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The murder of Bhutto weakens a key US ally

The news of the murder of Benazir Bhutto last December 27 was spread like a trail of gunpowder in the country, almost more rapidly than the first communiqués from international press agencies. When the fatal shots at the former Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, who was favored in the elections scheduled […]

Left Voice

February 10, 2008
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The news of the murder of Benazir Bhutto last December 27 was spread
like a trail of gunpowder in the country, almost more rapidly than the
first communiqués from international press agencies. When the fatal
shots at the former Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan People’s
Party, who was favored in the elections scheduled for January 8,
became known, the world’s main newspapers stressed the grief
experienced because of the disappearance of the woman who, in spite of
her two disastrous terms in office, continued, for tens of millions of
workers and poor peasants, to represent her father Zulfikar Ali
Bhutto, the popular leftist President between 1971 and 1977, who ended
up being overthrown by a right-wing military coup d’état, and was
hanged two years later by General Zia al Haq. In addition to four days
of fighting in working-class districts and villages against the
repressive forces of the dictatorship, a deep malaise was also
overtaking the Western chancelleries, but for other reasons. The US
Secretary of State did not immediately respond with a press release,
as usual. In fact, with the murder of Bhutto, imperialism’s best card
disappeared, or to use the words of The Economist, the plan promoted
by London and especially Washington of organizing elections in January
in which the PPP would have achieved a big win, granting Bhutto the
post of Prime Minister, giving “a democratic face to [the] military
dictatorship” of Musharraf, was shattered (The Economist, January
5-11, 2008).

1A regime in trouble

Musharraf found it increasingly difficult to manage the political and
social situation of the country. However much the General-President,
having come to power in 1999 with a coup d’état backed by imperialism,
hardened the regime, the situation seemed to be getting out of hand.
Considering Pakistan’s geographical nearness to Afghanistan, one of
the linchpins of the White House’s permanent global war, it is more
understandable why Western diplomats were so involved in orchestrating
a pact around the January elections between Musharraf’s armed forces and
Bhutto’s PPP.

From an economic point of view, it should be acknowledged that
Musharraf knew how to carry out a big agenda of liberalizations and
privatizations with the agreement of the leadership of the armed
forces, that control key sectors of the economy. These reforms,
combined with the economic boom that the war in Afghanistan represents
for the country, in terms of commercial impact and the flow of US
money intended for the “war against terror,” led the country to
experience an extraordinary rate of growth … for the capitalists.
Meanwhile, an ever larger fraction of the country was sinking into
destitution, while it viewed with increasing hostility the imperialist
war and occupation of neighboring Afghanistan, a savage war that would
soon have repercussions on Pakistan, and not only in the frontier tribal
regions, where foreign special forces are intervening,
despite Musharraf’s denial.

Despite massive US investments in military aid2It is estimated that the US gave at least 10 billion dollars in
military aid to Musharraf’s government.
, the Pakistani
army is unable or unwilling to defeat a jihadist faction of political
Islam that threatens the stability of the country. The fact is that
for sectors of the army, the real power in Pakistan, many of these
Islamic militants represent capital for the regime’s foreign policy,
not only in Afghanistan, where, in the past, they have already helped
organize the Taliban regime, but also in Kashmir, a region belonging
to India, but disputed between both countries, and which caused
several wars and border skirmishes in the past. In this context,
although the country did not experience a workers’ or peasants’
upheaval of any magnitude, an enormous loathing is evident among the
population. That social anger was expressed in partial struggles
during 2006 and 2007, but mostly through the national mobilization of
lawyers, that acted as a sounding board for the social and political
contradictions of the country, against the authoritarianism of the
regime. Faced with the loss of this progressive social base, pressured
by imperialism, and to ingratiate themselves with the bourgeois
opposition, the regime carried out a merciless massacre of Islamist
militants who occupied the historic Red Mosque for some days. However,
this action not only failed to calm things down, but triggered a
radicalization of the struggle of the Islamists, with whom the regime
permanently wavers over breaking all ties. Recently, in the Northeast,
jihadists seized the entire Swat valley, without the army’s being able
to counterattack.

3Bhutto’s murder intensifies the crisis of the regime

In this context, Bhutto seemed to be the best choice to ensure a
minimum of stability for the country and to support the greatly
weakened Musharraf dictatorship. Musharraf remained President,
resigning from his post as head of the armed forces, while Bhutto and
the PPP (as part of a coalition government, in case they failed to
achieve an absolute majority in the elections originally planned for
January) contributed social and political guarantees to prevent the
deep crisis in the country from resulting in open chaos.

It is true that one could not compare the prestige of Bhutto in 2008
to the popularity she enjoyed when she came to power for the first
time in 1988. Charges of corruption, economic management that was
disastrous for the masses, implementation of neo-liberal reforms
during her two terms had diminished her political credit. However,
Bhutto seemed to be the only leader of national scope for the only
party with a national social base, the PPP, able to avoid a potential
catastrophic scenario with big repercussions not only for the region,
but for the very strategy of the U.S. in the area.

From a military point of view, Bhutto asserted that she was able to
carry out a purge of the most undisciplined elements of the armed
forces, relaunch the unpopular offensive against terrorism in the
border areas, even allowing foreign forces to intervene directly on
Pakistani territory. From a political and social point of view, with a
vaguely democratic discourse (which did not even question the military
dictatorship) and promises of change, Bhutto at the head of a PPP
government represented a containment barrier against the social
tensions of the countryside and the cities, as a channel for the
democratic demands of the masses and the middle class, as well as a
symbol of unity in view of the centrifugal tendencies of the four
Pakistani provinces.

With Bhutto’s death, that program of agreement with the dictatorship
not only blows up, but makes it clear that the main ally of Washington
in the region does not control a significant segment of one of the
keys to the imperialist military offensive for the area: the
Pakistani armed forces and intelligence services. As much as
Musharraf denies it, since it would be an admission of his own
failure, it is more than obvious that the assassination attempt
against Bhutto, like the attack in Karachi last October at the return
of the former Prime Minister after a long exile, bear the imprint of
the intelligence services, trained by the CIA against the pro-Soviet
regime in Kabul at the end of the 1970’s. The present context of the
crisis of US hegemony and international tensions leaves enormous room
for maneuver to an entire military sector which made itself
independent of Musharraf, blackmails him, and tries to act according
to its own interests (control of much of the economic apparatus,
privileges, etc.), without systematically lining up with the foreign
policy of the White House.

4A very complicated situation for the US

The situation is very complicated for Musharraf and his master in the
White House. An overwhelming PPP victory in the elections postponed
till February, with the PPP unexpectedly invigorated by the wave of
pro-Bhutto enthusiasm, or a new majority in coalition with the Muslim
League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, could mean a mortal
danger for Musharraf’s already weakened presidency. Even worse, if
Musharraf tries, as he did a few months ago, to resort to a state of
siege and evade the outcome of the polls, this provocation could
unleash an enormous mass mobilization against the dictatorship.

But even a peaceful coexistence between Musharraf and the PPP does not
solve the basic problems for the Pakistani bourgeoisie and their
imperialist commanders. Nobody seems able to embody a social and
political leadership like that of Benazir Bhutto, neither her old
opponent and now a potential ally of the PPP, Nawaz Sharrif, much less her
widower, the unpopular Asif Zardari, while, in the leadership of the PPP, the
old party bosses are trying to acquire, symbolically, the
mortal remains of the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to assert their
claim to leadership within the party.

Only the working class can create a progressive solution

As news of Bhutto’s death spread, after the first moments of deep
shock, the Pakistani people, the workers in the main urban centers of
the country, took to the streets to show their hatred for the
dictatorship. They expressed their social and political anger by
storming prisons and releasing prisoners, burning down banks,
electoral offices and railway stations. For four days, despite the
orders given by Musharraf to “shoot to kill” any protester or suspect,
they clashed with the forces of repression. At no moment did the
leadership of the PPP, that continues to enjoy some popularity and has
a key role in the leadership of the main unions, nor the union leaders
either, call for nationally organizing a general strike against
Musharraf, the security forces responsible for the death of Bhutto,
and for overthrowing the rotten regime in Pakistan. The only
progressive solution for the country depends on the ability of the
large and historically combative Pakistani working class to reorganize
itself, in close alliance with the urban and rural poor. This
reorganization will take place, not only against the dictatorship and
the most openly reactionary parties, but also against those who mix
real social demagogy with an obscurantist program. It will also take
place against the very PPP that, with Bhutto as Prime Minister, the
agreement with Musharraf, and the current politics of the party
leadership after Bhutto’s assassination, has shown Itself to be an
obstacle to any attempt at progressive change for the country.

Transaltion by Y Mikah


1 A regime in trouble
2 It is estimated that the US gave at least 10 billion dollars in
military aid to Musharraf’s government.
3 Bhutto’s murder intensifies the crisis of the regime
4 A very complicated situation for the US
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