‘War on terror’ behind martial law in Pakistan

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Martial law has been declared in Pakistan, the culmination of all the conflicts that have been going on within the state since the summer. This appears to have been precipitated by the fears that the High Court might rule Musharraf ineligible for his re-election as president last month, and he has finally replaced the Chief Justice with one of his own men, something he tried and failed to do in August when he pulled back from declaring a state of emergency. This suspension of the Constitution contrasts with all the propaganda about moving towards democracy and civilian rule and will put Benazir Bhutto in a difficult situation as she flies back from Dubai. She originally returned from exile after swapping an amnesty for agreeing that her supporters would not block Musharraf's election. It will also put a spanner in the works for the US tactic of supporting a coalition of the ‘moderates', those likely to be most willing and able to support it against Al Qaida.

Among all the pious expressions of concern voiced by various bigwigs around the world, British Foreign secretary David Miliband said "We recognise the threat to peace and security faced by the country...". To understand what is going on in Pakistan today we don't so much need to look at how the President is looking after his personal self-interest, but why the ruling class as a whole cannot cohere and why a section of it put a military dictator in charge. To do so we need to see where Pakistan stands in the geo-strategic map of the world and the imperialist tensions that are pulling it apart. It has a large frontier with Afghanistan, as well as having Iran, China and India on its borders. It has over a million Afghan refugees. The six decade long fight with India over Kashmir is hardly Pakistan's only concern. Internal conflicts, such as the battle between the army and Islamists in the North West region, complete the picture of a country being torn apart by the pressures coming from within and without.

The effects of conflicts between the great powers

Back in the 1980s, when the major imperialist conflicts were between the USA and its allies and vassals on the one hand and the Russian imperialist bloc on the other, Pakistan was strategically important for western supplies to the Mujahadin, who were fighting the Russians in Afghanistan. Back then, these Islamists had not just God but also the CIA and American Stinger missiles on their side, and Russia was duly forced out. Pakistan also has its interests in Afghanistan, a useful hinterland for training and strategic depth in its confrontation with India in Kashmir.

More recently the USA launched its own invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, using the destruction of the World Trade Centre etc and the need for a ‘war on terror' as an excuse. Once again Pakistan's support was needed. America promised it would support those tribes hostile to the Northern Alliance, Pakistan's traditional enemy and a barrier to its influence in Afghanistan, but this promise was broken when the Northern Alliance gained influence in the post-Taliban settlement. In any case, Pakistan's assistance was obtained by other means of persuasion when the US threatened to bomb it into the stone age if it didn't give support. This threat has been more or less repeated by Barack Obama in the current presidential campaign, suggesting that the US could bomb Al Qaida strongholds in Pakistan without permission.

At the same time there were millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, adding to the instability of the country, and even though 2.3 million were repatriated in 2005, over a million remain.

Regional imperialist interests

Pakistan has its own imperialist interests, and to pursue them has made itself the greatest recipient of arms transfers in the third world in 2006, with India coming a close second. Its conflict with its larger Indian rival over Kashmir and their nuclear arms race led to the brink of war in 2002, with the weaker power stating it would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons against a superior enemy. The danger of war was averted with pressure from the US, which did not want this conflict getting in the way of its pursuit of its own military adventures, but none of the issues were resolved. The peace process Pakistan was forced into meant it could not take advantage of any of its gains on the ground. The conflict has been continued in a less newsworthy way with terrorist attacks in both countries, and in Kashmir itself Pakistan admitting to only ‘moral and diplomatic' support to Islamists, but in fact giving much more, and India repressing these fundamentalist ‘freedom fighters'. Both sides rely on virulent nationalism and neither shows any concern for their uncounted victims.

When the strategic situation is looked at more widely it is not to Pakistan's advantage. Forced at gunpoint to support the USA in its ‘war on terror' it can gain nothing from its loyalty to the USA. As China is following up its economic growth rates with growth in its imperialist appetites so it is coming into conflict with not only India but also America. Pakistan is faced with a convergence of interests between its traditional enemy, India, and its super-power boss of bosses. And to make a bad situation worse, Pakistan finds itself in the middle between its two much stronger ‘allies' and major trading partners, the USA and China, as they come into conflict.

The failure of the ‘war on terror'

The ‘war on terror' has not been a major success for the USA, faced as it is with a quagmire in Iraq and an intractable Afghanistan which limit its options in its desire to launch new military adventures. For Pakistan this is a further disaster. As the US shows its weakness, so Al Qaida supporters, many of them based in North West Pakistan, are more daring. Soldiers are kidnapped or killed with impunity. In the summer 200 were killed in 10 weeks and at the end of August 250 were kidnapped in South Waziristan without firing a shot, giving rise to speculation that the Army has been infiltrated. Neither the 90,000 troops deployed to the border nor the $10 billion US aid has brought the situation under control. A government peace deal with tribal leaders in Waziristan angered America, but broke down and fighting has increased since the storming of the Red Mosque. Musharraf cannot please anyone. Some senior officers blame him for being distracted by the political crisis.

In Pakistan the state is at war with itself. Opposition leaders were rounded up in September, former PM Nawaz Sharif was expelled as soon as he returned. Political rallies are the scene of terrorist murders. High Court judges protested against the administration after one of them was sacked, and then suspended a police chief after violence at a demonstration of protesting lawyers. These are the institutions at the heart of the state and their conflict reflects the way the country is being torn apart by the imperialist conflicts that go under the heading of the ‘war on terror'. And now this has culminated in the declaration of the state of emergency.

Whether elections are held in January or not, there will be no move to democracy and civilian government, Pakistan is struggling to avoid being torn apart. Even without being directly attacked it shows the chaos and misery that is being caused by imperialist conflicts today.   Alex 3/11/07