Unprecedented mass reaction to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto

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We are pleased to publish this slightly abridged version of a statement by the Labour

Party of Pakistan (LPP), issued by General Secretary Farooq Tariq, on 29 December

2007, just two days after the assassination of opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto. This

working class view from inside Pakistan tells a story of struggle that the mainstream

media has failed to report.

Since this piece was written, the Pakistani government of President Pervez Musharraf

has announced that the elections planned for January 8 will be postponed until 18

February. This six-week delay has been widely criticised by opposition parties as another

attempt by Musharraf to maintain his crumbling military regime.

Benazir Bhutto’s supporters celebrate her return to Pakistan
in October, 2007. Photo from thehindu.com.

Pakistan has never seen so many people protesting in streets as we’ve seen over the last

two days. Right across Pakistan, they’ve united to condemn the brutal murder of Benazir

Bhutto. Immediate mass anger erupted in all parts of the country and the news was

received with a great shock. December 28 was the first day of a general strike called by

many groups ranging from political parties to various professional groups.

The first targets were most of Pakistan Muslim League Quid Azam (PMLQ) election

posters, banners, flags and billboards. The PMLQ is a major split from Pakistan Muslim

League, which is headed by Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister. The PMLQ —

comprised of the most corrupt feudalists, capitalists, former army generals and black

marketers — has been in a power-sharing arrangement with General Musharraf since


PMLQ had spent billions on advertising material and all that was gone within few hours

of mass reaction. The work to remove this anti-people election material was executed

with utmost sophistication. None of Pakistan Peoples Party or Nawaz’s Pakistan Muslim

League election material was removed.

Then it was the turn of the banks, mainly in the province of Sind. They were attacked and

buildings burned. Most ATM machines were destroyed. Banks have made unprecedented

profits during the last few years. There is no free banking anymore.

Hundreds of private buses were burned in all parts of the country. Fares skyrocketed

during Musharraf’s eight years of rule and public buses ceased operating. Most of PMLQ

government ministers have their own bus companies and make huge gains out of mass


There were also incidents of trains being burnt in Sind. According to Daily Jang, 28

railway stations, 13 railway engines, and seven trains have been burnt, resulting-losses

of over three billion Rupees. Rail fares were also subject to massive increases by the

Musharraf regime in a bid to reduce the railway losses. The system has been partly

privatised as well. Since 27 December, the whole rail system has collapsed. Thousands of

passengers are waiting on the railway stations. But there is no sign of restoration for some

days. Pakistan International Airlines and two private airlines, Air Blue and Shaheen Air,

have cancelled all their domestic flights in the name of “rescheduling.” The truth? Their

staff did not turn up.

Thousands of private cars have been damaged all over Pakistan by the angry mobs,

mainly youth. They were showing their anger on the car companies’ (mainly Toyota,

Suzuki and Honda) unprecedented profits during the last few years. Many leasing

companies have robbed the growing middle classes by offering cars with abnormal prices

— while the massive majority of population no longer have subsidised public transport.

Another target are the houses and offices of PMLQ politicians. Local government mayors

and administrators are the other victims of the mass reaction with official buildings either

burnt or damaged.

Over 100 people have so far died in the incidents relating to mass protest. This has been

due to shooting by the police or from crossfire between different groups during the last

40 hours.

Thousands and thousands of protesters have raised slogans against both the Musharraf

regime and American imperialism since the death of Benazir Bhutto. The anger that has

accumulated during the last eight years has spilled over after this unthinkable incident.

This is a response from the masses to the strict implementation of the neoliberal agenda,

which has resulted in unprecedented price hikes, unemployment and poverty. Mass anger,

previously shown by those boycotting or participating in the elections, has spilled over

early in response to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

All over Pakistan the anti-Musharraf consciousness is great. It’s been shown, to a

different degree, in different ways right across the country. The so-called capitalist

economical growth under Musharraf has left millions in absolute poverty. While the

dictatorship’s propaganda website — Pakistan Shining — argues that Pakistan is

becoming “a shining example of a tolerant and progressive society,” the reality looks

rather different.

2007 has been a year of mass awakening. It started with lawyers’ movement after the

removal of Ifikhar Choudry as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The Chief

Justice said “No” when the generals pressured him into resigning. He was removed, but

reinstated on 20th July, after a massive movement of 80,000 lawyers. They were joined

by political activists from almost all political parties, but not by the masses. The masses

only welcomed the chief justice from the side roads; they did not actively participate in

the movement for his reinstatement.

Then Musharraf got himself elected as president for the second five-year term in a

“democratic manner” by a parliament elected for one five-year term. He was still wearing

the military uniform when elected as a “civilian” president. His theme was “elect me

president for the second term and I will take off the uniform after taking oath as a civilian


The November imposition of martial law in the name of an “emergency” was used to

remove the rather independent top judges of Pakistan. The law also put restrictions on the

media; over 10,000 were arrested.

So Musharraf got himself duly elected president and took off his uniform after removing

the top judges. His handpicked judges gave him all the necessary backing. Benazir

Bhutto who, in the words of Tariq Ali, was forced into an “arranged marriage” by U.S.

and British imperialism helped him in this process. In this unholy alliance, everyone was

cheating everyone with utmost honesty.

After large-scale repression and the removal of an independent judiciary, Musharraf

announced general elections for January 8th and lifted the emergency. The regime was

happy that everything was going according to “plan.” The three major parties — Benazir

Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League and Quid

Azam (PMLQ) — had all greed to participate in these fraudulent elections. The religious

fundamentalist political alliance (MMA) had split over the question of participation, with

a major part contesting in the election.

But when the religious fundamentalist struck and killed Benazir Bhutto on the evening

of 27th December, the “plan” was shattered into pieces. It was a big blow to the agreed

terms and conditions of various participating parties. It was not a bump on the road to

conciliation and compromise but a total destruction of the road.

The murder of Benazir Bhutto is a double-edged sword. While it is a big blow to the

plans of British and American imperialism, it will not cause celebration for the religious

fundamentalist forces. The initial anger has gone against the military regime and its crony

politicians. But it can go against the fundamentalists as well. No party will be able to

celebrate the shocking killings.

The Musharraf regime has understood this clearly and now is consciously trying to

steer the direction of the movement against the religious fundamentalists. On the

28th December, in a two-hour press conference, a military brigadier, representing the

government, named Baitullah Mehsud, an Al-Qaeda associate in tribal areas of Pakistan,

as the one who carried out the attack.

Foolishly the military officer tried his best to prove that Benazir Bhutto, while waving to

crowds after the bomb blast, was not killed by a bullet but by the lever of the sunroof in

the bullet proof car. What difference does it make if it is proven that Benazir Bhutto was

not killed by the bullet but in another way? Not much.

The military brigadier’s explanation did not satisfy the angry journalists, who asked him

again and again about the connection between Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI)

and Abdullah Mehsud. Their question went unanswered: Why was Mahsood released

quietly on the day emergency law was imposed, the same day that over 200 Pakistan

army men, kidnapped by Mehsud’s group the week before, were also released? The

ISI has had a relationship with religious fundamentalists dating back to the ’80s, when

imperialists and fundamentalists were close friends.

It is a very volatile, unstable, unpredictable, explosive, dangerous, impulsive, fickle and

capricious political situation. It has been many years since mass reaction has erupted to

this degree. The general strike was a total success. All roads were empty. No traffic at all.

All shops were closed. All industrial and other institutions were completely shut down.

After the initial inhibition to curb the strike, the regime has now issued strict orders to kill

anyone on the spot if there is any “looting.” It has called the regular army into 16 districts

of the Sind provinces and paramilitary forces elsewhere in Pakistan.

The regime has not postponed the scheduled election so far, but it will be very difficult to

hold it on 8th January. Nawaz’s Muslim League and several other political parties have

already announced their intention to boycott the fraudulent election.

The Labour Party Pakistan is demanding the immediate resignation of the Musharraf

dictatorship and the forming of an interim government comprised of civil society

organizations, trade unions and peasant organizations. This government would then

proceed to hold free and fair general elections under an independent election commission.

The LLP is also demanding immediate restoration of the top judges and their convening

an investigation into the two attempts on Benazir Bhutto’s life. Further, as part of the All

Parties Democratic Movement, the LPP is supporting a three-day general strike, linking it

to the overthrow of the military dictatorship. It is asking that all parties reject the general

election fraud on 8th January.

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