Arrests all around

With the passage of time the effects of the Emergency imposed by General Musharraf on Saturday are becoming glaringly visible, though they were not surprising for anyone with even minute political knowledge. The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, was kidnapped from his office along with many other members of the apex court on the evening when the Emergency was declared. They were all placed under house arrests. Aitzaz Ahsan, Munir A. Malik, and Ali Ahmed Kurd – the leaders of the Lawyers’ Movement – were also arrested on the same evening on one-month detention order. Aitzaz has has been detained in the Adiala Jail. Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) President Ahsan Bhoon was also detained. Imran Khan, leader of Tahrik-e-Insaaf was placed under house arrest on the Saturday evening. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Chairwoman Asma Jehangir was also placed under house arrest.

Today (Sunday), several journalists, lawyers, academics, and human rights activists gathered in Lahore at the office of Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP) office to peacefully protest against the declaration of Emergency. They were surrounded by the Police and later on many of them were arrested. Amongst the arrested are: I.A Rehman, Iqbal Hyder, Robina Saigol, Azra Shad, Khalid Mehmood, Mehboob Khan, Raja Salman, Salima Hashmi, and Dr. Mubashir Hasan (later released because of his old age). Mr. Bilal Hassan Minto and Professor Ali Cheema from the faculty of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) are also amongst the arrested. According to the latest information, detention orders are expected to be issued soon for all those arrested, which means that they may be put in jail indefinitely.

In Islamabad/Rawalpindi, Police has detained scores of prominent political figures, lawyers, and human rights activists.

The news of this massive crack-down on the opposition figures has remained missing as all Private TV channels remained off the air for the second day. Premises of private ‘Aaj TV’ channel were raided by officials who tried to seize live broadcast equipment, but had to make a hasty retreat after vociferous protests by the staff.

Senior journalist and secretary general of South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA), Imtiaz Alam, was detained and later let-off.

Around 500 people, including 80 lawyers, have been arrested so far on the first day of the Emergency. More arrests can be expected to take place on Monday as the legal fraternities meet up and demonstrate.

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3 Responses to “Arrests all around”

  1. Daily Times..

    Editorial: Wages of confrontation

    The Chief of the Army Staff, General Pervez Musharraf, has declared, according to Sheikh Rashid, the railways minister, a state of “Emergency Plus” because his order carries with it a Provisional Constitutional order (PCO) associated in Pakistan with a post-martial law status quo. In his address to the nation, General Musharraf held the Supreme Court largely responsible for the creation of a situation that necessitated the declaration of emergency. He says the judiciary had trespassed on the functions of the legislature and the executive and thus paralysed all governance.

    What happened on Saturday was foreseen by many actors on the Pakistani political stage, especially Daily Times. We sounded many warnings to those who seemed bent upon confrontation, but these were either ignored or criticised. There was a division between those who sought a “revolutionary” change in favour of democracy and those who thought a “transition” would be less painful as well as more realistic, given the challenge of terrorism in the country. Daily Times was of the opinion that confrontation, if taken too far, would actually delay the date with democracy in January 2008 by when General Musharraf would have taken off his uniform and new general elections would have returned the peoples verdict. Indeed, we had argued against forcing a repetition of negative historical patterns in the country.

    There were many who agreed with this “transitionist” view, but there was an opinion split across the board in the country which prevented realism from prevailing. The national economy, based on the “realism of opportunity”, silently supported transition, simply because it had done well during the period of political stability since 1999. The up and down movements of the stock exchange clearly signalled that any “revolutionary” fervour behind the desire to correct the “civil-military” relationship overnight in the country would be harmful.

    A few politicians grasped the possible reversion to old patterns if confrontation was taken too far. Others saw it too but the attraction of being in the middle of the lawyers’ movement, and sheer opportunism, closed their minds to the possibility of a national setback. Political alliances were fractured on the basis of these two ways of looking at the situation. Mainstream PMLN saw opportunity in gathering under the non-compromising banner unfurled by Jamaat-e Islami and Imran Khan; but the PPP and JUIF were convinced that any “zero-sum” face-off with President General Musharraf would be counter-productive. Interestingly, the instinct to back “transition” rather than “confrontation” was alive among parties with higher stakes in the functioning system after the 2002 elections.

    There is no doubt that there was “judicial activism” in the country not normally seen in third world states where institutions often malfunction. Before he got wrongly dismissed in March 2007, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had hundreds, some say thousands, of suo motu cases under his belt. He had already put the brakes on privatisation by reversing the sale of Pakistan Steel Mills. But after his reinstatement, the apex court underwent a radical and extremist transformation that, as it turns out, has harmed rather than helped Pakistan. The lawyers’ movement and its support among the general public made the judges square off against the government.

    Unfortunately, many electronic media journalists, flushed by their new found freedom to say whatever they liked, motivated by the principle of subjecting the state to accountability, and offended by the government’s action to remove them from scenes of conflict, added to the tendency to push the executive to the wall. Regrettably, too, the Lal Masjid in Islamabad was returned by the Supreme Court to the terrorists under these conditions. A suo motu judiciary went after the “missing” people cases with a vengeance, regardless of the nature of the terrorist charges against them, threatening the civil servants with punishments, and indirectly causing them to lose initiative in the pursuit of their duties.

    The axe has fallen on the judiciary. At the Supreme Court level, 12 judges have bowed out while in the provinces 48 judges have found themselves without a job. While confrontation will intensify in the coming days, the alacrity with which some of the key vacated slots have been filled indicates a national divide that might help the Musharraf administration to control the situation. He has a political coalition which will back him, and he has politicians like Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Ms Benazir Bhutto who opposed the “revolutionary” intent of the confrontationists and may now cooperate if the situation doesn’t get out of hand.

    In the “struggle” for democracy, the retreat of the state in the face of Al Qaeda’s terrorism had been either “denied” or subordinated to the higher goals of untrammelled democracy. The unrealistic, and some would say adventurist, confrontationist slogan was: get the general out of the system, dump the “American agenda”, and terrorism will vanish overnight. On the other hand, the warlords who spearhead the Al Qaeda thrust in Pakistan put forward conditions of ceasefire that no one pays heed to: removal of America and NATO from Iraq and Afghanistan and the proclamation of Islam of the Taliban variety in Pakistan.

    Until now, the declared intent of President General Musharraf was to complete the “third phase” of holding elections. Now some ministers are saying that the general elections can be postponed in view of the deteriorating law and order situation posed by both the terrorists and the confrontationists. But this should not happen. While he copes with Al Qaeda, he must be held to his pledge to hold free and fair elections as originally promised in January 2008. If they are postponed, the crisis will deepen. Meanwhile, the restrictions on the media must be removed and the repressive measures undertaken to stifle protest must be halted. *

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