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.