Pakistan: Dictator gone, but not his policies

August 22, 2008

Thousands across Pakistan celebrated the humiliating departure of dictator Pervez Musharraf on August 18.

As he announced his resignation — in an unscheduled nationally televised speech — private television channels showed an instant response of jubilation in all four provinces.

Musharraf resigned as president because he was facing an impeachment move by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led ruling alliance of four parties.

For the first time, not a single political party defended Musharraf after the announcement of the move by the ruling alliance. He was very isolated in the political field.

Even Mutihida Qaumi Party (MQM) was not ready to defend him publicly, a party that he was associated for long time.

All the four provincial assemblies had passed resolutions asking Musharraf to take a fresh vote of confidence from this electoral college of the presidency.

Mass opposition

Such was the revulsion against Musharraf among the masses that many of those who were hand-picked politicians of Musharraf decided to abstain from the votes. The resolutions in all four provinces revealed the extremely weak social base of the dictator Musharraf, who had been supported for nearly nine years by US imperialism.

There were at least four occasions during the last year alone when Musharraf could have lost power.

Musharraf must thank the PPP leadership for providing him with nearly eight more months in power after the assassination of PPP leader Benazir Bhutto on December 27. He could have lost power then, if the PPP leadership had decided to demand his immediate resignation.

For five days after the assassination, Pakistan was under siege by the masses. Unfortunately, the PPP leadership decided instead to take part in the general elections arranged by the regime.

After the restoration of the chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, Iftikhar Chaudhry in July last year (on the back of a mass movement led by lawyers) the top judges were indecisive about Musharraf's fate and allowed him to contest the election for president while remaining head of the military.

He was "elected" president for the second time from a parliament elected for five years only. A parliament elected for five year elected the president for ten years!

However, the hesitation of the top judges to stop this from occurring provided Musharraf another chance to remain in power. He used dictatorial powers on November 3 to suspend all the top judges before the Supreme Court reached a final decision.


The outcome of the general elections on February 18 was totally against Musharraf.

Instead of asking for Musharraf's resignation, however, the PPP opted to work with him. This gave Musharraf one more chance to remain in power.

The PPP leadership did not restore the top judges within a month of coming into power, as it had promised. The restoration of top judges would have given the judges a chance to decide on the hearing of some petitions challenging the election of Musharraf.

Hence, a fourth opportunity to topple Musharraf was lost.

After implementing highly unpopular economic policies, the PPP leadership lost popularity at an historic speed. Had they not taken a decision to impeach Musharraf, he could have decided to remove the PPP-led coalition government.

The PPP took this popular decision to change gears and reverse its unpopularity. This has paid off for the time being.

While Musharraf formally had the dictatorial powers to remove the parliament at any time, he had already lost the social basis for that. He was more unpopular than the leadership of the PPP.

The departure of Musharraf is the best news heard for a long time in Pakistan. It was a defeat for the generals and a major setback for those political trends that always seek refuge with the military. It was very welcome news.

Musharraf lost power as the direct result of the mass revulsion against him during the last one-and-a-half years in particular.

There have been many important struggles during the nine years of Musharraf's rule.

The peasant struggle for land rights at Okara Military Farms during 2001-2005 set the tone among the most exploited strata of the society. The 10-day national strike by the telecommunication workers against privatisation in 2005 was another manifestation of workers' consciousness against the military dictatorship.

The successful revolt of the Sindh masses against the building of controversial Kala Bagh Dam and the three-day general strike in the Sindh and Baluchistan provinces against the killings of Nawab Akbar Bhugti were the two other important struggles.

However, these revolts did not have a national character and remained isolated.

It was the militant lawyers' movement after the removal of Chaudhry on March 9 last year that was mainly responsible for the departure of the dictatorship.

The 80,000-strong lawyers' movement showed a tremendous energy to continue for over one-and-a-half years consistently. The young lawyers played a decisive role in this important movement.

Arrest Musharraf!

The PPP-led coalition government has earned a lot of respect by taking this latest move to impeach Musharraf. However, Musharraf should not leave Pakistan unaccountable.

The farewell guard of honor for the dictator even after his resignation showed some glimpse of what has been agreed to under hand. It seems that the dictator has been offered a safe passage and a luxurious retirement after his forced resignation.

The tradition of granting a safe passage for military rulers after their departure from power has to be changed. A very popular demand has been to arrest Musharraf in order to face charges of murder and other crimes.

Musharraf must be arrested. "Military out of politics" must be the main slogan for future.

Thirty-two years out of 62 years of Pakistan's independence has been under military rule. However, no general has yet been tried for the crime of breaking the constitution.

The strong social movement in Pakistan at present will not be silenced and satisfied only by the departure of the dictator.

After the departure of Musharraf, a new wave of class struggle will explode in Pakistan.

The PPP government will have no excuse for not solving the main question of the price hikes. The implementation of a neoliberal agenda will be challenged by all sections of the working class.

The PPP-led coalition has no other economic plan except to go the Musharraf way. They want to privatise the remaining public sector institutions. They want to remain partners with US imperialism in their so-called war on terror.

They want to do things that Musharraf could not do openly.

The capitalist-feudal-led coalition government of the PPP and the Pakistani Muslim League-N (PMLN) will miserably fail to solve any of the basic problems of the masses.

The governing coalition's honeymoon after the departure of Musharraf dictatorship will not last very long. The PMLN's economic policies are no different from the PPP.

Anyhow, the strong open support for the judges and for making the dictator accountable has earned more respect for the PMLN than the PPP.

The PPP has taken back some of the lost ground but not for long. The implementation of neoliberal agenda will clear some of the dust from the real face of the PPP. An extreme right-wing party of the rich cannot base itself on a past reform agenda for long.

The restoration of the judges, if done as promised, will earn the PPP some more respect. However, that will also be tested in the economic field by the masses.

All the measures against the dictatorship are being welcomed by the masses in the hope that it will help end the misery in their lives. The expectations on the coalition government are much higher than in the past.

However, none of this will be met with success. The masses will once again be on the move, this time on economic not political issues.

A new era of class struggle will be a challenge for the forces of the left and the social movements. The religious fundamentalist forces are in the field. Most of them have been seen wrongly as anti-imperialist forces. They are also in the field to enhance their political bases.

However, they have no solution to the problems facing the masses. The left forces have to fight against the pro-imperialist forces and those who are wrongly seen as anti-imperialists.

The objective conditions are difficult for the forces of the left, however, what other options are there for the left apart from fighting back?

A dictator is gone but not his policies. That is a real challenge that Labour Party Pakistan and other left forces are facing at present.

[Farooq Tariq is a spokesperson for the Labour Party Pakistan. Email, or visit]

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