Pakistan: The threat of disintegration

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Since we wrote about Pakistan in the last edition of WR, Pervez Musharraf has ceremoniously handed over command of the Pakistani military to his protégé General Ashfaq Kayani (thereby meeting one of the key demands of the USA) and also allowed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to re-enter the country (after throwing him out at his last attempted return in September). It seems as though the good general has decided to play along and enter himself as a civilian candidate for the elections he has announced for January. Not a bit of it. Martial law has not been lifted. There are continual arrests, detentions and beatings of opposition supporters. There is still a heavy clampdown on all media outlets critical of the government. And the Pakistani Supreme Court has just been replaced with more favourable judges, after the last lot, and in particular the Chief Justice, began to be critical of the government. In short, not much has changed. The main reason for allowing Sharif back into the country - which was not specifically a US demand - seems to be that it is guaranteed that he will take votes away from Musharraf's main challenger, the other former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto.

Musharraf will have undoubtedly noticed a less unambiguous support from the US sugar daddy. In a speech following his recent visit John Negroponte (US State department ‘trouble shooter') stated that he had confidence in the army and the institutions of Pakistan, that the US wanted a ‘relationship with the people'. He specifically no longer referred to Musharraf as the ‘indispensable ally' in the war on terror. All in all the US probably has come to the realisation that, with all the main factions of the bourgeoisie apart from the ‘extreme' Islamists being basically pro-American, they can hedge their bets for the forthcoming elections. The reality is that while the US can say they have confidence in the state and its institutions, it doesn't mean all that much.

The army, despite being the only force capable of holding the state together, doesn't even have control of the entire country: Pro-Taliban militants "...control substantial areas along the Afghan border. More worryingly, for the government, they have, in recent months, extended their control east and north. They have carried out deadly attacks in the capital, Islamabad, and the main garrison town, Rawalpindi. They have inflicted humiliating defeats on the army, capturing hundreds of soldiers this year" (BBC news). There is also the issue that, although Islamist militants are unlikely to militarily take over the country, there is a strong tendency (e.g. Algeria, Indonesia) for Islamist parties to do well electorally out of the corruption of the official ‘westernised' fractions. The nightmare scenario, one the USA would not allow, would be an Islamic state armed and primed with nuclear weapons.

And there are already massive pressures on Pakistan on the regional imperialist front, with China and India as neighbours on one side (with the unresolved issue of Kashmir waiting to burst forth bloodily) and no end in sight to the now nearly 5 years old war in Afghanistan, on the other. In short, whichever faction comes to power, there is an irresistible tendency towards the break-up of the state, towards increased violence and gangsterism. This is, in miniature, what is going on throughout the region generally: the daily barbarism in Iraq, the push by the Iranian bourgeoisie to develop their own nuclear arsenal, the fracturing of Lebanon, the squeezing of life out of the Palestinian people... Capitalism can ultimately offer no hope for ‘peace' between warring nations or a way out of the desperate poverty that the vast majority in this region endure. It is only in the struggles of the workers throughout the Middle East - in Israel, in Egypt, in Iran amongst others - a struggle whose basis is a solidarity between workers irrespective of religion, nationality or ethnicity, that the seeds of a challenge to this living nightmare can emerge. Graham 28/11/07