Deal Deadlock: Zardari Says No

March 14, 2009 § Leave a comment

The News reports that a possible deal, backed by London, Washington and the Pakistani military, to reconcile the PML-N and Pres. Zardari has collapsed. The measure which would have included an end to governor’s rule in Punjab and dialogue on the reinstatement Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, was flatly rejected by Zardari. Dawn reports:

…by late evening, all hopes of a possible breakthrough fell apart as, according to a high level government source, the message from the PML-N was that it was not prepared to given any concessions unless the government agreed to restore the deposed chief justice.

Sources said that this was enough to annoy President Zardari, who was already adamant to go ahead with his earlier decisions of using strong-arm tactics to deal with the lawyers and opposition members.

Hopes were high, and intense efforts were underway for the last three days to broker the deal with the various parties urging Gilani to persuade the president. General Kayani met with the Prime Minister on Thursday to discuss the new arrangements. US special envoy Richard Holbrooke had also encouraged accomodation in talks with Zardari and Gilani while US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson reached out to Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday.

But, despite a midnight meeting on Friday, Zardari remained adamant to the disappointment of the Prime Minster. The News reports:

‘Yes, I can consider these options as part of a new reconciliation deal but only after March 16 so that no one should think that I had taken the decision under pressure from the foreign or local forces,’ a source quoted the president as telling his two guests at the Presidency

Meanwhile, the massive crackdown continues with dozens of activists, lawyers and political leaders being arrested in the NWFP yesterday, reports the BBC. Over 1000 activists and opposition leaders have been jailed or put under house arrest. Lawyers and others have gone into hiding in and around Islamabad. Protesters are hoping to make their way into the capital in small groups.

And finally, offices of Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) were raided. Office equipment and party flags were taken by the police.  The leader of the party, legendary cricketeer turned politician Imran Khan expressed resolve to continue the struggle to restore the judiciary.

Policing the Press -Long March Day 2

March 14, 2009 § 1 Comment

Remember this? In a reprisal of Musharraf’s policies during Emergency Rule in 2007, Pres. Zardari has banned the largest news channel, GeoTV from major sections of Pakistan including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Quetta and Multan. Following the ban, PPP Information Minister Sherry Rehman resigned from her government post.

Rehman had held a “a series of heated arguments” with other officials in the PPP, according to Dawn, but after failing to convince them against the ban, she resigned in protest.

A prominent member of the PPP, Rehman’s decision signals splits inside the PPP about how to tackle a vigorous press that has been openly critical of the government’s policies towards the Long March.

In fact, activists and politicians have relied on it during the recent crackdown. When police came to arrest lawyers’ leader Athar Minallah, he turned to the press for help. From Time:

“I locked myself in the car, and the police didn’t know how to get me,” he said. “So I called the television cameras who were only two minutes away. I began giving live interviews from the car, addressing the Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, directly. After a while, Mr. Malik came down himself and shouted the police officers away.”

There may be institutional issues at several levels in Pakistan, but the press is working. “The media,” Open Society Institute’s Fawzia Naqvi told us, “has become the most trusted institution in Pakistan.” The statement was borne out in interviews with refugees from the NWFP and Fata who thanked the press for covering the dismal situation in their hometowns and exposing the damage caused by the US drone attacks, the Pakistani military and the Taliban.

Activists over at the popular listserve, Emergency List, have asked that people thank Rehman for her principled stance.  You can email her at:

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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