Pakistan: The struggle for democracy

July 19, 2008

Pakistan is once again a focal point of an imperialist agenda and the so-called war against terrorism.

US imperialism and its coalition partners want to continue their policies with Pakistan's coalition government of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Awami National Party, under the supervision of unpopular President Pervez Musharraf.

The US claims that it had invested a huge amount of US$60 billion to strengthen Musharraf's regime. The US can not leave him alone after this massive investment.

On March 9, 2007, Musharraf made the mistake of suspending the Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. In contrast to the previous practices of the judiciary, Chaudhry strongly opposed various policies of the regime and decided to say "No" to its dictates. He was initially asked to resign but refused. The dictatorship then illegally suspended him from his position.

The illegal suspension was strongly condemned by the Supreme Court Bar Association and Pakistan Bar Council. The two representative bodies of Pakistani lawyers took the decision for 80,000 lawyers all around the country to launch a peaceful movement against Musharraf's attack on the judiciary.

This timely decision was widely appreciated across society and thousands went onto the streets in support of the lawyers' movement. To suppress the movement, the regime escalated its repression. Thousands of lawyers and political activists were arrested, tortured, injured and many were killed by Musharraf regime.

After four months, the Supreme Court declared that the suspension of Chaudhry was illegal and he was restored. Musharraf initially had to accept this decision because of the strength of the lawyers' movement and public pressure. Refusing to accept the independence of the judiciary, however, he imposed a state of emergency on November 3 last year.

After the imposition of emergency, the constitution was suspended. Sixty-three judges refused to take the oath under the new regulations. The Musharraf regime arrested the judges as well as lawyers and other activists who opposed this act.

In a bid to counter the lawyers' movement, Musharraf attempted to strike a deal with PPP leader Benazir Bhutto, striking an agreement with the then-exiled leader under US pressure.

The US wanted an effective political alliance to control the growing influence of religious fundamentalism. Just after returning from exile, however, Bhutto sensed the public mood and attempted to retreat her agreement. As a consequence, she lost her life on December 27, 2007.

There were a lot of expectations following the general elections on February 18. It was a massive anti-Musharraf vote. Some thought that there would be a change in policies, but this has not occurred. The sacked judges remain deposed, the economic and political policies of Musharraf are continuing — making people's lives hell.

The new PPP government has no solutions to the economic, political and judicial crises, with the situation getting worse day by day. The alliance with PML-N has been broken. With the PPP leadership going down the path of strengthening its alliance with US imperialism and a power-sharing deal with Musharraf, the government is on a fast track to unpopularity.

It will face the music. It cannot go on with its present policies. The people have seen the real ugly face of the corrupt PPP leadership. It is time for alternative ideas and alternative policies. The Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) is pushing alternative policies and gaining in popularity.

The PML-N withdrew its ministers from the cabinet on May 12 and announced they will join the proposed "long march of advocates" for the restoration of the judiciary.

All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM), an alliance of 20 political parties that boycotted the general elections, have announced that they will build the movement for restoration of judiciary and the rule of law. The LPP and some other left-wing parties are also members of APDM.

The government's refusal to restore Chaudhry is also part of US strategy towards Pakistan. It seems that US imperialism does not want an independent judiciary. It needs those judges that are wiling to obey and don't oppose the US agenda for Pakistan.

Poverty is growing rapidly and hundreds of people are committing suicide every year. The government has no agenda for improving this worsening situation, but are instead implementing the neoliberal policies and privatisation as dictated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These policies are directly responsible for the increasing poverty.

[Nisar Shah is the LPP general secretary. Email]

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