Below is Labour Party Pakistan spokesperson Farooq Tariq's introduction to his new book, Facing the Musharraf Dictatorship: An Activist's Narrative, republished from Links. Following Tariq's piece on Links is the book's preface by Peter Boyle, national secretary of the Democratic Socialist Perspective of Australia. Facing the Musharraf Dictatorship is available from Good Books Lahore. Email goodbooks_1 [at] yahoo.com to order a hard copy. You can also download the entire 300-page PDF file by following the links at the end of the two articles or by going here.
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By Farooq Tariq
It was October 12, 1999. As usual, I was at the Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) secretariat in Lahore. Around 6pm, Farooq Sulehria called me to break the news that Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif had removed the army chief General Pervez Musharraf who was flying back to Pakistan from a visit to Sri Lanka. Sulehria asked me to issue a press statement to explain the LPP's point of view. "Wait and see the response of the army", I told him.
A journalist by profession, Farooq Sulehria was at home and his television was on. He called me again after an hour to tell me that the television transmission had stopped and the TV screen was blank.
"This is army taking over", I told him. "How do you know"?, he asked. "I have lived through two [periods of] army rule and this could be the third", I replied. I had faced the military dictatorships of General Ayub Khan (1958-1969), General Yahya (1969-1971) and General Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988). As student activists, we had raised slogans against Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan. But it was the military rule of General Zia ul-Haq which we fought energetically for all the 11 years of his dictatorship.
By 8pm it was clear that army had taken over. But there was no formal reaction from any political group. Pakistan Television (PTV) started broadcasting war songs. I went out on my motorbike to observe the state of affairs. The LPP office was just opposite the PTV building in Lahore. I saw army troops there. I went to Governor House on the main Mall Road of Lahore. Army trucks were there too.
Around 8pm, I went to the office of Nawabzada Nasrulah Khan, the head of People's Democratic Alliance (PDA), which the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was part of. There were jubilations. The PPP activists were happy that Nawaz Sharif was gone. I asked Nawabzada Nasarullah Khan why was he happy with the military takeover? Although smiling, he said, let's wait for the general's speech and his priorities. Meanwhile one PPP supporter brought in some Benazir Qulfa, a popular local flavour of ice-cream to distribute among those present. I was getting irritated by this behaviour.
I decided to go back to my office. I hurriedly collected the records of the LPP membership and other important documents to put them in a safe place. Army rule could mean the seizing of political parties' offices. We had a short meeting of leading comrades and decided to oppose military rule. Although, we had been opposing Nawaz Sharif's government since 1997, we could not welcome the military takeover under justification.
I went back home around 10pm and waited for the speech of General Musharraf. It was full of same old excuses of democracy not functioning. The general was claiming that his plane had been hijacked and it had not been allowed to land.
I immediately wrote a press release opposing military rule and went out to deliver it to the Daily Jang and other newspapers. Army trucks were everywhere but not many people were on the roads. I was very afraid of being stopped by military personnel and caught red handed with the press release, opposing their rule. It was around 11.30pm when I arrived at the front desk of the Daily Jang.
The next day the Daily Jang printed only a few lines of the LPP statement. But we were satisfied as we knew that every word that appeared in the newspapers would be read that day. The LPP was one of the very few political parties that opposed military rule from the day one. On October 13, I wrote a lengthy article explaining the reasons for the military takeover and it must be opposed. The article was perhaps the first explanation of the developmets available on the internet.
The next week, the office of our weekly paper Mazdoor Jeddojuhd (Workers' Struggle) was raided and the army took away all the copies of the newspaper. The cover headline was "No to army rule!". The paper started in 1980 from Amsterdam, by our small group of Pakistani comrades in exile due to the military dictatorship of General Zia ul-Haq. So, it was not new for us. We had received such treatment several times before, not only at the hands of the military rulers during the 1980s, but also by the civilian government of Mian Nawaz Sharif during 1992.
This was the beginning of our struggle against the military rule of General Musharraf. I was arrested atleast nine times during the nine years of Musharraf's military rule. Numerous police cases were registered against me and other activists of the LPP. My house and party office were raided many times by police seeking to arrest me. Sometimes they were able to catch me, other times the police raids ended in failure as I managed to hoodwink them.
During this period I often used to receive threatening telephone calls, not only from the police officers but also from army officers and sometimes from the intelligence agencies. LPP activists were also threatened by religious fundamentalists several times. All this was due to the LPP's staunch opposition to military rule and its relentless efforts to building an alternative to the politics of the rich and feudal.
This book is not a narration of Musharraf's nine-year army rule, rather it is a saga of our resistance to it. This is a story of the decisive last 18 months of Musharraf rule. Some of the articles and diaries I wrote during those 18 months are included in this book. Written at the thick of the activities, it is more like a running commentary of a cricket match.
[Farooq Tariq is spokesperson for Labour Party Pakistan.]