Power grab in Pakistan?
There were celebrations in the street August 18 when Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf resigned eight years after seizing power in a military coup. Soon after, however, the anti-Musharraf coalition government collapsed. Elected earlier this year following the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the coalition split over whether to reinstate Pakistan's Supreme Court judges, who were fired by Musharraf.
Farooq Tariq, a leading member of the Labor Party Pakistan, has been arrested seven times and had to go underground in the state of emergency invoked by Musharraf last year. He spoke to about this latest turn in Pakistan's ongoing political crisis.
WHO IS trying to replace Musharraf as president of Pakistan and why?
ASIF ALI ZARDARI, the head of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), has presented himself as candidate for president in the election that is taking place September 6. There are two more candidates--one from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which is a political party that broke away from the ruling alliance of four parties. Then there's a candidate from the pro-Musharraf faction of the Muslim League.
Zardari has retreated several times from his commitment to the restoration of judges [fired by Musharraf]. That was the core issue today in Pakistan, because after the resignation of Gen. Musharraf, the judges should been reinstated within 24 hours. But Zardari says the agreement he had with the PML-N to do so wasn't the word of the Koran or the word of the Prophet. So he has presented himself as a person who can't be trusted by anyone.
But unfortunately, Mr. Zardari and his alliance of three parties now have a majority in the parliament. It will be unfortunate if he becomes president of Pakistan.
ZARDARI IS reputed to be corrupt--his nickname when he was interior minister was "Mr. 10 Percent." Is that accurate?
THAT'S RIGHT. He has been involved in many, many cases of corruption in the past. He has spent nearly 11 years facing charges of corruption. But he was able to get out of them one by one.
He was involved in corruption--there's no doubt about it. But unfortunately, because of the death of his wife [the assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto], he became the main leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party. This is a very sad situation--that a corrupt politician could become president of Pakistan.
WHAT HAS been the response of the pro-democracy movement?
TODAY [August 28], I'm leaving for a picket line called by the lawyers' movement in Lahore. The Labor Party is participating in all the agitational activities proposed by the lawyers' movement, closing the main roads of Lahore for two hours today. That will happen all over Pakistan. A mass movement will start from today against the ruling alliance for not fully reinstating the judges of Pakistan.
WHAT ABOUT the claim that the deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, is corrupt as well?
I DON'T think so. These are allegations of those who support Zardari's line. Iftikhar Chaudhry had been in alliance with the military rulers for some time. But he broke decisively on March 9, 2007, when he was asked to resign.
The reason he was asked to resign was because he was making decisions in favor of the ordinary people of Pakistan. For instance, he took up the case of missing persons. He asked the government, "Why have people just disappeared on the instructions of the Americans?"
And then he also raised the question of the equal rights of women all over Pakistan. He also stopped the privatization of the industrial unit of Pakistan--Pakistan Steel Mills Karachi. He also issued some orders in favor of ordinary working class people, like the brick kiln workers, against bonded labor.
So he was a person who wouldn't fit into the game of those who were implementing the policies of neoliberalism in Pakistan. He was a hurdle to implementing that agenda. I don't agree with the argument that he is corrupt at all.
WHAT IS the military doing politically?
THE GENERALS are keeping quiet. They are not as vocal as they were in the past. They are trying to retreat from being in the forefront, and that's a positive development.
WHAT IS Pakistan's role in the war in Afghanistan and its policy toward pro-Taliban forces in Pakistan itself?
THE PAKISTAN government is launching a vicious military operation in some of the tribal areas.
In Pakistan, the Taliban has closed girls' schools in different parts of the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). They forcing the closure of shops that sell CDs and other musical items, and asking the barbers not to shave anyone.
We don't agree with these policies and their program. But that doesn't give any justification for bombing the areas where these fundamentalists are based. Our policy is that the government should stop all aid to different militants in Pakistan. They shouldn't subsidize any religious education in Pakistan. The state should be separated from religion and should provide education and housing in the tribal areas. That is the only way to fight religious fundamentalism.
Going along as a partner in the war on terror with American imperialism will further increase the civil war which is going on in different parts of Pakistan. There is a real danger that NATO forces could attack directly inside Pakistan. And the PPP government is cooperating with NATO. We are totally opposed to the foreign policy of the Pakistan government in this regard.
THE PPP began as a populist party. Has the new government made any reforms to help workers and the poor?
THE POPULISM of the PPP is a tradition of the past. The PPP has become a group of gangsters, thugs, corrupt politicians and rich politicians. It has nothing to do with the people's agenda. All over Pakistan, the PPP has become the most unpopular party in a short period of time because of the implementation of the neoliberal agenda and the withdrawal of subsidies from different parts of the state sector.
For example, they have withdrawn subsidies for agriculture, oil and wheat flour. As a result, things have become very expensive. Cooking oil is almost double the old price. Wheat flour, used to make chapatti bread, has become expensive and is not available in the markets--it's only sold in the black market.
The price of natural gas, electricity, rail fares, airfares--all have gone up. According to one estimate, there has been a 76 percent price hike in the last six months.
People want to know why there are price hikes all over. And the reason is that the PPP is implementing policies in six months that weren't implemented by Musharraf in eight years. The PPP is no longer a populist party, as was the case in the past.
HOW HAS this situation affected working class?
THE WORKING class movement is quite weak. However, most of the trade unions have a very close link with the lawyer's movement, and they are participating in the demonstrations. The lawyers' movement is also making a conscious decision to reach out to the unions and civil society groups.
HOW DOES the Labor Party Pakistan intervene in this situation?
WE ARE organizing new trade unions, we are helping in the prisoners' movement and the human rights movement, and we are intervening in the lawyers' movement, and publishing literature on these questions. We publish a weekly paper, and have an e-mail list called Socialist Pakistan News. So we're trying our best to further our program in this period.
It is a very difficult objective situation for us. On one side, the rise of religious fundamentalism and right-wing forces is everywhere. On the other side, the so-called reformist parties are exposing themselves in the eyes of the working class. We suffer from lack of resources, but we're putting all our efforts in furthering our party in all parts of Pakistan.