A letter from Pakistan: the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy and the point of view of the Labour Party, Pakistan.

April 4, 2001

Dear Comrades,

During March 2001, several leading members of the Labour Party Pakistan were arrested by the military regime of General Pervaiz Musharaf. They were among many political parties who wanted to hold a rally on 23rd of March in Lahore. Most of the arrests were made before the rally and political activists were picked up from their homes early in the morning. The main leadership of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), including myself, was arrested on 21st March from the house of a Muslim League leader while holding a meeting to finalise the arrangements of the public meeting. The ARD leadership announced that they would go ahead with the meeting despite the ban and arrests. They asked the component parties to go ahead with the public meeting. On 23rd of March, the Mochi Gate ground, where the meeting was due to be held, was sealed off by the police and a large contingent of state forces were deployed around the area. There was an unofficial curfew in the area around Mochi Gate. The Musharaf government was determined to not let any activists come near the public meeting place, let alone hold the rally. The LPP had organised it so that at least 20 leading comrades would reach the venue and defy the ban by raising slogans in favour of democracy. LPP chairman Shoaib Bhatti was in charge of the whole operation. At least 10 LPP members were able to reach the venue despite several police barricades and the searching of every one passing throughthe barricades. It was 4pm already and none of the political activists from any party had arrived. All the LPP comrades were in ones or twos. They were waiting for comrade Shoaib's go-ahead call. The first arrests at Mochi gate were two female leaders of PPP, one secretary to Benazir Bhutto and her companion was PPP Lahore women wing president. They were both manhandled and pushed into the police van. Then came Zafar Awan, general secretary LPP Punjab and chairman of the All Pakistan Para Medical Staff Federation shouting slogans like 'restore democracy, no to military government' and 'release Farooq Tariq'. Several dozen policemen started beating him with wooden sticks but he did not run and stood raising slogans until he was bundled to the police van. Then Tariq Shahzad, deputy editor Weekly Mazdoor Jeddojuhd did the same and received the same treatment by the police. It was then the turn of Maqbool, chairman of Lahore LPP centre unit who was also arrested. The two female comrades Nazli Javed, joint secretary LPP and Azra Shad general secretary Lahore LPP courted arrest with the same courage and slogans. They both were also arrested. Several more PPP activists also courted arrests. All the LPP comrades threw stickers in the air, which called for the restoration of democracy. The Daily Dawn praised the courage of LPP comrades and said only LPP and PPP workers were able to reach the venue out of over 18 political parties. Although the government claimed next morning in the newspapers that they have successfully stopped the ARD holding the public meeting, the message of the ARD has gone around the world - that this regime is an undemocratic government and is using repressive measures to curb those who are raising the slogans for the restoration of democracy. This first challenge of the ARD since its formation on 3rd December 2000 has exposed the extremely weak social nature of the regime. The regime was terrified of the perspective: if the first ARD meeting were successful, it wuld lead others to take initiatives and more defiant challenges would appear on the political scene. By suppressing the public meeting on 23rd March, the regime was successful in temporarily delaying the mass movement under the auspices of ARD. But this had different aspects, negative and positive. It has led to a mass consciousness that the regime will be challenged by the political parties and there is no one way traffic as was the case in the past one and half years. It has also created an effective opposition platform against the regime. It has paved the way to stopping the march of the religious fundamentalists forces, which were seen as the only effective opposition to the "system". By taking this initiative, the ARD has exposed the close collaborationist policies of the religious fundamentalist forces with the regime. In showing a distance from the regime, the Jammat-I-Isalmi, the main religious fundamentalist force, had to condemn the regime for suppressing the public meeting. For the first time, almost all the main stream media including Daily Jang,Nawa-i-Waqat, Pakistan, News International, Nation, Dawn and the Business Recorder condemned this act of the regime in their editorials. Some of the known columnists were of the opinion that if the ARD would have been allowed to go ahead for the public meeting, they would have not been able to gather over 10,000 in the most favourable case. They were wrong in this assessment; it was exactly the same fear by the regime of mass anger that could have been shown up by this public meeting. If the ARD could have been allowed to go ahead, the Mochi Gate would have seen one of the best-attended public meetings at this historic park. This is due to the change of the consciousness of the mass of people about the regime. The mass consciousness has travelled quite fast during the past few years. The Nawaz Government at the height of its "popularity" in 1997 had a two third majority in the parliament. When Musharaf overthre two and a half years later, it had lost almost all the mass sympathy. The feeling on 12th October 1999, when the regime took over, was generally of "relief" from Nawaz Government and "wait and see" for the regime. But to fulfill the conditional ties of the IMF and World Bank, the Musharaf regime resorted to an unprecedented taxation and price hike of almost all the consumer products. This led to mass disillusionment towards the regime. People in general are not happy with the regime but the period of Nawaz and Benazir government is also not easy to digest by most. So a dilemma is seen, of despair and distrust alongside anger and disappointment. The mood was changing in the run-up to the March 23rd rally, but not as yet to the level of mass defiance. It was always up to the political activists to show the courageous moves to lead the way to defiance. A new layer of leadership in the Muslim League is emerging, extremely hostile to the regime. It defied the normal traditions of Muslim League of conciliation and compromises with the ruling elite and risked arrest. The PPP new breed in the Punjab leadership is a product of the 90s. It has not been tested in the heat of any movement. By going to the jail for the first time, this new leadership of Punjab PPP has strengthened its credentials of PPP traditions of fighting the military regimes as was the case in the past. The Awai National Party (ANP), Jamhoori Watan Party is in the main source of political heat in the North West Frontier Province (PakhtoonKhawa) and Balochistan but has yet to be tested. Our party, the LPP, is a new entry and has done well. According to Ehsan Wain, the senior vice president of ANP, LPP came third among the ARD political parties to court arrests after PPP and Muslim League. Some left intellectuals and political parties including Imran Khan of Tehrik Insaaf and Abid Hasan Minto of the National Workers Party have opposed the ARD. Their argument is that it is the same old parties who are corrup and looted the state assets. Their arguments can be summed up in this phrase " a good military coup is better than a bad democracy". For them, the "cleaning up of the mess" by the military regime is necessary before the restoration of democracy. They are wrong in their assessment of the situation. They forget the real purpose of the military regime to remain in power. It is not to clean up the mess of the political parties but to introduce the structural adjustment programme and neo liberal policies dictated by the international institutions by force that were not implemented by the previous civil governments successfully. The Nineties has seen successful civil regimes overthrown by presidential orders and the introduction of transitional governments for three months. These three monthly governments would introduce far reaching economic reforms in favor of international monopolies, hold elections and then leave civil governments to implement the reforms. The difference this time is that a transitional government has come to power not for three months but for three years. But the conduct of the present three yearly regimes is no different than of those three monthly transitional governments. The ARD main components parties, the PPP and Muslim League are the main victims of the onslaught of the military government. They cannot wait for three years to be butchered by the regime so they had to do something. They waited a good one and half years to come to the conclusion to go on to the offensive. They had to wait for the change in the consciousness of the masses. The LPP has no sharing of its political programme with the rest of the political parties. The best option would have been a Left alliance for the overthrow of the present regime. But in the circumstances, where the remaining insignificant Left forces have been bitterly divided in their attitude towards the regime, to wait for a time where the Left could agree to a Left Alliance would have been criminal mistake. A desire to get rid of the military regime is a dominant mood among the working class in Pakistan. It is also true that LPP is too insignificant a force at present to fight alone for the restoration of democracy. Was it a correct decision to join those parties of the rich in this alliance to which we have never given any support in the past? It was - and the experience of the future events will further prove that LPP was right to join this alliance. This is not to compromise our revolutionary programme. The ARD unity agenda is not a minimum programme but one point, to struggle to get rid of the military regime and for immediate general elections. Every party in the ARD has its own definition of democracy. They can fight for their ideas to win support. The LPP will propagate its own meaning of democracy and its own Socialist programme. The struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and feudalism would be strengthened by the overthrow of the present military regime. Our struggle is not in stages. The struggle against the military regime for a democratic set-up goes hand in hand with the struggle to overthrow capitalism and feudalism. This is done by independent actions of the LPP simultaneous with the joint struggle of the ARD. The LPP has nothing to lose from participation in the ARD, but much to win.

In solidarity,

Farooq Tariq, General Secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan.