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Posts Tagged ‘PML-N’

 

Musharraf: pre-dictatorship. Nawaz: pre-hair plugs.

 

It is October 12 (or at least it still is here). On this day, Christopher Columbus reached the New World in 1492, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was published in 1979. And, on October 12, 1999, Pervez Musharraf staged a coup in Pakistan, overturning the government of former PM Nawaz Sharif.**

It seems we aren’t too far from where we were eleven years ago. Musharraf has made his political re-debut once again, to much fanfare/Facebook poking. But instead of flowers, Nawaz’s “Happy Anniversary Mushy” present was a seven-page charge sheet, calling his “coup-inator” [yes, I just made that up] the “most corrupt, callous, immoral and ruthless ruler,” [via the Express Tribune]. Trés romantic.

According to Dawn,

The charge-sheet contains allegations that Musharraf imposed martial law twice, undertook a Kargil misadventure, misused army to serve his personal interests, declared war against the people of Pakistan, blackmailed people through NAB, murdered Akbar Bugti, abducted people, killed scores of people in Lal Masjid, promoted cronyism, nepotism, corruption and favouritism, attacked the judiciary, promulgated NRO, massacred people on May 12 and Oct 18 in 2007, and got himself elected unconstitutionally as President of Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Punjab’s Provincial Assembly unanimously passed a resolution on Tuesday condemning Musharraf and declaring October 12, 2009, “the worst tragedy of Pakistan’s history.”

Let me see if I got this straight. We are currently tackling the aftermath of one of the worst natural disasters that has faced Pakistan – that has impacted over 20 million people, devastated livelihoods, and destroyed homes and the Punjab Assembly wastes time declaring Musharraf’s coup the worst tragedy in our history?

It’s not that I don’t think the hoopla surrounding Musharraf’s return borders on the absurd. In fact, I’ve been humming the Twilight Zone theme song a lot these days. But I will acknowledge that Musharraf has a right, just like every other corrupt/failed/exiled Pakistani politician, to reenter the political process. If he thinks 324,650 Facebook fans are an electoral ballot make, then that’s his prerogative. And, even though Nawaz Sharif received the highest opinion rating (71%) among those polled in the recent Pew survey, that still doesn’t mean his own record is squeaky clean. Far from it. So if you’re going to accuse a former leader of cronyism, nepotism, corruption and the like, remember that pot called. He’s calling you black.

 

 

**October 12, 2010 is also the day that at least one of the Chilean miners was rescued! Whohoo!

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We Don’t Need No Education

Protests Against the Fake Degree Scandal - AP

Last week, Aslam Raisani, the Chief Minister of Balochistan told reporters after a provincial assembly session, “a degree is a degree whether it’s authentic or fake.”

Actually, no. No it’s not.

His statement came after the Supreme Court ordered election commissions to vet the education credentials of Pakistan’s federal and provincial politicians. According to Al Jazeera, “Up to 160 elected officials have been accused of faking their degrees in order to meet a requirement for holding office.” An Election Commission official told Reuters, “The Higher Education Commission [HEC] is verifying the degrees of all parliamentarians in line with the orders of the Supreme Court.” On Tuesday, Dawn reported that the commission is currently “pondering” over whether it’s a good idea to invoke the Pakistan Penal Code “to initiate criminal proceedings against lawmakers who are proven guilty of having fake degrees.”

Pakistani politicians tried as criminals? How novel.

But while you’re at it, HEC, maybe you should also try politicians who have defaulted on their loans, who are horribly corrupt, who profited under the National Reconciliation Ordinance, and who continue to to put their own interests above those of their constituents term after term. I’d guarantee that we’d barely have any lawmakers left.

In March, contributor Usman Zafar discussed the circumstances surrounding the resignations of politicians Jamshed Dasti (PPP) and Nazir Jutt (PML-Q), after the Supreme Court ruled that Dasti, a prominent party leader, had lied about his Islamic Studies Masters Degree. When questioned by the six-member bench, the former Chairman of the Standing Committee on Sports not only couldn’t recite the first verses of the Quran, but he even gave the incorrect answer to 4 multiplied by 2. Islamic Studies Masters Degree #FAIL.

Since the inquiry was announced, several lawmakers have already resigned from their posts, including PML-Q MPA Samina Khawar Hayat and PPP MNA Amir Yar Waran, who resigned last Thursday. As the “furore” (Dawn’s word not mine) grows, the fake degree scandal has garnered a call for mid-term elections from parties like Jamaat-e-Islami and Tehreek-e-Insaf, who both boycotted the polls in February 2008. Dawn noted in its coverage, “For obvious reasons Prime Minister Gilani has said that fresh polls were not the solution to the country’s problems.”

The apparent source of the fake degree scandal stems from a law imposed by General Pervez Musharraf in 2002, which required political candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree “or its equivalent.” According to Al Jazeera, Musharraf said he imposed the law to “improve the calibre of MPs, but critics alleged the move was designed to sideline certain opponents.” The law was struck down in April 2008, though just after the February elections of that year.

In a country where the education system is lackluster at best, should we expect more from our leaders? My answer is an adamant yes. Education standards aren’t just set to create or enforce a political elite, it’s to ensure that our leaders can actually lead (though the correlation between education and leadership is definitely a worthy debate). And let’s face it: how many today can? How many have the integrity to be an example to Pakistan’s future generation? And how many have the foresight to think past their selfish aims for the greater good of the country? Not many. And while I hope this current scandal doesn’t lead to a distracting witch hunt, I do think it should raise discussion about these very questions. Because as a Pakistani, I am ashamed to call many of them my leaders.

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Dawn photo: Abbotabad Riots

Below is my piece that first appeared in Foreign Policy‘s AfPak Channel, a continuation on my previous post that delves more into the party politics that often clouds what the real issues are or should be:

As the 18th Amendment, the constitutional reforms package designed to bolster parliamentary democracy in Pakistan, inches closer to becoming a historic “landmark bill,” one particular part of the legislation has sparked considerable controversy and political wrangling — the renaming of North-West Frontier Province to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Over the weekend, people from the province’s Hazara Division, (who speak mainly Hindko as opposed to Pashto) staged demonstrations, and on Monday, at least seven people were killed and over 100 were injured in Abbottabad when police used force to break up a protest. The demonstrations continued on Tuesday, with Dawn reporting that mobs in Haripur, Mansehra, and Abbottabad (in Hazara) blocked roads, chanted slogans, and burned tires — all in the name of a name.

The bumpy journey to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa did not begin in the last few weeks. The Awami National Party (ANP), the secular Pashtun nationalist ruling political party of the province, has long campaigned for a change to Pakhtunkhwa, even passing a resolution in favor of the development in November 1997, noted The News columnist Rahimullah Yusufzai. The name, argued the ANP, accurately reflects the Pashtun-majority of the region, much like Pakistan’s other provinces — Balochistan, Sindh, and Punjab.

But the PML-N staunchly opposed this label, (officially calling for a referendum last September), claiming the title marginalized other ethnic and linguistic groups in the province, including Hindko, Seraiki, and Khowar-speakers. A deadlock over the name continued, with an array of alternative names proposed as a compromise. While some reflected more neutral geographical areas (Khyber, Neelab and Abaseen) and historical references (Gandhara, the old Buddhist-era name of the region), other noteworthy runner-ups included Afghania, the clandestine ‘A’ in “Pakistan,” coined by one of the earliest proponents of the Pakistani state, Chaudhry Rehmat Ali in 1933.

At the end, hyphenating the name to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa became the compromise everyone could agree on.

Well, almost everyone.

Although Pakistani media outlets televised people in the “province-formerly-known-as-NWFP” celebrating in the streets, the honeymoon period was soon over. PML-Q immediately expressed reservations over the new name, claiming they were not privy to the negotiations between the PML-N and ANP. PML-Q leaders have since criticized both the ANP and PML-N, alleging that PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif supported the new name “for his personal gains,” and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was part of “a conspiracy to divide the province.”

While it would be easy to cloak Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa with the “conspiracy” label, twirl some handlebar moustaches and call it a day, Pakistani politics are never that straightforward. The PML-Q, as Ejaz Haider, National Affairs Editor of Newsweek Pakistan told me, has significant support in the Hazara division, “as is clear from the fact that its candidate was the runner-up in the January by-election in Mansehra.” However, PML-N has a more considerable vote bank in the region, with strong ties to the people of Hazara.

Given that the PML-Q suffered major losses in the 2008 elections, it seems they are trying to remain politically relevant and “capitalize on the emergence of the malcontents at the expense of the PML-N,” noted Dawn’s editorial. But at what cost? Their political provocations have indirectly led to the deaths of innocent people in Abbottabad, and the spread of mobs throughout Hazara. If the party claims to truly represent the interests of the people, it should address the issues that go beyond names and frilly hyphenated labels — the power shortages, the rising food prices, and the unemployment. Even if the 18th Amendment sails through the Senate and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa remains intact, political parties must avoid language that will destabilize the province further. At this rate, a province by any other name would not smell as sweet.

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After years of back-and-forth posturing, gesticulating, muchy-twirling and chest puffing – it’s official. Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province will officially be renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, after the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms (PCCR) signed the draft of the 18th Amendment Wednesday (dubbed “the best constitutional thing to happen since the 1973 consensus Constitution”). 

For those unaware of the issue, Rahimullah Yusufzai does a great job of detailing it in The News this week. In “The Case for Pakhtunkhwa,” he wrote, “The debate on renaming [NWFP] is serious business because it concerns the identity of its people and their place in the federation of Pakistan. However, the direction it has taken is sometimes comical, and at best uninformed and politicized.”

The Awami National Party (ANP) have long campaigned for the change to Pakhtunkhwa, (in November 1997, the NWFP Assembly even passed a resolution in favor of the name), asserting that it reflects the Pashtun majority of the province. However, the opposition (specifically the PML-N) claimed the titlemarginalized other ethnic groups in the province,” though every other province in Pakistan – Punjab, Balochistan, and Sindh – reflect a specific ethnic group. Go figure.

As parties entered into lengthy debates over a potential province name, some interesting options have come out of the woodwork – Neelab, Nuristan, Darul Islam, Afghania, and Abaseen, (a name used for the Indus River). At the end, renaming it Khyber (in reference to the Khyber Pass)-Pakhtunkhwa seemed to be a compromise both the PML-N and ANP could agree upon (although the PML-Q expressed reservations).

In his piece Yusufzai made one particular point that was interesting – “People with fertile imaginations and unconcerned that the issue was to provide identity to its majority Pakhtun population came up with still more bizarre names that don’t even deserve to be discussed.”

Since I was not privy to the “bizarre” names that failed to make the chopping block, my overactive imagination can only wonder out loud. Imaginary PML-N, take it away:

  • Muchiekhwa or Muchiestan – Because everyone’s got a moustache. Even the ladies.
  • Sharifs-are-your-pals-stan – Not so subtle way for PML-N to shore up voter support among Pathans.
  • We-want-your-votes-but-Punjabis-actually-rule-stan – Um, yeah. No.
  • RAW-istan – “Wait, what do you mean RAW isn’t the Taliban in disguise? Taliban doesn’t equal Pashtuns? Damn.”
  • Nawaz-ia – Nawaz, the hair plugs called. They want their lack of subtlety back.

Dude. Nawaz-ia would have been TOTALLY awesome.

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AP: A woman mourns the death of a family member in Lahore

The below piece on the recent Lahore bombings and the Punjabi militant nexus was first published on Foreign Policy‘s AfPak Channel, where I’m excited and honored to be a new contributor:

The last week has been tough for Pakistan. A series of attacks occurred throughout the country, including a siege of the World Vision International office in Mansehra last Wednesday that killed six aid workers, and a suicide bombing in Swat over the weekend that killed around a dozen people and wounded at least 37. However, the wave of bombings targeting the city of Lahore garnered the most attention. Last Monday, a car bombing targeted the Special Investigations group of the Federal Investigative Agency, the Pakistani equivalent of the FBI, killing at least 14 people and wounding 89 others. News correspondents said the amount of explosives “was so large it brought down the two-story building.”

This past Friday, two suicide bombers struck within 15 to 20 seconds of each other in R.A. Bazaar in Lahore, killing at least 45 people and injuring scores more. The attacks, dubbed by news agencies as “the bloodiest strike in Pakistan this year,” were later followed by six “low-intensity blasts” in the middle class residential neighborhoods Iqbal Town and Samanabad in Lahore. Although the bombs were reportedly locally made and used “a very small quantity of explosives,” the six blasts appeared to be a well-coordinated attempt to ignite panic and chaos in Lahore. Residents rushed out of their homes. Punjab’s police were filmed rushing from one site to another as the deafening sounds of another blast were heard. As Pakistanis remained riveted to their television screens, Lahore was paralyzed with terror.

In the aftermath of the bombings, it is not so much a question of “Why Lahore?” but rather, “Why not Lahore?” The series of attacks does not necessarily mean the center of violence has shifted from one major city to another. It means there was no epicenter at all. Whether or not the escalation of violence was in revenge for the death of Qari Zafar, a leader of the Punjabi militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi who was killed in a U.S. drone strike, militants are sending the message that they have the ability to strike anywhere at any time. Despite the Pakistani military’s successes in northwest Pakistan over the past year, this war is far from over.

While it is convenient to attach the broader “Taliban” label to the problem, the network of players is far more complex and nebulous. Although the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan swiftly claimed responsibility for Monday and Friday‘s suicide attacks in Lahore, this organization has only been able to conduct large-scale attacks in Pakistan’s major cities with the coordination and help of militants in the southern Punjab nexus, groups that make up the oft-labeled “Punjabi Taliban.”

In the April 2009 issue of the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) Sentinel, Hassan Abbas defined the Punjabi Taliban as “a loose conglomeration of members of banned militant groups of Punjabi origin — sectarian as well as those focused on the conflict in Kashmir — that have developed strong connections with Tehrik-i-Taliban, Afghan Taliban and other militant groups based in FATA and NWFP.” These organizations, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, and Jaish-e-Muhammad, provide weapons, recruits, finances and other resources to the TTP and are responsible for planning many of the attacks attributed to the Pakistani Taliban.

A counter-militancy strategy in Pakistan could be successful if this TTP-Punjabi Taliban alliance is targeted and weakened. However, the clampdown has so far been insufficient as Pakistan’s leaders continue to point fingers everywhere but Punjab. Following the recent spate of violence, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters that India was the “foreign hand” behind several attacks in Pakistan. Punjab’s law minister Rana Sanaullah further alleged that India’s intelligence agency RAW was involved in the attacks in Lahore, adding, “Israel and other countries could also be involved.”

At the same time, Sanaullah, a member of Punjab’s ruling party, the PML-N, chose to campaign for last week’s by-election alongside the anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan leader Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi. Whether Sanaullah’s informal alliance with the SSP was merely an attempt to get votes or a more dangerous indication of his relationship with these groups, his actions further illustrate the state of denial that exists within Punjab’s leadership, as well as parts of the country’s leadership as a whole.

Pakistani political and defense analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi noted in the Daily Times, “Pakistan’s top civilian and military leadership have come to the unanimous conclusion that the Taliban and other militant elements are a threat to Pakistan’s internal harmony and stability.” However, there has been a lack of cohesion in identifying the nuances of that threat and how to strategically address it. Khalid Aziz, the chairman of the Peshawar-based RIPORT (Regional Institute of Policy Research & Training) told me on Friday, “The Pakistani military is afraid of conducting operations that would create another Waziristan in Punjab, which it can hardly afford.” Ejaz Haider, the Lahore-based national affairs editor of Newsweek Pakistan, further emphasized to me that the Army “is already spread thin in areas where the TTP tried to capture territory — i.e., FATA.” What we need instead, he said, “is good, actionable intelligence to bust the [Punjabi militant] cells,” something Aziz stated can and should be done by Pakistan’s police force.

At the end of the day, the stream of bombings and the subsequent deaths of innocent civilians will continue to undermine Pakistan’s tactical successes against the Taliban. Regardless of the TTP’s actual strength, these attacks enforce the perception that no citizen in Pakistan is safe and the state is inept at protecting them. The blame game exercised by Pakistan’s leaders in Punjab and across the country will get us nowhere. Before we can address the problem properly, we must recognize it for what it is.

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Today is Obviously Opposite Day…

I actually SOL’ed (Snorted Out Loud) when I read this in The News today:

Addressing a public meeting here in NA-123 constituency as part of PML-N’s by-election campaign, Nawaz Sharif called for returning to the people, what he said, their looted wealth, adding, the corrupt people will ultimately meet their fate.

Hey Kettle. The Pot’s calling you black.

I may not have a muchie, but I can still twirl my hair plugs. Mwahaha.

Let’s face it. Many politicians in Pakistan are corrupt. Our current president bears the nickname Mr. Ten Percent for God’s sake. But to win an election on anti-corruption grounds? That’s hypocrisy at its finest.

So voters in the NA-123 constituency, you may vote in PML-N’s Pervaiz Malik in this by-election because you were swayed by Nawaz’s talk and hair plugs. But don’t forget about the Hudaibya Paper Mills controversy, when Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif were implicated in money laundering worth $14.8 million. Don’t forget that just a few weeks ago, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sought to reopen this Hudaibya case, as well as two other references that charge Nawaz and Shahbaz (among others) with “misuing loans,” and “accumulating wealth and assets beyond their declared means of income by allegedly misusing their authority.” If Nawaz wants to return “looted wealth” to the people, maybe he should start with his own loot first.

I recently paid a visit to Adiala Jail with a women’s organization. There, a police officer said, quite aptly, “The biggest chors (thieves) aren’t in here. They’re in the government.”

Update: Thanks to Khizzy, I was just informed about yet another addition to the controversy – According to Dawn, “As Nawaz Sharif addressed supporters in the run-up to a Lahore by-election, his large rally was lit up by extensive use of illegal connections using ‘kunda’ (hooks that are attached to live power cables to secure supply without having to pay for it). PML-N spokesman Siddiqul Farooq told DawnNews that an inquiry would be held to fix responsibility for what was “clearly” a crime.”

Oh the tangled web we weave.

[Thanks to Cyril for the background help!]

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[Image from NY Times]

Not too long ago, Pakistan state television aired PM Yousaf Raza Gilani‘s speech, officially announcing what we all knew a few hours ago – that the government is restoring Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, effective March 21. The wait for the pre-recorded speech was long, to say the least, [people on twitter and Teeth Maestro's live chat waited for a good three hours from when the news broke].

Here are the positives – the CJP will be restored, hence fulfilling the primary objective of the judiciary movement and the Long March.  Moreover, reported GEO News, “The prime minister said that after consultations with all political forces of the country and President Asif Ali Zardari, the government has decided to restore all deposed judges,” not just Chaudhry. In his speech, Gilani said the reason Chaudhry was not restored before was because “the office of the Chief Justice was occupied.” However, because current Chief Justice Dogar will retire March 21 , “it is therefore the right time to reinstate Iftikhar,” he asserted. Gilani also announced that provincial governments have been ordered to lift Section 144 [banning protests and marches] and release all detained prisoners, another plus given how many activists and lawyers were jailed amid this weekend’s tumultuous developments.

Interestingly, a government official told Reuters that along with Chaudhry’s reinstatement “there will also be a constitutional package,” although no mention of such a deal was made in Gilani’s address. There was also no mention of the future of Salman Taseer, the [unpopular] governor of Punjab [see this interesting article about Taseer's son], although the PM did note in his speech that the Supreme Court decisions of Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif will be reviewed. That announcement marked a definite victory for the PML-N and its supporters, and Nawaz subsequently called off Monday’s planned march to Islamabad.

Media outlets have reported that the military played a prominent role in today’s announcement, albeit from behind the scenes. According to Dawn,

Highly placed sources said that the Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani frankly told both President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that they need to undo some of controversial decisions before the situation spirals out of control. These sources said it was after his not-so-veiled warning that the two top civilian leaders agreed to roll-back some of the controversial decisions of the previous and present governments, including the sacking of the chief justice of Pakistan.

The NY Times noted that the COAS emphasized “he wants to keep the army out of politics, but there was renewed speculation about how long the patience of the army would hold,” while the Reuters blog, Pakistan: Now or Never echoed my sentiments exactly: “…the deal to reinstate Chaudhry may have been achieved as a result of prodding from the Pakistan Army, which begs the question of how well civilian democracy can flourish in Pakistan if it has to be underwritten by the country’s powerful military. His promised reinstatement — announced after days of negotiations — may carry with it a political deal whose outcome and required allegiances we are yet to discover.”

What I found both fascinating and infuriating in Gilani’s speech was how he framed the PPP and President Zardari. Not only did he congratulate Bilawal and Asif Zardari for “Pakistan’s achievements today,” but he glorified the party’s role in the judiciary movement, noting, “the lawyers and the PPP had been together for the cause of justice and democracy…Benazir Bhutto wanted free judiciary and supremacy of the constitution and she had promised for his restoration. PPP respects the educated segment of the society.”

The effort to frame the government and Zardari in a positive light [by reminding the people of Benazir's role] is not surprising but still appalling given the police’s treatment of the lawyers and activists this weekend. With technology tools like blogs, live chats, and twitter, reports of police beatings and detainments were abound. The most shocking allegations were those related to the treatment of female activists in the Long March. According to a March 13 press release by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan [HRCP]:

Not only lawyers and their supporters are being denied their right to freedom of movement, those joining peaceful processions are being subjected to violence. Neither women nor senior citizens are being spared. HRCP strongly condemns the use of brute force on Ms. Musarrat Hilali, not only because she is HRCP vice-chairperson for Frontier province but also because she is a widely respected advocate and has done a lot for the have-nots in Peshawar and across the country. The police had no right to break into her house and intimidate and abuse her family members.

And here’s the heart-wrenching exchange between civil rights activist Tahira Abdullah and Sherry Rehman [a day before her resignation], in which Abdullah breaks down and accused the right hand of the PPP of not knowing what the left hand is doing:

The Long March’s victory today was not because of the PPP – it was in spite of the government’s attempts to thwart the people’s movement. It succeeded despite the state’s attempts to beat, block and detain its own population from voicing their protests. The achievements today, despite what happens next in Pakistan’s political arena, lie with the people of the Long March – not with the politicians. As someone who took part in Teeth Maestro‘s incredible live chat and carefully followed this weekend’s developments, I can state with certainty that I have never witnessed people so dedicated to a cause. Their resolve to hold the government accountable for its promises did not falter – and that was incredibly inspiring. In a CS Monitor blog entry Sunday, Ben Arnoldy wrote, “‘I don’t think in the United States people would ever rally in the streets around a group of lawyers. Where I come from, lawyers aren’t very popular,’ I told one advocate over a cup of tea. He laughed heartily, and said, ‘Even little children here are saying ‘independent judiciary.‘”

I’m not going to mar my write-up today with my usual pragmatic cynicism. Instead, I will end this post with a heart-felt congratulations to all those who supported and were involved in the Long March. This is the tremendous victory you all were working towards, and I sincerely hope it means more positive things – at least for the future of our country’s judiciary. As a fellow citizen, I thank you for your efforts and your sacrifices.

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Day 2 of the Long March

[Image from the NY Times]

The Long March began from Karachi and Quetta yesterday amid further police crackdowns, reports of torture, and numerous arrests. According to BBC News today, “Authorities in Pakistan’s north-west have banned political gatherings and a protest convoy [led by Supreme Court Bar Association president Ali Ahmed Kurd] has been halted in Sindh as a crackdown on activists spreads. The BBC quoted Kurd, who strongly condemned the Sindh government for halting their peaceful march, adding, “We will try to reach Islamabad by other routes and appeal to all Pakistanis to reach Islamabad in groups or as individuals by any possible means. This action of the government has shown to the people of Pakistan and the entire world that lawyers cannot move freely in their own country.”

Dozens of lawyers and political leaders were arrested in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) overnight.” Although the movement was supposed to reach Islamabad for a sit-in at the Parliament on Monday, the BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan noted “that while protests will continue throughout Pakistani cities and activists may try to reach the capital in small groups, the crackdown has effectively ended the ‘long march.'” Protest organizers told the BBC that more than 1,000 opposition leaders and activists have already been jailed or put under house arrest, and police last night arrested dozens of lawyers, political leaders, legislators and activists in the districts of Peshawar, Mardan, Abbottabad and Mansehra last night. Dawn quoted Arshad Qureshi, PML-N spokesman of the NWFP, who said, “More than 100 party leaders and workers were arrested in the province and police are raiding houses of party leaders and activists.” And it’s not just activists and lawyers who are being targeted, apparently. Curiously [or not so curiously, depending who you talk to] the transmission of Geo News has been blocked in some parts of the twin cities of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Quetta. (more…)

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Media outlets reported that Pakistani police launched a crackdown on Wednesday, arresting dozens of opposition activists and lawyers and forbidding demonstrations on the eve of the Long March. According to Dawn newspaper, “Thirty five political activists and lawyers were arrested in Islamabad during raids launched overnight and continuing beyond daybreak.” [News agencies did differ on the numbers of those arrested, with the NY Times reporting that an "estimated 300" activists were detained.]

Those rounded up include members of Nawaz Sharif’s opposition party PML-N. A senior police official told the AFP, “The government has provided lists of people to police and raids are being made to arrest them.” Other police sources told news agencies that a top PML-N figure, Raja Zafarul Haq, was placed under house arrest last night, and Dawn added, “Police dressed in civilian clothes attempted to arrest lawyers’ movement leader Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan from his residence early Wednesday morning but he was not present at the time.” The news agency noted, “Many lawyers and MPs have gone into hiding to avoid detention, and were unreachable by telephone at their homes and offices. Police also searched in vain for cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who lives just outside the capital.” [Image from the AP] (more…)

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As if the recent political turmoil and last week’s attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team weren’t enough, media outlets on Monday cited Interior Ministry Chief Rehman Malik, who threatened PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif with charges of “sedition for inciting people to rebellion” after the Supreme Court’s controversial decisions last week, [which nullified Shahbaz's election and declined to rule on a challenge to Nawaz's electoral ban, see related post]. According to GEO News, Malik “said the statement being issued by the Sharif brothers qualify to fall within the definition of mutiny. He said anyone inciting provocation against the government can be awarded three year punishment under Pakistan Penal Code while anyone waging mutiny may be sentenced for life.” [Image, AP]

Media outlets framed the statements in light of Pakistan’s Long March, a cross-country lawyers’ protest slated to begin Thursday and reach Islamabad by next Monday. Reuters quoted Malik, who told reporters, “If in this long march, any death takes place or anyone’s property is damaged … then those who are bearing the flag of sedition or have borne it, then a police compliant [FIR] will be registered.” Dawn, in its coverage, noted, “The government on Monday stuck to its previous stance that it will not allow participants of the lawyers’ Long March from proceeding to the parliament house.” The news agency added, “Analysts believed that the prevailing political turmoil in the country will be further aggravated when the Long March reaches Islamabad on March 16, and it will not be allowed to enter into the federal capital. They foresee clashes between the security forces and the protesters, which may turn violent.”

In today’s news conference, Malik reportedly “cited the relevant sections of Pakistan penal code,” noted the AFP, “saying that expressing hatred or contempt against the federal or provincial government was punishable by life imprisonment.” The news agency reported, “He [Malik] read out phrases from speeches he said Nawaz Sharif has made since the Supreme Court disqualified him and his brother from contesting elections and holding public office. Sharif has made speeches calling on the police not to obey government orders and attacked judges who disqualified him saying he does not recognize the rulings of the Supreme Court — the highest in the country.”

Today’s statements are likely to exacerbate tensions further, which will hold negative ramifications for other arenas in Pakistan, including the economy. According to Reuters, “Pakistani stocks ended 1.5 percent lower on Monday as cautious investors sold shares on worry about political instability, dealers said.” Moreover, noted the news agency, “The main Karachi index has lost 3.5 percent this year after a 58.3 percent fall in 2008.” Given our burgeoning economic crisis, further political instability will be problematic, to say the least.

As for me, I feel like I am watching a comedy of errors, a car accident in slow motion. That sensation is both endlessly tragic and infinitely frustrating. Malik’s statements will only garner a stronger response from the already-fiery opposition, who are riding the wave of the country’s judiciary movement and upcoming Long March. The cycle of tensions and instability will undoubtedly continue until one or both sides are left toppled. Regardless of what the government’s intentions were with today’s announcement, watching the state wielding an iron fist with words like “life imprisonment” and “mutiny” will only incite further indignation and anger among segments of the populace. Moreover, it will likely add further fuel to the comparison of the PPP to the last years of the Musharraf regime.

Did the Sharifs cross the line with their fiery statements? Probably. Would that qualify as sedition or mutiny? The government will certainly argue so for its own preservation, and the law is ambiguous enough to leave that open to interpretation. At the end of the day, though, the real tragedy is that this entire situation has made a travesty of Pakistan’s attempt at democracy.

As William Shakespeare wrote in The Comedy of Errors: For slander lives upon succession/For ever hous’d where it gets possession.

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