The Long March -It Begins

March 12, 2009 § 5 Comments

A primer for those who want to know more than ‘all the news that’s fit to print.’ Yes, we think you can handle it.

WHAT IS THE LONG MARCH?

The Long March is a set of upcoming protests and rallies of thousands of Pakistanis demanding the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other judges who were deposed by Gen. Musharraf in Nov 2007.  Protesters will begin marching towards the capital Islamabad on March 12th. Activists from Karachi and Quetta are expected to arrive  in Lahore on the 14th, and converge on the capital by March 16th for a dharna (sit-in).  This is an independent, grassroots movement for democracy led by the Pakistani lawyers movement that  includes lawyers, activists, students and workers. The term “Long March” refers to Gandhi’s march against British colonialism. The Pakistani government has reacted defensively to this broad-based movement by shutting down the capital and arresting hundreds of activists. Bans on gathering are in effect in several cities.

It’s the second such mass protest. Last June, thousands of Pakistanis of various political stripes and socio-economic classes, marched from Karachi to Islamabad to demand the restoration of the judiciary in first Long March. Benazir Bhutto’s PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N campaigned on the issue for the Feb 2008  elections. While the PML-N has continued to push for restoring the judges to the bench, the ruling PPP has spurned the demand since winning the elections. Instead, judges loyal to the party have been sworn in, including the questionable Abdul Hamid Dogar.  Also see here.

This is the new democracy movement in Pakistan today.

FOLLOW IT:

The Long March is here. A roundup of some places to keep up:

OF NOTE:

1. Sahiwal, a district of approximately 1 million residents in Punjab, has refused to implement orders under a colonial-era law, called Section 144, which would ban public gatherings of five or more people. Mayor, Rai Hassan Nawaz Khan’s courageous act comes at a critical moment. Government officials have already imposed the law in several cities across Pakistan as part of a crackdown on activists and lawyers preparing for the Long March. Checkpoints or blockades have been erected on all main roads to the capital Islamabad, the destination of the lawyers protest.  The army has deployed some 300 Rangers in and around the city.

The law, which has its roots in 1860 British colonial Penal Code law, empowers district govermnents to promulgate order in cases of emergency for the public interest. Human Rights Watch has issued a demand to the Pakistani government to release the 300 activists currently detained under this draconoian legislation:

Since March 10, 2009, authorities have detained at least 300 activists from the opposition party and affiliated groups from across Punjab province, the partys stronghold. Scores of opposition politicians are in hiding, fearing arrest. The activists have been detained under various provisions of the Maintenance of Public Order Act or simply detained without charge.

“Its a disgrace for elected officials to mimic the discredited military government by using old and repressive laws to stifle political expression,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The protesters who were arrested should be freed right away and allowed to demonstrate peacefully without fear of violence.”

2. Punjab government leader, Shahbaz Sharif defies the ban and addresses a large gathering in Gujranwala. His government was ousted last week following a ruling by the Supreme Court retroactively disqualifying him and his brother from the watershed elections in Feb 2008 that brought him to power. The decision is widely regarded as illegitimate, a biased judgement by a discredited Supreme court packed with judges installed by and loyal to the ruling PPP party. Shahbaz Sharif’s speech is available here.  His brother, Nawaz Sharif’s speech in Abbottabad on the same day is available here.

3. Arrest warrants have been put out activists using lists that the Musharraf government had compiled.  The result? Warrants are out for folks who aren’t even in Pakistan at the moment. Five activists from the Student Action Committee including  Samad Khurram, who refused to accept an award for academic excellence in protest against US policy towards Pakistan from then US Ambassador Anne Patterson, have a warrant out against them. They should lapse after 90 days. “The crime?” says Khurram, is that they “could ‘potentially’ be protesting.”

GET UP TO SPEED:

THE LONG MARCH BY OTHER MEANS:

Long March Songs hit the Internet: http://pkpolitics.com/2009/03/08/songs-for-rule-of-law-long-march/

Remember Jalib:


We will rock you -a Long March mix:

A Long March Anthem by Aitzaz Ahsan:

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