Round Up II

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» An email from students at LUMS regarding their upcoming protests:
Things to keep in mind for upcoming protests:

  • Keep a wet cloth handy to cover your mouth, nose and eyes during possible tear-gassing.
  • Salt for your throat, under the same eventuality.
  • Be careful of what you discuss on the phone, telephone lines and the internet.
  • Make sure you leave your contact with someone responsible to check on you in case something happens.
  • Girls are specially advised to wear shalwaar kameez.
  • Do not carry expensive items with you.
  • Do not travel in large groups without sufficient organization because you could arouse needless scrutiny.
  • And of course, a pair of good running shoes.

» Some images:
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» Video from Lahore Protest:

» Message from opposition political leader Imran Khan (on the run and from an undisclosed location):

» Declarations I:
“We the students of Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute, Topi, Distt. Swabi, Pakistan strongly protest the imposed emergency in Pakistan. Many of our students have expressed their protest by wearing black clothes and arm bands. We will support the protests all around Pakistan and the world in every possible way we can.”

» Declarations II:
Our voice echoes the popular desires of the nation – the resolution of the crisis that has unveiled itself to our nation and its people – and, in attempting to echo these considerations we call upon the state to:
Lift the ‘Martial Law’ immediately
Retract the new PCO [Provisional Constitutional Order]
Restore the Judiciary to its pre-Martial Law state.
Demarcate a method to return the military to the barracks for good.
Provide the assurance of the right to life to each citizen of Pakistan
Restore legitimacy to the government by the exercise of the right of voting to the citizens
Therefore, we call for an immediate declaration of the election schedule

» News:

» And finally, a report from a fellow graduate student doing field-work in Karachi:

Dear all,

Some of you have recently written in with your concern and queries. Others are keenly following the coverage given to recent events in Pakistan by the international media. Following are a few hastily written updates and observations from my end.

I’ve been in Karachi for almost the whole of this year and it’s been fascinating to follow the momentous political developments in the country that have just been piling up one after the other. Dates like March 9 – the sacking of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; May 12 – the episode of organized political violence that left Karachi scarred; July 20 – the triumphal restoration of the Chief Justice following an unprecedented mobilization by the lawyers’ community; October 18 – Benazir Bhutto’s return from exile and the massive suicide blast that caused record high casualties in her welcome rally. Each one seemed as if it would be the highlight of the year’s political calendar, only to be quickly superseded by the next event. And true to that pattern, now we have a second coup by the military ruler Musharraf that leaves the country somewhere between a state of emergency and martial law.

It’s one thing to say that emergencies and military coups recur frequently in Pakistan’s political history and that enough signals existed in the last few weeks to have made this outcome fairly predictable. It’s quite another to actually live through the shock, anger, and frustration that was unleashed once this outrageous possibility became a fait accompli. I’ll note a couple of broad reactions to Musharraf’s proclamation on Saturday night and its implementation since then. First, this move comes just as political activity was being revived once again in the country after 8 years of military government. There was a genuine mood of optimism and political energy in the last few months with the prospect of upcoming elections, return of political government, and mass dissatisfaction with Musharraf bearing fruit. For sober analysts, the lawyers’ movement was not to be the harbinger of a revolution but it was at least a step towards incremental reform and institutional strengthening. This extra-constitutional intervention is a rude shock and a huge step backwards.

Second, the massive disconnect between the problems that plague the country and the solutions proposed by Musharraf leaves one aghast. The rise of armed extremism and brazen confrontations between security forces and militants was already a serious issue when it was confined to tribal regions and the north of the country. Now that suicide attacks and bomb blasts are happening on a routine basis across Pakistani cities, it’s an even more urgent threat. This kind of everyday violence and uncertainty is new here (regardless of certain Western perspectives that see Pakistan as just another unstable Muslim country, no different from contemporary Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestinian territories). Of course these incidences of violence and the ‘war on terror’ cropped up in the President’s list of justifications for imposing an emergency. Yet the measures actually undertaken under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) do little to strengthen the state’s ability to tackle this security crisis or help restore any legitimacy or morale to the badly weakened armed forces. The wholesale purge of the judiciary and the gagging of the media are as unlikely to help as are the crackdown and arrests of secular civil society members or the postponement of elections. The rhetoric of saving the nation cloaks the Musharraf regime’s attempts at self-preservation, which have the tragic consequence of aligning both radical right-wing and moderate liberal sections of society against it.

Today is Tuesday, and so far we are still not clear just how long this state of constitutional suspension is going to last and when/if the political process is coming back on track. One day Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz declares that the current assemblies can be extended for a year. The next day, Attorney General Qayyum offers the promise of fresh elections within 60 days. One minister contradicts one statement, another minister denies the other, and so on. Frantic rumors of a counter-coup by military officers, strident denials by Musharraf, incessant speculation about his intentions to give up his uniform ( i.e. his military office) and the extent to which international displeasure with this coup will translate into real pressure, what role political parties are going to play. All these are part of the tense game of waiting and watching. In the meantime, three very real and tangible things have happened.

One is that we have been without access to any television news channels, local or international, for 3 days. In fact the sudden disappearance of these channels from tv screens around 5pm on Saturday evening was the first signal that something was afoot. This kind of media blackout is extremely bizarre and unnerving, to say the least. In the last few years, and especially in this year, local tv news channels like Geo, ARY, Aaj and Dawn News had made us all accustomed to 24 hour coverage of political news and minute-to-minute analysis of breaking news events. This had earned the ire of Musharraf, who had lately taken to frequent scoldings and wagging of the finger at the electronic media in his public speeches – for being irresponsible in their coverage and for not properly appreciating the freedoms granted by him. Now we have a rude reminder that these media freedoms can, indeed, still be curbed at the personal whim of a ruler. (Contrary to what I’m reading on a few foreign news websites and blogs, internet and mobile phone communication has been largely uninterrupted – except, possibly for a short while in Islamabad. I’ve been web surfing, calling and text-messaging constantly in these days and I hear the same reports from friends and acquaintances in different cities).

The tv channels are still technically on air and transmitting, but the government has been able to stop the cable providers from carrying them. As a result, only a tiny minority with access to satellite dishes (as well as viewers outside Pakistan) can still watch. Some channels are finding ways to provide live audio and video streams on the internet, and neither the electronic nor print media are in the mood to buckle under pressure. Their representatives are currently under negotiations with the government to come up with a code of conduct that is acceptable to both sides in the short term and that will, in all likelihood, introduce serious restrictions on political coverage. What’s left on our tv screens instead is an array of entertainment channels, with the majority being Indian ones showing soaps, films, and music – ironically the very fare that the government tried to stop at one point. And then there’s PTV, the state-owned broadcaster that is the only news outlet currently left on television. Last night I had the surreal experience of watching a 9pm PTV news bulletin, a throwback to the situation from 10, 20 years ago. Correspondents from city after city reassured viewers of how commercial, official and educational activities had continued all day and how utter normalcy prevails all over the country.

Secondly, the judiciary has been the other institution to bear the brunt of Musharraf’s anger. The judicial activism and independence that had been causing much hope amongst the public and much consternation amongst governmental quarters since early this year is over. The PCO ensured that the best, most qualified judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts were removed from their posts and placed under house arrest, but not before a final act of defiance that declared the PCO as illegal and unconstitutional. The few remaining members of the superior judiciary, who chose (or were pressured) to take a new oath under the PCO, have lost all legitimacy and are facing a boycott from lawyers. However, as a lawyer friend perceptively pointed out, the real threat comes from the new class of politically opportunist and ill-trained judges who will now be inducted en masse into the superior judiciary based on their loyalties to the ruling coalition. The consequences of this move are far-reaching and will affect a whole generation, though we are already beginning to see some indications. A small news item in today’s papers mentions a district judge in Sukkur who received a dismissal notice on Monday from the Sindh High Court immediately after issuing a show cause notice to an SHO (police official). The message is clear: courts are no longer empowered to question or interfere with the functioning of any executive agency.

The third thing to have happened is the resistance and protest against the imposition of an emergency, and so far it is lawyers’ groups that have been most organized and active in this opposition. This, in spite of the fact that the bulk of the leadership of national and provincial bar associations was arrested in the first day or two. Lawyers across the country, in towns large and small, are boycotting court proceedings, staging demonstrations, and being beaten up and detained by the authorities by the hundreds. The most spectacular of these protests happened yesterday at the Lahore High Court where the police stormed and tear-gassed the premises and brutally beat up the lawyers who offered spirited resistance. It is exactly the images of these protests and defiance that the Musharraf regime is keen to keep off our television screens. It is also heartening to see students joining these protests, such as those at the elite Lahore University of Management Sciences who had been largely apolitical so far but who came out in large numbers (400-600) at a campus protest on Monday and also showed up to support the lawyers at the High Court.

Yesterday I attended a protest at the Karachi Press Club organized by various press and civil society groups and attended by roughly 100-200 people. Counting the number of attendees at protest gatherings is always a tricky issue. In this case, the presence of large numbers of cameramen and journalists complicated it even further – on the one hand, they were around to cover the event but on the other, their very presence was part of the protest against government heavy-handedness and information clampdown. Roads leading to the premises were blocked and there was a heavy police presence. An artist friend showed up with posters bearing clever images that amply managed to convey opposition to the regime without words, e.g. symbols like the eject button on playback devices. The event remained largely peaceful, although at one point a plainclothes policeman (or intelligence operative) managed to rile the crowd with pointed interjections and provoked a scuffle. This gave the police an excuse to beat up a few cameramen and ended with the arrest of a handful of journalists.

Of course these public gatherings are outlawed along with the suspension of all other fundamental liberties, and any public assembly of more than 4 persons risks the chance of arrest. That is why it is crucial to monitor the daily signs of protest and see if the repressive tactics of the Musharraf regime cause the resistance by lawyers and others to dwindle in numbers or to continue.

Best.

Author: sepoy

what is the vertiginous chapati saying to me?

4 thoughts on “Round Up II”

  1. Tip from protests in Indonesia – toothpaste under the eyes helps stop the teargas from stinging. Obviously, wipe it off when leaving the scene of the protest

  2. The BEST thing about that picture is the Logo in the bottom right. It is the Geo (Cable Channel) logo modified to read, GEO KANJAR – Long Live the Eunuch.

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