Friday, November 30, 2007

Students for a Free Pakistan

Jayati Vora

On Thursday, November 29, Pervez Musharraf was sworn in for a new five-year term as the President of Pakistan. The day before, the general tearfully handed over command of the army to his handpicked successor, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Musharraf now claims he will also end the state of emergency on December 16. These gestures may hold out some hope for the restoration of true democracy in Pakistan, but on the ground not much has changed. For the moment, the state is under martial law. The curbs imposed on the media since November 3 have not been lifted, and the judiciary and the constitution have not been restored. Even if Musharraf fulfills his promise to lift the state of emergency, he is not stepping down from his position as dealmaker in Pakistan any time soon.
Little wonder, then, that the growing student movement in Pakistan held its biggest protest to date the day after Musharraf's swearing-in ceremony. In cities around the world--from Oslo to London to New York to Lahore--students rallied at roughly 2 pm and called for all political parties to boycott the January elections in order to expose them for the sham they will likely be.
In the weeks since Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, students in cities across the country have awakened from their political slumber. They have come a long way since 1999, when the general seized power in a bloodless coup. Then, the only people out on the streets were supporters of Nawaz Sharif, the ousted, democratically elected Prime Minister. This time, they are out in throngs--the lawyers, the journalists, the civil society activists and importantly, the students.
"If not now, WHEN? If not us, WHO?
"There is no neutrality anymore; SILENCE IS CONSENT. SPEAK!"
These words are part of a call to action issued by the newly formed Student Action Committee of Lahore, a coalition of students from fifteen universities and colleges in that city. It was created to organize the student body in their protests against Musharraf's state of emergency and consolidation of power.
The last time that students rose so powerfully in protest was in 1968, and they were instrumental in toppling General Ayub Khan (one of Musharraf's dictatorial predecessors). But when Musharraf claimed power in 1999, many breathed a sigh of relief. From 1988-99, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif both came to power twice. During this period--what Musharraf in his autobiography calls the "dreadful decade of democracy"-- Pakistan became one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Unemployment soared and cynicism held sway in the minds of ordinary Pakistanis. Musharraf promised change. He promised to get rid of corruption, to tackle economic reforms, and he was a moderate. It seemed like a promising recipe at the time. But in the eight years that he has been in power, he has broken his word countless times. The elections he held were nowhere near free and fair, and according to Transparency International, Pakistan's corruption rating has actually gotten worse by three percentage points since 1998, the year before Musharraf took power.
Living under a state of emergency, it's not surprising that many who once welcomed the general now agitate for his removal. And standing in the frontlines--but not the spotlight--of those protests are the students of Pakistan.
Ammar, 21, is a student at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), one of the most prestigious institutions in Pakistan. An economics and political science major, he was one of a handful of LUMS students who started a blog, The Emergency Times, two days after the imposition of martial law. At first, it began as a forum for discussion and a means to educate people, especially students, about the legal ramifications of the emergency. In the face of the media blackouts imposed after November 3, students starved of news reportage turned to blogs such as this one for their daily dose. The Emergency Times alone gets roughly 25,000 hits a day. (Not bad for a country where only 7.2 percent of 160 million people have access to the Internet.) Its printed version, a pamphlet that's photocopied and distributed by student volunteers in dozens of campuses across the major cities every other day, reaches as many as 200,000 pairs of eyes.
"Right now we're running on adrenalin," says Ammar over the phone. He only gives his first name. The police have been watching the more politically active students. They even seem to be tapping telephone lines. So the students try to take some precautions. Some have changed their cell phone numbers. When organizing protests and rallies, they use a separate number that cannot be traced. Only three to four people have a list of all the students who are involved in the Student Action Committee.
These twenty-somethings have to dodge not just the police gaze but also parental concern. Ammar's parents, for instance, are only partly aware of their son's activities. They know about the blogging, but not that he has attended protests, the kind where people get arrested and taken to undisclosed jails.
Ammar was at one such rally three weeks ago. He was among the mass of lawyers who protested outside the Lahore High Court on November 5, and says that the brutality he saw shook him to his core. "It was unbearable to watch," he says. "It's very difficult to stay quiet. If you don't speak out now, it might be too late."
Matters came to a head when three LUMS faculty members were arrested. They had attended a meeting of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a highly respected body. They were released a week later, but the LUMS students decided they had to do something. The Emergency Times was the result.
They were not the only ones. The students at FAST-NU, the Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Technology, a technical university with a campus in Lahore, followed suit with their "Fast Rising" blog and newsletter. A wave of similar websites and blogs followed, from the commentary of academics to coverage of the media blackout to legal analysis. Alumni of Pakistani universities scattered in places from Berlin to Boston contributed their stories, poems and their support to a movement that has galvanized a previously complacent student body.
Pakistani student societies in American universities such as Columbia and Harvard have organized seminars, written letters to newspapers editors and congressmen and even published articles about it. And everywhere, on the street corners in Pakistan, in classrooms all over the world, people are talking, debating, engaging with the political process.
Zeeshan Suhail, 26, a recent graduate of the City University of New York, and the author of one of those articles, was one of many who initially welcomed the dictator. After two decades of democracy, he says, people were fed up with crooked politicians.
"No one was concerned about the fact that the country had changed from a democracy to a dictatorship," he says. "Musharraf came to power talking of moderation, foreign policy imperatives and bringing the good side of Pakistan to the world. It took years for me to realize that the place of an army officer is in the barracks, not in the president's house."
Samar Abbas, 23, who graduated from Yale University earlier this year and has been in Pakistan for the last month, is another of the converted. For him, as for most of his generation, it's the first time he's ever been politically active. "There is definitely the feeling that we are living at a very critical juncture," he writes. "For this generation, this is our first shot at impacting Pakistan, and we have a very good chance."
Ali Almani, 26, a Harvard law student who will graduate this December and plans to return to Pakistan to practice law, is an exception. He opposed Musharraf from the very beginning. "Each time you have a military regime," he explains, "it exacerbates the conditions that requires the military to intervene, it weakens political institutions. And when politicians get a chance to rule, it's a big question whether they'll be able to make something of it." Almani doesn't approve of the way Musharraf is pitted against the opposition candidates in much of the mainstream media. It's reductive, he says. "Instead," he argues, "what the debate should be is whether you want to make the politicians accountable to the military or to the people."
The student movement in Pakistan is divided on many points, chief among them the question of who should succeed Musharraf. But the one thing they all realize is that Pakistani society has become intolerably repressed under Musharraf's reign. The army has penetrated every nook and cranny of society, to the point that virtually every NGO, business or civil society organization has a retired general sitting on its board. It controls 11.5 million acres, or 12 percent, of state land. Although there is much cooperation with the protesting lawyers, journalists and civil society activists, the student movement is a youth initiative. It uses technology in a way that would not have been possible in earlier decades. Virtually all students who have access to it use the Internet. Some use it to voice their protests in the form of websites and blog posts; others use it to watch reportage from the private television channel, the Urdu-language GEO TV, which is now being broadcast from Dubai. There are multiple Facebook groups that connect students in different parts of the world and list upcoming protests. And cell phones are used to organize "flash protests." A text message is sent out to a relatively small group of people, who gather at a crowded area, shout slogans and hand out pamphlets, then disperse as quickly as they arrived, before they can be arrested. The movement has spread like an Internet virus. Although it began in campuses of elite institutions such as FAST-NU and LUMS, the baton has been passed to the lesser-known, public colleges with larger student bodies. LUMS students, for instance, number only 2,500. Punjab University--which attained notoriety in the international press when opposition leader Imran Khan was apprehended there--is one of the new leaders of the movement, with roughly 25,000 students.
In the history of student politics, Ammar explains, this is quite common. "The 1968 student movement began in Government College and Gordon College, which were then as prestigious as LUMS is now. That didn't reflect class interests, but the quality of the education and the academic environment." Now other universities--among them the Quaid-i-Azam University, Punjab University, Hamdard University and Government College, Lahore--are taking the lead. But there are some who still believe in Musharraf. Of these, some hail from the business community that has always supported Musharraf and has benefited from his economic reforms. Many others have lived abroad for several years. Abbas disagrees with their stance but understands it. "Many of my good friends and family," he writes via e-mail, "especially those living abroad and working for the government, still think he is doing a good job and seems to be the only option." Indeed, Musharraf has been good for them. The GDP has been growing at a robust 7-8 percent per year in the past two years, and a former banker and non-resident citizen, Shaukat Aziz, was, until recently, the Prime Minister. "However, for people who live here in Pakistan," continues Abbas, "issues that are likely to matter more are security, inflation, social equality, community empowerment and access to justice--areas that this government has completely failed to tackle."
Now the students of Pakistan are calling their government to task about it. They are scared of possible retaliation by the police, but, as Ammar says ruefully, "We're too far into it to be scared."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Pakistan students fight emergency

By Amber Rahim Shamsi

"We want to be active participants in the political process," says 22-year-old Ali Jan.

Students in Lahore protest against emergency rule
Ali is an undergraduate at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), an elite university best known for churning out business management graduates.
Part of Pakistan's new 'consumer generation', its students have in recent years been more interested in mobile phones, bipods, the latest DVDs of Bollywood films and American TV shows rather than politics.
But are they becoming more politically conscious during Pakistan's long-drawn out crisis of government?
The pundits answer has generally been negative.
They say the new student generation is too anesthetized by decades of political cynicism.
But the students at LUMS would beg to differ.
Surprise protests
Since Gen Musharraf imposed emergency rule, the LUMS students and campus have been at the forefront of anti-emergency protests.

Students had been assumed to be disillusioned with democracy
The fervour with which they have launched their protests has surprised many.
Several universities in Islamabad and Lahore have been holding daily rallies since 3 November, the day emergency rule was announced.
The protests have largely been tidy affairs and there have been a minimum of police baton-charges or detentions on campus.
These student protests have taken most people by surprise.
They were largely unexpected from what is seen as a young apolitical milieu.
Active politics
It was not always so in Pakistan. The student demonstrations during Pakistan's first military dictatorship played a major role in its eventual demise.
I think for young people there is a feeling of finally doing something
Aasim Sajjad Akhtaracademic
But by the end of the 1980s, however, student politics had degenerated into little more than gangs and turf wars.
The process of political desensitisation was begun by Pakistan's longest ruling dictator, General Ziaul Haq.
Gen Zia dismantled student union structures in the 1980s.
The present generation of students were born during that time and grew up under the wobbly democracy of the 1990s.
That was a merry-go-round of prime minsters and presidents overseen by an omnipotent military.
It led to an aggravated sense of political disempowerment.
Ali Jan says that this is the first time that private colleges are taking the initiative in student action.
But government universities, where the ghosts of student unions past still haunt the campuses, are not far behind.

The clampdown on lawyers galvanised many students
"I think for young people, there is a feeling of finally doing something," says Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, an academic and activist.
"After eight years of military rule, things had finally reached their peak."
There are two threads that seem to have galvanized the students.
The first was the lawyer's movement launched in March 2007 to have Pakistan's top judge - Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry - re-instated.
The movement was seen to be based on principles rather than the power-grabbing agenda of the political parties.
"We see in the lawyers the anti-thesis to the political leaders like Maulana Fazlur Rahman or Benazir Bhutto," says Phd student Salman Haider.
"The students are taking up the example of the lawyers."
In this regard, the role of the media coverage of the protests has been important.
Then there is what Salman Haider calls "the effects of Zia's repression" which seem to be wearing off this generation.
Emergency newsletters
Protest in Pakistan has taken many forms.

The appeal of leaders such as Benazir Bhutto is questionable
The web is increasingly a podium for such activities. Online petitions, an 'emergency newsletter' and blogs are the norm.
There are also several 'anti-emergency' groups on networking sites such as Facebook and Orkut.
So far, students have avoided bloodshed and arrest by two methods.
One is the 'guerrilla' or spot demos. Participants are informed of place and time via cell phone SMS.
After a round of sloganeering, they quickly disperse to avoid getting caught by the police.
The other are on-campus rallies held with the acceptance of administrations.
But some administrations have threatened students with expulsion if they participate in protests.
With careers to think of and exams to study for, will the demos last?
Fading out
There are a small but core group of activist-students who are prepared for this eventuality.
"We don't know how long university administrations will tolerate this," says Salman Haider.
"We might have to take to the streets."
The plan is to politicize students and then brave the police when it has taken firm root.
Accounting student Usman Kiyani and his group are knocking on doors to raise political awareness among students.
Ali Jan, meanwhile, wants to organize internally as a union before going public, as it were.
This likely to result in the student protests losing some steam.
But not, the students say, before pushing this generation out of the fog of political disengagement.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pakistani students divided over crisis

Opposition politician cheered by protesters before being carted away by hard-liners

Nov 15, 2007 04:30 AM Sonya Fatah SPECIAL TO THE STAR

LAHORE, Pakistan–Opposition politician Imran Khan learned a hard lesson yesterday about how bitterly divided Pakistani students are toward President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Over the last week, 500 to 1,000 students have protested daily on the campus of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), a leading university in Pakistan.
Police barricades and warnings have not intimidated the several hundred students who continue to demand an end to martial law, arbitrary arrests of activists and curbs on press freedom.
But at Punjab University, a student demonstration against emergency rule turned sour yesterday when Khan was arrested as he made an appearance. He had been evading house arrest for several days.
Khan, one of the most vocal critics of Musharraf's unconstitutional methods of staying in power, was at first hoisted upon students' shoulders as they chanted "Go Musharraf Go" and "Down with Musharraf." His coming-out then degenerated into a farce.
Members of the hard-line Jamiat-e-Tuleba, the student arm of the country's largest Islamist party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, bundled Khan into the Centre for High Energy Physics shortly after and handed him over to police.
Khan is the last of Musharraf's opposition leaders to be rounded up following the Pakistani president's Nov. 3 declaration of emergency. Police took him to an undisclosed location, sources said.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of political workers, lawyers and human rights activists have been held under house arrest or indefinitely detained.
Khan is revered as one of cricket's all-time greats and admired for his charitable work, especially a hospital he set up for poor cancer patients.
He drummed up the money for that by motivating young people to go out and fundraise for him, as "mini-Imrans," he said.
Khan hoped to rally the students for protests against Musharraf as well.
Pakistani students have been criticized in the past as a group that largely spends its time comparing designer clothes and electronic gadgets when not in the library studying.
"I want to get the students out," Khan said last week.
"If you have to (make) sacrifices, this is the time. What you cannot do is sit on the fence anymore."
The small, but increasing vocal and demonstrative student movement follows in the footsteps of the defiant lawyers' movement.
What haunts the government is the memory of the starring role students have played in toppling previous leaders at key moments over the last 40 years.
In 1968, students were at the forefront of resistance against the despotic, corrupt regime of president Ayub Khan, one in the long line of generals to rule this country. Despite a repressive security apparatus at his disposal, Ayub Khan was forced to step down a year later.
Young people also turned out en masse against prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the father of Benazir Bhutto, Musharraf's biggest rival and herself a former premier. The elder Bhutto was ousted from power in 1977, then hanged in 1979.
With those examples in mind, later Pakistani governments launched a campaign to depoliticize college campuses, banning political activity and clamping down on student unions.
Many observers were therefore surprised, and in some cases exhilarated, by the political rumblings beginning to take form on various campuses, particularly LUMS.
At a recent demonstration, about 150 students met at Beacon House National University, a liberal arts institution, to support the university's dean and human rights activist Salima Hashmi, who had been jailed for two days and recently released.
Encouragement from some university administrators has fuelled some of the student protests.
At LUMS University, the vice-chancellor and faculty members gave the students their blessings to stage demonstrations on campus.
Still, the relatively small student protests held at public universities were hardly examples of complete unity.
Of the 27,000 students at Punjab University, only a couple of hundred showed up for the demonstration yesterday.
"The Jamiat don't allow us to protest," said Afsa Mehmood, 19, who sported a black armband decrying the emergency.
"They are in favour of the government and they have the power to silence us."
Students at both the old and new campuses of the university lamented the influence of the Jamiat group in organizing their own student protests and other activities.
At Punjab University yesterday, Jamiat students pulled Khan off the shoulders of their secular classmates, and prevented him from leading the rally.
Tempers flared and frustration soared as the smaller, less vocal secular contingent tried to battle the more impassioned Jamiat leaders.
"He wanted to be a hero on our shoulders," said Salman Zaman, 22, and a Jamiat follower.
"We didn't want that," Zaman said.
"We didn't want our protest to be hijacked by any one political agenda."
Many conscientious objectors, including some who said they feared Islamist groups, turned to art to express their frustrations.
Like Bilal Ashraf, 22, sculpted a project called "This is Enough." In it, Pakistan is depicted as a woman with no arms, her eyes blindfolded, and her head thrown back.
Her dress, a long papery gown, is a collage of newspaper headlines on the judiciary's crisis.
The edges of the gown are frayed, and are beginning to burn at the bottom. But limbless and without sight, she (Pakistan) is helpless.
"Educated Pakistani youngsters have been kept at a distance from politics for decades," said retired Brig. Rao Abid Hamid of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
"This movement is just in its infancy. Give it time."With files from Los Angeles Times

Student protests build in Pakistan

Campus protests gather steam throughout the country, worrying the fragile regime.

By Shahan Mufti Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
from the November 15, 2007 edition

Lahore, Pakistan - The steady rumbling of dissent on university campuses across Pakistan is an ominous development for the country's military regime. Student activists in Pakistan have a history of effecting dramatic political change.
What began last week as a protest against the arrests of academics at a university in Lahore has quickly spread across larger campuses, energizing new movements and inciting old student political groups from a near two-decade slumber. But when opposition leader Imran Khan, a perceived hero of the student movement, arrived Wednesday to address students in Lahore, members of a powerful and established Islamist student group quickly handed him over to police.
For Mr. Khan and others, targeting university campuses is a shrewd move. But his arrest reveals the scattered nature of the students' potent political power. Unless the opposition can arrive at a consensus, observers say, the movement will remain incoherent. At the core of this confused effort lies the clashing visions of the old student political groups with a new wave of activists who hope to effect a more profound shift in Pakistani politics.
"This 'new student movement' is very significant," says Rasul Baksh Rais, a professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) who is a liaison between the administration and student leaders on his campus. Mr. Rais added that students even snubbed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto when she invited them for a meeting. The students' lack of interest in Pakistan's premier opposition figure, Rais says, indicates that "until all parties are able to come on one platform it is unlikely these students will want to support one party over another."
Whether Ms. Bhutto will eventually be able to seize the reins of such a unified movement remains a question, observers say. Security officials said she will likely remain under house arrest until Thursday at the earliest. On Tuesday, Bhutto called on the president to resign. Her spokeswoman told reporters Wednesday that she is attempting to rally the political opposition, including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to present a more unified opposition to President Pervez Musharraf's authority.
Musharraf said Wednesday that he expects to step down as Army chief by the end of November and begin a new presidential term as a civilian, warning that Pakistan risked chaos if he gave into opposition demands to resign. In an interview with the Associated Press, he accused Bhutto, currently under house arrest, of fueling political turmoil and rejected Western pressure to quickly lift emergency rule, which he indicated was likely to continue through the January elections. "I take decisions in Pakistan's interest and I don't take ultimatums from anyone," he said at his Army office.
Khan was one of the only prominent political leaders to have avoided arrest by going into hiding, and had sparked student activism by speaking at a university campus on the eve of the emergency. Through underground messages from hiding, Khan had called for a "youth army" to take to the streets. "My goal was to set in motion a student movement," he said after his arrest.

'No greater ideology at work'

Students became the latest ingredient in the urban street caldron – along with political party workers, lawyers, and civil society groups – after President Musharraf extended his sweeping security crackdown to academics. The arrests of two professors from LUMS, after the declaration of emergency last week, sparked immediate protests and the arrival of riot police at the campus gatesThe agitation spread like wildfire to other smaller, private universities. Within a week, Khan visited Punjab University, the historic core of student activism, to try to harness the unwieldy power of the students. Shortly after his arrest, Khan told reporters that student "collaborators" had betrayed him to security officials. His surprising detention indicates that the youth movement is united only by its opposition to the current regime – and little else.
"There is no greater ideology at work here that I can describe," says Hashim bin Rashid, a LUMS student leader, dressed in all black and topped off by a black headband. The students at his campus, he says, are more inspired by larger concepts of social justice.
"It's easy to turn a blind eye to everything going around you when you have a silver spoon stuck in your mouth," he says. "But we are here because we have a stake in saving this country."

Pakistan's history of student struggle

This sentiment, admits Mr. Rashid, might not be what is driving students in older, more established student groups, which have been the breeding grounds for many of Pakistan's old guard politicians. But in a country that places student activism at the center of its historical narrative of independence, student politics in any form has often been essential to carving the country's political power dynamic.
In the 1960s, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto toppled military ruler Gen. Ayub Khan on the back of a seething student street movement. The early 1980s saw student groups target Gen. Zia ul-Haq's regime, prompting him to ban student unions as part of an effort to depoliticize the schools.
But some of the newer institutions have no experience with political activism. Their opposition to the military regime is defined by "a liberal ethos, a modernist structure of values," that focuses on "constitutionalism, rule of law, and the independence of judiciary, rather than identifying with any prevailing political party," says Rais.
This new movement has awaked student activism after two-decades

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Imran Khan faces terror charges after arrest in Pakistan

Jeremy Page in Lahore, and Times Online

The cricketing legend Imran Khan faces charges under Pakistani anti-terrorist laws after emerging from hiding today to join a student protest at which he was arrested.
Mr Khan's detention came as Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister under house arrest in the eastern city of Lahore, tried to forge a united opposition against the state of emergency imposed by President Musharraf.
Appearing in public for the first time since he slipped out of detention last week, Mr Khan was grabbed by Islamist students when he tried to take part in a rally at a Lahore university.
He was lifted onto the shoulders of demonstrators but punches flew when he was seized then pushed into a nearby building. He was later bundled into a white van and handed over to police. "He will be charged under the anti-terrorism act," said Malik Mohammad Iqbal, the Lahore police chief. "Through his speeches he has been inciting people to pick up arms, he has been calling for civil disobedience, he was spreading hatred."
Mr Khan, who has founded a small but vocal opposition party, called for General Musharraf to be hanged for treason after the military ruler imposed emergency rule on November 3. He was being held in custody under a 90-day detention order, and police sources said he was being moved to prison shortly ahead of being formally charged.
In an interview with The Times yesterday, Mr Khan said that General Musharraf could only be dislodged by popular protest. "Without a street movement, this guy is not going to go," the 55-year-old cricketer-turned-politician said. "That's the only thing dictators in the past have been affected by and that's what the Army looks to. When the Army realises someone has become a liability, they get rid of him."
Mr Khan was cheered and hoisted in the air by several hundred students when he arrived, alone, on the campus of the University of the Punjab to urge students to rise up against General Musharraf.
But his supporters were soon outnumbered by Islamist protesters from the student wing of the Jamaat-i-Islami party, who bundled him into the nearby Centre for High Energy Physics, held him incommunicado for an hour, then drove him off campus in a van and handed him over to police at the university gates. A spokesman for Mr Khan said that he was concerned at his plight. "They pulled him out like a piece of cargo and threw him into the police van," the spokesman told The Times. "We are very worried about his safety and very afraid of Musharraf."
The chaotic scenes on the campus today highlighted the fault lines in Pakistani society that make it hard for the opposition to unite against General Musharraf.
A 20-year-old student who gave his name as Mohammad, and who is a member Jamaat-i-Islami’s student wing, said Islamist students had intervened in Mr Khan's rally because politicans were banned from the campus. "We want Islam here. Allah rules here," he said. "Imran Khan cannot protest on this campus."
Others said Mr Khan had been detained to protect him from arrest by plainclothes policemen in the crowd.
But Aziz Nouman, 24, a third year law student, accused the Jamaat student wing of pursuing its own political agenda in detaining Mr Khan.
"We see Imran as a very strong character," he said."We have tried Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, we have tried everything. But we see a spark in him."
Student activists played a key role in previous political uprisings in Pakistan, but they have become politically dormant over the last 20 to 30 years - with the exception of Islamist organisations.
The University of the Punjab has been dominated for several years by Jamaat-i-Islami members, who ban music and dancing and have beaten up and harassed students for openly fraternising with women.
Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party, founded in 1997, has only one seat (his own) in the national parliament, and critics dismiss him as a political lightweight.
Others have exploited his reputation as a playboy and his marriage to Jemima Khan, the British daughter of the late Sir James Goldsmith, which ended in divorce in 2004.
However, he is still regarded as a national hero for leading Pakistan to victory in the 1992 World Cup, and his political standing has risen since he took a stand against General Musharraf and President Bush.
Yesterday he accused Mr Bush of stoking anti-Americanism among Pakistanis by continuing to support General Musharraf. "For this one man, Bush is willing to sacrifice 160 million sheep – we are like sheep," he said.
"This is worse than the Shah of Iran. Have they learnt no lessons? Within the country people who don’t understand the West think this is a conspiracy against Islam."
He said that Pakistan should withdraw its troops from northwestern areas and negotiate with tribesmen sheltering the Taleban and al-Qaeda militants, while Nato should set a timetable for leaving Afghanistan.
He urged Benazir Bhutto to join him in starting street protests and boycotting the parliamentary elections that General Musharraf has promised by January 9.
But he said that she had lost credibility by negotiating a power-sharing deal with General Musharraf.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Viewpoints: Pakistan's political crisis

Readers in Pakistan describe what life is like under emergency rule and what they think should be done to end the current crisis.

Waqas thinks that Bhutto should be prevented from attending the rally The current situation hasn't created problems for ordinary people in Islamabad. The emergency rule hasn't made any difference.
I personally think that it was a good move by President Musharraf. I was quite depressed for months about what's been going on in the country - the political instability and the bad security situation. I couldn't see a quick solution.
I think the state of emergency is one such solution. I haven't heard of any bomb explosions for a week now, whereas they used to happen almost every day. So it is working.
But it should end soon. That's why it is an emergency - it's a temporary measure and everything should be restored to how it used to be.

The leading economist Ali Cheema was arrested earlier in the week Since the emergency rule was announced, we don't have access to news and information about what is happening in the country. I've started gathering information from a few different sources, which I then send to a mailing list of about 500 people.
I recently graduated from Lahore University of Management Sciences, where students have been very active in protesting against the emergency rule. Two academics from that university have been arrested, including the prominent economist Ali Cheema.
I get eyewitness accounts from students' protests, photos and video that I spread around and post on forums.
I am also active in organising protests in Karachi. There's a group of us - lawyers, students, professionals and housewife's. We meet in secret places and decide where to gather to protest. When we turn up, lots of other people join us.

Students in Lahore have been protesting against emergency ruleWe make sure we don't stay in one place for too long, so that when the police turns up, we are gone.
I don't know if we are making a difference. I think the whole society needs to rise. Everyone can make a difference.
Our group doesn't belong to any political party. We want restoration of democracy, the independence of the judiciary and the media.

Asma Jahangir: Elections without democracy are meaningless I was put under house arrest for 90 days. I cannot leave the house and nobody can visit me. They've taken my mobile phone and cut off my internet connection.
I am lucky. My other colleagues were put into prison and haven't been able to meet their families. They are in a much worse situation.
But I feel anguish for the people who are protesting, as I can't do anything for them.
By now about 4,000 lawyers and human rights activists have been arrested. They arrest lawyers every single day. Yesterday they arrested 150 of them. Everyone I know is either arrested or in hiding.
They are wrong if they think that they can silence the lawyers in this country. The more they arrest, the more will come out.
How long can this go on for? They can't fight the entire civil society. They will have to seriously reconsider what they are doing.
There's deep anguish in Pakistan at the moment. Pakistani people aspire for democracy. Life is meaningless without freedom of expression and rule of law.
Musharraf needs to release the lawyers and open up the media. Holding elections without democracy is a meaningless exercise.

Wazim Afzal has started publishing news on his business site We have been deprived of sources of information. We can only watch the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera online, but they are slowing down the internet now and it takes very long time to load a page.
Everyone is quite depressed because of the news blackout. Pakistani people are used to having access to reliable news. With no good source of information, people have started to send text messages, informing each other of what they've heard. Lots of rumours are being circulated.
Because of that I've decided to turn our website, which is originally a commercial site, into a news site. I've put links to different news sites in it and I select audio and video as well as written stories from a variety of sources.
I update the website once or twice an hour. This is all I do now - I've temporarily abandoned my job. Since protests are not allowed, this is my way to contribute towards easing the news blackout. Everybody who believes in freedom should raise their voice.

I work for Aaj TV as an economics reporter. After declaration of emergency rule, our channel has been taken off air. I continue to do my work every day as before. I do my reports, but nobody in Pakistan can see them. We are very frustrated as we are deprived of our civil rights.
The government has disabled cable operators and none of the national news channels, apart from the state-run PTV, can be accessed.
But the people of Pakistan are very eager for news and information. Many have started to buy satellite dishes, so that they can access international news channels, as well as Geo TV and Aaj TV.
If this doesn't end soon, there'll be huge protests The emergency rule is directed towards the judiciary and the media. President Musharraf said that the media are creating a big hurdle for the government as it increases the rivalry between the judiciary and the government.
Now that there is no news, big rumours are circulating. The lack of information is going to affect the economy. The market crashed on Monday because of the news blackout.
But this cannot continue for too long. The government can't run the country like this. I think that it will end soon. I also think that if it doesn't, there'll be huge protests from students.

For Pakistani Students, a Reawakening: 'We Can't Just Sit Idle'

For Pakistani Students, a Reawakening: 'We Can't Just Sit Idle'

Long-Depoliticized Campuses Stirred Into Action by Military Government's Declaration of Emergency

Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 12, 2007; Page A14

LAHORE, Pakistan, Nov. 11 -- The accounting majors at the elite Lahore University of Management Sciences have rarely demonstrated against anything, preferring Punjabi pop music to protest songs. Cynicism about Pakistan's parade of autocratic and corrupt leaders had replaced civil disobedience, they said.

But in computer labs and cafeterias on this campus and others across the country over the weekend, students were busy making placards reading "Democracy Now" and "Students Against Martial Law" as they prepared to demonstrate against emergency rule. Some said they would join former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's so-called long march, scheduled to begin Tuesday in Lahore and progress to Islamabad, the capital, 250 miles to the west, in defiance of President Pervez Musharraf's ban on protests.

With police lining the streets of Lahore on Sunday, and a Bhutto rally blocked by authorities in Rawalpindi on Friday, many here say they doubt the protest will take place. But even if the long march turns into only a short protest, one thing is clear: Students are beginning to step forward in Pakistan's protest movement, a sign of the country's widening crisis.

"We're getting ready, no matter what. It's time for students to show that the future generation has a voice," said Ashar Hussain, 20, an engineering student at the management sciences school, known as LUMS. "We can't just sit idle and do nothing when Pakistan is suffering. This country is our future."

Student protests and campus unions were once a vibrant part of political activism in Pakistan, even during the nation's birth. But several dictatorial governments have depoliticized campuses by banning protests and requiring students to sign agreements not to participate in such activities.

Students also blame themselves. Disillusioned by a string of corrupt and repressive governments, many said, they stopped caring.


"It's like all this bad stuff happens and you just go numb. Nothing will help anyway, and even our favorite films and songs became about fluffy stuff and love," said Fatima Barbar, 20, an architecture student in Lahore. "This time, though, student consciousness is starting to awaken, and it feels really good."

One of the driving forces behind some of the student protests has been Imran Khan, a shaggy-haired cricket star turned opposition leader and an icon of cool among young people.

Although respected more for his prowess on the cricket pitch and for his charity projects than for his political leadership, Khan, 54, has street credibility among urban dwellers and well-to-do students and has used his popular Web site to encourage them to protest.

After Musharraf imposed emergency rule on Nov. 3, police targeted Khan in a roundup of opposition figures. Officers attempted to arrest him at 1:45 the morning after the emergency was ordered, Khan said, but he fled and has managed to evade them since by sleeping in a different location each night.

"I knew I had to run because I wanted to use this time to get the students out on the roads," Khan said in an interview, adding that he jumped two walls in his garden to escape police. "If I was a little older, I wouldn't have made it."

With juice boxes and teacups scattered over a table, Khan said he had never felt so politically energized and restless.

The students are the most passionate force in society," he said. "It's the idealism of the young. They are the force for change. They have to come out. If you have to give sacrifices, this is the time."

After the protests at LUMS and other schools this past week, an editorial in the English-language daily Dawn declared a "new era of political excitement on campus."

"The students of these elite institutions were least expected to speak up," the editorial said.

Some students, including Samad Khurram, 21, a Harvard junior who by coincidence had returned to his home town of Islamabad this semester to engage in student activism, have started blogs offering students advice on what to do if they are tear-gassed and media contacts in case of arrest, and stressing the importance of wearing closed-toe shoes to protests.

"For so long, students were absent from Pakistan's political life. It's really significant that the students are rising up now," said Khurram, whose blog is called Emergency Telegraph. "These students are going to be leaders of Pakistan."

So far, there has been no violence during the student rallies. Some opposition leaders, including Khan, predicted that the government would lose sympathy among the general population if it cracked down on the students too harshly.

Khan said he had rallied students before, raising money for a state-of-the art cancer hospital he built and named after his mother, who died of the disease after being unable to find the right treatment in Pakistan.

During construction, Khan said, he ran out of funds and called on university students to help raise more than $25 million. The hospital, in Lahore, offers free treatment to patients who cannot afford it, particularly children. Authorities sealed it off last week as part of their bid to capture Khan.

"They created a revolution," Khan said of the students. "Stopped people on streets, asked for money. Within months, not just the money that poured in, but the exposure. They were walking, talking advertisements for the hospital.

"They were all turned into mini-me, mini-Imrans," he said, laughing and adjusting his long flowing shirt. "So it is a force in this country which I have already tapped once. . . . The young have one thing, which is passion and idealism."

Khan said he would not participate in Bhutto's march because he believes she is too deeply involved in a power-sharing deal with Musharraf. He said he would hold a separate protest on campuses in Lahore this coming week.

And many students say they will join him.

In numerous cases, students have joined the protests in defiance of their parents, who have warned them about the potential for arrests and violence.

"I've seen many students suffering from spoiled careers after indulging in politics in their student life," said Malik Aman, a father of two students in Mardan district, near the northwestern city of Peshawar, adding that he was afraid his children would clash with police. "No father wants that."

Fayaz Tahir, a former student leader who led protests against Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq during his 1977-88 rule, said that "today, the world fights a dictator so differently -- with the media, with international pressure."

"But if you add to that even a small movement on campuses," Tahir added, "well, then you will see that Musharraf will have to bow down to demands."

Special correspondent Imtiaz Ali in Peshawar contributed to this report.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Students join protests

LAHORE: About 500 Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) students dressed in black rallied on the campus against the enforcement of emergency and arrest of their teachers. The teachers were arrested during a meeting of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on November 4. Those arrested included Dr Ali Cheema, Bilal Hassan Minto (LUMS), Saleema Hashmi (BNU School of Visual Arts dean), Nasreen Shah and Samina Rehman (Lahore Grammar School). LUMS teachers and students spoke on the occasion. They also shouted anti-Musharraf slogans. About 35 Law Department students also participated in the lawyers protest on The Mall. Some students alleged that a television channel tried to cover the protest on the campus, but was refused entry by the LUMS administration. LUMS teacher Dr Rasool Bux Rais told Daily Times that the students had organised a peaceful demonstration against the imposition of “martial law”. “Some faculty members also joined the students,” he said, “We are against the steps taken by the government to put curbs on human rights and the media.” Dr Faisal Bari, another LUMS teacher, said the students had planned to start a signatory campaign against the imposition of emergency. He said the faculty members would join them in the campaign. BNU Journalism Department head Dr Mehdi Hassan called the imposition of emergency as an attack on freedom and civil society. adnan lodhi