Friday, December 28, 2007

Pakistan: stop all the clocks

As everyone reading this will know by now, Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated. The understandable reaction of sheer outrage is turning into violence by some of her supporters and this looks likely to escalate. The murder of the most popular politician in a country is never going to happen without major disturbances.

What makes this murder so terrible is that millions of people in Pakistan saw Benazir Bhutto as embodying their hope for democracy and social justice in a country with a long history of military intervention in government, and serious problems of murderous oppression and terrorism by extreme reactionaries. No matter that Benazir Bhutto had been accused of corruption during her two previous terms as Prime Minister; no matter that she was a bourgeois populist politician with an eye to the main chance. To so many people in Pakistan, she represented their will to build a better society. They would have become disillusioned with her once again, but that will would have survived - and it will survive.

It is important, of course, not to have illusions in what Bhutto and her Pakistan People's Party represent. The Pakistani Left has been encouraged by developments in Bhutto's position over the last few weeks, but this is really only to say that they were happy she had to make concessions to the Left in order to maintain and develop the massive popular support she needed to regain her position in Pakistani politics.

Nevertheless, there can be no question of whose "side" socialists are on in this crisis. The nature of the political forces that planned Bhutto's assassination, whether or not they were "al-Qaeda" members (incresingly just a convenient label) is amply revealed by the circumstances of the assassination. The assassin, having taken a shot at Benazir Bhutto, did not content himself with being arrested or shot by the police, and becoming a "martyr" for his foul cause. No, he found a knot of random bystanders, paralysed by shock, and blew himself up in their midst, murdering a further twenty people. His epitaph is this: he didn't just hate Benazir Bhutto enough to kill her; he hated the human race enough to kill anyone and everyone with a human face and a human heart.

There are questions about the role of the Pakistani dictatorship, and especially its secret services, in all of this. Bhutto herself said that they had refused to provide her with adequate protection because elements in the dictatorship wanted her dead. This is very likely to be true, as there will be many generals who want to stop democracy at any cost, even civil war, and some who sympathise with the clerical fascists. After all, the Pakistani secret services played a key role, supported by their US counterparts, in setting up the utterly reactionary Mujahedin in Afghanistan to fight the Russian occupation. Now the border between the two countries is porous both to the guns the Mujahedin's descendants need and the heroin they use to pay for it, and the Pakistnai armed forces refuse to do anything about this.

Benazir Bhutto was determined to reverse this situation and said so very forcefully, which is another reason why both the clerical fascists and elements within the Pakistani military dictatorship wanted her dead. Socialists may quail at her proposal to allow US troops to cross the border to hunt down terrorists. It is certainly not a solution any socialist would propose or give active support to. But if the USA, for its own reasons, destroyed the terrorist cells and the wife-burners and acid-throwers of the North-West frontier, it would be unconscionable to cheer for the "resistance".

The workers and people of Pakistan face a titanic and desperate battle against dictatorship and reaction, for democracy and civil rights and to make their aspirations to a better society and a better world a reality. If you make a resolution this coming New Year, let it be to support Pakistani socialists, trade unionists, democrats, secularists, feminists and LGBT liberation campaigners in their life-and-death struggles for freedom and justice.

Link: Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign

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