Pakistan: Elite, military tensions threaten to blow

When US forces crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan and killed 24 Pakistani border guards on November 26, it further strained Pakistan-US relations, already complicated by the fact the Pakistani elite, in particular the military, maintains close links to both the US and the Taliban.

This collaboration with both sides of the Afghan war has continued despite the November 26 incident being far from unique. Both the Taliban and the US-led forces routinely kill Pakistani civilians, as well as soldiers and police.

However, the commanders of the military, especially military intelligence (the ISI), are reluctant to give up the leverage they gain from their ties with the Islamists or the flow of money and weapons that comes with the US ties.

The US attack exacerbated the tensions between and within the different branches of the Pakistani state: the political establishment, the judiciary and the dominant branch, the military.

Rumours of an impending military coup have circulated. On January 16, the Supreme Court ruled Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in contempt of court for failing to prosecute President Asif Ali Zardari for corruption.

The events confirmed the journalistic cliche that Pakistan is, or at least very close to being, a “failed state”. Anxiety about whether this nuclear-armed US ally was finally about to go over to the “dark side” has been heightened by anti-US rhetoric from the military and cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose Tehreek Insaaf (TI, Justice Movement) is currently enjoying a surge in popularity.

For Pakistan’s population, the threat of being blown up by a US robotic drone or an Islamist human bomb is only one of many dire problems.

The Pakistani elite’s willingness to collaborate with enemies of the nation, its homicidal internal squabbles, and its corruption, reflect an economy dominated by entrenched feudal landlords selling the country to foreign vulture capitalists.

On January 27, there were protests in Lahore against a mass poisoning from contaminated cardiac medicine, which by January 27 had killed more than 100 people, TheHeart.org said.

The January 28 Daily Times said activists from “the Labour Party Pakistan (LPP), National Trade Union Federation, Women Workers Help Line, Labour Education Foundation and Brick-kiln Union [carried] placards inscribed with slogans … against the Health Department, pharmaceutical companies and the Punjab Institute of Cardiology”.

The Punjab Institute of Cardiology was responsible for distributing the drugs, which it acquired cheaply and without oversight.

The Pakistani state can still act as an effective instrument to crush dissent.

On August 11, police shot two villagers in the Hunza Valley, in the province of Gilgit-Baltistan, who were protesting against corrupt officials pocketing compensation and reconstruction funds supposed to be paid after a devastating July 2010 landslide.

Dozens of local activists were rounded up in the following months, including LPP leader Baba Jan who was tortured by the ISI and remains in jail.

On November 1, an anti-terrorist court judge sentenced six leaders of the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM) to long prison sentences (averaging more than 80 years each) for leading a strike of 100,000 power loom workers in Faisalabad, Punjab province in July 2010.

Gilgit-Baltistan province is ruled by Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party while Punjab is ruled by the opposition Pakistan Muslim League.

The corruption and ineffectiveness of these two major parties is reflected in the popularity of Khan’s TI, which has been allying itself with Islamists and the military.

The failure of Pakistan’s parliamentary politicians has created a level of indifference to the threat of a military coup. However, a return to military rule would be a step backwards for human rights and popular struggles.