National Sections of the L5I:

Pakistan: Down with the military regime! No state of emergency! For an all out general strike!

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This article was written by the League for the Fifth International (LFI) and our supporters in Pakistan. On Saturday up to 100,000 people protested. Now we are moving into a critical situation as the government threatens to call a “state of emergency” – the working class movement must be won to a general strike to block such action and bring down the regime.

On Saturday 5 May up to 100,000 people joined protests in Lahore against the continued suspension and investigation of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Since his original suspension on the 9th March by President Musharraf, the head of Pakistan’s military dictatorship, ever-bigger mobilisations have come into confrontation with the military regime. The movement, organised at first mainly of lawyers from the Pakistan Bar Association, has now become a militant mass movement.

The huge turnout on Saturday’s protest came despite a major crackdown on dissent by the government in the two days prior to it – with several hundred activists picked up by the police and many threatened with arrest. The Chief Justice had been invited to speak at a meeting of the Lahore Bar Association and the protesters in Lahore greeted the his motorcade as it travelled there from the capital Islamabad. Some 2,000 vehicles joined the motorcade and tens of thousands turned out on the streets of Lahore to greet its arrival. The huge protests followed May Day demonstrations by workers that attracted tens of thousands of people across Pakistan.

Throughout his rule Musharraf has faced sustained but isolated movements and protests. For instance, last year electronics and telecoms workers protested against privatisation, peasants have struggled against the army control and occupation of their land, teachers and doctors protested against privatisation in education and health respectively – but these movements were scattered and isolated and now a mass movement has emerged challenging the right of Musharraf to rule. Testament to the possible power of the movement, is that many of the mainstream bourgeois parties, like the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have stayed away from it, hoping instead to do a deal with Musharraf behind the scenes – like all bourgeois parties they will run a mile away from a revolution.

The fact that Musharraf is even considering talking to the PPP shows they are increasingly isolated even amongst the bourgeois establishment. Further evidence of this is the decision on Monday by the Supreme Judicial Council, which has been hearing the case against Chaudhry, to move to a ‘full court hearing’ of 12 judges and not to hear the case behind closed doors. Plainly the whole judiciary, normally very close to the army, is trying to distance itself from Musharraf. In response however, the government is becoming more aggressive. The Prime Minister has now threatened to call a ‘state of emergency’, arguing that the government has the constitutional power to do so in the event of major social unrest.

This shows the government is increasingly desperate, but like a cornered animal it is also still very dangerous. Workers, youth and students must be ready to defend the movement from repression. Already on Saturday fierce battles broke out as the police tried to stop the Chaudhry speaking at the Lahore Bar Association – using road blockades, tear gas and baton charges against the demonstrators. The movement must form popular self-defence squads, under the democratic control of the movement, to resist any government crackdown. They must at the same seize every opportunity to make propaganda amongst the rank and file soldiers and other repressive forces. In the even of a “state of emergency” being declared mass civil disobedience should defy this illegal act and call on the soldiers to refuse to enforce it.

A window of opportunity is opening to bring an end to this anti-democratic, illegitimate, pro-imperialist military junta. Great opportunities as well as great dangers lie ahead. The leaders of the lawyers movement and bourgeois political parties, like the opposition Pakistan Muslim League who supported Saturday’s protests, have so far limited the demands to calling for the ‘resignation of Musharraf’ – despite the fact that the masses clearly desire an immediate end to military rule. This is because these bourgeois establishment and political parties ultimately fear the mobilisation of the working and popular classes.

In the period ahead we must demand the movement seeks to rally the working class around the call for a general strike to bring down the regime and a convening of a revolutionary constituent assembly by the working class and popular movements.

This article was written in collaboration with supporters of the League for the Fifth International in Pakistan. Since, the eruption of the protest movements against the regime two months ago, our supporters have taken real steps forward. They have helped consolidate a Revolution section, with a new elected leadership, and produced two issues of a paper. They have also distributed tens of thousands of LFI leaflets on the growing demonstrations against the regime. In the coming great struggles we will help them to fight for the revolutionary programme, which can lead Pakistan’s workers and youth to the overthrow of the regime and working class power.