Pakistan: new government comes to power but crisis continues

In Pakistan, the government has changed but the political crisis continues, reflecting a deep economic and social crisis. Imran Khan has been ousted. The cracks within the ruling class are widening and the fighting among various factions of the state has now reached levels never seen before, with each side attacking the other publicly and on social media.

Imran Khan has started agitating against an alleged US conspiracy, with collusion from the army leadership and opposition parties. He called for protests the day after he was removed from power and later held a public meeting on 13 April in Peshawar, and again on 16 April in Karachi, which drew huge crowds. On 21 April, he will hold a public meeting in Lahore, which is also expected to attract a big response.

Meanwhile, the new government is trying to consolidate its grip on power. Its hypocrisy and anti-people intentions are clear from its very first day. Shahbaz Sharif is the new Prime Minister, in a coalition government involving a dozen political parties from across the country, including the PPP and the nationalists.

Shahbaz Sharif's son is set to become the chief minister of Punjab, where there was a huge physical clash inside the assembly a few days ago during the voting process, with many MPs sustaining injuries and beating each other. MPs for PTI (Imran Khan’s party) are trying their best to delay the process or make it as bitter as possible, so that the new government cannot consolidate its power in the centre or in Punjab. The PTI government has been a failure over the last three-and-a-half years, but there is no hope the new government will be any better.

The ministers in the new government are the same people who ruled the country for more than four decades, and their corruption scandals, anti-people policies and enslavement to imperialist forces are clear to everyone. There are few illusions in them, and it seems that the current economic and social crisis will make them unpopular very quickly. This means they will be at the receiving end of the wrath of the masses.

Instability and infighting

The new government was expected to increase fuel prices by up to 30 percent last week, but in an attempt to avoid public anger and hatred at the very beginning of their stint in power, they have delayed this decision for two weeks now. They are now expected next month. However, the price of electricity has already been raised by Rs. 4.88 per unit, which is more than 10 percent, in the summer season when electricity consumption is at a peak and utility bills are already unbearable for a huge majority of the population. The masses have to make a serious choice between turning on their fans or other appliances, or enduring temperatures of more than 50 degrees Celsius without electricity.

In his maiden speech as Prime Minister, Shahbaz Sharif announced an increase in the minimum wage to Rs. 25000 per month across the country, and also announced a 10 percent raise in wages for government employees, and the same for pension payments. But the very next day, his financial aide said the government is bound by an IMF programme, and can't implement these increases.

Also, Shahbaz Sharif increased the working hours of government employees by increasing the working week from five to six days without any wage raise. In addition to the aforementioned fuel hike, many other measures are expected under the IMF programme, which stalled in the last few months due to infighting within the ruling class. But now the burden of the economic crisis will be shifted onto the masses, who were already living in misery and destitution.

Imran Khan and his loyal MPs have resigned from the National Assembly and have started agitation against the new government, organising protests and public meetings across the country, calling for new elections. But the new government is in no hurry to go to elections and wants to consolidate its power to enjoy its turn to plunder the country. That is why they want to complete the term of the current parliamentary session, which still has more than a year left before elections are constitutionally due.

In this whole struggle for power by warring political parties on all sides, the role of the army and judiciary is increasingly coming under scrutiny. It is argued by some that the internal rift among the top leadership of the army is the reason for this political turmoil. A report by BBC Urdu on the day after Imran Khan was ousted from power spilled the beans. It reported in detail the events that led to the fateful night when the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan was finally carried. The army rejected this report but still it was circulated and discussed widely on social media, with people discussing the role of armed forces in this whole episode.

According to the report, Imran Khan, in the late hours of the day, notified the army chief of his removal from his post, and was expecting that his ally in the leadership of the armed forces would assume power. But he was surprised to see that his orders were not carried out, and the Defence Ministry and the top generals arrived at the PM’s house to unceremoniously send him packing.

Meanwhile, the speaker of the National Assembly, Asad Qaiser, was also threatened with arrest for violating the orders of the Supreme Court. The premises of the Supreme Court, Islamabad High Court and Election Commission were opened at midnight to issue orders for his arrest if needed. In the end, the speaker resigned from his post minutes before midnight and obliged the court decision to carry out the vote, which eventually resulted in the ousting of Imran Khan from power.

This whole episode has drawn the ire of Imran Khan’s supporters, who are posting insulting and derogatory remarks and comments on social media against the army, accusing it of being part of an American conspiracy to oust their leader from power. Some of the Twitter hashtags initiated by the PTI have seen more than seven million tweets, including ‘#NoToImportedGovernment.

The chief of the ISI (Intelligence Service) also comes in for scorn, being blamed for shifting allegiance from the PTI to the new government. Many of the tweets also demand to bring in the PTI’s favorite general as the next army chief.

Interestingly, until a few months ago, the situation was quite the opposite, as Imran Khan and his supporters were in complete alliance with the army and were its biggest patriotic defenders. Imran Khan himself was constantly praising the army chief, and calling him the most neutral and democratic general in the country’s history. At that time, opposition parties were attacking the army chief, accusing him of rigging the general elections in 2018 that brought Imran Khan to power. Nawaz Sharif, in his online speeches from London, was attacking the generals for their involvement in politics, and was vowing to struggle for democratic freedoms for all political parties. At that time, Nawaz Sharif was getting a good response from his followers, and his ratings were climbing, while Imran Khan was being attacked for the deep economic crisis and there was widespread hatred against him.

Now the roles have been reversed: Nawaz Sharif and army chief are considered allies and friends, while Imran Khan is attacking this close friendship. There is a split in the top ranks of the establishment, as one faction is still supporting Imran Khan. It is widely known that the current corps commander of Peshawar, General Faiz Hamid, supports Imran Khan, and wants him to return to power so he can appoint Faiz as the new army chief. According to reports circulating on social media, there is widespread support for Imran Khan in the officer ranks and especially among the retired generals. The other contenders for this top slot are supporting the opposite camp. In a press conference by an army spokesperson last week it was announced that the incumbent army chief will not get an extension and will retire in November at the end of his tenure, thus contention for the slot is still open, unless the new PM issues a notification to the contrary.

Role of imperialism

In this situation, the role of US imperialism in Pakistani politics and in the affairs of the state is also being widely discussed. Imran Khan in his rallies is whipping up an anti-American sentiment in the country, though from a very superficial and right-wing point of view. It is also widely believed that the army chief is appointed with the consent of the American ruling class.

A video clip of an interview with the late General Hamid Gul is circulating on social media in which he openly claims that he wasn't appointed army chief in 1990 because the Americans were against him. He also says that American consent plays a decisive role in this appointment. He was the chief of ISI at that time and played a key role in America's dollar Jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. He is also considered to be the mentor of Imran Khan, bringing him into politics after his retirement from cricket, and nurturing his right-wing ideology and close ties with Taliban.

In this context, Imran Khan’s rhetoric against America in recent speeches can be understood. He wants the appointment of his choice to the key post of army chief of Pakistan. He, along with his backers in the establishment, are trying to build pressure to capture that post, which can eventually result in his electoral victory, and see his faction of the state returning to power. Though according to reports he has also conveyed the message to the incumbent chief that he is ready to work with him if he gets him back into power soon.

Imran Khan is trying to build up bargaining power through his large public meetings. In these, he calls the new government slaves of Americans who are following their dictates, while he as Prime Minister was trying to build ties with Russia and China, and trying to resurrect the sovereignty and independence of the country.

He has also praised India and Modi in this regard, repeatedly saying that he is pursuing an independent foreign policy. He claims that neither the Americans nor any other western power can dictate its terms to India, while Pakistan has become a punching bag. Though there might be some truth in what Imran Khan is saying, he as Prime Minister also acted as a slave to the Americans, like all of his predecessors, and accepted all the orders coming from Washington. In fact, he was the most obedient servant of US imperialism in the history of this country. Competition in this regard is very tough. He has the gall to call himself anti-American: which is sheer hypocrisy, a fraud and nothing else.

In a press conference last week, an army spokesperson also exposed some of the lies told to the public by Imran Khan. The spokesperson said that the Americans never asked for bases inside Pakistan after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, while Imran Khan is saying that he refused to give bases to Americans to maintain the sovereignty of the country. In fact, Imran Khan was writing articles for the Washington Post urging the Americans to continue the imperialist war in Afghanistan, which killed hundreds of thousands and destroyed the whole country. During the withdrawal in August last year, he was being as servile towards the Americans as possible, and at one point accommodated their soldiers in Islamabad on their journey back to America. In his meetings with Trump, his servility could be seen on his face as he carefully listened to the former president’s orders and agreed with him on all points.

The army spokesperson also distanced the armed forces from Imran Khan's decision to visit Russia on the eve of war with Ukraine. He said that, though Imran Khan consulted the army leadership before going on this visit, it was ultimately his own decision. Many analysts are saying that this visit to Moscow drew the ire of Americans and they decided to remove him from power as a result, though there have been rebuttals by official channels.

Imran Khan's dealings with the IMF also show his real character, after he accepted an IMF programme with the harshest-ever conditions. Control of the central bank was transferred to the IMF, along with many other powers in determining monetary policy that parliament will not be able to regain control over in the future. Imran Khan also appointed his finance ministers on the directions of IMF and all his economic policies were dictated by financial institutions like IMF and World Bank. His rhetoric against America has nothing to do with anti-imperialism and is limited to securing his personal ambitions after his ousting from power.

The public sentiment against America, which he is trying to exploit, is based on the imperialist policies of the US, through which it has waged dozens of wars across the world and killed millions of innocent people. In Pakistan, there has always been hatred and anger against these wars, and there is mass solidarity not only with the victims of US imperialism in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in Palestine, Libya and across the globe. The hatred against US imperialism is also a reflection of deep hatred against capitalism, which has plundered the wealth created by the working class and created a huge class divide in society. America emerged as the leader of the capitalist world since the Second World War and has developed institutions like the IMF and World Bank to plunder poor countries, and use financial policies to loot the wealth produced by millions of workers in these countries, who are working in miserable conditions. The ruling classes of these countries have become agents of these imperialist powers and act as henchmen to bring their working masses, bound hand and foot, to the altar of their masters.

Imran Khan and his backers have nothing to say about these imperialist policies and the capitalist system on which they are based, and are just criticizing America for not favoring them in the present power struggle. Khan is also not repeating his previous mistake, when he severely criticised the IMF before becoming Prime Minister, which created problems for him, meaning he had to walk back on his words. In fact, Imran Khan will eventually tone down his anti-American rhetoric.

In their criticism of the army as well, Imran Khan and his supporters base their whole argument on the current administration, and give the impression that, by replacing them, everything will be fine. There has been a big mobilisation by the urban middle class around Imran Khan's rhetoric since he lost power, but in these public meetings, there has been no debate about inflation, unemployment and hundreds of other attacks on the lives of the working class.

The support he has received only reflects the frustration, hopelessness, confusion and impatience of the middle class of the country, which are fed up with the corruption and other crimes of the people now in power. They want to get rid of them, but they have no other option at the moment than to support Imran Khan, despite his failures while in power. This support might not last long, as the corruption scandals and crimes of Imran Khan's government are now coming to the fore, and he will be exposed more and more by this factional infighting. On the other hand, this infighting will lead to more instability and thus more frustration and confusion among the middle class.

New government is no better

The new government is trying its best to prove its loyalty to its imperialist masters to consolidate its grip on power, and has already issued a statement that it will continue the IMF programme signed by the previous government and mend ties with America. US secretary of state Antony Blinken has welcomed the new government. This all means that the loot and plunder of the country will continue, and the burden of the economic crisis will be shifted on the masses, while the rich will continue to live in extreme luxury, avoiding taxes and enjoying subsidies from the government.

The economic crisis of the country is getting deeper every day and is following the path of the Sri Lankan economy. The foreign reserves are depleting fast and the import bill is rising steeply with the rise in oil prices. The crisis is affecting various sectors of the economy. The production of major crops is falling and the country has become an importer of those commodities which it used to export in previous years. The growth in the manufacturing sector is also stalling, leading to a rise in unemployment and poverty. The state bank raised interest rates to 12.25 percent last week to control rising inflation, which means that economic activity will further decline, leading to a deeper crisis.

blinken Image public domainUS secretary of state Antony Blinken has welcomed the new government – this means that the loot and plunder of the country will continue / Image: public domain

The solution the new government is proposing is nothing new, and has been followed by all the regimes in the last four decades. It includes privatisation of public sector enterprises, cutting subsidies on fuel and electricity, and more liberalisation of the economy. Another bone of contention is the defence budget, which is the second largest expenditure, around 25 percent, in the country's budget after debt payments, which amount to almost 50 percent. The IMF wants a reduction in defence spending to shore up the country's economy, so that it is able to pay back loans and interest payments to international financial institutions. But the army has no intention of giving up its share and instead proposes cuts in other public expenditures, including health and education, to reduce the budget deficit.

The loans from China and interest payments on the imperialist project of China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC) have also been a source of conflict. Pakistan has so far requested China roll over its debts due to its economic crisis, which has been partially accepted. During the government of Imran Khan, the CPEC projects were stalled or slowed down due to orders from the IMF. But the new government has vowed to restart these projects with full speed, after getting approval from the IMF. This will be another test for the new government as the conflict between America and China has led to splits in the ruling class, and is becoming the central focal point in the crisis of the Pakistani state.

Indian PM Narendra Modi has also sent congratulations to the new government. Despite enjoying praise from Imran Khan, Modi has personal friendly relations with the Sharif family, so it seems that the new government may have friendlier ties with India, which will definitely be attacked by the other faction of the state supporting Imran Khan. Closer ties and expanding bilateral trade with India has long been a dream of many industrialists and businessmen in Pakistan, led by Nawaz Sharif, who has always advocated this policy. But this contradicts with the very foundations of the state, which was founded by British imperialism 75 years ago on the basis of opposition to India. Friendly ties will also jeopardise the exaggerated role of the army in state affairs and can render them weaker in domestic affairs. Though the army also controls around 30 percent of the economy and can benefit from the new trade opportunities, on the other hand its position in state affairs will weaken. This conflict in the ruling class can open up once again in the coming period and lead to internecine attacks in which American and Chinese interests in the country will also come into play.

In fact, the whole region in South Asia is undergoing a new realignment, as the balance of strength among the imperialist powers in the world is changing. US imperialism has shown signs of relative weakness. The friendly ties between India and America and their joint positioning against China in the Indo-Pacific is having an impact on the whole region. Pakistan is also feeling the heat and is under increasing pressure to take a position in this regard. For the Pakistani state, India is an eternal enemy, and the very existence of the Pakistani state is based on anti-India rhetoric. If this realignment changes its longstanding position, meaning it enters into a new alliance as ordered by Washington, then the crisis of the state will deepen further, possibly becoming existential.

The two factions of the state are quarrelling with each other based on these opposing views on alignment in the region and internationally, though they are solely guided by respective self-interest. The best-case scenario for them is to continue the status quo, and play off different competing powers against one another to their respective benefit.

The weakness of the state and its heavy reliance on foreign funding makes the situation more precarious for the ruling class, and they have to make promises and deals which they cannot keep. This leads to a shift in policies towards one power or the other in turn, ultimately leading to more weakness and instability. The conflict between various powers at the international level is continuously growing, and so is their wish to get more control over the country for their own imperialist interests. This in turn means that the conflicts within the ruling class are growing, and the contradictions are ripening to the point of explosion.

One way or another, the future is full of instability, dramatic turns of events and drastic shifts in policy, leading to more infighting. This also involves in the crisis of all the political parties, with their real character being ever-more exposed in the eyes of the masses, resulting in their alienation from their support bases.

For independent workers’ struggle!

The only decisive move forward can come from the working class, which is continuously suffering from the rule of these parties and has no way out within the confines of the capitalist system.

The electoral process in this country is also strictly controlled by the ruling cliques. The army and all the political parties offer no hope for the working class. In fact, there is already no confidence in the parliamentary system, judiciary or electoral process by the working class and it is common knowledge that the whole state apparatus is rigged in the favour of the rich. The episodes of power struggles and scenes of violence inside the parliament have added to this belief, with workers enjoying the spectacle of these crooks beating one another, feeling no sympathy for any of them. This is why the ruling class is trying to delay the next general elections, which they fear could provoke a mass movement that they might not be able to control.

A mass movement could even erupt outside of the confines of this sham electoral process, as the working class is gearing up for protests and strikes in the coming months for increased wages and other demands. In Pakistan, the working class has very militant traditions and in the past its movements have escalated to a revolutionary situation, with factory occupations and seizures of big feudal estates by the peasants.

In the current scenario, it is possible that a mass movement erupting on the basis of slogans for wage rises and other economic issues could quickly encompass wider political demands and challenge not only all the established political parties but also the state institutions. The property relations on which this whole state structure is based could also be challenged in the next period, and the whole scenario might lead towards a revolutionary situation. However, in this case the ruling class will close ranks and try to crush this movement with full force. In doing this, they will have the full support of all the imperialist powers. Only under the leadership of a revolutionary party, based on the ideas of Marxism, can the working class lead a successful transformation of society.

Only by overthrowing the capitalist system through a socialist revolution can the shackles of imperialist slavery be broken and the working masses live a life of prosperity, without hunger, poverty or disease. The imperialist powers of the US and China cannot solve the crisis of the country. No faction of the ruling class has any interest in improving the lives of the masses. They are there to enrich themselves and plunder the resources of the country. Only by building a workers' state can the working class have permanent access to clean drinking water, bread, clothing and housing, along with free health and education for all. Other than a socialist revolution, there is no cure to the ills prevailing in society.

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