistics is terrible suffering and despair.
The newspapers reported on the burgeoning numbers of people committing suicide; one woman in Tandojan killed herself and her five children by throwing herself into the river because she had not eaten for a number of days.
Another unfortunate Pakistani man tried to escape this hell for a job in Malaysia, which is now short of labour because of the government's policies of persecuting and deporting 'illegal' immigrants. He was refused entry, returned home and decided to end it all.
Pakistan is a byword for poverty, disease and suffering. Recently, outside Lahore Press Club, 20 kiln workers lifted their shirts to display savage scars on their bodies. This was the result of their 'donation' of a kidney for money to pay off crippling loans to their kiln bosses. In one Punjabi village, 3,000 people donated their kidneys. Most of these 'donations' don't go to rich Westerners but to rich Pakistanis.
Their kidneys are damaged beyond repair because of the poisoning of the water supply - itself a product of the capitalist system - which tends to disintegrate their kidneys' effectiveness. 83% of Lahore's water supply, for instance, is polluted. Poor people whose kidneys fail face a lingering and terrible death.
Despite these horrors, what is lacking in the situation is a clear consciousness of the potential power of the working class. The lack of this broad 'subjective' factor, particularly of a mass, radical socialist party that can act as a pole of attraction, can delay a revolutionary explosion. However, such is the potential in this society that an 'accident' could ignite an explosion from the masses.
Ruling class split
PAKISTAN IS a powder keg ready to explode at any time. Some of the objective prerequisites of a revolutionary or pre-revolutionary situation exist. Its ruling class is riven with hesitation and split from top to bottom. Musharraf is besieged by a rising tide of mass discontent and is hesitant on how to deal with this.
He tried reforms from the top, establishing a fig leaf of a 'parliament'. Real power is wielded by the bloated military caste which has ruled Pakistan for most of the 57 years since its formation.
According to Assad, a telecommunications trade union leader and SMP member, the military amassed immense wealth as well as power. It is now probably the country's biggest industrial conglomerate, with investments in sugar, coal and land, where it has a virtual monopoly and where prices have been rocketing.
An Islamabad worker commented: "The Pakistani people since 1947 were told to respect the army, but that has all gone, there is now a hatred for them and the police for perpetuating our misery."
Musharraf is desperately seeking points of support because of the failure of the military's political face, the governing Pakistan Muslim League. Islamic 'fundamentalists' in the coalition, whose largest component is Jaamat Islami, which up to now supported the government, have now deserted it.
This right-wing party - with 34 of its Central Committee members millionaires or billionaires - has to seek its distance from Musharraf because of the growing mood that we must "get rid of the army". The mullahs dominating Jaamat Islami want to convince the capitalists that they can do a better job than Musharraf with the same policies. They launched a 'million march' aiming to remove the military this year.
The other major parties joined in, in words at least, with this aim. Prominent amongst them is the Peoples' Party Pakistan (PPP) led by Benazir Bhutto. However, the 'Peoples' Party will do anything except mobilise the people on a radical, socialist and revolutionary programme.
Its two demands on the military are: 1) Bring back Benazir; 2) Bring back her husband. Shamefully Benazir has been involved in discussions with Musharraf's government, with a view to the PPP participating in some 'transitional' arrangement with Musharraf's regime.
Change of society
LANDLORDS AND capitalists see that Pakistan's military is on its last legs and are urging it to stand down. The PPP is no longer the radical, 'socialist' or populist party of the past, but just another bourgeois party, full of careerists, capitalists, feudals and place-seekers.
The most politically developed sections of the working class see no hope in a PPP government. This does not mean that the masses, more in hope than expectation, will not vote PPP to get rid of the military. But the belief that anything can be achieved from this party is misplaced.
Musharraf has been warned by the bourgeois press that unless the mood of opposition is channelled into a 'democratic' parliament convened by elections, it will take an extra-parliamentary form, with "dangerous" implications for the system. Musharraf, however, is desperately seeking to produce his own counterweight to this by touring the country to speak at "mass" meetings, where people are dragooned to attend.
In all this, however, the masses' poverty and frustration and the political level of the more developed sections of the working class shines through. Pakistan may be poor but its guiding layers of the working class are rich in ideas, confidence and preparedness to struggle to change society.
This is where the SMP comes in. The Congress produced a series of documents and demands which can rally the best of the Pakistani working class, the exploited peasantry, the youth, the national minorities and the viciously oppressed women in a movement to change society.
It has set itself the task of building a viable revolutionary organisation. The framework is already in place. This is the only hope for showing the oppressed Pakistani workers and youth a way out of the terrible morass which is Pakistan today.
In The Socialist 7 April 2005: