#81 - Pakistan - another Western-made powder keg waiting to explode

February 2008


This pamphlet is based on a presentation made at a forum held in London on February 16th, 2008. Since then, general elections planned for February 18th, have taken place. As everyone had predicted, the so-called "democratic" parties - the PPP (Pakistan People's Party) whose former leader, Benazir Bhutto was murdered last December, and Nawaz Sharif's PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League, Nawaz faction) - inflicted a bruising defeat o the parties which had previously supported the former dictator and now president, ex-general Pervez Musharraf..

Predictably too, the western powers hailed this election as a "step forward for democracy". The former Democrat candidate to the US presidency, John Kerry, who was in Pakistan as an international observer, went so far as to congratulate Musharraf for his willingness to accept the election results! However what Musharraf and the army will do, still remains an open question.

In any case, to talk about "free" elections as western commentators do, is farcical. The general atmosphere surrounding the election campaign says a lot in this respect. Those familiar with Pakistan's politics say that they have never seen such a low-key campaign - with hardly any public meetings, posters or leaflets - except maybe in the days of the Zia dictatorship, in the 1980s, when no party was allowed to participate and candidates stood as individuals.

There may be several reasons for this. Among them is the climate of political terrorism began to develop in Pakistan, long before there was any talk of an election. The murder of Benazir Bhutto made the headlines, but she was only one victim among many others. According to official figures, 400 people have been killed by political terrorism since the beginning of the year. On the last weekend of the election campaign alone, 20 people were killed in the North West Frontier Province, when public meetings and roadside canvassing organised by the Awami National Party (People's National Party), a left-leaning secular Pashtun party, were targeted by suicide bombers.

But this low-key election campaign must have had political reasons too. After all, only 45% of registered voters turned out to vote on Monday 18th. For an election which was supposed to offer the democratic future that the Pakistani population was longing for, this is a very low figure. Unless, of course, there is a widespread suspicion that the two main "democratic" parties will not do anything to resolve the real problems that the population is facing - whether it is the rise of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism or the virtual collapse of the economy.

The two winning parties have now come to an agreement to form a coalition government. Whether this means, however, that Pakistan has at last, succeeded in freeing itself from the grip of the army, is quite another question. After all, both the parties which are now in office have a long record of operating what amounted, for the vast majority of the population, to corrupt civilian dictatorships, with the backing of the army, operating from behind the scenes.

Precisely because of this record, the Pakistani masses can expect nothing from the new regime. If the present political and economic mess in Pakistan is to be resolved, it will have to be done against these so-called "democrats" just as much as against the army hierarchy which has ruled over the country for most of its existence.

The aim of this pamphlet is to try to understand the situation faced by the Pakistani masses and the causes of this situation - including the criminal responsibilities of the imperialist powers in this respect.

3rd March 2008

Colonial roots

The developments which took place in the Indian subcontinent in general, and in Pakistan in particular, since 1947, can really only be understood by going back much further, to the 1857 rebellion in India and how the British colonial administration reacted to it.

The Indian uprising of 1857 gave the British colonialists a shock. It was not merely a mutiny in the Bengal Army by the so-called "sepoys" (or Indian troops) over animal grease on cartridges issued to them, as it is often still portrayed today, although the rebellion started in the army. In fact it quickly turned into a large scale anti-colonial uprising. In Delhi, for instance, the rebels controlled part of the city for 4 months.

Once the rebellion had been put down, extremely bloodily, the British government realised that if it wanted to keep India, it needed to do two things: first, take over the administration of India from the greedy and incompetent hands of the East India Company; and second, transform the colonial army, so that there could never be a repeat of the 1857 events. Above all, what had to be prevented was the seemingly easy unity across religious and ethnic lines demonstrated by the rebellion.

The proportion of British officers to soldiers was increased from a pre-mutiny ratio of 1 to 7.5 Indian soldiers, to 1 officer to 2 soldiers. Use of artillery was restricted to British soldiers only. A choice was made to recruit more from the so-called "martial races", in particular from among Punjabis and Pathans (from the region bordering Afghanistan). Of course the reference to "martial races" was nonsense. But troops coming from peripheral areas of "British" India seemed less likely to sympathise with the populations they were meant to repress. This was to determine the shape of the future army of Pakistan and, in particular, its predominantly Punjabi composition.

In the aftermath of the mutiny, the British government wanted to create artificially privileged layers which would have a stake in defending the colonial system. This was achieved in two ways. In the urban areas, members of the local elite were recruited into the Indian civil service. Meanwhile, in the rural areas, traditional feudal titles were transformed into land-ownership titles, in the European sense of the word, thereby transforming the land into a tradeable commodity like any other, independently of those who lived on it. This is one reason, in particular, why most of today's rural Pakistan is still dominated by a small but extremely powerful layer of very big landowners, who concentrate a large proportion of the most fertile land in their hands.

Having created the basis for the development of a local bourgeoisie, the British decided to ensure that this new elite was equipped with political representatives who were loyal to colonial interests. To this end, Lord Dufferin, who had become viceroy in 1884 invited a retired civil servant, Allan Octavian Hume, to organise what was to become the Indian National Congress. It began meeting in December 1885, bringing together the educated and middle class associations under British patronage. But the British miscalculated. Soon, this "conference of lawyers" as it was dubbed, was to begin to agitate for "home rule".

From the Muslim League to Partition

The fact that Hindus formed a majority in the Congress, which was a secular party, meant that it could be accused of putting Hindus before Muslims, even if Muslims held leading positions inside it. This was something which British governors were quick to play on.

In response to this alleged threat, Syed Ahmed Khan, founder of the Aligarh Muslim University, formed a "Joint Committee of the friends of India" in 1888, with the declared aim of opposing Congress. Eight years later, a group of Muslim landowners visited the British viceroy, Lord Minto, with a petition expressing their concern to protect Muslims' landed interests. Shortly after, the All India Muslim League was founded in Dacca, setting itself as its main objective "to foster a sense of loyalty to the British government among the Muslims of India." This new party was welcome (if not initiated) by the British, who were keen to see a counterweight to the rising influence of the Congress party.

Britain's choice to play the religious card in order to strengthen its rule in India, became even more evident in 1909, when limited voting rights were granted to a selected section of the Indian population. In accordance to the Muslim League's demands, 25% of the seats were reserved for Muslims politicians, with only Muslim voters being allowed to vote for these seats. The artificial character of this religious split was illustrated by the fact that, despite this tailor-made electoral system, the Muslim League never managed to get more than 6% of the votes for these seats. Nevertheless, the system helped to entrench religious division as a political issue, thereby paving the way for the bloody confrontations which were to come later.

It must be said that the Congress party itself soon agreed to the principle of separate electoral colleges and seats for Muslims, thereby turning its back on its supposed secularism. But then, so did Gandhi with his populist demagogy, by posing as a holy man and using Hindu symbolism to strengthen a non-violent message designed to disarm the masses. And the cost was enormous for his followers: in 1919, for instance, 1,500 of Gandhi's non-violent followers were massacred by the army in Amritsar.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who is considered today as the founding father of Pakistan, entered politics during WW1. He was a London-trained lawyer and, although from a Muslim background, he was an agnostic and joined the Congress party. According to his memoirs, he became disillusioned by the Congress' concessions to Hinduism and then by the bloody consequences of Gandhi's non-violence. As a result, he joined the Muslim League.

The logic of this switch seems rather bizarre. If Jinnah did not like the Congress' concessions to Hinduism, why then join a party impregnated with religious sectarianism? And, although he disagreed with Gandhi's methods, and with some reason, what was the point of switching to a Muslim League which supported British rule? Unless, of course, Jinnah's only perspective was to make a political career.

This may explain why, having just joined the Muslim League, he left India for Britain, since at the time, the Muslim League was far too weak to offer a political career to its members. This would also explain why Jinnah returned to India in 1934, precisely at the time when London was opening new career prospects for Indian politicians, in the form of provincial self-government and all-India elections.

It was at this point that Jinnah and the Muslim League adopted the so-called "Two Nation Theory", declaring the Muslims to be a nation with their own "distinctive culture and civilization, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of values and proportion, legal laws and moral codes, custom and calendar, history and tradition, aptitude and ambitions."

Not that this made any sense, of course. After all, there was, for instance, far more cultural and linguistic distance between Muslims from Kashmir and from Bengal, than there was between Muslims and Hindus who had lived together in Bengal for generations. But what did it matter to Jinnah and the Muslim League's leaders? What they needed was a justification to bid for a fiefdom of their own and they were prepared to manufacture a "nation" out of thin air for this purpose. As it happened, they did poorly in these elections. But Jinnah managed to emerge as the "Quaid-i-Azam", the great leader of the Muslims, thereby preparing his party for the next political opportunity.

This opportunity was World War II. While Congress members resigned their positions and staged a campaign of civil disobedience against the war, the Muslim League supported it. However, filling the space left empty by Congress in the institutions was one thing, but gaining the support of the population was quite another.

Pakistan born in blood

Wartime suffering, including, for instance, a famine caused by speculative hoarding in Bengal, resulting in 3m dead, caused a considerable amount of resentment. And, as the war ended, this resentment sparked off a social backlash in industrial centres, which almost immediately took on the character of an anti-colonial rebellion. Meanwhile, mutinies broke out among ratings in the British Indian Navy. And quite naturally, the mutineers made contact with the cotton mill strikers in Mumbai behind the demand for an independent India.

London's Labour government was thus faced with the threat of a social explosion (what was confined so far to the big centres could still spread to the rural areas), with an Indian army with was hardly reliable and a British army which was already overstretched and weakened by mutinies of its own. It had to move fast in order to defuse the Indian nationalist powder keg, while protecting the short-term and long-term interests of British capital. It was obvious that independence had to be granted, the only question was: in what shape or form?

In the subsequent negotiations, the Muslim League was invited to take part on an equal footing with the Congress Party, which was ironical since, in electoral terms, only the Congress could claim to represent a majority among Muslim Indians. But this choice was indicative of London's real plans.

In substance, Jinnah's party demanded a homeland for Muslims which would be either independent or, at least, have an autonomous status within a federal India. Jinnah had called this homeland "Pakistan" - which means "land of the pure", but was also presented as an acronym in which P stood for Punjab, A for Afghan or Pashto, K for Kashmir, S for Sindh and Stan for Baluchistan.

However, not only did Britain go along with the Muslim League's ludicrous claim that India needed to be partitioned along religious lines, but it actually came up with a far more drastic partition than what was demanded by Jinnah - not a federal India split along religious lines, but two countries, with Muslim Indians being awarded an independent country of their own.

As it turned out, this was a poisonous award. This British-made Pakistan was formed of today's Pakistan and Bangladesh (West and East Pakistan). These two areas with nothing in common, whether in terms of history, language, or economy and what is more, were over 1,000 miles apart. This was the sort of situation that no poor country could possibly sustain.

The new borders had been drawn by London bureaucrats who knew little about India and took no account of the communities and their access to natural resources nor even, in fact, of the official pretext for the partition, their religion. Not only were these borders artificial, but they were full of potential traps for the future.

In order to form East Pakistan, Bengal was split, despite the fact that it formed an economic entity centred around the deep-sea harbour of Calcutta. Calcutta remained inside India. East Pakistan retained some of its jute and rice production (Bengal's main assets) but had no deep-sea harbour of its own from which to export it. The artificial nature of India's eastern border is shown by the fact that the Muslim majority district of Murshidabad and a portion of Nadia were allocated to India, while the Buddhist Chittagong Hill tracts went to Pakistan.

Much the same happened with the Western border. Punjab was split by partition. But the Muslim majority areas of Gurdaspur and Batala were given to India, to provide it with a road link to Jammu and Kashmir - something which has been a bone of contention between the two countries ever since. At the same time, to satisfy the demands of the Sikh representatives who refused to live in a Muslim country, parts of the western Punjab - most of which would have been more naturally in Pakistan - were allocated to India. This made Pakistan's western Punjab dependent on India's control of headwaters that fed the region's complex irrigation systems.

Maybe the biggest irony of all is that partition left India, whose name derives from the great Indus River (formed from the Five Rivers of the great and fertile Punjab province), without its nominal identity, because most of this river basin is now in Pakistan!

Having drawn up these plans, the British proceeded to implement them in August 1947. India was partitioned and the new entity of Pakistan proclaimed.

There followed the almost indescribable and tragic slaughter of probably around 3 million people in all, together with the biggest movement of refugees ever, so far, in world history: within a matter of weeks, over 12m people had left their homes in either India or Pakistan to seek safety and shelter in the other "dominion". By the time the orgy of killing had run its course up to 20 million people had become refugees. As the Urdu Poet Fiaz Ahmed Faiz, wrote, "this stained dawn is not the one we waited for."

Much of this exodus and bloodshed was deliberately orchestrated. In other words it was "political" violence, aimed at terrorising people out of their homes and off their lands. The responsible parties were not just elements from the Muslim League and some revivalist Hindu groups, but also the British - who made it clear that Hindus or Muslims who insisted on remaining on the "wrong" side of the divide, would receive neither help nor protection from them.

Was the endurance of such carnage and terror the only way for the Indian population to free itself from the colonial yoke? Certainly not. But the Indian parties were unable or unwilling to offer any other way and the British Labour government chose it knowingly.

From the point of view of imperialism, there was a certain logic in this criminal madness, the kind of logic that only those who will stop at nothing to defend their stranglehold over the world can have. Indeed, this was a time when Mao tse-Tung looked like he was going to defeat the US-backed Chiang Kai-shek, thereby taking the huge Chinese population if not into the Soviet orbit, in any case out of direct US control. It was also a time when more or less radical nationalist movements were emerging in the poor countries. Neither London nor Washington was prepared to take the risk of another Asian giant feeling the confidence to make a display of independence towards imperialism.

The only way for the imperialist powers to stop India going down this road was to cut it down to size, not only in terms of viability, but in terms of morale. The Indian population could not be allowed to feel the exhilarating enthusiasm that usually comes with getting rid of a colonial oppressor. Britain could not stay in India, but it could make the Indian population pay the highest possible price, with its own blood, for the right to get rid of its colonisers. And this was what the Attlee government did, without any qualms. If the Muslim League and other local auxiliaries played a role in this murderous scheme, it was as willing tools of Britain's criminal policy, no less, no more.

National time-bombs

Partition was allegedly meant to provide protection for the rights of Muslims. But it still left millions of them in India, particularly among the poorest, who could not break the bondage which tied them to their landlords or employers, not even under threat of reprisal. So much so that, today, there are 150m Muslims in India as opposed to 160m in Pakistan and 130m in Bangladesh! In other words, Partition only managed to spread the Muslim population more or less evenly between the three former components of India, thereby showing even more strikingly how totally pointless Partition, its millions of deaths and the plight of its refugees, has been.

As to the "national homogeneity" that Jinnah and his colleagues in the Muslim League claimed to be building using the Muslim religion and the Urdu language as a "national cement", it showed cracks from the very day Pakistan came into existence.

In and of itself, the choice of Urdu was revealing. Only a tiny proportion of the population spoke this language in 1947, thereby forcing the new state to adopt English as its second official language. Even today, although Urdu has been an official language for 60 years (together with English) and is compulsory for all children going to secondary school (but this is a minority), it is still spoken as mother tongue by only 8% of the population. So the only remaining "cement" to keep the country together was religion.

However, right from its birth Pakistan was littered with nationalist time bombs. The centrifugal expression of national identities might have been avoided, had these nationalities enjoyed equal rights and equal access to sufficient resources, within a large enough framework - something that a united India might, maybe, have provided. Instead, Pakistan could only offer a bigoted straightjacket, ruled on behalf of the west Pakistani capitalists and big landowners, by the Punjabi-dominated army and bureaucracy - inherited from the British.

The most visible among these time-bombs was East Pakistan itself, which was soon treated de facto, as a colony. In this case, the religious "cement" did not hold long. The poor masses of East Pakistan compared with growing anger the largesse of the state for the military, to the inadequate resources devoted by Islamabad to help them face the destruction of the monsoon, which often claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Even the East Pakistani capitalists were frustrated by the special taxes they had to pay and by having to import all the goods they needed from West Pakistan. Fourteen years after Partition, East Pakistan was to secede in turn, to form Bangladesh, in 1971 - but not without another tragic bloodbath, for which Britain's 1947 policy bears direct and total responsibility.

There were a number of time-bombs left in West Pakistan as well. The south and western part of the country, in what is today its largest province, Balochistan, was home to a population which was split between Iran, Afghanistan and India. This had never prevented the Balochs from circulating freely in what they considered as their land while retaining their traditional way of life. So, when the new Pakistani state tried to assert its authority over them by brutal means, under Ali Bhutto's regime, in the 1970s, this caused an open rebellion, leading to a protracted civil war. This war has never stopped ever since. After oil and then huge reserves of natural gas were discovered in the area, the Pakistani state and capitalist class decided it was vital to keep a firm grip on this bounty.

Much the same can be said about the case of the Pashtuns (or Pathans), who live in the north western part of the country - the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and in the north of Balochistan province. The Pashtuns were split by the Afghan border, drawn by the British in the 19th century. Like the Balochs, they never recognised this artificial border and reacted to Islamabad's diktats by forming their own political parties. However, the fact that Pashtun workers made up a large part of the working class of central Pakistan probably explains why Islamabad tried to avoid an open conflict with Pashtun nationalists. But this does not mean that a Pashtun rebellion will not explode one of these days. After all, Afghan Islamist warlords gained a short-lived but significant influence in the NWFP not long ago with demagogic demands for a "Greater Pashtunistan" - and others may try again.

Another time-bomb was left ticking in Karachi, the country's largest centre. Many Urdu-speaking Muslims, or "mohajirs" ("immigrants") resettled there from India after Partition. They found themselves surrounded by a region controlled by an arrogant elite of very big Sindhi landowners. Ambitious middle class "mohajir" politicians were quick to see the opportunity of building a constituency for themselves out of the "immigrants" - whom they described as an "oppressed minority". The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM or United National Movement) which was formed on this basis has been known since for its reactionary populist demagogy, aimed at wooing the prejudices of the lower middle-class and exploiting the frustrations of the poorest. But it has also been known for the activities of its armed thugs against political opponents as well as "foreigners" - Pashtun workers in particular. The fact that the MQM was one of the political pillars of Musharraf's dictatorship probably speaks for itself!

The case of Kashmir is rather different. It was cut arbitrarily in two by the British, thereby leaving a permanent cause of conflict between India and Pakistan. Thus it was at the centre of two wars (1948 and 1965) and numerous border incidents. In fact, on both sides of the border, Kashmir is permanently occupied by troops and its population lives under a permanent state of emergency. Worse, it has been used for a very long time by both the Pakistani intelligence and by Islamic fundamentalists as a military training ground for their recruits. Against this backdrop, Kashmiri nationalists have long been driven underground, while a large part of the population was forced out of its own country to avoid being caught in the cross fire between the troops of the two countries.

Washington steps into London's shoes

Partition left Pakistan with only 3.6% of the factories and 2.6% of the factory workers of the former British India in the major industries. Lahore was the only substantial city inherited at partition even though the Karachi area was now swollen with millions of immigrants. As to Rawalpindi and Peshawar, they were little more than military bases.

Pakistan's destitution was another aspect of Britain's poisonous "award" to Muslims. But it served a purpose, as it allowed US imperialism to step in where London was no longer capable of playing its imperialist role.

Pakistan was born at the very beginning of the Cold War, when imperialism was desperate for subservient pawns, in its power game against the USSR. In south Asia, India would have been an ideal choice due to its size. But, precisely for this reason, the Indian ruling class was far too independent-minded for the West's liking. All the other sizeable countries of the region were either ruled by unstable regimes or caught in the middle of a war, civil or colonial. Pakistan was the only exception. Moreover, it presented a big advantage from the point of view of imperialism, due to its long border with Afghanistan, a country which, according to the wartime Yalta agreement, was part of the USSR's sphere of influence.

Thus the new Pakistan became the target of US seduction and a recipient of its largesse - something that Britain could not afford to provide any more. The first batch of US economic aid to Pakistan arrived as early as May 1948, in the form of a £10 million subsidy to buy surpluses from the American army and, by 1950, Pakistan had become the recipient of much larger monies, from a multitude of US-controlled agencies and programmes, ranging from the World Bank, Truman's so-called "Point Four Programme" (which was really about military aid), the Ford Foundation, etc... Besides, with the beginning of the Korean War, the US leaders ensured that Pakistan's emerging role as a "special ally" was worth its while in economic terms. Pakistan's industrialists and big landlords made a killing out of this war, although, due to their rapacity, their hugely increased income did not translate into a significant growth of the country's economic infrastructure.

The Pakistani regime tried to implement an industrialisation policy in West Pakistan, mostly financed by the export from East Pakistan (jute). At the same time the East was left largely undeveloped. Most of the industrial projects, earmarked for Lahore and Karachi, had to be financed by the Pakistani state since there was little local private capital available for investment. But since not much tax collection took place either, any progress became dependent on western loans.

Predictably, the Pakistani ruling class became completely dependent on its relationship with the US economy, to the extent that by the early 1960s, 40% of the country's imports came from the US alone. By the same token, the Pakistani state and its army became an integral part of imperialism's regional Cold War policies. But then, this fitted in well with the interests of an anti-communist military keen to justify its privileges by its role as a bulwark against India - so, why not against a USSR towards which India had turned for help?

In 1951, the ties established over the previous years with the US were formalised. So far, the top positions in the Pakistani army had been occupied by around 500 high-ranking British officers. That year, the British commander-in-chief, general Gracey, was finally replaced with a Sandhurst-educated Pakistani general, Ayub Khan. Soon, a permanent US military advisory body was set up at the Pakistani army's HQ, in Rawalpindi. Meanwhile, the Pakistani leaders signed a so-called "Mutual Defence Agreement Pact" with the US. This was followed by Pakistan's entry into the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation - a US-dominated military organisation designed to be the regional counterpart of NATO - and then into another Cold War body, the Central Treaty Organisation, where it joined Iran, Iraq and Turkey - all dictatorships selected by imperialism to act as its regional dogs of war.

From "democracy" to chaos

In the days following Partition, Jinnah had taken the colonial days' post of governor general, which gave him almost unlimited powers, thereby opening Pakistan's first period of "democracy" under rather undemocratic auspices. Jinnah appointed Liaquat Ali Khan as his prime minister.

At the time, most of the country's politicians were "mohajirs" - and it was they who began to form a government of sorts. The indigenous ruling class was chiefly a feudal one - consisting of rich landowning families. They were not prepared to give up any of their powers nor accept land reform, which immediately led to a political impasse. Within 4 months, the Muslim League split in two factions - one faction representing the "mohajirs" and the other the landowning elite. A few months later, the only politician who might have been able to hold things together, Jinnah, died from tuberculosis, having nothing to show for his tenure as leader save the 1948 war against India and the breakup of his own party.

Liaquat Ali, in the meantime, remained prime minister while the chief minister of East Bengal, Khwaja Nazimuddin became head of state. However, in 1951 Liaquat Ali, on the eve of provincial elections in Punjab, "discovered" a communist plot, alleging that among the conspirators were the Army Chief of Staff and a number of notable civilians including the poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. While this was highly implausible, it gave Liaquat a pretext to clamp down on the left opposition and an opportunity to boost the score of his faction of the Muslim League in the elections. However, he did not have much time to enjoy this success since he was murdered for officially unknown reasons, within a few months.

Nazimuddin, who took over as a stop-gap measure, then attempted to impose Urdu on the Bengali-speaking people of East Pakistan, causing street protests in which 26 people were killed, so that Bengali had to be made the second official language, as a compromise. However, Nazimuddin did not last long either. The following year he was sacked, together with the leader of the East Pakistan government, by Ghulam Muhammed, the governor-general who had replaced Jinnah in this post.

During the 1954 elections, the first signs of a nationalist crisis in East Pakistan emerged: the Muslim League only managed to win 10 seats out of 309 in the provincial parliament, with the nationalist Awami League (people's league) winning a majority. As a result the new East Pakistan assembly was temporarily suspended and army rule enforced to pre-empt another alleged "communist plot". The Communist Party was duly banned, together with the trade unions and peasants' organisations in which it had some influence, in both East and West Pakistan.

To all intents and purposes, this marked the end of the "democratic" period of this so-called "democratic" phase of Pakistan's history - that is six years all in all. Although the army was not yet formally in power, it was already running the show from behind the scenes, through the medium of its own men. There was no real civilian power left, except in East Pakistan where it was closely watched by the army.

The army comes to the fore

In 1958, another general election was to be held. East Pakistan had been in turmoil for months and the Awami League was expected to sweep the vote again there - only, this time, on the basis of demanding far more extensive concessions from the central government. Meanwhile, in West Pakistan, a new party formed by a coalition of reformist and nationalist forces, the National Awami Party (NAP or National People's Party) was expected to put up a successful challenge to the fractious Muslim League and its various splinters.

For the wealthy elite of West Pakistan and its generals, neither of these developments was acceptable. But since, they could not just ban the opposition parties they disliked, as they had done with the Communist party, the election was simply cancelled. Then, when it turned out that this might generate resistance, possibly on a mass scale, the army was called in and general Ayub Khan declared martial law. The de facto political control that the army had exercised over the country during the previous four years or so, was now formalised.

In his memoirs, published from his London exile in 1967, Ayub Khan boasted naively that he requested the authorization of the US to stage his coup and that he got it. There is no evidence, however, that this is true. In fact, since both the NAP and the Awami League were, on the whole, rather favourable to America, especially if it could offer Pakistan some economic aid, the US leaders might, on the contrary, have welcomed a pro-imperialist government coming to power by legitimate, "democratic" means, for once. It is quite possible, therefore, that they were faced with a fait accompli in the form of Ayub Khan's coup.

Anyway, the US leaders chose to make the best of the new situation and proceeded to integrate Ayub Khan's regime even more tightly into their system of regional domination. There was a good reason for this: the 1958 overthrow of the British-backed monarchy in Iraq, and the eruption of the Iraqi masses onto the political scene behind the Iraqi Communist Party, which deprived the US of one of their loyal allies in the region. Over the next years, therefore, a US air base was built near Peshawar, close to the Afghan border, from where surveillance missions over the Soviet Union were launched. At the same time, the US Air Force was granted a permanent right to use Pakistan's civilian airports according to needs.

To all intents and purposes, Ayub Khan's coup and his martial law did not change much in the lives of the overwhelming majority of the population. True, political parties were banned (with the exception of the Muslim League and its various offshoots) and strikes were declared illegal. But then most parties had been prevented from having any public activity over the previous years, thousands of political activists had been jailed and strikers had been confronted with brutal repression. Military rule did not seem all that different.

Overall, in fact, unlike the two periods of military dictatorship that were to follow, the administration and the running of the state in general remained in the hands of the same civilians who had been in charge during the so-called "democratic" years. Some state functionaries were sacked on charges of corruption, but they were not replaced by army personnel or appointees, as was the case later.

Under the guidance of Harvard-educated advisers, Ayub Khan's ministers embarked on what were described, not without some irony, as "5-year plans" aimed at developing an import-substitution industry. State aid was extended to private industrialists, but this only resulted in increasing social inequalities and the concentration of wealth. So, whereas 24 families controlled 45% of all industrial assets in 1959, by the end the 1960s, 22 of them controlled 66% of industry.

Likewise in agriculture. In 1958, 6,000 families owned 500 acres or more of land, while 2.2 million had less than 5 acres and 2.5 million were landless. But the land reform that was introduced under the regime's US advisors did not even dent the stranglehold of the large landlords. While a few middle-sized farmers benefited from it, it actually increased the number of landless peasants.

The main beneficiaries of Ayub Khan's regime were the same as under every single regime in Pakistan up to the present day - the big landowning, industrial and banking families. One example of such a family was the Dawood family. Until the late 1970s, they ranked number one among Pakistan's capitalists. Before Partition, they ran a medium-sized cotton trading business in Western India, which made a fortune out of the World War II boom. They migrated with their capital to Pakistan where, in the absence of rivals comparable to India's Tata and Birla, they rose to the very top. They set up their first Cotton Mill in Karachi, in 1952, with a paid-up capital of Rs5m. In 1957, they bought the state-owned Burewala Textile Mills in Multan district on very favourable terms. Likewise, under Ayub Khan, the state-owned Karnaphuli Paper Mills was "disinvested" for their benefit, while one of the Dawoods, Ahmed, was handpicked to sit in the regime's rubber stamp National Assembly. By the time Ayub Khan was overthrown, the family controlled seven firms with capital totalling Rs190m.

The masses bring down Ayub Khan

The resentment caused by the heavy hand of the regime, its corruption and the arrogant parasitism of the rich, finally boiled over in 1968. East Pakistan had been in turmoil for a long time and opposition forces were now organising openly. But in November, the unrest spread to West Pakistan as well. In the cities, students took to the streets, demanding the resignation of the dictator and the organisation of free elections. They were met by the army's bullets and some got killed, but they came back the next day in larger numbers.

This opened a Pandora's box. All the frustration accumulated over the previous decade came to the fore. In the industrial estates, workers organised clandestine unions and came out on strike, against the feudal-type rule of their employers, demanding large wage increases to catch up with the loss of purchasing power of the previous years and demanding the recognition of their unions. In rural areas, poor peasants' committees sprang up, especially in Pashtunistan. Sharecroppers demanded an end to the draconian conditions imposed on them by the big landlords, while landless peasants demanded real land reform, that would allow them to toil the large surface of land left to waste by rich landlords.

For the first time in the country's history, there was a sense of freedom emerging among the masses. Political parties blossomed as the demonstrators were looking for a way forward, to get rid of the rule of the "22 families" and their generals, once and for all.

The street fighting with the army and police lasted 5 months, despite many thousands of arrests and an untold number of casualties. Eventually, the military and ruling class came to the conclusion that the regime had to give way in order to defuse the rising threat of the mass movement. In March 1969, Ayub Khan resigned, general Yahya Khan took over and declared martial law.

But while this was enough to frighten students back to their studies, strikes went on unabated in factories. So, in an attempt to defuse the working class powder keg, Yahya Khan chose to let some steam out. The virtual ban on strikes and union organisations was partly lifted, a minimum wage was introduced for the first time and a new labour law was enacted. But far from defusing the militancy of the working class, workers jumped into this opening: more strikes developed and more unions sprang up.

In East Pakistan 65,000 cotton textile workers came out on strike over wages and working conditions, mixing these demands with that of regional self-government. In the industrial estates of Karachi, the wave of militancy reached companies which had never seen even a stoppage before, let alone a strike, particularly factories belonging to the "22 families". So, for instance, in October 1969, the 3,000 workers of the Karachi Woolen and Art Fabric Mill, part of the Valika family's empire, went out on strike over wages, working conditions, the recognition of their union and the reinstatement of sacked activists. Not only did the strike go on for 47 days, despite many arrests, but it triggered a wave of sympathy strikes in the surrounding industrial areas. In the end the martial law authorities, faced with the risk of contagion, forced the Valika's to give way to some of the strikers' demands - although, workers had to stage more strikes to get these concessions implemented.

In the end, Yahya Khan made the dramatic announcement that political parties were to be legalised, general elections were to be held on the basis of universal franchise (for the first time in Pakistan) on 5 October 1970 and Pakistan was become a federation in which the federated provinces would receive semi-autonomous status.

Bhutto robs the masses of their victory

An ambitious politician was striving to ride the tide of discontent. This was Zulficar Ali Bhutto, father of the now deceased Benazir Bhutto and heir of a rich Sindhi feudal family. He had trained in the US and at Oxford, before joining Ayub Khan's government, where he remained for 9 years, including 5 in the senior position of minister for Foreign Affairs.

In 1967, Ali Bhutto resigned in protest against a deal over Kashmir passed with India by Ayub Khan and was briefly jailed as a result. His late opposition to Ayub Khan was, therefore, that of an ultra-nationalist, but not of a "democrat". Nevertheless, when he launched a new party, today's PPP, with a group of friends coming from the same rich Sindhi background as he did, its program was summed up in one slogan: "Islam is our faith; democracy is our policy; socialism is our economy; all power to the people". This was meant to sound radical so as to attract the young petty-bourgeois who wanted to see the end of the dictatorship. However, the reference to Islam exposed the limits of Bhutto's "socialism".

As soon as the 1968 events broke out, Bhutto and his small group of PPP members held numerous public meetings. As minister for 9 years, he was well known and because of his short period in jail he was widely - but wrongly - considered as a champion of democracy. This allowed Ali Bhutto to capitalise on the protestors' anger around his person, and to become, in a certain sense, a symbol of their protest.

The 1970 election was held as planned. In West Pakistan, the PPP ran a dynamic campaign around "food, clothing and shelter for all", the nationalisation of industries, a real land reform and ending "the monopoly of the 22 families" . It topped the poll with the secular reformist NAP, which comprised most of the Pakistani left, coming a close second.

In East Pakistan, however, the Bangladeshi nationalists of the Awami League topped the poll on a programme of provincial autonomy. However their victory made the Awami League the largest party in the national assembly, meaning that, for the first time, the government would be led by a party from East Pakistan This was quite simply unacceptable for the ruling class. Yahya Khan suspended the new assembly and when the Awami League declared the secession of East Pakistan, in 1971, he sent in the army. The result was a year-long guerilla war and a bloodbath, in which tens of thousands of workers, peasants and youth, were killed. Only the intervention of the Indian army - aimed at weakening the Pakistani military - stopped the killing by forcing the Pakistani troops to surrender in December 1971.

The discredit that this bloody repression and subsequent humiliating defeat brought to the army made the generals fear a repeat of the 1968-69 events. As a result, four days after the surrender, Yahya Khan resigned and handed all powers to Ali Bhutto, who became the country's first civilian chief martial law administrator, commander-in-chief of the army and president! Bhutto had been chosen as the man of last resort by a ruling class who knew that, regardless of his demagogy, they could count on him to save its interests from the threat of the masses.

Bhutto turns against the masses

Indeed, this was exactly what Bhutto did. Less than 2 months after being promoted to power, in February 1972, Bhutto made a speech on the radio, boasting of the benefits he was going to award to the working class. But at the same time he warned against any form of "lawless behaviour" and promised that "the strength of the street will be met by the strength of the state". Soon workers were to see what he meant.

Bhutto had made promises but the bosses did not yield. So, during the first six months of 1972, there were on-going strikes in the two main industrial estates of Karachi, at one point involving up to 200,000 workers, as striking in solidarity with workers in other factories became normal practice. Workers strove to get those sacked under martial law reinstated, or to get back pay that they were due.

Things came to a head at the Feroz Sultan Textile Mill in the SITE industrial estate of Karachi, over unpaid wages. Some of the workers were locked in the plant by the police, but within a few hours, 5,000 workers from neighbouring plants had encircled the factory. The police opened fire killing 3 workers. The next day, the police fired again on the funeral procession of one of the deceased, killing at least 10 people. The strike then spread like wildfire across the SITE and Landhi-Korangi industrial estates, closing down more than 900 production units. The impact was felt across the country: workers went on strike in other Sindhi towns; in Punjab, large solidarity marches were organised. The strike lasted for 12 days in SITE, but the 80,000 workers of the Landhi-Korangi estate carried on, occupying the plants, until the army came with bulldozers to dislodge them. Seven workers were killed in the process, according to the police.

The strike wave went on for several years, in fact. Official figures show 779 strikes involving 361,000 workers in 1972, 536 strikes involving 233,000 workers in 1973 and 370 strikes involving 301,000 workers in 1974. Thereafter, due to the growing number of activists given long sentences in jail combined with the increasingly common practice used by the bosses of sacking their entire workforce, the number of strikes went down. By 1976, the ruling class could be satisfied with the choice it had made back in 1971: Bhutto had managed to defuse the working class powder keg, for the time being at least.

One ominous aspect of Bhutto's tactics against workers was his use of the ethnic card: using the fact that most of the unskilled workers involved in the strikes were Pashtuns, there were frequent claims that the strikers were aiming to break up Pakistan. This kind of crass demagogy had two objectives. One was to divide the ranks of the Karachi workers, by trying to play skilled workers, who were mostly "mohajir", against the mostly Pashtun non-skilled strikers. But the other was to undermine the NAP, which was the only serious challenger of the PPP, having topped the poll in NWFP and Balochistan. This kind of demagogy became all the more prominent as the disillusion caused by Bhutto's policies was increasingly pushing people towards the NAP.

In Balochistan, Bhutto's counter-offensive against the NAP, was to launch a brutal wave of repression against the nationalist Baloch who formed the NAP's base in this region. As mentioned earlier, this marked the starting point of a brutal civil war which has carried on ever since.

If Bhutto forgot everything about the promises he had made to the working class, the poor peasants did not fare any better, which was predictable since, after all, the PPP's core social base remained Sindh's rich landowners. Bhutto's land reform did not go much further than Ayub Khan's land reform. It created all sorts of loopholes allowing the big landowners to keep their land, especially if they were willing to switch to industrial agriculture. As a result many sharecroppers were thrown off the land they had lived on.

As to Bhutto's nationalisations, which involved all banks and insurance companies, together with 31 industrial companies representing around 20% of the industrial value added, it turned out to be - as anyone could have expected - a device allowing the Pakistani capitalists to get the state to finance their productive investment while they exported their capital to the rich countries or the Gulf, where they made profitable financial or real estate investments. The net result was a drastic increase in Pakistan's national debt.

By the eve of the 1977 general election, discontent had reached every layer of society. Bhutto had even managed to alienate the core of his party's supporters among the landowning class, with a plan to nationalise the food-processing industry, which they controlled. Everyone expected the PPP to be defeated in the election, but instead, the PPP won 3/4 of the contested seats! The vote-rigging was so obvious that it caused an explosion of anger, giving the army a pretext to step in. On 5 July 1977, general Zia ul-Haq staged a coup. Bhutto was arrested, together with thousands of politicians and left activists and martial law was declared. The army was back in the driver's seat.

It is worth noting that Bhutto played a decisive role in rehabilitating the army from the discredit it had brought onto itself with its bloody repression of East Pakistan and subsequent defeat. Not only did Bhutto make a point of promoting to government positions, generals, who had been directly responsible for the bloodbath in East Pakistan, but he gave the military a new opportunity to appear as the guarantor of Pakistan's territorial integrity by launching the civil war in Balochistan.

Zia, imperialism and fundamentalism

The Zia era, which lasted until his sudden death in a suspicious aircraft "accident", in 1988, was probably the darkest period experienced by the Pakistani masses, as the state machinery strove to eradicate any remaining memory of the battles fought between 1968 and 1976. One of the first diktats of martial law was a blanket ban on strikes and trade unions, under threat of penalties ranging from five years to the death sentence. However, Zia needed some legitimacy. While maintaining the banning of political parties, he instituted a system of elected bodies based on "non-party elections", where candidates stood as individuals. This allowed the small number of activists who had escaped being jailed to carry out, with great difficulty, a form of clandestine activity.

One of the main ploys used by Zia to crush dissent in society was to institutionalise some of the most archaic forms of the Muslim religion. While Pakistan had always been officially Muslim, religion as such had never played much a role in its legal, political or state institutions. It was only under Ali Bhutto that, for the first time, the phrase "Islamic Republic" was inserted in the country's constitution, in 1973. Bhutto made further concessions to religious bigotry in order to rally the support of small Islamic parties against the NAP in the NWFP and Balochistan. One of these concessions, for instance, was a bizarre act of parliament introduced by Bhutto stating that the Ahmadi sect, which considers itself Muslim, was not Muslim after all!

Zia followed the road opened by Bhutto but went much further down the same road, introducing religious measures for opportunistic reasons. Elements of the Shariah were inserted in the legal system, such as Islamic forms of punishment for certain offences - although these were seldom used, the simple fact that these were written into law gave a certain legitimacy to these barbaric medieval practices. They also included the infamous "blasphemy laws" whereby anyone accused of insulting Islam could be jailed indefinitely - and, of course, any criticism of the regime could be portrayed as an insult to Islam. Zia's "Islamisation" of society also involved entrusting clerics with many social functions, including what little "public" education and welfare system there was, especially in rural areas. All this gave the clerics and religious parties a social status they had never had before and contributed to creating an atmosphere of reaction which justified, among other things, turning the clock back on the still recent relative freedom enjoyed by women in urban areas.

Zia also introduced Islam into the economic system. Some measures were purely symbolic like, for instance, interest-free banking - this did not change much since it simply meant that instead of interest, the bank returned to depositors a share of the profits made with their deposits. Other measures had a purpose which had little to do with religion. On the other hand, the Shariah tax "zakat" - whereby well-to-do Muslims are required to pay a proportion of their wealth to the poor every year - was introduced in the form of an automatically deducted 2.5% annual tax on all financial assets and savings. But, in fact, this had little to do with religion - it was simply a ploy to make up for the low efficiency of tax collection.

This period, however, cannot be dissociated from the regional policy of US imperialism. Two years after Zia's coup, the Shah of Iran was overthrown and Khomeini's reactionary regime took over. While this did not alter the balance of forces between the imperialist and soviet camps, it deprived imperialism of one its main regional pillars. By contrast, the 1973 overthrow of the Afghan monarchy which had taken place in the meantime, was seen as a major "gain" for the Soviet Union, by bringing into government a nationalist party which dared to seek assistance against poverty from the USSR. This "gain" soon became an alleged "major threat" when Russian troops invaded Afghanistan to stop it from sliding into a bloody civil war between rival warlords.

All of a sudden, Pakistan became a central piece on the regional chessboard of imperialism, whose tactical importance was deemed to be decisive. It became the channel for the largest peacetime covert military operation ever organised anywhere in the world to date. The Pakistani army and, in particular its intelligence organisation, known as ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence), were mobilised to arm Afghan Islamic Fundamentalist militias, first on a limited scale, to destabilise the Kabul regime and then, after the Soviet invasion, on a massive scale.

The requirements of imperialism gave even more of the boost to Zia's "Islamisation" policy as Pakistan's religious parties became the chosen intermediaries between the Pakistani army and the Afghan Fundamentalist warlords.

Up until the Bhutto period, these parties had been virtually non existent on the political scene. Of the two main Pakistani religious parties, the oldest, JI (Party of Islam), dated from before Partition, when it was used by the British against nationalist and communist currents, playing a role similar to the Islamic Brotherhood in British-occupied Egypt. After Partition, its main activity had been to fight communist activities and, occasionally, to provide gangs of armed thugs to the army in order to carry out some dirty tasks that the military could not do themselves. So, it was JI thugs who were used against Bengali nationalists in East Pakistan in the 1950s and in the run-up to the 1970 general elections. It was also JI thugs that the big companies called in to break unions and set up company unions. The other religious party, JUI (Assembly of Islamic Clergy), was smaller and not as well organised. But it was more pragmatic, taking part in local elections, for instance, and developing a network of religious schools in the destitute areas of NWFP, which allowed it to build a local base of support in some areas. Above all, it was mostly Pashtun, something which was to play a role in its favour later on.

Under Bhutto, these two parties raised their profile thanks to being promoted to provincial government positions when Bhutto revoked the elected NAP provincial deputies and governors. Subsequently, Zia gave them access to the state apparatus and the army, where they were able to carry out recruitment drives among soldiers under the pretext of providing classes in their barracks. It became common practice for the army to use the armed gangs of these parties, whether in Kashmir, as irregulars who were sent into Indian territories to carry out terrorist attacks, or in Afghanistan to arm and train Afghan fundamentalist warlords.

The military's corrupt "democracy"

After the death of Zia came a decade of what the western press dares to call "democracy". Under pressure from the US, the army took the back seat and organised elections in which the PPP swept the poll, led by Benazir Bhutto, then leader of the PPP after having sidelined her brother, Murtaza. In fact, she was to have him shot by her praetorian guard at the end of her second term in office, in retaliation for his increasingly harsh criticisms of her government's corruption.

Right from the beginning, Benazir Bhutto showed her willingness to go along with the military's agenda. In return for the army allowing her to take the prime minister's job, PPP deputies supported Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Zia's former foreign minister, who was the army's candidate for president.

To all intents and purposes, her government was merely a fig leaf for the army. In particular, it was in response to the army's request that she invited the JUI to join her government. At this point in time, the JUI was a particularly strategic instrument of the Pakistani army and their US masters, who were trying to defuse the civil war that had broken out between the anti-Russian warlords in Afghanistan, following the departure of the Soviet troops. The JUI, with its particular brand of Islamic fundamentalism, had close ties with some Pashtun militias and it had trained many Afghan Pashtuns in the network of madrassas it had set up in NFWP. It was out of these connections that the Taleban was to emerge, trained by the JUI and Pakistani military and armed thanks to US funds channelled via Saudi Arabia.

Benazir Bhutto did not stay in office for long. In August 1990, she was dismissed by the same Ghulam Ishaq Khan she had helped get elected into to the presidential post. The army appointed Nawaz Sharif, an industrialist from Punjab who had been one of Zia's proteges (he had been allowed by Zia to re-create a successor for the Muslim League under the name of Pakistani Muslim League - PML). Nawaz Sharif immediately proceeded to reverse the few modernising social and legal changes introduced by Benazir Bhutto, and to reintroduce the Islamic features of the Zia period, in particular the Shariah.

After three years of Nawaz Sharif's regime, he was dismissed. In the subsequent general election, the PPP won a majority again and Benazir Bhutto came back as prime minister. Four years later, in 1997, Bhutto herself was dismissed again, and the PML won the subsequent election and Nawaz Sharif became prime minister - until he was finally overthrown by Musharraf's coup in 1999.

There was nothing to choose between the PPP and the PML regimes. Both implemented a pro-business policy, involving large-scale privatisation at bargain-basement prices for the benefit of their respective capitalist proteges. Corruption reached unprecedented levels under both parties. So, for instance, when Benazir Bhutto's husband, Asif Zardari, who was universally known for his shady businesses, was appointed Minister for investment in her second government, he became know in the media as "Mister 10%", due to the bribes he demanded for all government contracts. The subservience of these governments to the army generals was notorious. No minister could be appointed without the army's approval. So, once the Taleban had started the final offensive which was to lead them to Kabul, the military demanded and obtained that general Naseerullah Babar should be appointed as Interior minister, presumably because of his role as the mastermind behind the Taleban's rise to power.

As far as government policies were concerned, the return of the army to power with Musharraf's coup changed very little. It meant that politicians and certain layers of the middle class, such as the judiciary, were subjected to a more direct control than before. But it did not change much for the population. Corruption carried on unabated and, just as before, the army carried on playing a considerable part in the looting of the economy.

The army's business empire

Bringing about any change in Pakistan will involve breaking the grip of the Pakistani military. So it is worth examining the huge empire it has built, which is both the by-product of its control over society and the instrument of this control.

The Pakistani military includes 650,000 personnel - over four times as many as in Britain - 85% of which is in the army with the rest shared between the Navy and the Air Force. It is, proportionally to the country's population, Asia's biggest public fund sponger, with over 25% of the state budget - more than education and health put together, and the second largest government budget.

In a country which is so ethnically diverse, the army has been carefully kept as homogeneous as in the colonial days. The majority of its ranks (75%) still comes from 3 districts of Punjab, while 20% come from a few districts of NWFP. Only 5% come from Sindh and Baluchistan put together.

The economic clout of the Pakistani army goes back to an 1894 act, whereby the British administration allowed the British Indian army to requisition land and use it for the purpose of producing grain and dairy products for its personnel and their families and to "reward" retiring army officers. After Partition, the Pakistani army took over around 26,300 acres of ex-British Indian army farms, mostly in Punjab. Since then, the generals have quadrupled their collective rural property, with 70,000 acres directly controlled by the army and 35,000 acres controlled by army businesses. But this is only the tip of a gigantic iceberg. Because over the decades, no less than 6.8m acres have been either sold at bargain-basement prices, or given away, to retiring or active personnel - of course, in proportion to their ranks. Thus, under Ayub Khan's rule, it was not uncommon for a general to be allocated over 200 acres - Ayub Khan himself received 247 acres.

Today, the farms which were set up as a result of the 1894 act still exist and the tenant families who work their land are the direct descendants of those who were first hired to settle there. 40% of these tenants are Christians and in the areas surrounding these farms mosques and churches function side by side. The army dictates the living conditions of just under a million tenants, who are harassed, cheated and brutally exploited by army functionaries whose obvious aim is to drive the tenants off the land so that it can be divided into private landholdings for the benefit of serving and retired top-ranking officers.

The army's attacks against its tenants came under the news spotlight in 2000, when a rebellion broke out among the tenants of the 16,000 acres of army farms located around Okara, in Punjab. The revolt was triggered by the army's decision to transform their sharecropping status into a system of cash rent. Knowing that the army was about to request a rent that they could not pay to force them out of their land, the tenants chose not only to resist, but they also demanded complete ownership of the land that their families had cultivated for generations with the slogan "Malkiyat ya Maut" - "Ownership or Death". Their struggle lasted for 2 years. Eventually, the Army realised that, short of perpetrating a large scale massacre, it could not suppress this fight and that it would have to renounce its plans.

The military establishment is not just into rural farming. It also runs a business empire outside of any state control. Its three main components are so-called "charitable" foundations, supposedly designed to take care of the welfare of military personnel. Each military service - army, air force and Navy - has its own trough: respectively, the Fauji, Shaheen and Bahria Foundations, which are run directly by one of the very top generals of the relevant service. The Fauji foundation was established in 1889. By now, it is a giant conglomerate with controlling shares in sugar mills, energy, fertilizer, cereals, cement and other industries - 25 companies in all, with combined assets worth an estimated £80m. The Shaheen Foundation, set up under Zia's rule, controls 14 businesses, ranging from travel and airport services, to TV and radio stations, knitwear, insurance and Information Technology. It employs 200 retired army technicians, but many more civilians, and has estimated assets of £41m. As to the Bahria Foundation, which is more recent, dating back to 1982, its empires includes mostly shipping and fishing-related businesses, but also a university, farms, real estate, bakery, construction, etc. - a total of 20 companies in which the Foundation's share represents an estimated £33m. The Army Welfare Trust (AWT), set up in 1971 under Bhutto's rule, includes, among other operations, real estate, rice mills, stud farms, pharmaceutical industries, travel agencies, fish farms, six different housing schemes, insurance companies and an aviation outfit. It also controls the Askari Commercial Bank, many of whose senior functionaries had earlier served at the corrupt Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). Overall, its empire includes 26 different companies and their subsidiaries, with 5,000 ex-service staff in employment and combined assets of £400m.

The list of businesses owned by the military is too long for a single pamphlet. Let us just say, by way of conclusion, that the army is also Pakistan's largest urban landlord with active officers being paid by the state to rent out thousands of houses, flats, shopping centres, etc..

An explosive potential

The parasitism of the army establishment, which feeds on the parasitism of the capitalist class and contributes to it, is not only shocking because of its extent, it is also a factor of regression for the population of Pakistan, due to its looting of the economy and the huge share of the state budget it sponges.

The so-called "democratic" regime which is now in office in Islamabad will do nothing to free society from the grip of the military. In fact, it is the public face of the military, the face that the army shows to the rest of the world in order to allow the imperialist leaders to support the Pakistani military without opening themselves to criticisms from their own public opinion.

This regime is incapable of protecting the Pakistani population against the Islamic groups which are trying to impose their rule through resorting to terror. The terrorist attacks which have plagued Pakistan for more than two years, started in the no-man's-land alongside Afghanistan, where Islamic fundamentalist gangs, which are more or less protected by one section or another of the army, have established their rule over the population. Since then, they have spread to most of the main towns, including the capital city. They are the worst enemy of the working class and the poor, but those who paved the way for them, whether the PML, or the PPP, are just as dangerous for the masses.

Not only does this regime and its military sponsors feed the Islamic fundamentalist murderers, but so does imperialism with its war against Afghanistan, which is the best recruiting agent for the Islamic terrorist groups. It is the sponsoring of the Pakistani military by imperialism since Partition which has generated the present situation, just as it is its great power games over Afghanistan which have subjected this country to nearly two decades of civil war followed by the present invasion.

However, the Pakistani ruling class, its army and their Islamic fundamentalist thugs are no more than an insignificant force in front of the poor masses who make up the overwhelming majority of Pakistan's 160 million-strong population. The Pakistani masses have already demonstrated their capacity to fight in the past and they can do so again in the future. Of course, against the organisation of the ruling class, they will need an organisation of their own - an organisation which is determined to get rid of the reactionary prejudices spread by the bigots and whose aim is to overthrow this capitalist system of oppression which has never been able to generate anything for them except war, dictatorship and poverty.

The Pakistani masses will also need to overcome the artificial divisions left over in the region from the colonial days. The combined forces of the poor masses of the Indian subcontinent that the British chose to split 60 years ago, would be an invincible against their local exploiters as well as against imperialism. The leaders of British capital knew this all too well when they engineered Partition. And it is in such a reunion, under the control of the mobilised masses, that lies the only viable future for the region.