After only five months, Pakistan’s new coalition government has sunk into a seemingly unstoppable political and economic crisis: rapidly-rising inflation, increasing challenges from Islamic extremists and U.S.-India condemnation of Pakistan as a very serious threat to capitalist world security.
On August 18, the latest in a long line of U.S.-backed military strong men, President Pervez Musharraf, stepped down rather than face impeachment. While commentators predict his resignation heralds a new era, the chaos continues: a suicide bombing kills 30; another leaves 70 dead; one coalition partner resigns from government; thousands flee their homes during the biggest battle of the “war on terror” between the Pakistani army and the Taliban; president-to-be Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the Pakistani People’s Party (PPP), declares, “The world is losing the war on terror.”
Meanwhile, working-class anger at the rising cost of living — wheat flour, a staple, increased 26% in one month and transportation 14%, following last year’s jump in consumer prices of almost 20% — government corruption and general insecurity led to nation-wide protests. In Karachi, Pakistan’s Telecommunication Company workers struck in May, taking over the company’s headquarters until July 28 when they won higher wages.
On-the-job actions erupt in textile factories, the cement industry, among teachers, hospital and other government departments as more workers demand wage increases to offset increased living costs. Critically affecting the government’s military plans, 3,000 Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (Defense Ministry) workers, paid on a daily basis, are demanding pay increases and permanent jobs, now given to relatives and friends of army officials.
The PPP-led government blames Musharraf’s nine-year dictatorship for worsening conditions, claiming he left a “mutilated” economy with a large trade deficit and a government budget deficit up 75%. But their “poor people’s budget” follows Musharraf’s policies that blatantly benefit Pakistan’s ruling class and the U.S., which is insisting on the deregulation of Pakistan’s economy. More privatization of public resources is planned, tax breaks on stock-market profits are extended two years and large tracts of land are reserved for foreign investors to develop agribusiness. Subsides for food, fuel oil, electricity and fertilizer are slashed over 25%.
With a nod to the painful poverty of its 168 million people — 70% exist on less than $2/day, 60 million are “food insecure” (according to a UN report) — the government trumpets its $507 million program to provide $15 per month, medical insurance and job training for 3.3 million desperately-poor families. This contrasts starkly with a military budget of $4.7 billion.
Since 2002 the army has also received $10 billion from the U.S. to fund Pakistan’s military participation in the “war on terror” against the Taliban in the tribal belt along the Afghan/Pakistani border. But despite these billions, the insurgency has grown and the U.S. believes that the funding — paid in cash — is going elsewhere. In Pakistan it’s no secret that it lines the pockets of top military officials, who use the war as a cash cow and want to keep it alive.
The root of Pakistan’s current problems is U.S. bosses’ need to use it as part of their goal of world domination. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter and his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, (now an Obama foreign policy advisor) devised the “Bear Trap,” a plot to defeat the U.S.’s main imperialist rival, the then Soviet Union, by drawing it into a war between the Afghan pro-Moscow government in Kabul and the wealthy landowners and religious zealots opposing it. The plan (in Brzezinski’s words, “to give the Soviet Union its Vietnam”), involved the creation, funding and training of an Afghan mujahaddin army in Pakistan.
This led to a 12-year jihad that became the U.S.’s largest covert action, (estimated cost, $40 billion (The Nation, 2/15/99) the bulk coming from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia). It inflicted religious intolerance on the secular societies of Pakistan and Afghanistan, perpetrated some of the most brutal acts of terrorism and became the breeding ground for the Taliban and the al Qaeda terrorist networks now operating in 80 countries.
Today the U.S. claims factions in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence are aiding the Taliban’s resurgence. But the latter’s strength is also growing because the Pakistani army is weakening. Soldiers see the officers’ corruption and plunder and are demoralized. Desertions are rising. Many rank-and-file soldiers are reluctant to fight in a war overwhelmingly targeting civilians. Bloody confrontations, like the recent one killing many civilians and making 300,000 homeless, strengthen the Taliban’s position.
“Why is our government bombing us from the air,” shouted one refugee. U.S. air strikes from over the border in Afghanistan or from secret CIA bases in Pakistan that kill more villagers than terrorists intensify the anger.
Caught between the army and the insurgents, people in the tribal areas are either coerced or voluntarily join with the Taliban. They do have an alternative: join with other workers in building PLP which is fighting the cause of all this misery, capitalism. J
(Next, Part II: India, the U.S. and inter-imperialist rivalry over Pakistan, Kashmir and Afghanistan and the projected “balkanization” of Pakistan.)