Pakistan: the infighting of the ruling class and the fig leaf of ‘democracy’

Adam Pal 6 April 2022

A political and constitutional crisis has opened up in Pakistan, leading to a back and forth over a no-confidence vote in the Imran Khan government. In reality, these fissures at the top are merely symptoms of a deeper rot in Pakistani capitalism, which has been rocked by the global capitalist crisis, while the ruling class endures the consequences of attempting to play different imperialist blocs off of one another. Such pathetic charades will never end while the capitalist system stands!

In Pakistan, the constitution, the law and democracy have never been taken seriously by the ruling class. The working class, meanwhile, also has no illusions in the facade used by the bourgeois state to hide its exploitation and oppression of the masses. Nevertheless, the leaders, ‘intellectuals’ and many other ‘wise’ people continuously, hypocritically feign concern for the rule of law, democracy and the sanctity of the constitution, while living lives of extreme luxury. On the other hand, the masses continue to suffer brutal exploitation at the hands of capitalists, bankers and imperialist institutions like the IMF and World Bank, which are hell-bent on sucking the last drop of blood from the poor masses, leaving them in misery, poverty, hunger and destitution.

On 3 April, these farcical debates once more hit the headlines as a split in the ruling class came to the foreground. Two parallel sessions of the National Assembly were held in Parliament House in Islamabad, at which two opposing rulings were passed.

At one session, the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, who is a member of the ruling party PTI, declared that he was rejecting the motion of no confidence presented by the opposition parties against the incumbent government of Imran Khan. His flimsy grounds for doing so were that this was a foreign conspiracy, and as such could not be voted upon. He unconstitutionally prorogued the session of the Assembly and left the house. Shortly after, Prime Minister Imran Khan advised the president (who is also a member of the PTI) to dissolve the National Assembly. He immediately obliged, passing an order that effectively dissolved the National Assembly. New elections were announced for three months’ time to elect a new government.

Amid these hasty decisions, members of the opposition parties remained inside the premises of the National Assembly and elected a new speaker among themselves – Ayaz Sadiq, of the PML(N) party. This new speaker then officiated over parallel proceedings, a no-confidence motion was taken, and a majority was declared in favour of removing Imran Khan as Prime Minister after the vote was counted. The vacant position of Prime Minister would be filled by Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of former PM Nawaz Sharif, but the session of the Assembly to affirm this couldn't be held.

A similar drama was also playing out on the same day in the Punjab Assembly in Lahore over the election of a new chief minister of the province. It also ended in a stalemate, and no conclusion has been reached to date. However, opposition parties are convening a session of the Punjab Assembly in a private hotel in Lahore today in order to elect their chief minister, as they were denied entry into the premises of the parliament building. This drama has generated a constitutional and political crisis in the country, which as of today has not been resolved. No solution appears to be in sight as both warring parties consider the other side to be traitors, whilst trying to hold onto power through declarations that their own actions are legal and constitutional.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan is continuing as Prime Minister of the country, addressing the nation through state television and campaigning for new elections. Meanwhile, he has suggested a caretaker Prime Minister take over – a retired chief justice of his choice, who would conduct the upcoming elections.

The opposition parties have meanwhile rushed to the Supreme Court to get the ruling of the Deputy Speaker declared unconstitutional, although no law or article of the constitution suggests that the courts can intervene in the proceedings of parliament to nominate someone as the official Prime Minister of the country. At any rate, the Supreme Court seems in no hurry and is delaying the whole process, leading to more confusion and polarisation at the highest echelons in the country.

What happened on 3 April was a culmination of many weeks of activity, in which members of the National Assembly were changing their loyalties for millions of rupees apiece, and small parties were bargaining for ministries, lucrative posts and contracts, in exchange for their vote in the no-confidence motion. All this played out in the main news headlines of all the TV channels, and social media was abuzz with attacks and counter-attacks from all sides by the loyal supporters of the different parties.

Imran Khan and his ministers, along with the speaker and deputy speaker of the National Assembly, were trying to delay voting on the no-confidence motion. It was clear to them that they would have lost their majority, as dozens of their MPs changed their loyalties in exchange for the large sums of cash being doled out via PPP leader and former president Zardari.

Imran Khan and co. were also trying to rope in their allies – such as the MQM from Karachi, the PML(Q) from Punjab, and BAP from Balochistan – by offering them key posts. All these efforts proved in vain, however. Meanwhile, the opposition parties had managed to come together, despite their bitter rivalries, to bring down Imran Khan’s government. In his place, they planned to install Shahbaz Sharif as the new Prime Minister and his son Hamza Shahbaz as the chief minister of Punjab, while all the others would get a share in the government.

This bargaining, the accusations of changing loyalties on an almost daily basis, the coming together and parting ways, the friends becoming foes and then friends again in a matter of hours, the exposure of each other’s corruption scandals, and much more – all this was the subject of the mockery or cheering of the party loyalists; the whole of the media debate paraded these filthy and stinking politics for weeks on end.

This wasn't the first time the country had witnessed such a political circus, however. And many hoped that it would finally end on 3 April when, after much delay, it was announced that finally the vote would take place. But in the end, what resulted was nothing but more confusion, more crises and more instability. Meanwhile, this pathetic tragicomedy called politics continues unabated.

Behind the scenes
The government of Imran Khan has been called a “selected” government since its inception three-and-half years ago in 2018. Everyone in Pakistan knows that the election process here is an enormous fraud, and that the results are decided upon by the army generals weeks before the actual polling. The whole exercise of an election is mere eyewash. The participation and interest of the masses in 2018 was the lowest in history. Although the fraudulent official figures paint the opposite picture, the turnout was very low. The reason for this indifference is that no political party has any programme of relief for the masses. They are mired in corruption and criminality, and every party accepts that it must receive the support of the generals, rather than the masses, in order to get into power.

All of the political parties – across the spectrum – have lost the following they had in previous decades, as the situation of the masses has worsened whilst these parties were in power. A small layer of urban, middle-class youth and intelligentsia supported Imran Khan, who they considered to be a new entrant to politics – although, besides him, all the other leaders of the party were the same individuals we have seen before, only their party loyalties having changed in order to grab power yet again. This thin layer of support for Imran Khan was massively exaggerated through the sell-out media, and used to explain his and the PTI’s victory in 2018.

Since coming to power, this new government took crime, corruption, oppression of the masses, and enrichment of the powerful through loot and plunder, to new extremes. For workers, this was one of the darkest periods of their lives. Millions were unemployed, and poverty, hunger and disease reached unprecedented levels, while the rich took the loot, the likes of which they had never seen before. Their fortunes reached levels without precedent.

With inequality reaching new extremes, the state used monstrous repression. Every voice of dissent was forcefully crushed. Every expression of anger was met with intimidation or forcefully closed down in this period. Every political activist in the country knew that Imran Khan enjoyed the full support of the generals – that they are “on the same page”, and that the generals would not permit any political change. Meanwhile, no media outlet was going to be allowed to give any “negative” news about the government. After bringing the corporate media under its full control, commentators on social media who condemned the government were subjected to criminal charges, and in many instances punished severely.

In this period, Imran Khan gave a three year extension to the Army chief General Qamar Bajwa, after his original tenure of three years ended. This also helped ensure that the government would sail through its tenure with ease, despite throwing millions into more suffering, poverty and disease with their brutal economic policies. But in the end this plan ran aground, and the strong relationship between Imran Khan and the generals was jeopardised. He is now being targeted by the opposition, and it is being claimed by the PTI that these opposition parties are being supported by the Army chief.

The conflict started a few months ago when the media channels reported that DG ISI General Faiz Hameed was being transferred as corps commander in Peshawar by the Army chief, although Imran Khan opposed the transfer, wishing to delay it. It was also reported that General Faiz is a candidate for the next Army chief when the term of the incumbent expires in November this year. It is also now being reported that Imran Khan doesn’t want to give another extension to the Army chief, despite the latter’s expectations, and that he instead intended to replace him with an individual of his choosing. The opposition parties, on the other hand, could not accept this, as the result of the next election largely depends on this appointment. This has eventually led to a conflict in the highest echelons of the state. The power struggle taking place in the ‘Establishment’ is playing out in parliament and in the courts.

Economic crisis
This whole crisis at the top is a reflection of a deep social and economic crisis going on in the country, which has brought it to the brink of bankruptcy. In fact, the economic situation in Pakistan is not much different from that of Sri Lanka and Lebanon, and the country is on the road towards a similar situation. Foreign reserves are depleting fast and have reached around $11 billion this week. Last week saw the biggest weekly drop in the history of the country, when reserves fell by over $3 billion. In the last eight months, the country has lost $8 billion in reserves. In March the country’s reserves covered only two months of imports. According to an analyst Farrukh Saleem of The News:

“For the record, the SBP’s reserves of $12 billion are all debt-financed – $6.7 billion from the IMF, $2 billion from Saudi Arabia, $6 billion from China, $2 billion from the UAE and $4.8 billion from financial derivative assets. Red alert: The bottomline becomes negative $9.5 billion.

“According to the SBP, over the following 12 months, predetermined short-term net drains on foreign currency are going to be $12.4 billion. According to the IMF, our gross external financing requirement stands at $32 billion and our external debt servicing for fiscal year 2023 is projected at $15.5 billion.”

This has mounted pressure on the already weak rupee, which is depreciating fast. In the last month, since the no-confidence motion was tabled on 8 March, the rupee has lost more than three percent of its value, and the downward slide is getting steeper every day. Inflation is officially at 12.7 percent but in reality is much more than that, especially food inflation, which is almost double this figure. The trade deficit has reached new heights at 70 percent higher than last year as the hike in oil prices internationally devastates the weak economy. The trade deficit reached its highest level in the fiscal year 2017-18 at $37.7 billion, but during the first nine months of the current fiscal year it has already reached $35.4 billion, and could reach $45 billion in the current fiscal year ending in June. The exports are weakening, foreign investment is leaving the country, the stock exchange is falling steeply, and all the macro indicators of the economy are flashing red alerts. According to Farrukh Saleem:

“Imports are about to hit a high of $75 billion. This is when we need our exports to rise. This is when foreign buyers are running away. Foreign investors are running away from Pakistan. In 2007, foreigners invested $5.59 billion, the highest ever. Currently, foreign direct investment (FDI) hovers around $2 billion a year. In March, year-on-year FDI dropped 33 percent.”

Pakistan relies heavily on the IMF to bail out its economy, but under the direction of the American ruling class, which has become furious at Pakistan in recent years, the IMF is forcing the country to accept harsh directives, which it had previously readily waived. After the current fiasco, since 3 April, the IMF has announced that it will not release its next tranche of loans unless a new government has been formed. Already, the IMF has taken control of the central bank of the country after the parliament passed a bill last month assuring that it will not control the central bank, with the governor of the bank remaining fully in control. But the current governor is an employee of the IMF.

The IMF has launched more than 21 programmes with Pakistan in recent decades and has been dictating the economy on its own terms. The Pakistani ruling class has always been happy with this arrangement, as they were given the chance to loot and plunder, while the burden of the economic crisis was shifted onto the poor masses. In return, the state is used by US imperialism and its allies to do their dirty work in the region – like supporting the war in Afghanistan and meddling in the South Asian region.

But recently, relations between the stooge and the master have soured. The Americans are not happy with the ruling class of Pakistan and want to teach them a lesson. One of the main reasons for their frustration was the humiliating defeat of US imperialism in Afghanistan, for which they placed all the blame on the ruling class of Pakistan and its betrayal.

The Americans wanted a smooth withdrawal from Kabul, which they could claim as victory. To this end they had engaged in talks with the Taliban and Pakistan for years. But in the end, it was a huge disaster as the whole edifice of the state that they had built up over two decades, at a cost of trillions of dollars, fell like a house of cards. Their stooge Ashraf Ghani ran away with millions of dollars in suitcases and power fell into the hands of the Taliban without a single shot being fired in Kabul. American diplomatic staff in Kabul had to be evacuated in an emergency situation, and many Afghans were hanging onto the landing gears of aeroplanes in desperate attempts to leave the country.

The chaotic scenes in Kabul exposed the relative weakness and impotence of US imperialism to the whole world, and its inability to control the situation on ground. However, a few days later, the chief of the Pakistani intelligence agency (ISI), General Faiz, was seen in a hotel in Kabul with a cup of tea in his hand, telling journalists calmly that everything was under control. This picture was circulated around the world as proof of the betrayal of the ruling class of Pakistan. Nonetheless, the Pakistani officials tried again and again to clarify their position to the Americans, assuring them of their loyalty. Since coming to power in Kabul, the Taliban have unleashed their brutality and tyranny on the people of Afghanistan, especially Afghan women. They are silencing every voice that doesn’t agree with their reactionary ideology, but they also want to rebuild the remains of the shattered bourgeois state apparatus and capitalist system left by the Americans. To this end, the Taliban have appealed to the Americans for support and assistance, asking for mercy time and again. But the ties between these former friends have not been fully mended as yet. The Pakistani ruling class has been openly advocating on behalf of the Taliban on an international level, and is asking for assistance from America, Russia and China to cover the expenditures of the regime in Kabul.

Despite being a stooge of American imperialism, the Pakistani ruling class has also maintained relations with China over the years, and have now asked them for loans and strategic assistance in the region to bail them out. However, China is also unwilling to fully commit, though they have invested in Pakistan in accordance with China’s geostrategic interests. Repayments on loans to Chinese companies and banks are also being delayed by Pakistan’s precarious economic situation, though the Chinese government wants its payments as soon as possible. Pakistan has appealed for $21 billion in assistance from China in order to shore up its foreign reserves, as well as the rescheduling of loans. But so far, China has only rescheduled loans worth $4.2 billion, and only after Pakistan hosted a conference of foreign ministers of Islamic countries (OIC) in Islamabad, where the Chinese Foreign Minister was the guest of honour.

In recent years, the Pakistani ruling class has been trying to balance between the imperialist powers of the US and China. They have attempted to use their strategic position in the region to get the maximum advantage out of the two. But the changing balance of power on an international level has led to deep conflicts inside the Pakistani state and now these contradictions are coming to the fore, reflecting the deep crisis of the state.

At one point, the Pakistani ruling class bent too low before the Americans, and placed relations with China on a back burner, as we by-and-large saw during the government of Imran Khan. At another time, Pakistan started wooing first China and now Russia, to show its value as a nuisance to the Americans in order to try and get a better deal. This game has reached extreme levels as the crisis at the international level has entered a new severity, meaning every power wants a decisive break from the other. The Americans want to cut the size and role of the Pakistani ruling class, according to the new situation in the region, placing India in the driving seat, although the Pakistani ruling class is still spreading its wings and wants a deal on its own terms. For this reason, we saw Imran Khan visit Moscow on the day when Russian armed forces entered Ukraine, having a friendly conversation with Putin in a meeting he described as very pleasant.

Imran Khan, and the part of the establishment supporting him, is now publicly using anti-American rhetoric to prop up their support base, though after getting into power they will once again fall to the feet of their masters and beg for forgiveness. Imran Khan is publicly claiming that the Americans wanted to topple his government and he will stand against every American conspiracy and will fight for an independent foreign policy. This is all a mockery, and total hypocrisy, and in fact these statements show that a part of the establishment is feeling the effects of the diminished role granted to it by the Americans.

On the other hand, the opposition camp, led by Shahbaz Sharif, is defending the American economic support and presenting it as the only way of surviving the deep economic crisis facing the country. In a conference in Islamabad last week, the Army Chief of Pakistan condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine publicly, which was the first such statement by any official on this issue. Before this, the Pakistani position has officially been one of neutrality in war.

This situation only reflects the deep fissures inside the ruling class of Pakistan. In the coming period these will get deeper, and the contradictions will sharpen, with much more infighting and internecine. There is no solution in sight and the economic crisis could at some point spiral out of control, just like Sri Lanka, or other such countries, and lead to bankruptcy of the country.

The working class of Pakistan has not expressed itself yet. For them, both factions of the state are their enemies and no one represents the interests of the masses. The imperialist powers of America and China also have no solution to the economic crisis of the country. The policies of the IMF and loans from China are actually the reasons why the economic situation has reached this point. The working class in Pakistan understands this and has no belief in any hypocritical statements from government officials or leaders of political parties. The political parties have also lost their support among various layers of the society, and there is a huge vacuum on the political horizon.

Workers from public sector departments from across the country, and from private industries in Karachi recently held huge protests for wage increases, and most of these have been successful. In some protests, more than 30,000-40,000 workers participated in Islamabad, representing hundreds of thousands who couldn't join them due to financial and other issues.

In the coming period, much bigger protests can erupt and hundreds of thousands will come out on streets in cities and towns across the country. At the moment there is calm on the surface and no mass movement exists in the country. But this is the calm before a storm. In conditions such as these, huge mass movements can erupt out of nowhere and change the whole situation from top to bottom. It is clear that all political parties in the parliament are corrupt to the core and have betrayed the people time and again. All the state institutions including the judiciary, bureaucracy and others are like ulcerated sores on the body of an infected patient. There is no cure within the confines of a dying capitalist system: only a revolution can breathe a new life into Pakistan. A successful socialist revolution will overthrow this rotten regime and bourgeois state and install a workers' state that will replace the economy of IMF, multinationals and banks with a planned economy under workers’ control. A socialist state would defy all the imperialist powers of the world, building working-class solidarity internationally. The revolution in Pakistan would be just the beginning of a world socialist revolution, under the slogan: workers of the world unite!


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