Pakistan: Mass opposition to Musharraf regime after Benazir killing


Mass opposition to Musharraf regime after Benazir killing

Was the state apparatus involved?

BENAZIR BHUTTO, leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), was killed in a suicide attack after addressing a public rally in Rawalpindi on 27 December. The Musharraf regime has pointed the finger of blame at an al-Qa’ida-linked group led by tribal warlord Baitullah Mashud.

Benazir had repeatedly said that some elements within the state apparatus wanted to kill her. She survived a deadly suicide attack on 18 October in Karachi at her reception rally when she returned from exile, at which nearly 150 people were killed.

Violence erupted as the news of her killing spread throughout the country. In Benazir’s home province, Sindh, angry mobs set ablaze banks, government buildings, gas stations, railway stations, trains, cars, buses and shops. The whole country was shut down in protest and the government announced ‘three days of mourning’.

The involvement of reactionary sections within the state apparatus cannot be ruled out in this assassination. The reactionary fundamentalist and nationalist elements within the state apparatus are closely linked with different armed reactionary Islamic groups. Many of these groups were created and developed by the state apparatus and especially the intelligence establishment.

These elements were not happy with the pro-US policies of Benazir and particularly her vocal opposition to Islamic militancy and extremism. She was a staunch supporter of the US-led ‘war on terror’ and supported military operations against militant groups.

She is the fourth member of the Bhutto family who has been killed in political violence. Her father and two brothers were killed by the state apparatus. Despite the hanging of her father and founder of the PPP, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in 1979 at the hands of the military dictator general Zia-ul-Haq, she tried to do everything to make a compromise with the military establishment.

Benazir’s PPP abandoned policies aimed at the working class and the urban and rural poor in order to appease the establishment. Despite this, she was never fully trusted by the military or big sections of the ruling elite in Pakistan.

THE PAKISTAN People’s Party central executive committee and federal council meeting in the house of deceased leader Benazir Bhutto in Sindh province on 30 December brought no surprises for all those who know something about the PPP and Pakistani politics.

Khalid Bhatti, Socialist Movement Pakistan (CWI), Lahore

Benazir Bhutto’s 19 year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto, was made the chairman of the party and her husband, Asif Zardari, co-chairman. The PPP also decided to contest the general election scheduled to be held on 8 January (but postponed until 18 February). The party leadership also decided to continue the policies adopted by Benazir Bhutto.

Many political commentators are calling this meeting a second founding of the Pakistani People’s Party, with a new leadership. But in reality, this new leadership is a continuation of the Bhutto family’s rule over the party.

All these decisions are taken according to Benazir’s will that she left for the family and party. In it she asked her husband to take over the party but he handed it over to his son. Asif Zardari will in fact continue to run and dominate the party in the name of the Bhuttos.

The tradition of family inheritance was used in 1979 when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, without any consultation, handed over leadership of the party to his daughter, Benazir. Now Benazir has done the same thing. The feudal dynasty tradition thus continues into the 21st century.

Future of PPP

Benazir Bhutto’s sudden demise has created a huge vacuum not only in the PPP but also in national politics.

Her anti-establishment image had faded considerably, especially in the last few months, because of the deals she was trying to do with General Musharraf, backed by western imperialism.

However, the PPP leader’s violent death has made her a symbol of struggle and courage again – against fundamentalism and dictatorship. For a short period of time it is going to wash away many of the betrayals and political mistakes that she made in her political career.

The PPP leadership will use the sympathy wave and mood of grief to pursue the policies which serve their interests. It is most likely that the party will be able to maintain its unity intact and avoid any big split in the short term. It is also most likely that it will be able to win a majority in the coming election to form a government.

The feudal-dominated leadership will use the present mood and anti-regime anger to muster support from the working masses to strike a fresh deal with the military establishment to share the power.

Once in government, the party will have to deal with the real issues. One thing is very clear, the party of Bhutto will not be able to solve the problems faced by the working class and poor people. It has no alternative programme and strategy to solve their problems.

It will pursue the same free market economic policies implemented by previous PPP governments, which resulted in diminishing support. It is most likely that the PPP will continue its pro-US policy and support for the ‘war on terror’.

There are many factions and groups arising from the cult of personalities within the party. These groups and factions can be involved in open battle to get control over the party apparatus. Asif Zardari will not be able to keep the party intact for a long period of time.

In the absence of a clear programme which could unify the party, there is now also no charismatic leader who can hold the party together in the long run, in the way Benazir was able to do.

If a working-class movement started to develop in the next couple of years, then a more radical formation could develop around leaders like Aitzaz Ahsan (the leader of the recent lawyers’ movement). The size and nature of any splits will depend on the concrete existing conditions of that time. One thing is clear: the present political road will take the PPP into disarray and deeper crisis.

Working class mood

Sympathy and anger over Benazir Bhutto’s killing might turn into enough votes for the PPP to defeat the pro-Musharraf parties. But this sympathy will be a short term phenomenon. It will disappear after the party comes to power and implements the same anti-working class and anti-poor people policies.

It is not possible for the PPP to again become the party of the masses in the same way that it was in the past. It will be viewed differently. The more politically advanced layers of working people are not ready to trust the leadership of the party. Even in the wider layers, sympathy is not turning into practical support.

The Sindh might be an exception in this whole situation, where the PPP enjoys the overwhelming support of the working masses in interior Sindh (the more rural, feudal-run areas) because of a rising tide of Sindhi nationalism.

Nevertheless, it is not possible for the leadership to transform the party into a political force that can engender widespread hopes and illusions amongst the masses.

In the period before her death Benazir Bhutto had been failing to mobilise the masses behind her party. Her election rallies and public meetings were smaller in numbers compared to previous election campaigns.

The only people in Pakistan who still believe that the Pakistan People’s Party can be reclaimed or transformed into a radical, left wing fighting working-class organisation are the so-called ‘Marxists’ working within it. Nevertheless, some leaders or sections of the party, under pressure from the masses, could at least verbally adopt a more radical left, anti-imperialist or social democratic position.

Lessons not learned

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the father of Benazir and founding chairman of the PPP, before his hanging in 1979 wrote: “I am spending time in this death cell because I tried to make compromises between two battling classes – the working class and the ruling class. No compromise can be made between these conflicting classes. This class war will only end with the decisive defeat of one class. This is the lesson of my present condition.”

Bhutto was not lucky enough to get a second chance after drawing this conclusion but his daughter refused to learn the lessons from his experience. She did everything possible to make compromises with the establishment but was never trusted by them.

She failed to defend and promote the interests of the working class and poor masses. She tried to appease Pakistan’s ruling elite and to be acceptable to imperialism.

The struggle for freedom, democracy, and fundamental rights and for political and social transformation, to solve all the problems faced by Pakistan’s working class and poor masses is a struggle to change the system and state structure. This means a struggle against capitalism, feudalism, imperialism and right-wing political Islamism – all at the same time.

Benazir Bhutto wanted to end reactionary religious fundamentalism without ending capitalism, imperialism and feudalism. This cannot be done. It, and the struggle against poverty, unemployment, price inflation and hunger is inextricably linked with the struggle to overthrow capitalism and to build socialism.

The present leadership of the PPP is not ready to take up this struggle against capitalism and feudalism. Instead it is working to strengthen the status quo – the present rotten system.

Workers and poor people, however, will be prepared to draw conclusions on the basis of the experience and bitter disappointments they have had. Clearly, an independent movement and party of the working class and poor is urgently needed. This would be a force with which to fight for a real change in the conditions of the mass of the population in Pakistan today and to conduct the struggle for socialism.