frontline 9

Taliban in exile make big gains

As the world's attention moves on from Afghanistan, turning it's eyes to war in Iraq. Farooq Sulehria from the Labour Party Pakistan reports on the recent Pakistan elections and the political legacy, left by the US bombing campaign.

The October 10th general elections in Pakistan brought results against the wishes and planning of the military regime of General Musharaf. The religious fundamentalists swept to victory in the elections in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The province is next to Afghanistan. They also got a majority in Baluchistan and reasonable votes in the other two provinces, Punjab and Sindh. Over all the religious forces got over 16% of the votes caste in a very low turn out. Although the military government claims that the turn out is over 41%.

All the claims of US imperialism after 11th September 2001, that the bombing of Afghanistan would defeat the Taliban, proved wrong. The religious fundamentalists, sympathetic to the Taliban, far from being eliminated by war, are now showing their popular face in the neighbouring countries. Now the Pakistani masses will have to pay the price of the brutal policies of US Imperialism in the region.

None of the parties succeeded in getting a simple majority. The party of the military regime, the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), has secured the most seats, followed by Benazir Bhuotto's, Pakistan Peoples' Party, (PPP) the main party of the opposition. However, the religious fundamentalists are seen as the main victors of the general election held on 12 October 2002.

In a direct election for 274 seats in the parliament, the United Action Council (MMA) bagged 45 seats thus emerging as the third largest party. The MMA, an alliance of six major fundamentalist parties, and a couple of other smaller fundamentalist parties, together received 16 per cent of the votes. In previous general elections, the fundamentalist parties got hardly two percent of the vote.

religious fundamentalists gain

For many, the rise in votes for the MMA came as a surprise. The major share of the MMA's vote came from the provinces of the NWFP and Baluchistan. These two provinces, bordering Afghanistan, are the most deprived and backward provinces of all the four Pakistani provinces. This unprecedented surge in support for the fundamentalists can only be attributed to the US invasion of Afghanistan. The NWFP is the region of Pakistani Afghans. Similarly, Baluchistan has an Afghan population.

The opposition to the US invasion was strongest in these areas. The fundamentalist parties, who later formed the MMA, were seen during that period as the only force opposing the imperialist invasion of Afghanistan. In Sindh province, where 20% of the population live, and in the Punjab, Pakistan's largest province where 60% of the population lives, they only gained seven seats in the parliament.

General Musharaf's regime is probably not that upset with the advances of the fundamentalists. Paradoxically, it can strengthen US support for him. At least that is what his military regime is hoping for at the moment?

Washington is of course very worried about the advances of the fundamentalists. The US Afghan policy may suffer setbacks, as the NWFP is vital for the execution of US Afghan policy and for the oil projects. Now it is crystal clear that fundamentalists have formed the provincial government in NWFP.

The forming of the government by the religious fundamentalist in NWFP is like the Taliban in power while in exile. It will bring new contradictions. Any open support by the religious fundamentalist for the Taliban and Al Quieda, can invite American imperialism to do what they did in Afghanistan after 11th September. Although the religious fundamentalist leaders are trying their best at present to show a very modest face and are denying any links with the Taliban. But this is the scenario before they come to power in the province.

The fundamentalist parties have always had some electoral base in these two provinces. But the nationalist parties, with secular credentials, were the main electoral parties. However, these nationalist and secular parties failed to take an anti-imperialist stance. The main capitalist parties did the same. Some of them were openly supporting US imperialism. Thus, the mass hatred of US imperialism got translated into electoral support for the MMA.

At the same time, the working class, fed up with main capitalist parties, found in the MMA a kind of alternative.

Above all, by voting for the fundamentalist parties of the MMA, the masses have rejected the policies of General Musharaf's military regime and his support for the US invasion of Afghanistan.

masses reject military regime

By voting MMA, the masses have not just rejected the Afghan policy of the military regime but by rejecting the PML (Q), the major pro-military regime party, the masses have rejected the IMF-dictated economic agenda of the military regime. Despite all the rigging, the PML (Q), commonly ridiculed as the King's party, failed to win an outright majority. However, it did become the largest party by getting 77 seats. The two pro military election alliances, Sindh Democratic Alliance and the National Alliance, failed to make any headway.

rigging as usual

Election rigging has become a kind of political culture in Pakistan. Election results are manipulated, it is the military who 'decide' the results whether in power or not. Sometimes, the military rules directly and calls it martial law. At other times, it lets civilians rule under its control. However, the military has to rig a lot to get the desired results. These elections were held under a military rule, imposed from October 1999.

The military regime led by General Musharaf wanted to keep former Prime Minister and chairperson of Pakistan Peoples Party Benazir Bhutto out of the election. The rejection of Benazir's election nomination papers by the election authorities was a shameful example of election rigging. In her home town, the election authorities rejected her paper at about three o'clock in the afternoon. However, the news about the rejection of her nomination papers had already been aired by the state-owned Pakistan radio an hour before. All influential politicians with a strong possibility of winning the elections were forced to join the party supporting the military regime - PML (Q). These methods of coercion were called 'pre-poll rigging' by the media. The regime also imposed the condition that only graduates can contest the elections. Thus over 96% of the population were ruled out of standing.

Pakistan Peoples Party

The second largest party in the parliament is the PPP. The PPP chairperson, Benazir Bhutto stands accused of corruption charges, and is in exile in London and Dubai. The party was founded in 1967 by Benazir's father Z A Bhutto. He was a populist leaderwho swept to power in 1970. In 1979, he was hanged by the brutal pro-American military dictatorship led by General Zia-ul Haq.

Since then Benazir has lived off the glorious memory of her father and cashed in on this memory to win two general elections, in 1988 and 1993. Her governments were an enormous disappointment. Nothing was done for the working class. She blindly followed the IMF dictated policies of privatisation and so called liberalisation. In the general election in 1997 the PPP was decimated and won only 18 seats in the parliament. Some left currents consider it a Pakistani version of European social democracy. It is however, far from that. It is a populist capitalist party like many others in the third world. Now it is seen as a party without any principals and as just another symbol of corruption.

Similarly, the faction of the PML led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he is also in exile, ended up as the fourth largest party. In the previous election in 1997, his party got a two thirds majority in the parliament. It was an unprecedented election victory. But it was believed to be the result of election rigging.

The left in Pakistan is very weak. It was only the Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) among left parties that participated in the election as an independent and alternative party. The LPP was the only party initially to get itself registered with the election Commission of Pakistan. It fielded seven candidates. The LPP had planned to file over 20 candidates but only university graduates were allowed to stand for election according to a new decree by the military regime. Paucity of resources was the other main hurdle. The LPP organised a very good campaign but failed to get a lot of votes. A couple of the LPP candidates secured a little over 2 per cent of the votes (2000 to 3000).

However, a member of Class Struggle, a Trotskyist group linked to Ted Grant's tendency inside the PPP, was elected as a member Parliament. He contested the election as a candidate of PPP. The group was following the policy of entryism, closing their eyes to all the main crimes of the PPP leadership for the last 22 years. He was lucky as there were three more candidates to divide the votes of Muslim League.

workers are the real losers in election

These were the first general elections in Pakistan since General Musharaf seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1999 when he deposed Nawaz Sharif. In the absence of a real left alternative, the working class had to choose between one devil and another. The new civilian government will solve nothing for Pakistan's workers and peasants. All the parties are trying to convince US imperialism and IMF that they can implement their agenda better than the others.

General Musharaf, backed by US imperialism, is trying a cosmetic transition to 'democracy' to get legitimacy for his illegal rule. However, he has kept considerable powers in his own hands. He can dissolve the parliament, and nominate people to all the key state functions. Using constitutional amendments before the general elections, General Musharaf made sure that he be would remain the centre of power, as president of Pakistan. He does not have to take a vote of confidence from the newly elected parliament.

Nothing but further chaos can be expected as long as Pakistan's workers and peasants do not take things into their own hands.

LPP Website