The high school kids in Islamabad got lathi-charged right after the footage above finishes. The youth, the numbers and the “spirited” response by the police – your tax dollars at work.
Things to keep in mind: Thursday, November 15th is officially the end of Musharraf’s current term as president. Which means The General has to take the new oath – which he is prohibited to do by the house-arrested Supreme Court – and he has to do it as a civilian. The General wants new election for the dissolved assemblies by Jan 9th. My bet is that Musharraf keeps that army uniform on for the while and maybe we will have another “crisis”. Yeah?
BB is getting tons of press. Our intrepid reporters should note that unlike virtually every other opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, seems to have direct access to all international and state media – including holding gloriously orchestrated press conferences. Still, she has been ratcheting up her rhetoric – declaring now that “I will not serve as prime minister as long as Musharraf is president”. Of course, she follows that with the clear-eyed assessment that “even if I wanted to work with him, I would not have the public support.” Ah, the machinations of freedom’s glorious march across the Muslim world.
I say what I said before, these protests are fulfilling a crucial role: they are making sure that things do not return to status quo, that the vacuum persists and that back-channel deals are forced into the public. In that regards, the role of internet-based distribution of information cannot be stressed highly enough. Benazir may have landed in Pakistan with deals but the democratic forces – those lawyers and college kids – are forcing her to play by new rules. And I say “forcing” because, trust me, she is no Aung San Suu Kyi.
Which isn’t to say that there is no other ‘viable’ leadership in Pakistan (a common refrain from the likes of “realists” like Fareed Zakaria and Zakaria-lites). NYT has a great profile of Aitzaz Ahsan – a stalwart of opposition in many a regimes. He is currently in jail.
Perhaps feeling the inevitable Buyer’s Remorse, The General has been out of sight but he makes a brilliant comeback in a press-conference. First off, he is mad at being called our sonofabitch and so he kicks out the Telegraph reporters. Then, the interview, which promises to be just scads of fun with some amazing quotes from the NYT write-up:
About Benazir Bhutto, speaking as a dejected suitor promised a scented garden: “You come here on supposedly on a reconciliatory mode, and right before you land, you’re on a confrontationist mode. I am afraid this is producing negative vibes, negative optics.”
And next speaking as a truly enlightened man of the 21st century:
He called Ms. Jehangir, the leading human rights advocate in Pakistan and one of the first women lawyers, “quite an unbalanced character.”
General Musharraf criticized Ms. Jehangir for being too ambitious in her agenda on how to achieve better rights for women.
Pakistani women deserved more opportunities, and he cited his own legislation that amended the laws to protect women against accusations of rape and adultery.
But Ms. Jehangir, he said, wanted to go too fast, and would therefore fail.
Given the unwillingness of both the Republican administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress to stop U.S. military support for the current Pakistani dictatorship, it may be time once again for concerned citizens to engage in similar nonviolent actions to end U.S. support for the oppression. For those at risk as a result of U.S. policy are no longer just those currently oppressed by the Pakistani regime. Some day, as a result of a possible blowback from this policy, it could be Americans as well. – Stephen Zunes, “Pakistan’s Dictatorships and the United States,” FPIF Policy Report (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, November 11, 2007).
I discussed all of these matters, in great depth, at a recent luncheon with Benazir and Ahmedinejad (The General was kept begging in the background). We failed to reach any consensus except that the avocado salad was delicious.
They herded lawyers in the police, about 35 of us. We knew nothing about where we were being taken after our arrest at the Lahore High Court on 5 November 2007. Speculation mounted in discussions in the bus but it was soon overtaken by the rumor/news received on some mobile telephones with the lawyers that General Musharraf had been removed and placed under house arrest. The hatred for Musharraf seemed so intense that this appeared the best news of the day although with the reported take over by General Kiani, it was sadly a case of “from the fire into the frying pan”.
The first thing when we arrived at the Sabzazar Police Station (further out of Lahore near Allama Iqbal Town) was that we were unlocked out of the police bus and searched. All mobile phones were confiscated. I do not use, have or carry a mobile phone and by this time the expectation, subtly fed to us, was that we would be taken from Sabzazar to jails in Bahawalpur, Sahiwal or Mianwali. I am a heart patient: I had a heart attack in 2004 and doctors at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore then operated me to place three stents in my heart blood vessels. I have been regimented since to taking several medicines, morning and evening. Some of these are important for the thinning of the blood to prevent strokes. When I saw the prospect of being held incommunicado without information to my family, I wanted desperately to reach out for my medicines.
Courtesy a colleague on the bus, I hurriedly used his mobile before getting out of the bus to be searched in the police station to inform my Secretary in the office about the Sabzazar Police Station minutes before the mobile was confiscated by the Police Station. Otherwise, no one could have found out where we were being held. The only redeeming thing for the whole day turned out to be that the Police Station allowed the medicines to be delivered to me in the cell when my son, Omar, rushed to bring these to Sabzazar.
The cell in Sabzazar was an unclean, filthy room with a toilet and tap in the middle with a 4 foot wall around it. The 35 of us were all jam-packed, once again, into this room which was actually meant for fewer people. Having been a political activist with the Tehrik-i-Istiqlal and, later, with the Tehrik-e-Insaf as its first Secretary General, I well know and have been exposed to the conditions of our police stations and jails. In criticizing the conditions for the detainees, one is not asking for 5 star comfort but what I am suggesting is that 60 years after our independence, the conditions in our police stations and jails have not matched the worldwide developments towards the dignity of human beings increasingly recognized through international Magna Cartas such as the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, and the International Covenants on Human Rights, 1966 and the human rights provisions in our own national Constitution. It is a measure of our national shame that even enemy prisoners of war (POWs) receive better treatment under the Geneva Conventions than do our detainees in our police stations and jails.
We slept on the hard dirty floor in our court dresses without access to any cover of blankets in the cool and mosquito-infested night. The space was so over-crowded that when I got up from a brief nap, I found a young lawyer using my legs as a pillow.
But the mood was optimistic and the spirits high. We soon went into telling jokes and reciting poetry and found a Master of Ceremonies who directed the order of our presentations. Much of the humor, mostly obscene was in respect of General Pervez Musharaf and if there were any (spy) bugs in the room, many of the 35 lawyers could easily be hauled up under anti-obscenity statutes!
The most eloquent and, for me, the most moving presentation was from a young lawyer who proudly declared that 5 November 2007 was the most important day of his life because he had decided, on this date, that he would never appear before a PCO Judge. He was equally proud to announce that, acting on this resolve, he had only that morning returned a (huge) fee of Rs. 4,000 to a client whose case he would no longer handle. This was the most humbling experience for me. That morning, I too had acted on the same resolve to return the professional fee of over Rs. one (1) crore paid to me by clients whose cases I would no longer argue because of the PCO Judges. But I felt that my gesture after 37 years of a busy professional life did not match the sacrifice of this young struggling lawyer. I wish all other lawyers see similar light on the start of their careers.
My bonding with the 35 colleagues at Sabzazar came to an end early on 6 November 2007 when because of the dedicated and worried efforts of my architect son, Omar, and nephew, Jawad, I was released from Sabzazar Police Station on grounds of age (66) and a medical condition duly certified by the country’s leading cardiologist, Dr. Shaharyar Sheikh. I should also acknowledge the humane response to my medical problems by the efficient SHO of the Sabzazar Police Station, Qamar Abbas, and his deputy, Atif.
Dr Pervaiz Hassan