The mass movement in Pakistan – from nowhere to everywhere

(Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) General Secretary Farooq Tariq, along with more than 1000 others was arrested on May 4, and released from detention on May 7. Below is an abridged account by Farooq Tariq of the developing movement against the dictatorship in Pakistan.)

On March 8, no-one in Pakistan would have thought a mass movement would erupt in the near future with the potential to overthrow the regime of General Pervez Musharraf. A day later, Musharraf suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, with the illusion that nothing would happen and business would go on as usual.

Musharraf had done this in the past successfully, but it was different this time. Immediately after the suspension, the 80,000 strong advocates’ (lawyers’) community started agitating against the decision.

This peaked on May 14, when for the first time since Musharraf took power in October 1999, the whole of Pakistan shut down. It was the first political strike in seven years and the first political action during that time that was not initiated by the religious fundamentalist forces.

On that day, Pakistan was united against the military dictatorship and the gangsters of the MQM (the United National Movement, which shares power with Musharraf). From Karachi to Peshawar, all the shops were closed and there was little traffic on the streets. In Lahore, more than 15,000 people demonstrated.

Even traders associated with the military regime went on strike. Great anger was expressed against the killing of more than 40 political activists who had attended a reception for Chaudhry on May 12 in Karachi. More than 200 others were injured by the bullets of the MQM thugs.

This neo-fascist organisation, based on the Urdu-speaking immigrants of 1947, controls the local bodies and almost all the provincial and national seats in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. Several busloads of LPP activists were snatched by MQM gangsters, who dragged them inside with guns to their heads. A private TV channel, Aaj, attempted to show the firing live, so the gangsters went and shot at the TV station’s building for over six hours.

Advocates’ movement

The advocates’ movement was started by the bar associations across Pakistan after March 9. Historically, the advocates have been at the forefront of every democratic struggle in Pakistan. They were the main force behind the movement against General Ayub Khan’s dictatorship in the 1960s; they were also responsible for keeping the movement alive during the General Zia dictatorship of the ’80s.

There have been numerous hunger strike camps, protest camps and both small and big demonstrations, mainly by the advocates during the first 60 days of the movement. The movement was built up slowly but steadily, convincing many ordinary Pakistanis to pay it attention.

The first phase of repression against the movement was in the week after March 9. Many advocates were beaten up by police and arrested. That did not work. Then the regime’s strategy was to exhaust the movement by opening up and allowing the demonstrations to take place freely. That brought more people into the movement, including the activists of political parties including the Muslim League (Nawaz), the Pakistan People’s Party, parties associated with Awami Jamhoori Tehreek (the People’s Democratic Movement — a left alliance including the LPP), the Awami National Party, the Baluchistan National Party and the MMA.

The second phase of repression began on May 4, mainly against political activists. I was detained by Lahore police from May 4-7.

The Chief justice

Chaudhry was no different to the other judges who have helped sustain the military regime. But in his two years of office, he supported ordinary Pakistanis who were subject to human rights violations, and particularly helped women victims of rape and conservative, reactionary customary practices. Chaudhry also stopped the privatisation of the Pakistan Steel Mills in Karachi. Yet he has also made decisions against trade union rights and has banned some strikes in the public sector.

While not a worthy hero of ordinary people, Chaudhry earned respect when he refused to resign and was called to the Army House by Musharraf, in the presence of five military generals who immediately removed him from the post and put him under house arrest. This spurred the anger among the advocates, who labelled it an attack on the judiciary.
People were fed up with the regime, but had no trust in the main political parties. The MMA religious fundamentalists, who had the street power, used this to gain more and more concessions from the regime, including power in the North West Frontier Province and sharing power in Baluchistan. But they had come out to save the regime whenever it was in trouble.

Now the religious fundamentalist are trailing behind the advocates’ movement, hoping to hijack it. They have lent their support to the advocates but cannot be trusted to consistently oppose the regime.

Benazir Bhutto admitted last month that the Pakistan People’s Party is in contact with the military regime and is ready to share power with Musharraf as president. This sparked great anger among the advocates, who are mainly led by supporters of the PPP, and Bhutto no longer makes such statements.

How and when Musharraf will step down, who will take over, if there will be general elections or a transitional government of some alliances, are some of the questions being discussed in the movement. One thing is certain — that Musharraf is weaker to an extent never seen before. He cannot last long. Many have started counting the days. He is a general on his last leg. 

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