Socialist Worker

Where next for the movement in Pakistan?

by Esme Choonara
Issue No. 2078

Protesters continue to defy brutal state repression in Pakistan.

Thousands of lawyers, human rights activists and other campaigners have been imprisoned since General Musharraf declared martial law on 3 November.

Riaz Ahmed from the International Socialists group in Pakistan told Socialist Worker that a new student movement has erupted across the country.

Over 5,000 students at the Punjab university in Lahore joined protests on Friday of last week. Riaz says that “huge numbers of female students are in the forefront of these demonstrations”.

Musharraf has announced elections for early January but has not called a halt to the state of emergency. Opposition parties have said they will boycott the polls.

Underlying the current crisis are the contradictions of Pakistan’s role in the “war on terror”.


Musharraf has overseen a massive expansion of Pakistan’s military role in the regions bordering Afghanistan – with more than 85,000 Pakistani troops now involved in brutal operations in the north of the country.

The New York Times recently reported that the US has accepted that Musharraf – a key ally of George Bush – may not survive and has begun discussing what may come next.

US defence secretary Robert Gates explained last week that his greatest concern is that the political instability of emergency rule will distract the army from the fight against “extremist forces”.

Meanwhile, despite rhetoric about “reviewing” aid to Pakistan, the US is planning to expand its military role in the country by sending “special forces” to train Pakistan’s frontier corps and to replicate operations in Iraq, in which the US military trains and arms local militias to fight “insurgents”.

Musharraf’s main opponent in Pakistan, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, has gone to great lengths to win US backing. As her hopes for a power sharing arrangement with Musharraf recede, she has begun to speak out against the state of emergency.

But her commitment to the “war on terror” and the neoliberal policies that have impoverished millions mean that she doesn’t offer a solution for the masses of Pakistan.

The movement against Musharraf has shown remarkable confidence and bravery. The key question is whether it can spread and pull in wider layers of the working class and the poor.

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Tue 20 Nov 2007, 18:58 GMT
Issue No. 2078
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