in turmoil over Pakistan!

posted 26 Apr 2010, 03:27 by Admin uk   [ updated 26 Apr 2010, 13:46 ]

Pakistan: The 18th constitutional amendment and power cuts

Written by Jorge Martin Friday, 23 April 2010

Comments from in red
Words in blue from orginal highlighted for emphasis

In 2008 the people of Pakistan voted into office the PPP, hoping that this would bring genuine change, i.e. a real improvement in their living conditions. Instead we have a worsening economic situation, real suffering of the millions of poor, and warfare killing many innocent civilians. Meanwhile the PPP leadership is busying itself applying the IMF-imposed policies of cuts and privatisations. In these conditions it is not surprising that many are asking themselves what democracy has meant for them.

As the Pakistani official political scene was dominated by the debate on the 18th Constitutional amendment, which basically does away with the undemocratic provisions introduced by different military governments in the past, the majority of ordinary Pakistanis were wondering what democracy has really meant for them.

Leaflet produced by the Pakistani Marxists condemning the recent killing of innocent people in Abbottabad who were protesting against change of name of their province.
The country’s population is facing severe economic problems, prolonged power cuts (or as they are officially called “load shedding”), high inflation, cuts in public spending, etc. To this we have to add all the side effects of the US “war on terror” in Afghanistan: the killing of innocent civilians in Pakistan’s tribal belt, both by the Pakistani army and the CIA drone bombers and increased terrorist attacks in the country’s main urban centres.

Ever since it came to power the PPP government of president Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani made it clear that they were committed to continue support for the US war against “insurgents” and that its economic policies would not substantially change. The PPP government first a coalition with the country’s main right wing party, Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League, and then just with the extreme right wing MQM went cap in hand to the IMF in November 2008 asking for assistance. The IMF has given Pakistan an $11.3billion emergency loan, which, as in the case of all IMF loans, comes with heavy impositions and conditionalities. These include very strict deficit to GDP ratios, the introduction of VAT taxation [tax on goods and services] and the phasing out of fuel, electricity and water price subsidies.

These measures have severely hit the population. With temperatures reaching levels of 45C, power cuts in Islamabad last at times 22 hours a day, in other places these are 10 to 12 hours, depriving people of the use of fans, air conditioning and even cold water. There have already been riots and demonstrations in several parts of the country in protest at these power cuts. We have already reported on the demonstrations in Islamabad (Islamabad protests show explosive situation) What were the so called "anti-government slogans" in the Rawalpindi riots that Alan Woods got so carried away about? Let me help you..."Down with Zardari! Long Live the ARMY!" i.e these are slogans demanding the fall of the PPP. The riots were organised by the right wing government of the Punjab, demanding a military dictatorship! and the ones in Rawalkot which were led by the Marxists of The Struggle (Masses erupt against power cuts in Rawlakot). In Lahore, protesters blocked roads by setting tyres on fire, and chanted anti-government slogans. In the last few days alone, demonstrations have also been held in Khairpur Mirus, Murree and Quetta, amongst other cities.

Pakistani Marxists leading protests against power cuts in Rawlakot.
Power cuts are also affecting basic economic activity as many industrial areas are also suffering 8-hour power cuts. Steel furnaces throughout the country were forced to close down for a few days this week, leaving 15,000 day workers without any income, as a result of Pakistan Electric Power Company’s decision to cut the power supply to them. There seems to be no solution in sight to this problem, as PEPCO Director General Muhammad Khalid reported that problems will easy in June-July, with the coming online of a number of power plants, which would reduce power cuts to only 6 to 8 hours, but that load shedding would continue for another three years! No one is likely to believe his promises, as last year he had already committed himself to putting an end to power cuts by December 2009.

Just to make sure everybody knows who is boss, the IMF has delayed the transfer of the fifth tranche of its emergency loan to Pakistan, as the country has not fulfilled all the agreed criteria. Zardari’s government begged for some leniency and a couple of amendments were agreed. The budget deficit will be allowed to reach 5.1% instead of the 4.9% initially insisted on, and the very important measure of lifting subsidies on the prices of electricity, water and fuel (originally scheduled for April 1) may be delayed until August. This measure on its own could cause a social explosion.

Protests in Karachi on Bolshevik Day 2008.
The commitments with the IMF will mean an acceleration of the privatization plans of the government. So far, the PPP-led coalition government has only carried out one privatization, not so much for lack of willingness to privatize, but because of the negative economic environment due to the international economic crisis. In the case of the proposed privatisation of Qadirpur gas field, the plans were temporarily abandoned because of strong opposition on the part of the workers in which the Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign was heavily involved (Bolshevik Day in Pakistan 2008).

However, this was only a temporary retreat, as Prime Minister Gilani made clear when announcing the measure in November 2008: “The PPP will only take those steps, which are in the interest of the people and privatization of Qadirpur (gas fields) will be finalized only when there will be across the board consensus in the house”.

Advertisment for consultant to help with  privatisation of Pakistani postal service.
The government had in fact approved a list of companies for privatisation in the 2008-09 fiscal year including, "Hazara Phosphate Fertilizer Limited; Small Medium Enterprises Bank; Faisalabad Electrical Supply Company, Printing Corporation of Pakistan Press; Pakistan Machine Tool Factory; Larkana Coal Mining Project; Khewra Salt Mines; MORAFCO Industries Ltd; Sindh Engineering Co Ltd and Services International Hotel." In the end, only Hazara Phosphate could be privatised, but now the PPP-led government, having agreed with the IMF to cut the budget deficit, is speeding up privatisation plans again. 

At the beginning of April, Minister of Privatisation, Waqar Ahmed Khan, announced privatization plans for 58 state owned entities, 23 of them to be fast tracked. Amongst those, the first ones to be privatized will be Faisalabad Electric Supply Companies (FESC) and Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL), but the list includes railways, postal services, oil and gas, mining, electricity and other utilities, banks, etc.

Furthermore, the government is "restructuring" all these companies in order to make them more attractive to foreign investors. In a press release on January 19, privatisation minister declared that, "prior to the privatisation of 80 State Owned Entities (SOEs) their financial remodeling would be conducted to double their assets and balance sheets and to improve their management structure for making them attractive for multinational companies for taking part in their privatisation process." All of a sudden we are told the govenment has "plans" and has "approved" privatisation, yet over the last months we were told the Government has carried out mass privatisation and that Manzoor helped them!

The Benazir Employees Stock Option Scheme (BESOS) through which shares in state owned and formerly state owned companies are given to workers is a preparation for this process. n.b. workers in companies that were ALREADY privatised under PREVIOUS governments get 12% of the shares (which by the way cannot be sold!). The calculation is that once the workers become share-holders they will feel that the interest of the company is their own interest and there will be less resistance to privatization. But you and your great leader, Dr. Lal Khan in Pakistan, told us that BESOS "is privatization" now you tell us it is "a sweetener" to make privatization attractive, don't think your trickery goes unnoticed!. When this scheme was first announced, the reaction of the Islamabad Stock Exchange was clearly favourable. According to a report in the Business Recorder:

"Brokers claimed that the presence of SOEs employee on the board would provide support to the privatisation programme of the government. When the representative of the employees would be present on the board, it might facilitate the interest of privatisation process. It would also prevent any kind of agitation or negative campaign against the privatisation of state owned entities."

So if some "Brokers claimed" that, Marxists determine their policy by what they say?

The handing out of shares to workers may be popular among those layers concerned. !!! U TURN!!! How come this is popular? It appears to be free money and a share in the dividends. Oh now it appears to be "free money", (the exact phrase came from our interview with Manzoor, before we were told it was outright privatisation! But we have seen these methods applied in the past. Thatcher boasted about having created a “share-owning democracy”. There was a “mad dash for shares” in British Telecom in 1984, when many of the company’s employees bought shares. Little did they know that soon their jobs would be on the line! Subsequently, as the company was privatised, many lost their jobs. Oh dear! Poverty striken workers in Pakistan need to be told that shares are bad! Even though it is "free money"... how absurd! it does not just "appear" to be "free money" it is free money. Not only that, but it is free money not only from state companies but also from the property of ALREADY PRIVATISED COMPANIES. i.e. it is as if Gordon Brown gave the workers of Virgin Railways, 12% of the shares of Virgin because it used to belong to the state! In such a scenario no doubt, the Right Honorable comrades from the International Secretariat, would dash down to Euston station with a leaflet screaming "Down with Gordon Brown!" "Say no to free money!" and use their transitional slogans from Pakistan... "Irreconcilable Struggle Until Socialist Revolution!" I am sure that would go down well with the railway workers!

In Russia, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the process of privatising much of the state owned enterprises began. The workers in these companies were clearly concerned that this might put in danger their jobs. How did the government get round this? They were offered free shares and discounts, with the idea of making them feel owners of the companies. Later, those same workers paid dearly for such a policy, although at the time the idea was quite popular among some layers. Now the collapse of the USSR is be compared with BESOS! Now you are really scraping the barrel! Was Pakistan ever a Stalinist deformed workers state with a planned economy? This is ridiculous!

BESOS as you now admit is not privatisation "ITSELF" and it gives "free money to the workers". Period.

Manzoor explained right throughout the process that he opposes privatisation and that BESOS can be used as a trick to hook workers into accepting privatisation, that is the correct way to deal with the issue. But you claimed, to your members, to justify (after the event) your anti-constitutional expulsion of Manzoor and hundreds of Pakistani comrades, that BESOS is privatisation. Now you are trying to cover your tracks, like a thief returning to the scene of his crimes to wipe away his finger prints!

It is the duty of Marxists to warn the workers against such schemes and strengthen trade union organization to fight against the privatization plans of the government. Even if the distribution of free shares can be popular among some, especially those who receive them, it is the duty of Marxists to always tell the workers the truth: the distribution of free shares today is part of the plan to privatise the company at a later stage preparation, and if today you get shares, tomorrow you will be at risk of losing your job! Are you really so ignorant of how poor people are in Pakistan, to pose questions in such a patronising way? 

Illyas Khan explains BESOS and the comrades response

To underline its commitment to privatization policies, President Zardari has just appointed Hafeed Shaikh, the minister of privatization under the Musharraf dictatorship and former World Bank official, as the government’s chief economic advisor. His qualifications for such a position are excellent from the government’s point of view. During his previous period as minister he managed to sell off 34 state owned companies worth a total of over US$5bn.

There is one area which has not been touched by the government’s austerity measures and budget cuts, that of military expenditure. (So there have been no concessions to the workers? Like the right to legal activity by Trade Unions? Regularisation of employment? pension rights etc?) On the one hand the government, in order to maintain the loyalty of the powerful Pakistani army, needs to increase defence spending, and on the other hand the Army needs money to pursue its war against insurgents on behalf of US imperialism. Zardari has justified the austerity measures of the government by saying that the “war against militants had inflicted great loss to Pakistan’s frail economy” and that therefore “there was no option left for the government to take a number of unpopular decisions, even at the cost of its popularity, for the stability of economy”.

This is increasing even further the opposition of the Pakistani masses to imperialism. The war in Afghanistan has brought them not only increased terrorist attacks, but also austerity policies. But the war is being conducted not only in the neighbouring country but inside Pakistan itself, which by now has suffered more civilian deaths than Afghanistan itself. The killing of innocent civilians, both by US troops and the Pakistani army, runs into thousands, to which we must add 1.3 million internally displaced from the border areas. The latest offensive in Orakzai, which escalated a month ago, has pushed around 200,000 out of their houses (the total population of Orakzai is 450,000).

According to David Kilcullen, the Australian former adviser on counter-insurgency to General David Petraeus, the ratio of civilian deaths to “insurgents” killed is 98 to 2! This is creating a mood of widespread anger. In the latest incident of this kind at the beginning of April, 71 people, men, women and children, are said to have been killed by the Army in the Khyber tribal area. According to locals "there was no Taliban and no militants. All the people who were living there are government employees. One of them was an army man." The BBC reports that “the airstrike hit the house of a tribal elder, whose own sons fight against the Taliban, as part of the local paramilitary force.”

It is no surprise that the mood of the masses is becoming cynical about bourgeois democracy. They brought the PPP to power hoping to see policies which would improve their lot, inspired by the PPP’s traditional slogan of “Roti, Kapra aur Makan” (bread, clothing and shelter), but instead what they are getting are power cuts, bombings and privatization. Ah yes, but these are “democratic” power cuts, “democratic” bombing of innocent civilians and “democratic” privatization (in which workers get some shares). When I saw these words from Alan Woods I literally cringed. Do you not consider the right to organise, speak, vote, form unions, engage in legal class struggle, to be important rights? If the masses are cynical about bourgeois democracy, is not the main danger that the army will make a new bid for power, leaning on social discontent?

Or do you imagine we are on the brink of socialist revolution in Pakistan? Perhaps this explains your enthusiasm for the events in Kyrgyzstan, which you claim is a workers' revolution with soviets and all! See this article if you don't believe me!

Lal Khan even claimed such nonsense in his interview in Venezuela! implying that Pakistan may soon see an uprising like that in Kyrgyzstan. It might be in that case, but if it is, it will likewise be a coup d'etat, but one organised to put the military or the extreme right wing in command. 

Do Marxists not stand for the defence of democracy and the PPP against the threat of a new military police dictatorship? Yes, and we must simultaneously promote socialist ideas, and organise the working class in trade unions, so that they can struggle for their economic, social and political demands.

Marxists stand for the defence of democracy, (yes even "bourgeois democracy") for the defence of the PPP against the right wing and the military, and the advance towards socialism through the organisations of the workers' struggle, in their unions and through the PPP!

Zardari and Gilani have already made their choice: with the IMF against the people, with Clinton and Obama against the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The ruling class in Pakistan is quite happy with this state of affairs. The ruling class is "happy"? Then why was Bhutto assasinated?

Whatever happened to the theory of permanent revolution? Does this theory not state that there is an intimate connection between reactionary feudal forces, the army, the Mullahs, the capitalists and imperialists? And that this means that bourgeois democratic capitalism cannot be sustained for a prolonged period, democracy allows the workers to organise and this makes the "ruling class in Pakistan" far from "quite happy with this state of affairs". It is incredible to need to point out such ABC's of Marxism to the IMT leadership! The PPP was brought to power in the aftermath of the mass movement after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The masses yearned for fundamental change. From the point of view of the ruling class this was the best government to carry out austerity measures. Once its support amongst the masses has been spent, the PPP leaders will be unceremoniously ditched by the ruling class (bringing out corruption scandals, pending court cases, etc) and replaced by the Muslim League (which conveniently abandoned the coalition early). (Oh really and you are ambivalent to this? Why would the Muslim League be adopted by the ruling class, if they are "quite happy" as things are?) You predicted a rising tide of hostility inside Britain against the Labour leaders from 1997, it is 12 years hence and such a tide never actually developed. You now predicting a sea tide of left wing resistance against the PPP leaders only 2 years after they were elected after being in a Military Dictatorship?

Only by breaking with the logic of capitalism (starting by breaking the coalition government) could the PPP really implement a policy to the benefit of the masses of workers, peasants and the poor which voted it into power. Such a move would bring forth the wrath of Obama, the IMF, the army and the capitalists, but would enjoy mass support amongst the downtrodden masses which form the backbone of support for the PPP.

The Marxists in Pakistan are implacably opposed to the policies of the PPP leadership, which is firmly in the pockets of US imperialism, in its economic policies and regarding the imperialist war in Afghanistan and the tribal areas. In this way they are connecting with the growing mood of anger amongst ordinary working people and preparing to play a key role in the revolutionary upheavals that are being prepared. The tone of this article by Jorge Martin for the IS, indicates an utterly sectarian abandonment of entryism in the PPP in favour of a campaign of verbal posturing.

[Note: See this article on Geo Televsion Network Power crisis peaks; Balochistan plunges into darkness which gives a very vivid description of the situation regarding the power crisis in Pakistan.]