Silence before the Storm
The third day of Emergency, or what should be honestly termed as Martial Law, remained passive at Lahore. The reason for such silence was clear: almost all the active lawyers were arrested yesterday, on 5th of November, in a massive crack-down at the Lahore High Court. They are still detained along with their leadership, and the most active amongst them, more than 300, are expected to face charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Others will not be able to find an easy way out. According to the laws amended in the course of Emergency, any person can be detained by the Police authorities for three months without any trial or presentation before the magistrate under the amended Maintenance of Public Order Act, one of the most notorious laws of our colonial past.
I received a call early in the morning from a lawyer warning me to stay away from the High Court building and the Mall Road for today. I complied, as I also wanted to hold some discussions with some contacts. One of my friends, who unsuccessfully tried to enter the High Court building from all four gates early in the morning, informed that the Police was arresting every lawyer that showed up at the Court entrances. They were arrested even before they entered the building. According to some sources, few lawyers approached the courts in order to seek bails for those detained on Monday. They were also arrested.
While the streets of Lahore remained calm, there was also some good news. All the people who were arrested by the Police on Sunday from the HRCP building – including Dr. Ali Cheema and Mr. Bilal Minto, both members of LUMS faculty – were finally released on bail late in the evening after two and half days of detention. However, the criminal charges brought against them have not been dropped.
The students of LUMS, who received a lot of media attention due to their activism on Monday, celebrated the release of their heroes with enthusiasm. They remained in high spirits through out the day and resolved to continue their struggle for democracy and social justice.
From where I see, everyone who is enraged by General Musharraf’s actions will have to take a step back, recompose, and rehash their strategy for the future. People are realizing that they are up for a long fight against a force that will not think twice before using brute force. Any agitation that takes place in a disorganized fashion can be easily crushed.
During the Lahore High Court protests, the lawyers were not expecting the whole building to be swarmed by Policemen. The lawyers were asking us, the students, to stay at the rear of the demonstration to ensure our safety. They later had to realize that no place was safe from Police brutality. The Police action took place with such rapidity (it took less than 30 minutes to arrest all the agitators) because there was no plan of action for retreat. People ran in random directions to protect themselves from the Police. Even the leadership, that should have been guarded, could not evade arrests.
In my view, therefore, the democratic forces will have to reconstruct their plan of action so that massive arrests do not dent the progress of our revolutionary struggle for democracy. Other sections of the society – particularly workers, peasants, and students – will have to be included in the movement for a meaningful result. So far, there has been no noticeable contribution made by the non-lawyers. That will have to change. To change that all those who are outside the lock-ups should exhaust their energies in motivating the ‘common man’ to join the democratic movement. These moments of silence and reflection are the most favorable to encourage more people to join the struggle.
The movement is on. To ensure that it does not fade away, arm yourselves for the second wave.