The popular struggle against the Musharraf dictatorship

November 11, 2009

Facing the Musharraf Dictatorship: An Activist Narrative
By Farooq TariqGood Books, 2009
310pages, $25(hb)
Available from

"It took a year-long mass uprising by virtually the whole population of Pakistan to finally overthrow the hated military dictator General Musharraf", writes Roger Silverman in the introduction to Facing the Musharraf Dictatorship: An Activist Narrative, by Farooq Tariq. "This book is a diary of that struggle by one of its most courageous participants,"

With the Obama administration now wrestling over the future course of the US-led war in Afghanistan, and simultaneously escalating its war into Pakistan, we are likely to see more turbulent events in Pakistan than ever. The upsurge in Taliban bombings in Pakistan, combined with the new government's futile offensive in the western border provinces, point to a possible breakdown in official control over large sections of the country.

This dramatic account of the struggle to bring down Musharraf during 2007 and 2008 provides a sharp backdrop to the political crisis building up in Pakistan today.

The author was the founding general secretary of the Labour Party of Pakistan (LPP) in 1997, and is now its central spokesperson. The LPP is the most active and resolute socialist party in the country, with a base in the workers', peasants', students', and women's movements across Pakistan.

As Tariq notes in his acknowledgements, the LPP was almost alone among Pakistani parties, even of the left, in condemning Musharraf's military coup when it occurred in October 1999. Many were deceived by the general's promise to overcome the deep-seated corruption of the previous civilian regime.

The LPP was clear in opposing military rule, and soon faced repression because of its strong stance.

"This was the beginning of our struggle against the military rule of General Musharraf", Tariq said. "I was arrested over nine times during the nine years of Musharraf army rule.

"Numerous police cases were registered against me and other activists of the LPP. My house and party office were raided many times during this time by the police to arrest me.

"Sometimes they were able to catch me, at other times, the police raids ended in failure as I successfully managed to hoodwink them.

"LPP activists were also threatened by religious fundamentalists several times. All this was due to the LPP's staunch opposition to military rule and its relentless efforts towards building an alternative to the policies of the rich and feudal.

"This book is not a narration of General Musharraf's nine-year army rule, rather a saga of our resistance to the general. This is a story of the decisive last 18 months of Musharraf rule."

I was privileged to witness a small part of that struggle when I visited Pakistan in March 2007. It was shortly after the launch of the advocates' (lawyers') campaign for the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudry, who courageously stood up to Musharraf and was sacked in early March that year.

The LPP decided to postpone its national congress to fully take part in the remarkable movement of 80,000 lawyers demanding Choudry be restored to his position.

I attended a protest march organised by the LPP in Lahore, which directly challenged attempts by the police to block its path, on the way to joining a mass rally of lawyers and their supporters at the Lahore High Court.

I was also able to observe the courage and determination of Tariq in leading the LPP campaign and seeking to help unite broad left political forces against the regime. I even had a brush with state intimidation, when Tariq and I were warned that police might raid his house one night when I was staying there.

This book is no academic account of the advocates' struggle and the growing popular movement to overthrow Musharraf, but a series of stories and articles by an important radical leader of the struggle, whose role has been largely unreported by the international mainstream media.

Moreover, other LPP activists and cadres played an instrumental part in building the mass movement that eventually brought Musharraf down.

The lawyers' movement was the catalyst for the broader people's struggle to overthrow Musharraf. He was finally forced to resign from office on August 18, 2008. Wild celebrations broke out across the country.

Farooq responded on August 19 with an article called: "A dictator has gone, but not his policies."

"After the departure of General Musharraf, a new wave of class struggle will explode in Pakistan … The implementation of a neoliberal agenda will be challenged by all sections of the working class …The capitalist feudal-led coalition government of PPP [Pakistan People's Party] and PMLN [Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz] will miserably fail in solving any of the basic problems of the masses."

The PPP is the party of assassinated leader Benazhir Bhutto, and the PMLN is the party led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was overthrown by Musharraf in 1999. After Bhutto was killed in December 2007, a mass popular uprising broke out. Eventually, the PPP won the February 2008 Pakistan national elections, later forming a coalition government with the PMLN. PPP leader Yousaf Raza Gilani became prime minister.

The book is structured into seven chapters: On Musharraf's Dictatorship; On the Lawyers' Movement; The State Repression and Resistance; Life under the Emergency Law and Afterwards; the Boycott Tactic (referring to debates about the February 2008 elections); Building the LPP; and Discussing Politics.

Under these headings, Tariq includes articles by himself and others from various publications on these topics. In chapter three, he recounts the series of arrests and periods of imprisonment he and others suffered under Musharraf during 2007 because of their activities against the regime.

The chapter includes reports on the national and international solidarity campaigns mounted to demand his release, which were eventually successful in each case.

On more than one occasion, Tariq warned police commanders that they had better watch out for their jobs as their actions in arresting him were themselves illegal.

The chapter titled Life under the Emergency Law consists of letters and emails sent by Tariq while he was underground in November 2007, in the face of constant police attempts to arrest him.

On the run for 20 days, he managed to remain politically active, while dodging police cars and other near-misses with the constabulary. This included a meeting with Bhutto in the months before her assassination, after the period when she was being widely criticised for negotiating with Musharraf.

It is significant that her murder occurred in late December 2007, after she had broken off her talks with Musharraf, and was again calling for an end to military rule.

In the chapter headed Building the LPP, we find sections detailing the many and varied aspects of the work of the party. This includes articles on solidarity with immigrant workers, May Day, a report on the LPP fourth conference in December 2007, the struggles of women, sugar mill workers, peasants, and resisting religious fundamentalism.

In the final chapter, Discussing Politics, Tariq discusses key issues facing the Pakistan workers' movement and the left.

"There has never been a better time in the history of Pakistan for greater left unity than the present", Tariq stated in October 2007, at the height of the lawyers' movement. "There is a great urge among all the left and progressive forces to unite on one platform."

Tariq noted in March 2008: "Pakistan is not a heaven for left ideas. Most of the leaders of the [LPP] have gone to jail because of their democratic struggle."

"We are a socialist party, but we are involved in day to day struggles of the people. We take on issues and fight on them. We take up issues of land rights. We have founded the Anti-Privatisation Alliance of Pakistan. We take up issues such as women's rights, human rights, against child labour and we make a campaign around them."

In his July 2008 article headed, "Rise against imperialism and religious fundamentalism" Tariq concludes: "The occupation of Afghanistan by NATO forces has played a crucial role in spreading the Talibanisation of the whole region. Pakistan is paying the price of NATO aggression in Afghanistan.

"It is not religious fundamentalism which is the real danger, but the American imperialist role. Pakistan's people will deal with these medieval forces themselves. They do not need Washington's patronage. They need friends, not masters.

"Getting rid of American imperialism in Afghanistan and Iraq will be a tremendous step forward in bringing peace and security in the whole region and of course in the whole world. However, it will not be easy."

This informative and inspiring book is important for those who want to understand the inside story of the fight against the Musharraf regime, the real challenges faced by socialists and the left in Pakistan and a way forward for the people of that country in their difficult struggle for genuine independence and social progress.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.