Gloomiest Days for Pakistan?

By N. Gunasekaran

Last year, in Pakistan, while the incidence of terrorism and suicide bombings were increasing, the decadent, anti-democratic regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf unleashed attacks on the judiciary and the press and cracked down on popular protests. The common people of Pakistan suffer from many crises at once. The religious extremists, once nurtured by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have become antagonistic towards the Musharraf’s rule and try to disrupt the democratic process. And on the other, the people are discontented over the military dictatorship and choose the agitational path and the government’s response was the crackdown on the popular movements.

The shocking assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto with a suicide bomber blowing himself up killing 23 persons reflected the catastrophic conditions prevailing in Pakistan. Earlier, with the help of the US-brokered deal, she returned to Pakistan after eight years and that event was also marred by a terrorist bombing, killing more than 130 people. About 67 terrorist and suicide attacks took place since the beginning of 2007 and this year also militants’ attacks were increasing. As the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, said these were “the gloomiest days” for Pakistan. Pakistan has a robust nuclear program, which is also a cause for concern.

The politics of this Islamic republic has always been dominated by the right-wing military with the generals ruling for over 31 years and serving the interests of the capitalist classes and the feudal landlords in rural areas. The result was that 88% of the population live on less than $2 a day and 72% have no access to basic amenities like clean drinking water, proper sanitation etc. Such a pathetic condition has given rise to unprecedented protests of the working people today.

On the other side, Musharraf’s rule was opposed by the fundamentalists of many varieties. Pakistan has contiguous borders with war-plagued Afghanistan and has volatile relations with India. While President Musharraf vowed that they would not rest until they “eliminate these terrorists,” the Talibans in the federally administered tribal areas adjoining North West Frontier Province seemed to be carrying the war to the army’s doorstep in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The conflicts in the Pushtun tribal areas between the military and local forces hosting the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda and a nationalist rebellion in Baluchistan were all worsening the situation.

This had immediate fallout in India, whose internal security was threatened. Recent bomb blasts and the attack of the extremist group called, Lashkar, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, were the latest examples. But the Indian perception was that the Pakistan’s “proxy war” against India over the border dispute in Jammu and Kashmir has visibly diluted since Pakistan has to face challenges from the Afghan Jihadis and other fundamentalists. However, India has to continue the peace process with Pakistan.

The US has always been the main player in the region. They relied mainly on military means to curb terrorism in Afghanistan. Out of the US Congress’ latest military spending which exceeded $10 billion, about 80% was earmarked for military expenditure. Only 20% is allotted for infrastructure development, which is today the utmost necessity in Afghanistan, devastated by 30 years of war. Even in the adjoining tribal regions, situated in the border regions of Pakistan, the lack of socio-economic progress is the main issue and it has created a fertile ground for the alarming growth of terrorist Taliban and al Qaeda. Another obvious factor for the growth of militancy is the US’ old policy of nurturing the terrorists to fight the erstwhile Soviets in Afghanistan by giving Pakistan monetary and military incentives. With this long history of muddling by the US and the domestic reactionaries, one has to find solution to this vexed problems of Pakistan from the perspective of the welfare of the millions of Pakistani working people.

But the US presidential candidates mindlessly suggest the launch of unilateral strikes on Pakistan if the location of Osama bin Laden were found. Pakistan is a sovereign nation and attacking it is a violation of international law. The US has to understand the ground reality that a significant proportion of the population has now become anti-American and the people are strongly desirous of democracy and such talk of unilateral strike will further diminish the image of the US.

For the US, the geo-political position of Pakistan is very important to safeguard its corporate interests in the oil-rich Middle East. That is why they preferred to deal with a succession of military dictators and exploited Pakistan using it as a pawn to further their corporate interests. US interference in the Pakistani affairs must summarily be ended for the sake of healthy development of democracy. Instead, the international community should help Pakistan to build its democratic institutions and destroy militancy, projecting a radical agenda aimed at empowering the Pakistani working people. That would be the viable course to bring stability and peace in the nuclear armed Pakistan.

Now, the forthcoming parliamentary elections on Feb. 18 may open the doors for a democratic culture. In the elections, both Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Peoples Party, now headed by Benazir Bhutto’s son, Bilawal, will play leading roles, although they have to face long odds in this journey towards democracy.

N. Gunasekaran is a political activist and writer based in Chennai, India.

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2008

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