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Pakistan: Army takes advantage of Lahore bombing

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The suicide attack in Gulshan Park, Lahore, on Easter Sunday, killed 74 people of whom 29 were children and nine women. More than 370 were injured in the attack. Lahore is the capital of Punjab province and the second largest city in Pakistan. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack and said they had targeted Christians who form the poorest and most underprivileged layer in Pakistan and face discrimination because of regressive laws. Nonetheless, most of the dead were Muslims. Gulshan Park is one of the few recreational areas for lower middle and working class families. This was the deadliest attack since the Peshawar massacre by the Taliban, in which 142 people were killed, 134 of them schoolchildren.

After that attack, the state intensified its “Zarb Azab” military operation, which saw the bombardment of North Waziristan, extending its campaign to Karachi and other parts of the country. The Baloch national struggle also faced an intensification of military oppression. In total, millions of people have been displaced in last decade because of these different operations, while thousands of others have been arrested or are missing. The military strategy, however, is unable to root out terrorism, instead it gives rise to racism against the Pashtun and Afghan peoples.

In recent years, the government of Nawaz Sharif and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League, has introduced draconian laws, military courts, restrictions on the media and freedom of expression, empowered security agencies to arrest without warrants, increased numbers of hangings and introduced ever tighter control and monitoring of citizens' communications, all in the name of peace and ending terrorism. These laws are also used against the working class and to curb the dissent of the oppressed nations' activists.

The response of the government, the opposition and many others, to the Easter attack, apart from condemnation, was the call for yet more military operations. In fact, the military started to mobilise without any consultation with the federal and provincial governments and this shows the rising contradictions within the ruling class and state. The military already controls the law and order situation and is conducting operations in three provinces in the name of the struggle against religious and nationalist extremism and against corruption. Foreign policy is also under the control of the army, leaving, in reality, little independent space for the government.

However, until now, there was an agreement between the military and civilian government that security in Punjab province, the home province of the ruling party, was the preserve of the police. As Ahmad Rashid put it in his New York Review analysis, "This compact ended hours after the bomb blast on the night of March 27. Almost immediately, the army declared it had taken control of security in the province, dealing a perhaps fatal blow to the already dwindling political prestige Prime Minister Sharif." Closer to home, another commentator, Hamid Mir, explained in the Urdu language Jiang newspaper that ''the military thinks there are safe houses of religious and Baloch militants in south Punjab that need to be eliminated''.

In Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, on the same day as the Lahore bombing, Islamist demonstrators protesting against the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, who assassinated the Governor of the Punjab, effectively blocked the working of the Parliament and the Prime Minister's office and other important buildings. The government was forced to call on the military, underlining its inability to govern effectively even in the country's capital.

Many on the liberal and left wings of Pakistan politics are calling for the intensification of the military operation, but they argue that this can only be done with more effective control by the civilian government. They combine this with demands for the government to take action to eliminate the structural causes of extremism and terror in the country. This ignores the fact that the decade long operations always began with slogan like “ending terrorism” and “bringing peace”. The reality is always more displacement of poor people, more racism, more arrests, more disappearances of thousands of people and even more terrorism and then the expansion of operations once again.

Imperialist war and military operations only breed more reactionaries and brutality. This is also clear from the Middle East where they gave rise to the ISIS. In Pakistan, they have not brought an end to war but a continual expansion of war, extending now into the cities and bringing more destruction and chaos. The policy of the imperialist powers and of the Pakistani state, is quite clearly failing. The hope of the liberals and left, that the state can save them and bring peace, is illusionary. Revolutionary socialists are clear that imperialism and its agents are responsible for war and terrorism and, as revolutionaries, we place no hope in either the imperialist powers or the state. What is needed is a mass working class movement against both the war and the Islamist reactionaries.