Crackdowns, arrests, repression, state violence – This is Pakistan
Crackdowns, arrests, repression, state violence---This is Pakistan
Since the very moment of imposition of Emergency (suspension of all fundamental rights) on November 3, 2007, heavy crackdown is going on against the lawyers, media and civil society in Pakistan. No fundamental rights, just crackdowns, arrests and repression and state violence is law of the land right now.
Raid on HRCP office
On November 3 it was a narrow escape from police arrest when I was few minutes late from the civil society organizations meeting, called at the office of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to discuss the political situation after the imposition of Emergency (which is in fact martial law) in Pakistan by General Musharraf. When I reached at the main gate of the meeting venue it was cordoned off by heavy contingents of police. The police entered the meeting venue, by breaking window panes of the meeting hall and arrested all the participants ironically under a charge (16 MPO) which deals with protest on the road. Perhaps this was the first time a little laziness paid me off. This was a very close direct experience of the police crackdown. Over 70 activists including WWHL chairperson Azra Shad and LEF director Khalid Mahmood were arrested. This is first time that HRCP office was raided. It never happened in the past. The office of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan is a respected building. It is as prestigious as that of Amnesty International office.
Worst crackdown on lawyers
Things are going from bad to worse since November 3. Thousands of lawyers, social and political activists have been arrested across the country in one of the worst crackdowns of the country’s history. Many of the lawyers and bar leaders were rounded up. Some of them are detained on undisclosed places and some are tortured by the police in custody. Others are underground and police is sniffing them. Former Secretary Lahore High Court Bar Association Mr. Abid Saqi Advocate also a volunteer of WWHL, had to spend Monday night at my house just avoid arrest. He told that the entire lawyers’ leadership is arrested even then police is unable to crush the protest. Police virtually beat us like animals, he told. Former Finance Secretary Ms. Rabeeha Bajwa Advocate, another close friend of mine, described the story how she saved herself from arrest and how female lawyers put up resistance to the brutal police who did not spare the women even. It was the worst day for Lawyers in Pakistan and especially in Lahore. Police virtually crossed all limits in brutalizing the striking lawyers within the Lahore Court premises. They dragged out the lawyers from their rooms, canteen and even library. Whosoever seen in black coat was caught, baton-charged and arrested.
Hoodwinking with terrorists
Instead of arresting terrorists Mushraaf is hunting judges, lawyers, media men and civil society activists. The extremists are no more restricted to tribal areas now they are moving towards the urban areas with impunity. Mushraf blamed judges that they have released the terrorists arrested by the government but he himself released over 65 terrorists on November 5 after a deal with local Taliban in Swat. Imposing the Emergency Mushraf told the nation that the purpose of the emergency is to control the rising activities of terrorists in the country. But everybody knows that the promulgation of Emergency was sort of preemptive step to stop the court verdict against him. In the wake of a possible verdict by the superior judiciary against Gen. Mushraaf the country was already buzzing with speculations and rumors of imposition of emergency or Martial Law which proved true and Mushraaf clamped Emergency declaring all the fundamental rights of the citizens as ceased. He promulgated a new Provisional Constitutional Ordinance (PCO) under which he removed the Chief Justice of Pakistan along with other senior judges. Many of the removed senior judges are under house arrest.
Judges become public heroes
All the judges who refused to take oath under PCO are sacked and new pro Musharraf judges are appointed. But the most important thing is that over 70 judges of superior judiciary did not take oath under new PCO. Only 15 to 20 judges agreed to take oath. There is severe shortage of judges even too less to form a full bench of 13 to resume hearing in petitions against Mushraaf. The dictator is making all out efforts to get verdict in his favor by appointing judges of his own choice. Right now along with crisis of credibility the General is also facing another crisis of rapid erosion of support from his own friends. Two former attorney generals including Khalid Ranja have refused to become judge.
On the one hand Mushrraf is fast running out of friends and desperately looking for judges to rescue him of this constitutional quagmire. While on the other hand Masses are expressing popular affection to the removed judges by sending bouquets and garlanding the main gates of their residences. Newspapers published pictures of an emotional Khawaja Sharif, a removed judge of Lahore High Court, who could not control his tears after finding a number of bouquets people put at his gate. The judges who refused to take new oath under PCO are becoming popular and getting appreciation from civil society and common people of Pakistan.
Ban on Information seeking
The very promulgation of the emergency has also exposed the tall claims of Mushraaf regime that it has given freedom to print and electronic media. All private TV channels are banned and off air. There is less information at a time when people need much information. There is an unprecedented repression on electronic media. Only state run PTV (Pakistan Television)is airing the pro-Mushraaf information.
There is cable operating system in Pakistan that run TV channels under PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) which has banned all channels and they are off air even after the fifth day of emergency. The information hungry people have started purchasing Dish Antenna (a device that shows foreign TV Channels). The sale of the device is high in markets. The ban on information seeking is so strict that police is raiding the shops selling this device. The shopkeepers and buyers are being threatened by the police.
Emerging unexpected protest from elite class students
Normally Pakistani elite remains irrelevant to political issues but there are some unexpected good signs as elite class university student groups, specially in private universities are protesting against Musharaf and some of them were arrested also. Despite threats from police they are still protesting against the emergency and Musharaf regime though within university premises. Lahore University of Management Sciences is one such example where 700 students protested on Wednesday. But Punjab University (the biggest in Asia) is still missing from the scene.
Reaction of Political Parties
Reaction of the Islamic political parties is below the mark. They are out of the scene and only relying on the verbal condemnation of the Emergency. As usual their strategy of friendly opposition is continued. They are observing criminal silence and endorsing Musharaf acts. The impression of Mullan-Milltary alliance is further strengthen. Benazir Bhutto who entered into a political deal with Mushraf to back home is now changing positions perhaps after feeling the declining popularity of Mushraf. PPP has announced a long March if Constitution is not restored by 9th of November. As far as Labor Party Pakistan (LPP) is concerned it has earned a lot of good will among the masses by playing active role in anti Musharaf movement since March 9. Though, it is a small party, but most active among the left parties in Pakistan. General Secretary of LPP, Farooq Tariq was arrested thrice in four months and after the imposition of Emergency he is underground. But police has raided his residence four times in five days.The party’s chairman Nisar Shah Advocate was arrested on 7th November from Islamabad while leading a lawyers’ protest against Emergency. So this small party is doing much in this hour of the much needed resistance.
As far as common man response is concerned people hate Mushraff and love anybody who dares resistance to Mushraf. The General is most hated person at this time. The popular affection for the judges who refused to Mushraf is real manifestation of mass hatred towards Mushraf. But as far as their not coming on the streets is concerned there is much need to restore their trust on the democracy and political process. Repeatd betrayal by the mainstream political feudal dominated parties had depoliticized them. But the present constitutional and political crisis has the potential to translate the lawyers protest into mass movement against Mushraaf. There is aggression and concerns from the common people but due the absence of political genuine leadership, they are not ready to demonstrate openly.
Role of West and America
The US had always supported Dictatorships in Pakistan. People in Pakistan want to see US and Western countries end support to Mushraaf. The General has actually been bluffing the West and the US in war on so called terrorists. He has never been sincere in efforts to crush extremism in Pakistan. It is the time for US and West stop aid and support to Mushraf and extend their full support to restoration of democracy in Pakistan otherwise the country under Mushraf, will soon fall to Jihadis (religious extremists). Although some Human rights groups in west have shown solidarity to the people of Pakistan but still it is not sufficient as we need more support from the western governments to democratic forces, movements and civil society in Pakistan.
Creeping Talibanization is real threat to Pakistani society. The bordering areas with Afghanistan in the North West are in the total control of the local Taliban where government writ does not exist. In Swat, a beautiful valley in North West of Pakistan local Taliban have captured eight districts and have imposed the Islamic System. They have removed the Pakistani flags from the state building and their religious white flags are hurling over top of the building. But Mushraff is more busy in arresting the civil society activists instead of fighting the extremists and local Taliban who are moving around freely in the areas of North West Province.
The movement against Mushraf is still growing in all sphere of life and full potential to grow further. This is despite an unprecedented level of repression during the first five days of the Emergency; the real name is a Martial Law.
Text: Bushra Khaliq, General Secretary, Women Workers Help Line-Pakistan
25/A Davis Road, Lahore-Pakistan